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Publication numberUS20060030407 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 10/892,129
Publication dateFeb 9, 2006
Filing dateJul 16, 2004
Priority dateJul 16, 2004
Also published asWO2006038953A1
Publication number10892129, 892129, US 2006/0030407 A1, US 2006/030407 A1, US 20060030407 A1, US 20060030407A1, US 2006030407 A1, US 2006030407A1, US-A1-20060030407, US-A1-2006030407, US2006/0030407A1, US2006/030407A1, US20060030407 A1, US20060030407A1, US2006030407 A1, US2006030407A1
InventorsDixon Thayer
Original AssigneeDixon Thayer
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Multiple player real-time on-line sports competition system
US 20060030407 A1
Abstract
A system for providing on-line sport competition in real-time. A server computer executes game playing software which is connected via a network to a plurality of player client computers. Hardware accessories at the player's locating permit the entry of real-time playing data such as driving conditions in a race game, which are used by the game playing software executed on the server. The game playing software determines at predetermined intervals the relative performance of players playing a game, based on competition skill, which forms the basis for determining winners, and participants in future competitions. The performance information is sent to the client computers of players engaged in the game. The overall rank of each player is calculated after each competition to group players having similar skill levels and serves as entry criteria in future competitions.
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Claims(27)
1. A method for operating an on-line gaming system, comprising:
registering with the on-line gaming system with at least one of a competitor membership, recruiter membership and distributor membership;
agreeing to requirements of at least one type of membership at a predetermined level;
performing the requirements of the at least one type of membership;
ranking the performance of the member against other members with a same type of membership at the predetermined level; and
advancing the member to a next level of membership when the ranked performance exceeds a membership threshold.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein registering with the competitor membership further comprises:
agreeing to a predetermined level of competitor membership requirements;
purchasing at least a minimum level of at least one of hardware and software to meet the predetermined level of competitor membership;
training to compete on the at least one of hardware and software;
competing for at least one of purses and prizes;
ranking against other competitors at the predetermined level, wherein the ranking is determined in accordance with an amount of at least one of purses and prizes won by the competitor; and
advancing to a next predetermined level when the ranking of the competitor is above a competitor threshold value.
3. The method of claim 1, wherein registering with the recruiter membership further comprises:
agreeing to a predetermined level of recruiter membership requirements;
registering at least a minimum number of new members to meet the predetermined level of recruiter membership;
collecting membership fees from the new members recruited;
contributing a percentage of the membership fees for at least one of purses and prizes;
receiving a percentage of the membership fees as a recruiter commission, wherein the recruiter commission is based on a ranking against other recruiters at the predetermined level, wherein the ranking is determined in accordance with the amount of contributions to at least one of a number of registered recruits in the recruiter's network, revenues, total registrants, purses and prizes by the recruiter; and
advancing to a next predetermined level recruiter membership when the ranking of the recruiter is above a recruiter threshold value.
4. The method of claim 1, wherein registering with the distributor membership further comprises:
agreeing to a predetermined level of distributor membership requirements;
purchasing at least a minimum number of at least one of hardware and software packages at the predetermined level of distributor membership;
collecting fees from sales of the at least one of hardware and software packages;
contributing a percentage of the sale fees for at least one of purses and prizes;
receiving a percentage of the sale fees as a distributor commission, wherein the distributor commission is based on a ranking against other distributors at the predetermined level, wherein the ranking is determined in accordance with the amount of contributions to at least one of sales contributions, network sales contributions, number of network distributors in the distributor's network, purses and prizes of the competitors in the distributor's network purses and prizes by the distributor and the distributor's network; and
advancing to a next predetermined level of distributor membership when the ranking of the distributor is above a distributor threshold value.
5. A method for participating in an on-line sports competition on a computer network, comprising:
registering as a member of an on-line sports competition organization;
installing at least one of software and hardware approved by the organization;
registering an entry for the on-line sports competition in accordance with at least one of the software and hardware requirements for at least a first level of competition;
training on the registered entry for an on-line sports competition in order to qualify for the first level of competition;
qualifying the registered entry for the first level of competition by accumulating credits from training with the registered entry;
competing at the first level of competition with the first level qualified and registered entry;
qualifying for a second level of competition by accumulating credits from racing at the first level of competition;
competing at the second level of competition with the second level qualified and registered entry;
qualifying for a third level of competition by accumulating credits from racing at the second level of competition; and
competing at the third level of competition with the third level qualified and registered entry; and
qualifying for grand prizes by accumulating credits from racing at the third level of competition,
wherein the first, second and third levels of competition require progressively higher levels of skill and competitive success, the schedule for the first, second, third and higher levels of competition are pre-established, and the credits for the first, second and third levels of competition progressively increase in value.
6. The method of claim 5, wherein racing at the first, second and third level of competition is by invitation only, wherein the invitation is based on a predetermined formula for selecting invitees.
7. The method of claim 5, wherein the credits are at least one of points, prizes and monetary awards.
8. A method for hosting a plurality of on-line sports competitions on a computer network, comprising;
entering a plurality of players that are competing on a same predetermined level with one in the competition according to overall rankings of each of the plurality of players;
starting current on-line sports competitions on at least one of the different levels of the competition rankings among a plurality of similarly ranked players;
predetermining a real-time interval to report the competitive position of each player in current on-line sports competitions for each of the plurality of players;
reporting updates of the competitive position of each player to each of the plurality of players competing with one another in the current on-line sports competitions within the predetermined real-time interval; and
reporting final results of the current on-line sports competitions and updating the overall competition rankings for at least each of the plurality of players competing with one another in the current on-line sports competition at a conclusion of the current on-line sports competitions.
9. The method of claim 8, further comprising determining monetary prizes for each of the plurality of players based on the final results of the current on-line sports competitions.
10. The method of claim 8, further comprising revising the overall rankings of each of the plurality of players in the current on-line sports competitions based on the final results of the competition rankings.
11. The method of claim 8, further comprising paying an entry fee for each of the plurality of players before the start of the current on-line sports competition.
12. The method of claim 8, wherein the overall rankings of each of the plurality of players is based on at least one of current on-line sports competitions and past on-line sports competitions.
13. The method of claim 8, wherein the monetary prizes are at least one of cash and credits toward an entry fee in future on-line sports competitions.
14. The method of claim 8, further comprises communicating by voice with each of the plurality of players at a same level of the competition rankings during the current on-line sports competition.
15. The method of claim 14, wherein communicating by voice is provided by at least one of Voice Over Internet Protocol, Instant Messaging and telephonic party-line communication.
16. A system for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time comprising:
at least one server computer communicating over a computer network, said at least one server configured to host a plurality of players of on-line sports competitions and update competition rankings of the plurality of players in a predetermined substantially real-time interval;
at least one computer subsystem with a memory communicating over the computer network, said at least one computer subsystem with a memory configured to store data and programs for access by an application program conducting on-line sports competitions, store data on the competition performance of a plurality of players, and store data on overall rankings of each of the plurality of players; and
at least one client computer communicating over the computer network, said at least one client computer configured to interface to current on-line sports competitions provided by said server which updates the players competition performance in the predetermined real-time interval, and provides the players+ with their overall ranking with respect to other players.
17. An apparatus for participating in on-line sports competitions in real-time comprising:
a client computer communicating over a computer network to a server computer executing an application program for playing an interactive game, the client computer configured to interface to current on-line sports competitions that update competition performance in a predetermined substantially real-time interval; and
hardware accessories for communicating with the client computer and for playing the on-line sports competition, said hardware accessories configured to provide each of the plurality of players with a realistic interface to current on-line sports competitions.
18. The apparatus of claim 17, wherein the hardware accessories are connected to the client computer by at least one of a parallel port, serial bus and USB bus.
19. The apparatus of claim 18, wherein the hardware accessories are at least one of a joystick, steering wheel, clutch-brake-gas pedal assembly, gear shifters, racing seat, upgraded video screen, driver racing tub, and race car body.
20. An apparatus for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time comprising:
at least one server computer communicating over a computer network, said at least one server computer configured to host a plurality of players connected through a client computer to said computer network, said server computer having a game playing computer program for executing the steps of:
starting an on-line sports competition on at least one level representing a competition ranking of said plurality of players;
predetermining a substantial real-time interval between updates of the player performance in current on-line sports competitions for each of the plurality of players;
reporting updates of the competition to at least each of the plurality of players competing with one another within the predetermined real-time interval; and
reporting final results of the on-line competition and updating the competition rankings for each of the plurality of players competing with one another in the current on-line sports competition at a conclusion of the current on-line sports competition.
21. The apparatus of claim 20, further comprising a computer program for determining monetary prizes for each of the plurality of players based on the final results of the current on-line sports competitions.
22. The apparatus of claim 20, further comprising computer program means for revising an overall rankings of each of the plurality of players in the current on-line competition based on the final results of the competition.
23. The apparatus of claim 20, further comprising means for accepting an entry fee for each of the plurality of players before the start of the current on-line sports competition.
24. The apparatus of claim 20, wherein the overall rankings of each of the plurality of players is based on at least one of current on-line sports competitions and past on-line sports competitions.
25. The apparatus of claim 20, wherein the monetary prizes are at least one of cash and credits toward an entry fee in future on-line sports competitions.
26. The apparatus of claim 20, further comprises means for communicating by voice with each of the plurality of players of the competition during the current on-line sports competition.
27. The apparatus of claim 26, wherein the means for communicating by voice is provided by at least one of Voice Over Internet Protocol, Instant Messaging and telephonic party-line communication.
Description
FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is generally related to Internet commerce business methods and on-line gaming systems. Specifically, the present invention is directed to operating a real-time, on-line sports competition with multiple remotely located players and monetary prizes, where the personal stamina, dexterity and skill of a player determine their performance in the competition.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Background art Internet commerce business methods may use the monetary incentive of muli-level marketing to promote word-of-mouth marketing. Multi-level marketing is a method of sales promotion in which a commission is paid not only to the seller responsible for making the sale but also to several levels of sellers that were responsible for distributing knowledge of the product to the seller making the current sale. U.S. Pat. No. 6,691,093 (Shell) is an example of background art that uses multi-level marketing in a server system for vending electronically transferable products through a communication network. However, Shell does not disclose business method or system for qualifying for sanctioned game competitions. In addition, Shell does not disclose the application of multi-level-marketing techniques for raising purses from licensing, training, selling and distributing hardware and/ors software in an on-line gaming system

Background art on-line computer game systems typically provide the capability for a player to compete against a host computer over a direct connection or a computer network. In addition, multiple player schemes using a configuration that includes a host computer and remote players on a computer network are also available.

Examples of background art that include the capabilities discussed above include U.S. Patent Application Publication No. US 20002/0055379 (Saidakovsky et al.) and U.S. Pat. No. 6,174,237 (Stephenson). Saidakovsky et al. discloses a method for providing a tournament system over a network where players win awards based on the player's skill in an electronic game that is played against a host computer. The effect of chance has been minimized in the application disclosed by Saidakovsky et al. Stephenson discloses a method for a game of skill tournament that has a qualifying round and a playoff round where a player or players compete against a host computer. In both Saidakovsky et al. and Stephenson, players who achieve a high level of performance against the host computer are rewarded. However, neither Saidakovsky et al. nor Stephenson discloses an on-line competition with head-to-head competition between the players.

In addition, background art on-line contests are often based on single game competitive sessions. For example, in a trivia game, players answer a series of questions and receive a score based on the number of correct responses at the end of the game. The competition is typically between a player and a host computer, though multiple players may also be competing with the host system at one time. In these background art approaches, the winner is the player with the highest score at the end of the single game competition.

Another example of background art in this area is U.S. Patent Application Publication US2002/0018982 (Conroy). Conroy discloses a system for computer dynamometer testing that runs an auto racing simulation. Conroy is another example of a competition between a player and a host computer in the form of the auto racing simulation as opposed to head-to-head competition. Though, through the use of an actual vehicle and dynamometer, Conroy discloses a very exciting and realistic competition environment, the cost of such a system to the typical on-line player would be prohibitive.

Further, other background art on-line competition systems typically emphasize allowing as many players to access a competition with a host computer as possible. However, these background art methods for conducting on-line competitions often dilute the level of skill of the players involved and would reduce the attraction to participate in such competitions by both players and observers.

For example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,779,549 (Walker et al.) discloses a method for a distributed tournament system providing an open invitation to players who achieve a pre-established performance level of player vs. host computer competitions. The approach of using a pre-established threshold, as disclosed in Walker et al., is similar to handicapping in golf. Handicapping helps to equalize players of different skill levels involved in a single competition.

However, Walker et al. does not disclose a head-to-head competition that establishes a threshold for the skill level of the players that is determined in multiple competitive and training sessions that involve the actual players. In addition, Walker et al. discloses a system that provides an on-line competition to prospective players “on demand.” This is in contrast to an “invitation only” system that would only include players with a demonstrated level of skill.

Another background art example, U.S. Patent Application Publication Number 2002/0115488 (Berry et al), discloses a ranking based on-line competition system. Though the system disclosed by Berry et al. can be based on multiple competitive events, such as a sports season, Berry et al discloses an “on demand” approach for giving players access to the competition. This, as discussed above, is in contrast to a more selective “invitation only” system that would require players to demonstrate a level of skill before gaining access to on-line competitions.

Yet another example of a background art on-line sports competitions by Walker (U.S. Pat. No. 6,224,486) discloses other aspects of state-of-the art on-line tournament competition systems.

However, neither of the patents to Walker et al. or the patent to Berry et al. discussed above discloses providing real-time play and response to remotely located players. Such real-time or at least near real-time response from an on-line competition system of player status and current ranking during the on-line competition provides the participants and observers with a more realistic physical experience and the actual excitement of real world sports competitions.

Further, in contrast to the background art in on-line competitions discussed above, real-world professional sports demonstrate the desirability of multiple competitive sessions and multiple levels of competition. For example, professional basketball consists of a regular season followed by post-season play. The regular season is used to develop the skills (i.e., team cohesiveness, winning record) needed to advance to the post season. A certain number of teams qualify for post-season play based on their regular season records which is an indication of the skill level of the teams. Teams with good records/high skill levels then play each other, often in a “best-of-something” format, to advance to an even higher level of competition (e.g., division champion, conference champion, world/national champion).

As another example in professional auto racing, drivers train and qualify for a berth in a race at each level of competition (e.g., local circuit, regional circuit, national circuit). Top racers at each level of competition develop winning records in competition with each other and the more successful racers are invited to race at even higher levels of competition as a result. As the level of competition increases, so does the size of the purses for which the drivers are competing.

As discussed above, advancement to a next round of play or next level of competition depends on a team's or an individual's performance in a previous round or level of the competition. The increasing skill level required to advance in such competitive environments adds a great deal of excitement to the games for the players as well as observers of these contests. In addition to the excitement of competition, the possibility of greater rewards when larger prizes are offered at higher levels of competition is also an attractive aspect of this competitive environment.

Despite the benefits discussed above, participation in real world professional sports generally includes several drawbacks due to the expense, time and sometimes personal risk, that both participants and observers must invest to physically participate, or observe the competition. Participants typically must also adhere to a set schedule during the competition, a potentially difficult proposition in today's busy world. To ensure that the rules of the tournament are upheld, most competitions require proctors, arbiters, referees, insurance and the like. Retaining such people and coverage can add significant costs to competitions. However, conducting on-line sports competitions that include the benefits of real world professional sports offer an attractive alternative solution.

From the above discussion, there is a need in the art of on-line competitions to include methods, apparatus and systems that emphasizes direct competition between players based on: (1) different levels of skill; and (2) the development and progression of the level of skill of the players by encouraging players to compete at higher levels for larger prizes and awards. Therefore, what is needed in the art of on-line sports competitions is a system, apparatus, and method for conducting on-line competitions that provides the tension and excitement and rewards of real world sports competitions to both participants and observers.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

The present invention is a method, system and apparatus for operating on-line gaming system and conducting on-line sports competitions. In particular, the present invention includes methods, systems and apparatus that emphasize direct competition between players based on: (1) different levels of skill; and (2) the development and progression of the level of skill of the players by encouraging players to compete at higher levels for larger prizes and awards. The on-line gaming system of the present invention is analogous to a major sports league.

In placing an emphasis on developing and increasing the level of skill of the players, the present invention will increase the requirements and the criteria to participate in on-line sports competitions to a professional level. Such an emphasis on high levels of skill and professionalism may further emphasize registration and unionization of players of on-line games. Further, as a result of the increased professionalism in on-line sports competitions, advancement to higher levels of skill may be made on an “invitation only” basis. Such advancement will designate a more limited set of participants in on-line competitions. In addition, increased professionalism in on-line competition would be a attract fans and observers who willing to pay to see players who have obtained such a high level of skill.

The present invention increases the tension due to the chance of elimination and the excitement due to increasing monetary rewards in on-line competitions to the level found in real-world competitive sports environments, for both the participants and observers. Players having similar levels of skill may compete head-to-head at the same level of competition which heightens the excitement of the event for both participants and observers.

One aspect of the present invention is a method for operating an on-line gaming system, comprising: registering with the on-line gaming system with at least one of a competitor membership, recruiter membership and distributor membership; agreeing to requirements of at least one type of membership at a predetermined level; performing the requirements of the at least one type of membership; and ranking the performance of the member against other members with a same type of membership at the predetermined level; and advancing the member to a next level of membership when the ranked performance exceeds a membership threshold.

Another aspect of the present invention is a method for participating in an on-line sports competition on a computer network, comprising: registering as a member of an on-line sports competition organization; installing at least one of software and hardware approved by the organization; registering an entry for the on-line sports competition in accordance with at least one of the software and hardware; training on the registered entry for an on-line sports competition in order to qualify for a first level of competition; qualifying the registered entry for the first level of competition by accumulating credits from training with the registered entry; competing at the first level of competition with the first level qualified and registered entry; qualifying for a second level of competition by accumulating credits from racing at the first level of competition; competing at the second level of competition with the second level qualified and registered entry; qualifying for a third level of competition by accumulating credits from racing at the second level of competition; and competing at the third level of competition with the third level qualified and registered entry; and qualifying for grand prizes by accumulating credits from racing at the third level of competition, wherein the first, second and third levels of competition require progressively higher levels of skill, the schedule for the first, second and third levels of competition are pre-established, and the credits for the first, second and third levels of competition progressively increase in value. The specific number of levels may vary by specific sports venue and total registered competitors in a particular league.

In another aspect of the present invention, a method for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time hosts a plurality of on-line sports competitions, wherein each of the on-line sports competitions represent a level of competition. A plurality of similarly ranked players competes with one another at similar levels of the competition rankings. On-line sports competition on at least one of the different levels of the competition rankings is started, and a real-time update interval for reporting the players' performance during the current on-line sports competitions is determined. Updates of the player's competition performance for the event are reported to the plurality of players competing with one another during the predetermined real-time interval, and the final results of the current on-line sports competitions are used to update the competition rankings for each of the players.

Yet another aspect of the present invention is a system for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time comprising at least one server computer communicating over a network interface with a computer network, configured to host a plurality of players of on-line sports competitions, and configured to update the rank of the players during play in a predetermined real-time interval.

In the system for conducting on-line sports competitions, a computer subsystem communicates over a network interface with the computer network, and a memory of the computer subsystem is configured to store data and programs for access by an application program running on the server computer conducting on-line sports competitions. Data on the rankings of players during game play, and data on overall rankings of each of the plurality of players over a series of competitions, are stored in the memory. In this way, each competition serves to rank the skill of each player. Subsequent competitions form a hierarchy leading up to a championship competition where only the highest ranked players are invited to participate.

In the system for conducting on-line sports competitions, a player gains access to on-line sports competitions in real-time using a client computer communicating over a network interface with the computer network. The client computer is configured to interface to current on-line sports competitions and be updated with player performance data in a predetermined, substantially real-time interval. In this way, each player experiences play action on a substantially real-time basis.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

Several embodiments of the invention will now be further described in the following more detailed description of the specification when read with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:

FIG. 1 shows a non-limiting flow diagram of the method for operating an on-line gaming system of the present invention.

FIG. 2A shows a non-limiting flow diagram of the method for holding a competitor membership in the on-line gaming system of the present invention.

FIG. 2B shows a non-limiting flow diagram of the method for holding a recruiting membership in the on-line gaming system of the present invention.

FIG. 2C shows a non-limiting flow diagram of the method for holding a distributor membership in the on-line gaming system of the present invention.

FIG. 3A shows a non-limiting flow diagram of a method for participating in on-line sports competitions in real-time.

FIG. 3B shows another non-limiting flow diagram of a method for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time.

FIG. 4 shows a non-limiting block diagram of a system and apparatus for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time.

FIG. 5 shows a non-limiting block diagram of an apparatus for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time.

FIG. 6 is an exemplary illustration of the accessories located at the player's location for participating in a race game.

FIG. 7 is an exemplary illustration of an arcade model of the accessories of FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 is a non-limiting block diagram illustrating the conversion of each of the analog input signals generated by a player into digital data for transmission to the server hosting a competition.

FIG. 9 is a non-limiting flow diagram illustrating the server execution sequence for a multi-party game.

FIG. 10 in a non-limiting flow diagram showing how the application software executed by the player's computer to compete in an on-line game.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

FIG. 1 shows a flow chart of the method for operating an on-line gaming system of the present invention 100. Step 102 of FIG. 1 is registering with the on-line gaming system with at least one of a competitor membership, recruiter membership and distributor membership. In step 103, the requirements of at least one type of membership at a predetermined level are agreed to by the member. Performing the requirements of the at least one type of membership occurs in step 104 of FIG. 1. Step 105 involves ranking the performance of the member against other members and a pre-established criteria with a same type of membership at the predetermined level. In step 106, the member is advanced to a next level of membership when the ranked performance exceeds a membership threshold.

FIG. 2A shows a flow chart of the method for holding a competitor membership in the on-line gaming system of the present invention 210. Step 211 of FIG. 2A is agreeing to a predetermined level of competitor membership requirements. In step 212 at least a minimum level of at least one of hardware and software to meet the predetermined level of competitor membership is purchased. Training to compete on the at least one of hardware and software occurs in step 213 of FIG. 2A. Step 214 is competing for at least one of purses and prizes. In step 215, ranking of the competitor against other competitors and a pre-established criteria at the predetermined level occurs. Preferably, the ranking is determined in accordance with an amount of at least one of performance score, ranking, purses and prizes won by the competitor. In step 216 of FIG. 2A, the competitor advances to a next predetermined level when the ranking of the competitor is above a competitor threshold value. If the ranking is not above the competitor threshold, the competitor continues at the current predetermined level of membership and returns to training to increase their skill level, as in step 213.

FIG. 2B shows a flow chart of the method for holding a recruiting membership in the on-line gaming system of the present invention 220. Step 221 is agreeing to a predetermined level of recruiter membership requirements. In step 222, at least a minimum number of new members are registered to meet the predetermined level of recruiter membership. Collecting membership fees from the new members recruited occurs in step 223. Step 224 is contributing a percentage of the membership fees for at least one of purses and prizes. In step 225, a percentage of the membership fees are received as a recruiter commission. Preferably, the recruiter commission is based on a ranking against other recruiters at the predetermined level. As a non-limiting example, the ranking may be determined in accordance with the amount of contributions to at least one of a number of registered recruits in the recruiter's network, revenues, total registrants, purses and prizes by the recruiter. Advancing to a next predetermined level recruiter membership when the ranking of the recruiter is above a recruiter threshold value occurs in step 226. If the ranking is not above the recruiter threshold, the recruiter returns to registering at least a minimum number of new members as required by the current predetermined level of membership, as shown in step 222.

FIG. 2C shows a flow chart of the method for holding a distributor membership in the on-line gaming system of the present invention 230. Step 231 of FIG. 2C is agreeing to a predetermined level of distributor membership requirements. In Step 232, a minimum number of at least one of hardware and software packages at the predetermined level of distributor membership is purchased. Collecting fees from sales of the at least one of hardware and software packages occurs in step 233. Step 234 is contributing a percentage of the sale fees for at least one of purses and prizes. In step 235, a percentage of the sale fees are received as a distributor commission. Preferably, the distributor commission is based on a ranking against other distributors at the predetermined level. As a non-limiting example, the ranking may be determined in accordance with the amount of contributions to at least one of sales contributions, network sales contributions, number of network distributors in the distributor's network, purses and prizes of the competitors, the distributor and the distributor's network. Advancing to a next predetermined level of distributor membership when the ranking of the distributor is above a distributor threshold value occurs in step 236. If the ranking is not above the distributor threshold, the distributor returns to purchasing at least a minimum number hardware/software packages as required by the current predetermined level of membership, as shown in step 232.

FIG. 4 shows a non-limiting block diagram of one embodiment of a system and apparatus for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time. In particular, FIG. 4 includes at least one server computer 401 that communicates over an interface (e.g., a network interface (N. I.)) with a computer network 405. Non-limiting examples of server computers 401 include a web server and any general purpose computing facility capable of supporting a large number of users. Non-limiting examples of computer networks 405 include the Internet and Local Area Networks.

The apparatus for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time comprises the server computer 401 that communicates over an interface (e.g., a network interface (N. I.)) with the computer network 405. The server computer 401 includes application programs for hosting a plurality of on-line sports competitions, where a plurality of players simultaneously competes in a competition. Each of the on-line sports competitions represents a competition ranking based on a player's level of skill and previous ranking.

The server computer 401 is configured to execute computer game applications for a plurality of players of on-line sports competitions, and to update the plurality of players on a substantially real-time basis with their relative position in the on-going competition. At the conclusion of the competition, each players ranking is re-computed based on his most recent performance. The competition rankings provide an indication of the relative skills/ranking of the plurality of players and are used so that competitors at similar skill levels can compete against one another. Providing this information in real-time, such as during a race car driving competition, gives the players a realistic feeling for the progress of the competition as well as their current position in the event.

FIG. 3A shows a non-limiting flow diagram of a method for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time. In FIG. 3A, initial step 301 is the hosting of a plurality of on-line sports competitions, wherein each of the on-line sports competitions has a competition ranking representing a level of skill of the players. The competition ranking includes predetermined criteria for participating in a level of competition. In order to participate, each competitor must meet the criteria for a level of the competition rankings. Step 303 of FIG. 3A identifies a plurality of players having the ranking to compete with one another at one of the competition rankings. Only a limited number of competitors are allowed in any current on-line competition. In step 305, the step of starting current on-line sports competitions on at least one of the different levels of the competition is carried out when there are a sufficient number of available players for at least one level of the competition.

Step 307 of FIG. 3A predetermines a real-time interval between updates of each player's performance in a current on-line sports competition. This predetermined real-time interval will be determined at least by considering the number of players, and the computer network loading that may affect the response time of the server computers 401, 501 and client computers 407, 409, 411, 507, 509, 511.

In step 309, the flow diagram shows reporting updates of the player's performance to each of the plurality of players competing in a current on-line sports competition within the real-time interval. Further, step 311 of FIG. 3A indicates the reporting of the final results of the current on-line sports competition, and updating the rankings of the plurality of players competing with one another at the conclusion of the current on-line sports competition.

The overall rankings of each of the plurality of players in the current on-line sports competition are revised based on the final results of the current on-line competition rankings.

The method of FIG. 3A further comprises determining monetary prizes for the plurality of players based on the final results of the current on-line sports competition. Monetary prizes may be in the form of a credit toward the entry fee for future on-line sports competitions. The step of determining the monetary prizes will at least be based on the updated player rankings.

The method of FIG. 3A may include voice communication among the plurality of players during the current on-line sports competition. Non-limiting examples of communicating by voice include Voice Over Internet Protocol, Instant Messaging, telephonic party-line communication and any other current voice interface system. The real-time nature of these communications between competitors further establishes the realistic feeling of the on-line competition.

Step 307 of FIG. 3A predetermines a real-time interval between updates of each player's performance in a current on-line sports competition. This predetermined real-time interval will be determined at least by considering the number of players, and the computer network loading that may affect the response time of the server computers 401, 501 and client computers 407, 409, 411, 507, 509, 511.

In step 309, the flow diagram shows reporting updates of the player's performance to each of the plurality of players competing in a current on-line sports competition within the real-time interval. Further, step 311 of FIG. 3A indicates the reporting of the final results of the current on-line sports competition, and updating the rankings of the plurality of players competing with one another at the conclusion of the current on-line sports competition.

FIG. 3B shows a non-limiting flow diagram of a method for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time. In FIG. 3B, initial step 321 is the registration of a player as a member of an on-line sports organization. In order to participate, each competitor must meet membership criteria which may include but is not limited to union membership. If the registration of step 321 is successful, the registrant will install at least one of hardware and software that has been approved by the on-line sports competition organization at a convenient location such as the registrants, home or computer, in step 323 of FIG. 3B. Non-limiting examples of hardware and software are shown in the specification and are further discussed below.

In step 325 of FIG. 3B, after installation of the selected hardware/software the registrant designs and/or registers an entry for an on-line competition. If the registrant successfully registers an entry for on-line competition, the registrant may begin a training phase to develop a level of skill in accordance with a first level of competition in step 327. The training in step 327 of FIG. 3B may include, but is not limited to, head-to-head competition with other registrants, and/or using software simulations on a host computer or the client's computer. In step 329, after completing a sufficient amount of training, the registrant may leave the training phase and qualify for a first level of competition.

The registrant begins the competition phase by competing for credits in step 331 of FIG. 3B. If the registrant is able to accumulate a sufficient number of credits while competing with players at the first level of competition, the registrant qualifies for a second level of competition in step 333 of FIG. 3B. After qualifying for the second level of competition, the registrant can compete for credits at the second level of competition as shown in step 335 of FIG. 3B. If the registrant is able to accumulate a sufficient number of credits while competing at the second level of competition, the registrant qualifies for a third level of competition in step 337 of FIG. 3B. After qualifying for the third level of competition, the registrant can compete for credits at the third level of competition as shown in step 339 of FIG. 3B. If the registrant is able to accumulate a sufficient number of credits while competing at the third level of competition, the registrant qualifies for grand prize awards, as shown in step 341 of FIG. 3B.

The foregoing invention, described in terms of providing multiple players for a real-time, on-line video game, permits a variety of different game formats to be played. The system is particularly adaptable to a race game, wherein at each client computer; a player has an apparatus for encoding real-time driving commands in a race competition.

FIG. 4 also shows a computer subsystem 403 with a memory 404 communicating over an interface (e.g., an N. I.) with the computer network 405. The memory 404 stores data and programs for access by the server computer 401 that are conducting on-line sports competitions. In addition, the memory 404 also stores the competition rankings of the plurality of players. This allows easy identification of players who should compete at the same level of the competition. Moreover, the memory 404 stores data representing an overall ranking of each of the plurality of players over a successive number of competitions. Non-limiting examples of the memory 404 would be electronic databases, hard disk drives and large mass storage devices.

FIG. 4 also shows client computers 407, 409, 411 that communicate over an interface (e.g., an N. I.) with the computer network 405. The client computers 407, 409, 411 interface the players to the current on-line sports competitions executed on server computer 401. These client computers receive updates of the player's performance from server computer 401 via computer subsystem 403 in a substantially real time basis for each of the plurality of players so that a player is constantly aware of his position in the current competition. A real-time interval between updates of the player's performance in current on-line sports competitions is predetermined for each of the plurality of players competing at the same level of competition. This predetermined real-time interval is a function of the number of players and the expected computer network 405 loading/traffic conditions. The predetermined real-time interval is set to guarantee that the players receive information at a rate to provide a realistic feeling of an on-going competition.

In addition, FIG. 4 shows hardware accessories 413, 415, 417 that are connected to the client computers 407, 409, 411. The hardware accessories 413, 415, 417 communicate with the client computers through an interface (INT) and allow the players to compete against one another by providing real-time, player generated inputs to a current on-line sports competition. The hardware accessories 413, 415, 417 transmit and receive commands, as well as audio and video content to the client computers 407, 409, 411. The hardware accessories 414, 415, 417 provide the plurality of players with a realistic competition environment with the current on-line sports competitions.

FIG. 5 shows a non-limiting block diagram of another apparatus for conducting on-line sports competitions in real-time. In particular, FIG. 5 shows client computers 507, 509, 511 that communicate over an interface (e.g., an N. I.) with a computer network 505. Moreover, the computer network 505 is connected to a multi-player facility 502 that includes application programs executed on a server to provide commands to the on-line sports competitions. The client computers 507, 509, 511 interface to current on-line sports competitions and update a player's position in the competition in a real-time interval.

In addition, FIG. 5 shows hardware accessories 513, 515, 517 that are connected to the client computers 507, 509, 511. The hardware accessories 515, 515, 517 communicate with the client computers through an interface (INT) and allow the players to compete against one another by providing real-time, player generated inputs to a current on-line sports competition. The hardware accessories 513, 515, 517 transmit and receive commands, as well as audio and video content to the client computers 507, 509, 511. The hardware accessories 515, 515, 517 provide the plurality of players with a realistic competition environment with the current on-line sports competitions.

As discussed above, a real-time interval between updates of the player's relative position in the on going competition is predetermined for each of the plurality of players so that players can fully experience the competition.

Further, the apparatus of FIG. 5 permits a plurality of players to compete with one another according to an overall ranking of each of the players. Players enter a competition by electronically paying a fee for registration using e-commerce techniques. The apparatus of FIG. 5 further includes means for receiving an entry fee for each of the plurality of players before the start of the current on-line sports competition. An internet based means for registering players and paying an entry fee using credit/debit cards are part of each client computer application program. Once payment has been made, the server computer 501 authorizes the client computer 507, 509, 511 to access game playing software being executed by the multiplayer server facility 502.

After players have registered, and the participants in at least one level of competition have been determined according to their overall rank, on-line sports competition on at least one of the different levels of the competition begins. All competitors are preferably notified simultaneously to ensure fairness of the competition. Non-limiting examples of starting a competition may include an audio (e.g., a starting gun shot or horn) or visual symbol (e.g., waving a starting flag) displayed by the players client computer on command of the multiplayer server facility 502.

The multiplayer server facility 502 predetermines a real-time interval between updates of the player position in the current on-line sports competition for each of the players. Players are selected to be at the same competition ranking as determined from past on-line sports competitions. The apparatus of FIG. 2 provides updates of the player position in the competition to the player.

The apparatus of FIG. 5 also reports updates of the player's positions to each of the other players competing with one another in current on-line sports competitions within the real-time interval determined by the server facility computer 502 through the computer network 505 and client computers 507, 509, 511. These results may also be conveyed to other identified interested parties. Reporting of this information may be by e-mail, in the form of digitized audio and video information. The above examples for reporting also apply to reporting the final results of the current on-line competition, and the resulting new rankings for each of the plurality of players at the conclusion of the current on-line sports competitions updated with the results of the most recent competition.

The hardware accessories 513, 515, 517 of the apparatus of FIG. 5 for a racing competition may include at least one of a joystick, steering wheel, clutch-brake-gas pedal assembly, gear shifters, racing seat, upgraded video screen, driver racing tub, and race car body as explained below. Additional hardware accessories may include a treadmill, bicycle, motorcycle, boat, flight cockpit and the equipment associated with each. The hardware accessories 513, 515, 517 of FIG. 5 may be connected to the client computer by a parallel port, serial bus, USB bus or any other conventional computer interface.

The apparatus of FIG. 5 further determines monetary prizes for each of the plurality of players based on the final results of the current on-line sports competitions. The process for determining these prizes may be included in the multiplayer server facility 502; client computers 507, 509, 511; or another facility attached to the computer network 505 programmed for this purpose. The determination of monetary prizes will at least be based on the updated competition rankings of the players. Monetary prizes may also be in the form of a credit toward the entry fee for future on-line sports competitions.

The apparatus of FIG. 5 may provide communication by voice among players during the current on-line sports competition. Non-limiting examples of the means for communicating include Voice Over Internet Protocol, Instant Messaging, telephonic party-line communication and any other current voice interface system. The real-time nature of communications between competitors further establishes the realistic feeling of the on-line competition.

FIG. 6 illustrates the basics of the hardware accessories 413, 415, 417 used at the client computer for engaging in a race game. A racing station 615 includes a seat 616 positioned with respect to various driving controls. The steering wheel 621, gear shift 623, accelerator 624, brake 625, and clutch 626 are (as are common in arcade games) connected to the various transducers which encode the position of the control into an electrical signal. A display 620 generates from the client computer 607 (not shown) a visual indication of the individual's position in a race based on data received from the host server. A microphone (not shown) may optionally be included to permit players to send audio conversation to the server, where it is redirected to other players.

The basic racing station module 615 can be enhanced similar to an arcade racing game as shown in FIG. 7 to more closely simulate the conditions of driving a racing vehicle. However, whether such embellishments as an exterior covering 727 are used or not is not critical to the invention.

FIG. 8 shows a block diagram of the hardware accessories 413, 415, 417 connected to a client computer 807 for transmitting and receiving commands to the host server computer 801 which conducts the racing competition. An analog/digital interface 830 receives each of the analog voltages representing the position of the clutch, brake, steering wheel, accelerator, and gear shift. The client computer 807, through an I/O port, samples each of the incoming analog voltages, digitizes and prepares a frame of data for transmission via modem 833 to the host server computer 801. Data received from the host server computer 801 is decoded, transmitted to the user on the computer display 820 or to other feedback/stimulus systems in order to make the experience as virtually lifelike as possible.

The multi-player racing game is provided by the host server 801 which executes specific game playing software shown more particularly in FIG. 9. Referring now to FIG. 9, play begins when a sufficient number of players have been validated in step 950. The validation step includes determining whether or not the player has paid the required fee to enter the game, usually by using e-commerce payment techniques. Further, the user's status regarding a particular level of competition is verified. This level of competition may be the result of previous competitions engaged in by the player in qualifying heats which were conducted by the host server computer 801.

When the host server computer 801 has validated that a sufficient number of players are on-line and available for beginning a competition, the race beings in step 951. A start command 952 is sent to all of the players via e-mail, and is decoded by each of the client computer processors of an authorized player. During play, commands are received from each of the players representing various control data generated by the racing station module 615 of FIG. 6 and 715 of FIG. 7. Each of the received data frames from the players is used to recalculate a racer's position in step 954 by the host server conducting the racing game for each participant. The new positions are sent as data in step 956 to each player where it can be displayed on display 820. The display under control of the client computer 807 may position a plurality of displayed vehicles in accordance with the information received.

Decision block 957 determines when a given player has won based on his position in the race and the elapsed time of the race. Once a winner has been determined, a race over command is sent in step 958 to all players. New rankings of the various players are then computed, based on their performance as determined by the software executing the game on host server 801. Prizes are awarded based on the new rankings and notices of the reward are sent in step 961 to each of the players.

Application software which is resident on the client computer 807 is executed and interacts with the host server 801 during play. FIG. 10 illustrates the flow diagram for the method for engaging in a race with multiple players' resident on a client computer 807. The software begins execution in step 1075, when a begin race command is received from host server 801. An icon is displayed in step 1076 to indicate the start of the race to the player. Initial position data for each player is forwarded by the host server 801 and may be displayed in step 1077 on the display 820 of the client computer 807 as a race vehicle on a race track.

The player operates the controls of the racing station module 615, 715 based on the display information viewed by him on display 820. The display may illustrate a race track profile which changes over time. Various controls generate steering information, braking information, clutch position, gear shift position, as well as acceleration information. This information is placed in a frame in step 1079 with a header which identifies a particular player and is posted as a message to the host server 801. Player position updates are received from the host server in step 1080 and displayed on display 820 in step 1082. When the host server computer 801 has declared a winner, a race over command is sent and received in step 1083 on the user's display 820. New rankings of each player based on his relative performance in the race game are then received from the host server computer 801 and displayed and stored in the client computer 807.

Thus, multiple users are able to race against each other in real time, and relative rankings are adjusted based on the race outcome. Further, the system permits further races to be played among newly ranked players culminating in a championship race among the highest ranked players. Prize awards may be forwarded via the internet in the form of credits to a given player for future playing time or as cash to the winning player's bank account.

The advantages of real-time play are realized with the invention, and so that multiple players can play against each other and obtain the effects of real-time racing experiences.

The foregoing description illustrates and describes the present invention. Additionally, the disclosure shows and describes only the preferred embodiments of the invention, but, as mentioned above, it is to be understood that the invention is capable of use in various other combinations, modifications, and environments and is capable of changes or modifications within the scope of the inventive concept as expressed herein, commensurate with the above teachings and/or the skill or knowledge of the relevant art. The embodiments described hereinabove are further intended to explain best modes known of practicing the invention and to enable others skilled in the art to utilize the invention in such, or other, embodiments and with the various modifications required by the particular applications or uses of the invention. Accordingly, the description is not intended to limit the invention to the form or application disclosed herein. Also, it is intended that the appended claims be construed to include alternative embodiments.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification463/42
International ClassificationA63F9/24
Cooperative ClassificationG07F17/3276, G07F17/32, G07F17/3209
European ClassificationG07F17/32C2D, G07F17/32M8D, G07F17/32