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Company Profile Overview of Yoyodyne Entertainment Online Gaming Service

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Online services such as Prodigy, CompuServe, and America Online brought a new level of professionalism and sophistication to the industry. Inelegant text-based user interfaces were replaced with graphical front ends that no longer required users to memorize arcane commands or codes. Game play became more popular as the software became increasingly user-friendly.

One of the companies providing games in this new environment is NTN Communications. They offer a trivia game on America Online in which players compete by answering a series of questions. There are five possible answers, with 1000 points being awarded for a correct answer. The player is given a limited amount of time to come up with an answer, and fewer points are awarded for a correct answer as time passes. At the end of the contest, the top scores are displayed to all competitors. The game has a major drawback, however, in that there are no prizes awarded to players. The competitive drive is diminished when there is no prize for winning. It’s like playing a game of poker without using money.

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To increase player interest, several companies have begun to offer online contests with cash prizes. Yoyodyne Entertainment provides an email-based trivia game that is available through the Internet and several online services. Players receive questions via email and must submit their answers before a deadline, which is usually a day or two later. Points are awarded for each correct answer and deducted for each incorrect answer. The winner is the person with the highest score at the end of the contest.

Interactive Imaginations also developed online contests for prizes. They created the Riddler site on the World Wide Web. Users are offered a selection of games, including trivia and puzzle games. Like the Yoyodyne site, prize amounts are necessarily limited because there are no entry fees. One company has combined both entry fees and prizes to generate new potential customers. Bert & Associates created an options trading game in which contestants pay an entry fee in order to become eligible for the prizes. The game was merely a peripheral element of their business, however, meant only to attract customers to their brokerage business.

Another limitation of the games run by Yoyodyne and Interactive Imaginations is that there is no continuity among the games. The results of one game have no impact on the results of another game. Each game is an independent event; they are not linked together into a more continuous game experience. After registering for one game, the process must be repeated for future games. A player who has become an expert in a trivia game is able to enter the same trivia games again and again, monopolizing the top prizes. Game organizers are unable to prevent this since there are no effective controls on who can register for a game. Games geared exclusively to experts are impossible as there is no effective way to screen the qualifications of participants.

Rating systems, popular in chess and backgammon games, are impossible to implement without a way to track a player’s progress over a number of games. Handicap systems popular in golf games are similarly restricted in that player results must be tracked over a series of games, not just one game. Online games also lack effective reservation systems; players simply log on at the appropriate time and begin play. If game organizers want to restrict the number of players, they are forced to establish an arbitrary limit on the number of entrants. If such a limit is enforced, however, players will have no way to know in advance whether or not they will be able to register at the time the tournament starts.

Existing electronic games also lack the implementation of levels, a progression of increasing difficulty throughout the competition. What is missing is the excitement of elimination found in virtually every other competitive environment. To date, all online contests have involved a single game session. In a trivia game, players answer a series of questions and receive a score based on the number of correct responses. The winner is the player with the highest score. In a puzzle contest, the first correct solution wins.

The world of professional sports demonstrates the desirability of levels. Professional basketball, for example, consists of a regular season followed by postseason play. A certain number of teams qualify for post-season play based on their regular season records. These teams then play each other in an elimination format until two teams remain to play in the final series that determines the winner. Advancement to the next round of post-season play depends on a team’s performance in the previous round. There is no doubt that the tournament structure adds a great deal of excitement not only to each of the post-season games, but also to the games at the end of the regular season as well.

Imagine a basketball season in which the champion was determined by the regular season record alone. The last games of the season would be irrelevant if the current leader were many games ahead of the nearest team. Spectator and player interest would drop dramatically. Teams whose scores would place them in the middle of the pack could be out of contention with dozens of games remaining. There would be little incentive to press for a win in the remaining games. Key competitive matchups might also be missed. Two teams with top records that were never scheduled to play each other would vie for the title without ever having played. Player curiosity as to which team was really the best would not be satisfied without a head to head competition.

All professional sports use an elimination process to make the game more exciting for participants as well as spectators. Professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey all have regular seasons followed by post-season play in which teams are eliminated from contention. Instead of having a regular season, professional tennis offers a series of games in which the field narrows through a process of elimination until ultimately one competitor remains and is declared the winner. Professional golf tournaments have a cut in which the field is dramatically cut back before the final round of competition begins.

It should be apparent from the foregoing that there is a need for an electronic gaming system in which players from different locations can participate in and win awards. The system should not just support stand-alone games, but should also support the coordination of multiple games in which information from one game impacts future games. An object of the present invention is to provide methods and devices for effectively operating multiple database-driven distributed electronic game tournaments for remotely located players. It provides numerous advantages over existing tournament systems; such as simplifying the collection of entry fees and the payment of prizes, as well as allowing for rating and handicap systems.

In the invented system, players pay entry fees for the right to compete for substantial prizes in electronic tournaments. Unlike existing tournament systems, the present invention allows for the coordination of multiple tournaments, making each tournament part of a whole rather than a standalone individual event. In one preferred embodiment, a central controller manages the tournament system, coordinating both the players and game software with which the players compete. The system uniquely identifies each player as they log on, authenticating the associated input/output device that is connected to the central controller. This unique identifier allows other players to know whom they are competing against. Each player typically pays the system an entry fee before participating in a particular tournament, with payment delivered through the associated input/output device. The tournament begins and ends within a fixed time window, typically measured in hours or minutes. After each tournament is over, the system evaluates player performance, awarding prizes to those players achieving pre-established performance levels.

Due to the complexity of coordinating multiple tournaments, one preferred embodiment includes the use of a database. In this embodiment the central controller accesses the database to store player information that is generated as the player participates in the tournament. Such information is available for use in a subsequent tournament, which is administered by the controller and in which the player participates.

In another preferred embodiment with the central controller, each tournament game is broken down into a series of game sessions in which players must qualify in one game session in order to be eligible to play in the next. This elimination format significantly increases tension and enhances excitement in the games, since only the best players are left fighting for the top prizes in the final game session. In such an embodiment, each subsequent game session has at least one fewer player than a previous game session. Other aspects and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following detailed description, which, when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, illustrates by way of example the principles of the invention.

The GSM wireless cellular standard includes a short message service (SMS) function, allowing text messages to be sent to and from mobile terminals. The SMS function has been used to implement a quiz game in which answers to questions are sent via SMS to a designated number. For example, in a marketing campaign run by the Pepsi-Cola Company in Sweden, a question and a telephone number were printed on bottle tops. Customers were encouraged to send their answer to the question as an SMS message from their mobile telephone. If the answer were correct, a second question would be sent to that mobile telephone via SMS. At the end of the competition, various prizes were awarded to customers who answered all questions correctly.

A disadvantage of this system is that prizes could not be awarded immediately, which detracted from the excitement of playing the game. A further disadvantage is that an additional administration system was needed to award the prizes. Corporate entities often use games and contests to promote their goods and services. For example, television networks broadcast TV game shows to entice viewers to watch that network’s TV channel. Radio broadcasters often run contests where a listener calls in when a specific song is playing to win a prize, thus enticing listeners to tune their radios to that specific station. In addition, contests are often used to entice consumers to buy one product over another.

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