Interactive online virtual world to launch in January

LONDON - An interactive online virtual world based on major UK cities that gives users the chance to shop online and offers advertisers prime real estate, will launch in January.

The platform, Near, is partnering with ISP Be Broadband to facilitate testing in January. Initially modelled on the West End of London, there are plans to extend Near to other parts of the capital and other UK cities.

Using computer graphics technology, it is recreating a detailed 3D environment of London, with opportunities for outdoor advertising and shops to launch e-commerce facilities. Near will also integrate businesses' existing 3D channels to feature in a living model.

Alex Wrottesley, co-founder of Near, who previously worked with in-game billboard advertising at IGA Worldwide, said: "I've always thought there was more that could be done with interactive media. The audience expects commercial messages in an environment like this, so that enables us to provide opportunities for brands who want to be more advanced with their 3D activity."

Be Broadband, a specialist high-speed broadband provider, will be providing access to Near London to its subscribers in a private test. The product itself will launch in September 2009 to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the launch of London's West End.

Near is working with commercial partners the New West End Company, the trade group responsible for promoting retail and hospitality services across London, the Evening Standard, and trustedplaces.com in the test programme. Both will advertise within the virtual world.

Transport for London is working with Near to provide street and travel maps and a deal with GCap global is also in the offing for on and off-air promotion around the company's London radio stations.

Near will be creating GCap's Leicester Square HQ and embedding its radio stations into the software.

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