Source: Joystiq reports that Microsoft is looking into creating a virtual arcade for players' Avatar characters, citing a consumer survey sent in by a tipster.
What we heard: There isn't much to go on in the Joystiq report, aside from a couple of pictures of the supposed Avatar arcade and a question asking users to pick a name that would most encourage them "to purchase the product."
Fortunately, the pictures themselves offer some clues as to what's going on. They show a handful of Avatars standing at Atari-branded arcade cabinets, similar to the virtual game parlors in PlayStation Home. However, instead of containing joysticks and buttons, the control panels on each of the cabinets have been replaced by Atari 2600 machines. All but one of the marquees on the cabinets are unreadable, with the lone legible title being Baseball.
It isn't just Atari on display in the Avatar arcade, however. Partially obscured banners hanging from the wall suggest that Intellivision games like Shark! Shark! and Star Strike will also be available for play in the Avatar arcade. (A version of Star Strike was also released for the Atari 2600.)
Along the bottom of the screenshots are a series of nearly unreadable button prompts, apparently indicating that players will be able to customize their own arcades, change themes, and edit which machines are in the room.
The significance of an Avatar arcade is debatable. Even if everything in the Joystiq article is accurate, this could be something as mundane as a shell from which players can buy other games (like Hasbro Family Game Night), or as big as a virtual space for Avatars to congregate, Microsoft's answer to PlayStation Home.
The official story: An inquiry to Atari wasn't returned as of press time, but a Microsoft rep said the company "can't comment on rumor or speculation."
Bogus or not bogus?: Looks a little complex to be completely bogus. The fact that Sony is already doing something in Home provides motivation for the move, as does the chance to remonetize old Atari 2600 games. (With its listing revenues, the publisher could use the cash.) And with Microsoft already selling Avatar toys, a virtual arcade would be a logical next step down microstransaction lane.