By the end of next year, Michael Jackson fans and interested gamers will be able to virtually inhabit "Planet Michael," a "massively multi-player online game" (MMOG) based on the life, music, and interests of the King of Pop. The game is being published by L.A.-based SEE Virtual Worlds and developed by Swedish company MindArk, using its Entropia Universe gaming platform. What's in store for Jackson-curious gamers? (Watch a trailer for the Michael Jackson game)

How do you play Planet Michael?
"Think 'World of Warcraft' — with no violence and more dancing," says Mike Snider at USA Today. Based on the few details released so far, "Planet Michael" will be divided into continents based on Jackson's albums or an era of his career. "There will be a Bad land, a Thriller land, a Neverland, a Billy Jean city," says game developer Josh Gordon. Players will be able to move around via 3D avatars, and collaborate with other players on games or activities, or just socialize with fellow Jackson fans.

How much will it cost to play?
It will be free to download and play... up to a point. Completing activities will earn players credits, which they can donate to charity or use to buy virtual merchandise or outfits and accessories for their avatars, but they'll also be able to "replenish their game accounts using real money," the publisher says. That could add up quick, says Keith Stuart in The Guardian. In other Entropia games, "much-used objects are subject to 'wear and tear' and so have to be replaced," and players have been known to drop thousands of dollars. 

Would Jackson approve?
Yes, according to SEE president Martin Biallas, who says the King of Pop was looking into similar interactive projects before he died. "Unfortunately, he never got to this point." Also, the Jackson estate "loved" the idea, Biallas says, and suggested the social-interaction dimension. It is kind of "a fitting tribute to a guy who rarely lived on Earth," says Sean O'Neal in The Onion's A.V. Club, who adds, less charitably, that sending your money to "the ever-expanding Jackson estate... remains the best way to immerse yourself in Michael Jackson."

Why hasn't anyone else tried this?
They have. Ubisoft is releasing a Michael Jackson dance game, "Michael Jackson: The Experience," early next year. The already previewed Ubisoft game is either "warmly anticipated" or "horrible," depending on the commentator.

What about Jackson's "baggage"?
Jackson's "tarnished reputation" — the child molestation accusations, the erratic behavior (hanging his son off a hotel balcony, for instance) — could drag down sales of Jackson-themed games, says gaming industry analyst Michael Pachter. M.J.'s "legacy baggage will be a problem" if the game is marketed to parents, he predicts, but "if the user is the target, I think that all will be forgiven."

Sources: AP, USA Today, CNET News, Guardian, Salon, Onion AV Club, Heavy