White, Phelps spin Olympic gold into videogames

RALEIGH, North Carolina Thu Dec 18, 2008 10:35am EST

A scene from the game ''Shaun White Snowboarding'' is seen in this handout photo. REUTERS/Ubisoft/Handout

A scene from the game ''Shaun White Snowboarding'' is seen in this handout photo.

Credit: Reuters/Ubisoft/Handout

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - After scoring big wins in the Olympics snowboarder Shaun White and swimmer Michael Phelps have set their sights on another prize -- videogames.

The Gold medalists are parlaying their prowess on the slopes and in the pool into sports games that feature their likeness and promote active lifestyles.

White has completed "Shaun White Snowboarding," with Ubisoft while Phelps has partnered with start-up game publisher 505 Games for a series of videogames for iPhone and consoles. The first game is due hit stores in the spring 2010.

"I believe this will be a tremendous opportunity to help continue my quest to raise the profile for the sport of swimming," Phelps, a 14-time Olympic gold medalist, said in a statement.

Although both are famous sportsmen tying a superstar athlete to developing a game for phenomenal athletes consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 can be risky.

"Phelps is the most phenomenal athlete I've ever seen, but as someone who actually was a world class swimmer, I can't think of anything more boring than a swimming videogames," said Michael Pachter, videogame analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities.

Activision's Tony Hawk skateboarding franchise, which has generated over $1 billion since launching in 1999, is the only current game that carries the name of a single athlete.

White, who's a mainstream brand thanks to his exploits in both skateboarding and snowboarding in the X-Games, has spent the past two years working with Ubisoft's acclaimed Montreal development studio on his new snowboarding game.

"I was sitting in a board room with all of these programmers and game designers and I was trying to convey to them what it feels like to actually ride and what my goals were with the game," said White, who's an avid gamer.

Although all of the new games feature White's motion-captured moves and voice acting, the Wii game, "Shaun White Snowboarding Road Trip," takes advantage of Nintendo's Wii Fit balance board to allow players to steer the on-screen action with their body.

"Obviously, it's easier to replicate the sensation of boarding on the Wii because we have the balance board, but with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 there's a whole culture behind our sport and you can see that in the amount of clothes and boards and customization options in the game."

While White is the driving force behind the development and marketing of the game, players won't take control of his avatar in the game. White wanted players to be able to express themselves as individuals in the game, including being able to download their own music for the soundtrack.

John Taylor, videogame analyst, Arcadia Research, said "Shaun White Snowboarding" sold 259,000 copies in the U.S. in November and generated $13.6 million for Ubisoft with 40 percent of those sales for the Wii console.

With the success of the first game, White said he's already started working on the sequel.

"Now that I have the knowledge and I can speak to programmers better and I understand a lot more about what's possible and what's not possible, this will all help with the next game," said White.

Game publishers are hoping that fans of White and Phelps with turn to games featuring their idols, just as they have for Hawk.

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