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Thanks to cute cartoon characters and anime movies, Japan continues to hold sway over American youths. The latest evidence is Ameba Pico, a virtual world started three months ago by Japan’s CyberAgent.

CyberAgent America
said today it has reached a million registered users with its Facebook app since March 8. The virtual world combines avatar character creation, games, social networking and virtual goods within the Facebook environment.

The world is free-to-play, where players can join for free and pay real money for virtual goods. The company said it has seen 140 percent growth in virtual goods revenues in March-April and 160 percent growth in April-May.

Users can explore more than 20 different virtual scenes from around the world and through time, as well as visit storefronts selling virtual goods. They can chat in a variety of languages. There are 5,000 ways to customize characters.

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“Ameba Pico has quickly proved itself to be a fun, interactive and safe community for our users to meet up and have fun,” said Toshimichi Namba, president and chief executive of CyberAgent America. “We’ve created an addictive gaming environment with lots of incentive to our users to come back.”

Ameba Pico is the first English-language offering from CyberAgent, which operates the big Ameba Pigg virtual world in Japan. Ameba Pigg generates seven figure revenues per month and has drawn millions of users in its first year. CyberAgent America was set up in 2008 and has 20 employees in Palo Alto, Calif. Rivals include Gaia Online, IMVU, Habbo, and WeeWorld.

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