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Publication numberUS20070087819 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/535,572
Publication dateApr 19, 2007
Filing dateSep 27, 2006
Priority dateOct 14, 2005
Publication number11535572, 535572, US 2007/0087819 A1, US 2007/087819 A1, US 20070087819 A1, US 20070087819A1, US 2007087819 A1, US 2007087819A1, US-A1-20070087819, US-A1-2007087819, US2007/0087819A1, US2007/087819A1, US20070087819 A1, US20070087819A1, US2007087819 A1, US2007087819A1
InventorsAndrew Van Luchene, Raymond Mueller
Original AssigneeLeviathan Entertainment, Llc
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Financial institutions and instruments in a virtual environment
US 20070087819 A1
Abstract
A system and method to allow players of a video game to transfer funds between entities in a virtual environment. According to some embodiments, real world financial instruments such as a credit card or other financial instrument may guarantee some or all of the virtual financial operations.
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Claims(20)
1. A method comprising:
providing a virtual environment including a virtual bank;
receiving a loan request from a character in the virtual world;
receiving a guaranty for the loan;
associating the guaranty for the loan with the loan;
determining the terms of the loan; and
depositing the loan amount in the character's account.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein the guaranty is a real world credit line for the player.
3. The method of claim 2 comprising:
determining if the loan account is past due; and
if the loan is past due, charging the credit line for the player.
4. The method of claim 2, wherein the credit line is supplied by a credit card.
5. The method of claim 3, wherein the amount of the loan is locked on the credit card.
6. The method of claim 2, wherein the guaranty is a real world credit line of a third party.
7. The method of claim 6, wherein the third party is another player.
8. The method of claim 1, wherein the guaranty is an asset in the virtual world.
9. The method of claim 8, comprising:
determining if the loan is past due; and
if the loan is past due, seizing the virtual asset.
10. The method of claim 1, wherein determining the terms of the loan comprises evaluating the credit score of the character.
11. The method of claim 10, wherein the credit score of the character is based on the credit score of the character is based on the credit score of the player.
12. The method of claim 1, further comprising determining if the character is qualified for a loan.
13. The method of claim 12, wherein the determination is based on the amount of outstanding loans the player has.
14. The method of claim 1, wherein the terms of the loan include an interest rate.
15. The method of claim 14, wherein the interest rate is fixed.
16. The method of claim 14, wherein the interest rate is floating.
17. The method of claim 14, wherein the interest rate is tied to a real world economic indicator.
18. A method comprising:
providing a virtual environment including a virtual bank;
receiving a loan request to a character in the virtual world;
requiring the loan request provide a reason for the loan; and
providing a loan to a character in the virtual world.
19. The method of claim 18 wherein the virtual bank limits the spending of the proceeds of the loan to the reason for the loan.
20. The method of claim 18, wherein the amount of the loan cannot be converted to real world currency.
Description
PRIORITY CLAIM

The following application claims priority as a continuation-in-part to U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/421,025 “Financial Institutions and Instruments in a Virtual Environment” filed May 23, 2006, which claims priority to U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/727,121 “Methods, Processes, and System to Enhance a Player Experience of a Video Game” filed Oct. 14, 2005, both of which are hereby incorporated by reference in their entirety for all purposes.

BACKGROUND

Video games which are accessible to multiple players via a server or peer to peer network are well known. For example, hundreds of thousands of players access games known as massive multi-player online games (MMOGs) and massive multi-player online role playing games (MMORPGs). Players of these games customarily access a game repeatedly (for durations typically ranging from a few minutes to several days) over a given period of time, which may be days, weeks, months or even years. The games are often constructed such that players pay a periodic subscription price (e.g., $15 per month) rather than, or in addition to, paying a one time purchase price for the game. Often, though not necessarily, these games have no ultimate “winner” or “winning goal,” but instead attempt to create an enjoyable playing environment and a strong player community.

It would be advantageous to provide improved methods and apparatus for increasing the enjoyment and/or longevity of video games including, but not necessarily limited to MMOGs and MMORPGs.

SUMMARY Brief Description of the Drawings

FIG. 1 is a block diagram depicting a network according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.

FIG. 2 is a block diagram depicting a system 100 according to one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 3 illustrates a method of applying for a loan according to one embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 4 is a schematic screen shot of a type of a request for a loan.

FIG. 5 is a schematic screen shot of an array of payment options for a loan.

FIG. 6 is a schematic screen shot of an acceptance of a loan.

FIG. 7 illustrates a method of applying for a loan according to one embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 8 illustrates a method of applying for a loan according to one embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 9 illustrates a contract generated upon formation of a.

FIG. 10 loan illustrates a written communication notifying a player that payment on a loan is due.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Definitions:

Unless stated to the contrary, for the purposes of the present disclosure, the following terms shall have the following definitions:

Credit Card—a credit instrument issued by a real world institution to a player that allows the player to make purchases by providing an account identifier (e.g. a credit card number) rather than cash or other currency. An example is a credit card like those issued by Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. For the purposes of the present disclosure, the term “Credit card” is intended in a very broad sense and is not limited to those situations in which a player's purchases are made on credit (i.e. where payments for those purchases is not due until a later time) but also includes financial instruments such as debit cards, check cards, lines of credit and the like.

Virtual credit card—a financial instrument issued in a virtual environment that acts in the virtual environment for virtual currency the way a real world credit card acts in the real world for real currency.

Real Cash Value—the value in real dollars of the virtual currency. This value can be determined by multiplying the value of a virtual currency amount by the current exchange rate to real dollars.

Total virtual obligation amount—the total amount of the virtual financial obligation(s) associated with a player character's account.

Virtual Contract—An enforceable agreement between a first player character and either another player character, a game server, or a third party. Some examples of virtual contracts are provided in U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/652,036, which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety for all purposes.

Virtual—shall mean in a video game environment or other intangible space.

Virtual World—a world created in an online game such as World of Warcraft, or a virtual community such as Second Life, Eve or There.com.

Virtual Creditor—shall mean a first player character or other entity who is owed a virtual obligation by a second player character.

Virtual Credit Score—a score given to player characters in a video game based on one or more of the following criteria: the virtual assets they possess, the age of the character account, the type of account, e.g. basic or premium, the available credit line of the credit card associated with the account, the existing virtual financial obligations of the player character account, the player character's payment history including days to pay, amounts overdue or delinquent, and/or the player character's real world credit score, and/or the factors used in the real world to determine a credit score.

Virtual Financial Account—a virtual account issued to a player character by a virtual bank, game server or third party where virtual cash can be deposited and withdrawn.

Virtual Financial Obligation—An agreement by a player character or entity to pay one or more game attributes to another player character, entity or the game server. This obligation can be a one time payment, or may require multiple payments over time. The obligation may specify when payments and/or interest are due.

Virtual Financial Intermediary—Financial intermediaries are institutions including depository institutions, contractual savings institutions, and investment intermediaries which offer financial products and services for use within the virtual environment. The various financial intermediaries available in the virtual environment may each serve different or overlapping purposes and provide means for using, saving, borrowing and transferring currency.

Virtual Financial Obligation Value—the in game value of the obligation. For virtual cash the value may be stated as a virtual and/or real cash amount. For other game attributes, the value can be determined by generating a virtual cash market value for the item based on the current value in an online marketplace or exchange. The value of the obligation may be fixed or variable and may also be set as a condition of the player contract and/or by the game server or other entity.

Billing Information—shall mean any information pertaining to billing a player for playing a game, accessing a game, purchasing goods or services, or any other reasons. Billing information may include such information as a billing address, credit card account number, bank account number, pay pal account number or other payment facilitator, or the account number of any other financial entity providing a real world credit line or any other payment-related information.

Character or “player character”—a persona created and controlled by a player in a video game.

Avatar—the virtual representation of a player character.

Character Account—an account that tracks character attributes.

Character Attribute—any quality, trait, feature or characteristic a particular Character can have that is stored in the corresponding Character Account. Character Attributes may include, but are not be limited to:

    • 1. A character score
    • 2. A virtual object
    • 3. The physical appearance of a character
    • 4. An emblem or mark
    • 5. A synthetic voice
    • 6. Virtual currency
    • 7. Virtual help points or credits
    • 8. The ability to join groups of other players at a later time
    • 9. A score for subsequent matching of later game parameters
    • 10. A relationship with another character
    • 11. A genetic profile or makeup
    • 12. A skill or skill level
    • 13. A ranking

Character Life—a fixed or variable, finite or infinite period of virtual or real world time that a player character can exist in a game environment.

Character Skills—game attributes inherent in or acquired by a player character during game play such as, but not limited to: the ability to cast (certain) spells, foretell the future, read minds, use (certain) weapons, cook, hunt, find herbs, assemble herbs into potions, mine, assemble objects into other objects, fly, and/or enchant other player characters.

Computer Generated (CG) or Non-Player (NP) Character—any character that is controlled by the game system and/or a computer program and/or rules established by the game system and/or a player and not by a player on a continuous basis.

Game performance parameter—any aspect of a Video Game by which a player character's performance can be measured. Game Parameters shall include, but not be limited to:

    • 1. Completing all or part of a mission
    • 2. Playing for a certain period of time
    • 3. Winning a match against another player character or computer generated character
    • 4. Reaching a certain level or score
    • 5. using or obtaining an ability or technology
    • 6. kill/death ratios
    • 7. obtaining, creating or modifying an object
    • 8. solving a puzzle
    • 9. accuracy with weapons
    • 10. effective use of the proper weapon
    • 11. killing a certain character/creature
    • 12. getting through or to a certain geographic area
    • 13. decreasing or increasing Karma Points
    • 14. getting, buying, exchanging or learning a new skill or player attribute
    • 15. having a child
    • 16. getting married
    • 17. obtaining, buying, trading, producing or developing raw materials
    • 18. producing goods or services
    • 19. earning income
    • 20. earning a higher rank in an army
    • 21. winning an election among two or more player characters
    • 22. achieving deity or other status
    • 23. improving player character status or caste
    • 24. assisting other player characters with any of the above
    • 25. speed of accomplishing or changing the rate or trends of any or all of the above.

In-game Marketplace—shall mean a virtual environment where Characters can exchange items attributes, or any other exchangeable game element.

Novice Player—shall mean a player that is identified as requiring the help of an expert to complete a Game Parameter.

Player—shall mean an individual who can register an account with a Video Game Central Server or within a peer-to-peer network and create Characters that can interact with other Characters in a Virtual Environment, and/or that can authorize a NPC to act on the player's behalf.

Player Account—shall mean an account on the Video Game Central Server or within a peer-to-peer network that contains a Player profile including personal, billing, and character account information.

Player Attribute—shall mean any attribute that can be applied to a player account. Player Attributes shall include, but not be limited to:

    • 1. Real Currency
    • 2. Discount of monthly fees for playing game
    • 3. Monthly fee for playing a game
    • 4. Interest rates for use of or borrowing real or virtual cash amounts
    • 5. Global character attribute settings for all characters created by player across multiple games.
    • 6. Rewards for encouraging another player to signup to play

Player to Player Contract—a real and/or virtual but binding contract between player characters that allows the players to provide or exchange game attributes to one another. Once a player-to-player contract is established, the game server or peer-to-peer network automatically distributes acquired game attributes between the player characters based on the contract conditions.

Video Game—a game played on a Video Game Consul that may or may not be networked to a Video Game Central Server or within a peer-to-peer network.

Video Game Consul—a device comprising a CPU, memory and optional permanent storage residing at a player location that can allow for the playing of video games. Examples include, home PCs, Microsoft Xbox, and Sony Playstation.

Video Game Central Server—a CPU, memory and permanent or temporary storage that is connected to multiple Video Game Consuls that allows for Massive Multi Player Online Video Games to be played.

Video Game Environment—a virtual video game world that is stored on the combination of the Video Game Central Server and Video Game Consuls where Characters interact and games are played.

The term “variation” of an invention means an embodiment of the invention, unless expressly specified otherwise.

A reference to “another embodiment” in describing an embodiment does not imply that the referenced embodiment is mutually exclusive with another embodiment (e.g., an embodiment described before the referenced embodiment), unless expressly specified otherwise.

The terms “including”, “comprising” and variations thereof mean “including but not limited to”, unless expressly specified otherwise.

The term “consisting of” and variations thereof mean “including and limited to”, unless expressly specified otherwise.

The terms “a”, “an” and “the” mean “one or more”, unless expressly specified otherwise.

The term “plurality” means “two or more”, unless expressly specified otherwise.

The term “herein” means “in this patent application, including anything which may be incorporated by reference”, unless expressly specified otherwise.

The phrase “at least one of”, when such phrase modifies a plurality of things (such as an enumerated list of things) means any combination of one or more of those things, unless expressly specified otherwise. For example, the phrase “at least one of a widget, a car and a wheel” means either (i) a widget, (ii) a car, (iii) a wheel, (iv) a widget and a car, (v) a widget and a wheel, (vi) a car and a wheel, or (vii) a widget, a car and a wheel.

The phrase “based on” does not mean “based only on”, unless expressly specified otherwise. In other words, the phrase “based on” describes both “based only on” and “based at least on”.

The term “represent” and like terms are not exclusive, unless expressly specified otherwise. For example, the term “represents” do not mean “represents only”, unless expressly specified otherwise. In other words, the phrase “the data represents a credit card number” describes both “the data represents only a credit card number” and “the data represents a credit card number and the data also represents something else”.

The term “whereby” is used herein only to precede a clause or other set of words that express only the intended result, objective or consequence of something that is previously and explicitly recited. Thus, when the term “whereby” is used in a claim, the clause or other words that the term “whereby” modifies do not establish specific further limitations of the claim or otherwise restricts the meaning or scope of the claim.

The term “e.g.” and like terms means “for example”, and thus does not limit the term or phrase it explains. For example, in the sentence “the computer sends data (e.g., instructions, a data structure) over the Internet”, the term “e.g.” explains that “instructions” are an example of “data” that the computer may send over the Internet, and also explains that “a data structure” is an example of “data” that the computer may send over the Internet. However, both “instructions” and “a data structure” are merely examples of “data”, and other things besides “instructions” and “a data structure” can be “data”.

The term “determining” and grammatical variants thereof (e.g., to determine a price, determining a value, determine an object which meets a certain criterion) is used in an extremely broad sense. The term “determining” encompasses a wide variety of actions and therefore “determining” can include calculating, computing, processing, deriving, investigating, looking up (e.g., looking up in a table, a database or another data structure), ascertaining and the like. Also, “determining” can include receiving (e.g., receiving information), accessing (e.g., accessing data in a memory) and the like. Also, “determining” can include resolving, selecting, choosing, establishing, and the like. It does not imply certainty or absolute precision, and does not imply that mathematical processing, numerical methods or an algorithm process be used. Therefore “determining” can include estimating, predicting, guessing and the like.

It will be readily apparent to one of ordinary skill in the art that the various processes described herein may be implemented by, e.g., appropriately programmed general purpose computers and computing devices. Typically a processor (e.g., one or more microprocessors, one or more microcontrollers, one or more digital signal processors) will receive instructions (e.g., from a memory or like device), and execute those instructions, thereby performing one or more processes defined by those instructions.

A “processor” means one or more microprocessors, central processing units (CPUs), computing devices, microcontrollers, digital signal processors, or like devices or any combination thereof. Thus a description of a process is likewise a description of an apparatus for performing the process. The apparatus can include, e.g., a processor and those input devices and output devices that are appropriate to perform the method. Further, programs that implement such methods (as well as other types of data) may be stored and transmitted using a variety of media (e.g., computer readable media) in a number of manners. In some embodiments, hard-wired circuitry or custom hardware may be used in place of, or in combination with, some or all of the software instructions that can implement the processes of various embodiments. Thus, various combinations of hardware and software may be used instead of software only.

The term “computer-readable medium” refers to any medium that participates in providing data (e.g., instructions, data structures) which may be read by a computer, a processor or a like device. Such a medium may take many forms, including but not limited to, non-volatile media, volatile media, and transmission media. Non-volatile media include, for example, optical or magnetic disks and other persistent memory. Volatile media include dynamic random access memory (DRAM), which typically constitutes the main memory. Transmission media include coaxial cables, copper wire and fiber optics, including the wires that comprise a system bus coupled to the processor. Transmission media may include or convey acoustic waves, light waves and electromagnetic emissions, such as those generated during radio frequency (RF) and infrared (IR) data communications. Common forms of computer-readable media include, for example, a floppy disk, a flexible disk, hard disk, magnetic tape, any other magnetic medium, a CD-ROM, DVD, any other optical medium, punch cards, paper tape, any other physical medium with patterns of holes, a RAM, a PROM, an EPROM, a FLASH-EEPROM, any other memory chip or cartridge, a carrier wave as described hereinafter, or any other medium from which a computer can read.

Various forms of computer readable media may be involved in carrying data (e.g. sequences of instructions) to a processor. For example, data may be (i) delivered from RAM to a processor; (ii) carried over a wireless transmission medium; (iii) formatted and/or transmitted according to numerous formats, standards or protocols, such as Ethernet (or IEEE 802.3), SAP, ATP, Bluetooth™, and TCP/IP, TDMA, CDMA, and 3G; and/or (iv) encrypted to ensure privacy or prevent fraud in any of a variety of ways well known in the art.

Thus a description of a process is likewise a description of a computer-readable medium storing a program for performing the process. The computer-readable medium can store (in any appropriate format) those program elements which are appropriate to perform the method.

Just as the description of various steps in a process does not indicate that all the described steps are required, embodiments of an apparatus include a computer/computing device operable to perform some (but not necessarily all) of the described process.

Likewise, just as the description of various steps in a process does not indicate that all the described steps are required, embodiments of a computer-readable medium storing a program or data structure include a computer-readable medium storing a program that, when executed, can cause a processor to perform some (but not necessarily all) of the described process.

Where databases are described, it will be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art that (i) alternative database structures to those described may be readily employed, and (ii) other memory structures besides databases may be readily employed. Any illustrations or descriptions of any sample databases presented herein are illustrative arrangements for stored representations of information. Any number of other arrangements may be employed besides those suggested by, e.g., tables illustrated in drawings or elsewhere. Similarly, any illustrated entries of the databases represent exemplary information only; one of ordinary skill in the art will understand that the number and content of the entries can be different from those described herein. Further, despite any depiction of the databases as tables, other formats (including relational databases, object-based models and/or distributed databases) are well known and could be used to store and manipulate the data types described herein. Likewise, object methods or behaviors of a database can be used to implement various processes, such as the described herein. In addition, the databases may, in a known manner, be stored locally or remotely from any device(s) which access data in the database.

Various embodiments can be configured to work in a network environment including a computer that is in communication (e.g., via a communications network) with one or more devices. The computer may communicate with the devices directly or indirectly, via any wired or wireless medium (e.g. the Internet, LAN, WAN or Ethernet, Token Ring, a telephone line, a cable line, a radio channel, an optical communications line, commercial on-line service providers, bulletin board systems, a satellite communications link, a combination of any of the above). Each of the devices may themselves comprise computers or other computing devices, such as those based on the Intel® Pentium® or Centrino™ processor, that are adapted to communicate with the computer. Any number and type of devices may be in communication with the computer.

In an embodiment, a server computer or centralized authority may not be necessary or desirable. For example, the present invention may, in an embodiment, be practiced on one or more devices without a central authority. In such an embodiment, any functions described herein as performed by the server computer or data described as stored on the server computer may instead be performed by or stored on one or more such devices.

Description

Massive multi player online games (MMOGs) or massive multi-player role playing games (MMORPGs) are computer games which are capable of supporting hundreds, thousands, or millions of players simultaneously. Typically, but not necessarily in all cases, this type of game is played in a giant persistent world where the game continues playing regardless of whether or not real players are logged in. Players commonly access these games through a network such as the Internet, and may or may not be required to purchase additional software or hardware in order to play the game. Such networks allow for people all over the world to participate and interact with each other in a virtual environment. The present disclosure provides systems and methods which contribute to any one or more of the following, including, the enjoyment, potential economy, scale, growth, evolution and longevity of such a game.

The herein described aspects and drawings illustrate components contained within, or connected with other components that permit play in the virtual environment. It is to be understood that such depicted designs are merely exemplary and that many other designs may be implemented to achieve the same functionality. Any arrangement of components to achieve the same or similar functionality is effectively associated such that the desired functionality is achieved. FIG. 1 provides an exemplary network which may be used to support a virtual environment.

Referring to FIG. 1, a network 100 according to one embodiment includes a central server 120 in communication with a plurality of video game playing units 18. Those of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that any number of video game playing units may be in communication with the central server and/or said central server may be replaced with a peer-to-peer network topology. Similarly, more than one server may operate to coordinate the activities of the video game playing units, as is well known in the art. Typically, but not necessarily, the number of video game playing units changes at various times as players join games and as players stop playing games.

Central server 120 may comprise any computing device (e.g., one or more computers) capable of communicating with other computing devices. The server 120 typically comprises a processor which is in communication with a storage device, such as an appropriate combination of RAM, ROM, hard disk, and other well known storage media. Central server 120 may comprise one or more personal computers, web servers, dedicated game servers, video game consoles, any combination of the foregoing, or the like.

Each video game device 18 may comprise any device capable of communicating with central server 120, providing video game information to a player, and transmitting the player's desired actions to the central server. Each video game device typically comprises a processor which is in communication with a storage device, such as an appropriate combination of RAM, ROM, hard disk, and other well known storage media. Suitable video game devices include, but are not limited to, personal computers, video game consoles, mobile phones, and personal data assistants (PDAs) and may be wireless or conventionally wired devices.

Some or all of video game 17 can be stored on central server 120. Alternatively, some or all of video game 17 may be stored on the individual video game devices 18. Typically, the video game devices are able to communicate with one another. Such communication may or may not be facilitated by central server 120. Accordingly, a player 19 a accessing video game 17 via game device 18 a may be able to play with a player 19 b accessing video game 17 via game device 18 b. As shown, it may be possible for multiple players (e.g. 19 c, 19 d) to access central server 120 via the same game device (e.g. 18 c). Regardless of whether video game 17 is stored on central server 120 or video game devices 18, server 120 is typically configured to facilitate play of the game between multiple game players. Alternatively or additionally, a video game device may be a virtual device operated partially or entirely within the virtual game space, for example, within the central server. Such operation may be performed by a game player, or a non-player character (NPC), e.g. an automated agent that carries out predefined or dynamically determined instructions for the benefit of the owner of the NPC.

Those having skill in the art will recognize that there is little distinction between hardware and software implementations. The use of hardware or software is generally a choice of convenience or design based on the relative importance of speed, accuracy, flexibility and predictability. There are therefore various vehicles by which processes and/or systems described herein can be effected (e.g., hardware, software, and/or firmware) and that the preferred vehicle will vary with the context in which the technologies are deployed.

At least a portion of the devices and/or processes described herein can be integrated into a data processing system with a reasonable amount of experimentation. Those having skill in the art will recognize that a typical data processing system generally includes one or more of a system unit housing, a video display device, memory, processors, operating systems, drivers, graphical or other user interfaces, and application programs, interaction devices such as a touch pad or screen, and/or control systems including feedback loops and control motors. A typical data processing system may be implemented utilizing any suitable commercially available components to create the gaming environment described herein.

While gaming environments as previously described allow for interactions between players, they generally lack sophisticated financial systems. This lack limits financial interactions to trade or barter systems or very rudimentary banking systems which do not have the ability to infuse currency into the virtual world or transfer sums between players and/or through third party intermediaries such that the currency may be used by those other than the original holders to advance play in the game. This limits the ability of the economy of the virtual world to expand and decreases the depth of play available.

Various embodiments of the invention address this issue by providing services through virtual financial intermediaries similar to those provided by financial intermediaries in the real world. Financial intermediaries include, but are not limited to, depository institutions, contractual savings institutions, and investment intermediaries. Players and player characters can take advantage of the financial products and services offered by these institutions to develop more complex levels of play and increase their interactions in the game. In one embodiment, the virtual financial intermediaries and the services they provide are linked to real world credit lines permitting an increase in the currency available for use within the parameters of the game, thus encouraging growth and development of the virtual environment. The various financial intermediaries available in the virtual environment may each serve different or overlapping purposes and provide means for using, saving, borrowing and transferring currency. In another embodiment, player characters can make use of their real world financial holdings and financial instruments, e.g., credit lines, to create a virtual financial institution, e.g., establishing a virtual bank or virtual credit card provider or other financial intermediary.

One of the services provided by financial intermediaries is the transfer of funds between parties. Such transfers frequently take the form of loans. A simple loan provides the borrower with an amount of funds, which at the maturity date, must be repaid to the lender along with the interest payment. A fixed payment loan provides a borrower with an amount of funds that is to be repaid by making the same payment every term, consisting in part of the principal and interest for a set length of time.

The source of the funds from the loan may be from other players who have placed funds with the financial intermediary, funds from real world financial intermediaries, including banks or credit card companies. The funds may be converted from one or more currencies, e.g., a real world currency such as US Dollars, into one or more virtual currencies, e.g., Linden Dollars. The conversion may include a conversion or exchange rate, or against assets belonging to the borrower that may or may not be held by the financial intermediary.

Entities wishing to lend funds may be charged a fee for providing the loan. The fee may be charged by a virtual world governing entity, real world governing entity, game server, game owner, server owner, central financial institution, real or virtual world financial intermediaries, including banks or against assets belonging to the borrower that may or may not be held by the financial intermediary. or any combination of the above. Such fees may be one time fees, recurring fees, charged per loan, based on the amount of the loan, a flat fee, charged when the loan originates, charged when payments are made etc. Such fees may additionally take the form of a license.

In various embodiments, the present invention provides a system of public and private means of lending funds to player characters or NPCs for use within the virtual world. Such funds permit the redistribution of financial assets and the expansion of the game and depth of play available. Funds may be lent through the issuing of bonds, virtual governing entity securities, and consumer and commercial loans or by any other means typically used to advance funds. These types of lending vehicles are collectively referred to as “loans” throughout the application for ease of description. In one embodiment, there may be a limit to the number of loans or the total amount of loans that any one financial intermediary may provide. Such a limit may be based on a percentage of funds held by the financial intermediary, or risk parameters. Such parameters may be established by the governing entity, a central financial institution, the game server, game owner, server owner, financial intermediary owner, or negotiation among the players. All such loans may be secured (fully or partially) or unsecured.

According to one embodiment, a player character may request a loan from a virtual bank or other financial intermediary. In another embodiment, a character may obtain a loan from another character, NPC, or business operated by a character including, for example, a pawnshop, loan shark, a developer, a foundation, cooperative, or other business. Additionally or alternatively, the financial intermediary may reside partially or entirely outside of the virtual game space, instead using a separate computing system, e.g., a real world bank's or real world credit card company's computing system with an interface to the virtual game space and/or to the game console or both.

It is to be understood that players may control one or more characters and each character may apply for and obtain one or more loans. In some embodiments, a player character may be limited from lending currency to himself, another player character or NPC owned, operated, or otherwise partially or entirely controlled by the same player, or a player character or NPC that is a family member, guild member, or is otherwise affiliated in some way with the player character who deposited currency in the bank.

For ease of description, the term “bank” is used throughout the present disclosure when describing an exemplary embodiment of a financial intermediary or other lending entity which may function as a lending institution, however it is understood that the processes as described herein may apply to any type of financial intermediary or lending institution and the types of services they generally provide in the real world.

According to an embodiment, a loan is obtained by applying for a loan, receiving terms of the loan, agreeing to the terms of the loan and receiving the funds. An exemplary system 100 configured to provide the virtual environment described above is shown in FIG. 2. As shown, system 100 may include a game server 102, a bank server 104, and a credit card issuer server 106.

Game server 102 may include a Loan Creation Program 108, whereby a bank server can register a loan with the game server. Game server 102 may further include a simple Loan Payment Program 110, a complex Loan Payment Program (complex) 112, a Prohibit Sale of Virtual Assets Program 114, a Debit Card Issuance Program 116, a Debit Card Usage Program 118, a Loan Converted to Shares of Asset Program 120, a Loan request program (no bank) 122, a Loan acceptance program (no bank), or a Forced Sale of Assets Program, e.g. a foreclosure program. 124. Bank server 104 may equally be any other financial intermediary server including a contractual savings institution or investment intermediary server. Such servers 104 may include a simple Loan Generation Program 126, a complex Loan Generation Program 128, a register Loan with game server program 130, a Loan Payment Program (automatic) 132, a Loan Payment Program (invoice) 134, an Advertisement program 136, a Loan Payment Program (choice of real or virtual cash) 138, a Ping Credit Line 140, a prohibit Sale of Virtual Assets Program 142, a Release Credit Line when Loan is paid 144, a Debit Card Issuance Program 146, a Debit Card Usage Program 148, a Debit Card Issuance Program (register debit card with game server) 150, a Debit Card Usage Program (register debit card with game server) 152, a Loan Converted to Shares of Asset Program (bank managed) 154, a Loan Converted to Shares of Asset Program (game server managed) 156 or a Forced Sale of Assets Program, e.g. a foreclosure program. Server 104 may further include an interest rate or penalty determination program, Credit Card Issuer Server 106 may include a Lock Credit Line Program 158, a Real Cash Payment Program 160, a Release Credit Line 162, and a Ping Credit Line program 164.

A Character may apply for one or more loans in a variety of ways. In one embodiment, a loan may be granted based on a simple request. Such a request may be completed by any means desired, i.e. through the selection of a loan in a bank, through e-mail, virtual written requests, instant messaging, screen request, or through a formal loan application. According to one embodiment, simple Loan Generation program 126 may be configured to create a loan using some or all of the following method steps:

    • 1. Receive a request to borrow virtual currency;
    • 2. Determine a virtual currency loan amount;
    • 3. Output a loan offer including amount, interest rate and payment schedule to player character;
    • 4. Record loan; and
    • 5. Output virtual currency to player character account.

In another embodiment, characters may be required to complete a loan application. An application may request information such as details regarding the player or player character, the amount of the loan sought, the duration of the loan sought, real world financial information, real world credit information, real world credit rating, virtual world credit rating, the purpose of the loan, a business plan, collateral, proof of a virtual world job, proof of assets, other information typical for use in credit scoring or any combination thereof.

In a further embodiment, a loan may be applied for in an environment other than the game environment in which the lending entity is located. For example, a lending website could exist outside of the environs of the game. Once the loan agreement is established, an entity controlled by the loan issuer could transfer the appropriate amount of virtual currency to the character requesting the loan. In one embodiment, Loan Generation program 126 may be configured to create a loan using some or all of the following method steps:

    • 1. Receive game type.
    • 2. Receive game server.
    • 3. Receive player character ID.
    • 4. Receive Loan amount.
    • 5. Receive Credit Card number.
    • 6. Determine and output loan payment plan
    • 7. Receive acceptance of plan
    • 8. Secure loan with credit card
    • 9. Output loan approved message.
    • 10. Transmit loan to appropriate character in virtual world.
      Such a website could be maintained by the game server, owner, manufacturer, or by a third party. Fees could be charged by the game or game server for such transactions and transfers into the game, or a license could be sold allowing such transactions to occur. Additionally, the game server or manufacturer could pay a fee to the host of the website for each loan that is generated.

In another embodiment, a player must guaranty the loan. Such a guaranty may be the registration of a real world credit line. Such a credit line may be a credit card, private or public payment facilitator (i.e. paypal) or other financial security and/or the financial security of another player character and/or a non-playing third party, such as a bank, credit institution, credit card company, mutual fund, brokerage account, hedge fund, insurance company, etc. or any combination of these or any other type of real world financial instrument or institution that provides a credit line or holds or secures assets for third parties. In this embodiment, Loan Generation Program 126 may then create a loan using some or all of the following method steps:

    • 1. Receive a request to borrow virtual cash including a player character ID and a real world account number;
    • 2. Validate real world account number and credit line amount
    • 3. Determine a virtual loan amount based on credit line amount and/or currency conversion rate
    • 4. Determine an interest rate or late payment fees or penalties and virtual payment schedule
    • 5. Determine collateral requirements
    • 6. Output a loan offer including a virtual cash loan amount, interest rate and/or penalties, and/or virtual payment schedule to player character
    • 7. Receive acceptance of loan offer from player character
    • 8. Lock credit line
    • 9. Create new loan record
    • 10. Output virtual currency to player character account

An exemplary method for obtaining a loan is shown in the flow chart in FIG. 3 in which the player completes a loan application and requests a loan. As shown in the flowchart, the lending entity determines if there is a real world credit line associated with the character which could be used to guarantee the loan and verifies that the real world credit line is valid. Alternatively, a character may be given the option of using the credit line already on file or supplying an additional credit line to be used. The lending entity may then determine the amount to be lent, interest rate to be charged, collateral required, late payment or penalty fees, conversion rates and payment terms in any order. The lending entity may further include fees in the terms of the loan. The character is then presented with the terms of the loan and may then either accept or reject the loan and/or request modification of any one or more of its terms.

The terms of the loan may be determined by the financial intermediary, the game server, the owner of the server, by agreement between the characters, or by any other party to the negotiations. The terms may include such things as the amount of currency the bank is willing to lend to the character, the type of collateral the bank will require, the interest rate for the loan, the term of the loan, the payment schedule for the loan, an origination fee, commitment fee, any additional fees the bank may decide to charge, annual percentage rate, if there will be a balloon payment, current or anticipated, i.e., future currency conversion rates or factors or any combination thereof. In one embodiment, the character may be able to vary one or more of the terms of the loan such as interest rate, due date, grace period, penalties, service charge, transferability, fees, automatic repayment, payment of other obligations, and exchange value. In another embodiment, the terms are dictated by the lender.

In determining the terms of the loan, the bank or other lending entity may evaluate a number of factors including the creditworthiness of the character or player, the credit history of the player, the virtual and/or real credit history of the character applying for the loan, the real world credit lines available to the requester; past delinquency rates; the length of time the character has existed; the skill level of the character and/or player; and the assets held by the character as well as any other type of information typically used in evaluating credit worthiness of a borrower; market forces, real world financial indicators, virtual world financial indicators, the bank or other lending entity's current portfolio, the growth rate of the game, the type of player account, inflation rates, the purpose of the loan, current or anticipated currency conversion rates, the credit worthiness or history of the character or player in a related or unrelated third party game space, or other financial evaluators.

In another embodiment, the bank may verify the character's virtual credit score. In another embodiment, the bank may verify the player's real world credit score. Virtual and real credit scores may be based on information such as the types of bills owed by the character/player, the timeliness of payments, loans outstanding, credit lines available, length of credit history, new credit applications, income, marital status, length of time playing the game, or any combination of the above or any other financial or demographic or character or player character information.

In one embodiment, in determining how much to lend, the bank may determine the amount arbitrarily, may agree to lend all or part of the amount requested, may determine what percentage of income, whether virtual or real, would go to paying back the loan, may determine how much debt the character has whether virtual or real, or may set maximum loan amounts depending on limits set by a) the game manufacturer, b) the owner(s) of the server(s) upon which the game resides, c) one or more player characters, d) market forces, e) negotiation among the affected parties, f) any combination of the above or changes or trends, or anticipated changes in any one or more of the above.

In another embodiment, the character's credit score influences the terms of the loan. In a further embodiment, the player's credit score influences the terms of a loan. In a further embodiment, both the character's and the player's credit scores influence the terms of the loan. For example, the credit scores may determine whether to issue the loan, the interest rate to be charged, the fees to be charged and/or other term and restrictions of the loan. In another embodiment, current rates of default, i.e., the current rate that one or more, or a group or all other player's have or are likely to default, and/or current profitability and/or other risk factors influence the banks willingness to loan funds to a requesting player character and/or influences the amount and/or terms of such loan.

Loan applications and credit histories may be stored by any means applicable. For example, a program may be introduced that tracks and displays all available credit lines, current loans, available loans, including their terms and conditions, such as interest rates, a listing of players wishing to borrow or loan currency, etc., and displays such information to interested player characters. Banks, and/or player characters may use this program to determine if they wish to loan or borrow virtual cash and/or commit part or all of their available real world credit line to the game, bank or player character(s), along with terms and conditions for its use. As shown in FIG. 4, the bank or player characters willing to provide a loan to a character may indicate the amount of currency they are willing to lend. The borrower may then request an amount of a loan up to or equal to the amount the bank or other entity is willing to lend. In another embodiment, such credit information and histories are stored in existing real world credit rating systems, such as Equifax and provided to the real or virtual financial intermediary via an interface directly or indirectly, e.g., via the game server, with the credit rating service's systems.

In another embodiment, a limit on the amount of currency that may be borrowed at any one time or by a given character or player may be set by a) the game manufacturer, b) the owner(s) of the server(s) upon which the game resides, c) one or more player characters, d) market forces, e) negotiation among the affected parties, f) the player characters virtual or real net worth, g) debt to equity ratio, h) total virtual amount, i) total monthly payment amount, j) other financial constraints established by the lender, or k) virtual or real world rules and regulations, or l) any combination thereof.

Loans may be secured or unsecured. An unsecured loan is a loan that is issued and supported only by the borrower's creditworthiness, rather than by some sort of collateral. A secured loan is a loan which is backed partially or fully by collateral. Such collateral may belong to the character seeking the loan or to a third party. The collateral may be a real world credit line supported by a real world financial institution, a real world financial security, a real world asset, a virtual property or business, a virtual world asset, a real world property, a promise to perform certain services or any combination thereof.

In one embodiment, the collateral is a real world credit line. The player may indicate the amount of collateral in the form of the real world credit line he is willing to allocate against the virtual loan. According to one embodiment, real world credit lines can be frozen, for part or the full amount of the loan, by the bank owner, e.g., a financial intermediary, and/or just periodically “pinged” to ensure their validity and that sufficient credit is available to underwrite the loan and/or to pay for any loan payments when they become periodically due. The continuing availability of the real world credit line may be determined by any means applicable. According to one embodiment, Ping Credit Line program 140 may be configured to complete some or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Determine that a player character has an outstanding virtual loan
    • 2. Determine real and virtual cash value of loan
    • 3. Retrieve credit card associated with loan
    • 4. Ping credit card for the outstanding real cash value of the loan amount
    • 5. If credit equal to loan amount is not available
    • 6. Liquidate or place a lien on virtual assets of player character for any amount less than, equal to or greater than the virtual cash value of virtual loan (depending upon the terms of the loan)
    • 7. Deposit virtual cash in loan account to fulfill outstanding loan payments due and/or pay off loan

In the event the real world credit line securing the loan is cancelled or closed, the system could receive notification that the real world credit card or credit line is no longer valid or otherwise available. Upon notification that the credit line is no longer valid or available, or is otherwise insufficient to provide the required collateral, the bank, system, game owner, server owner, or other debt holder may require payment in part or in full of the loan, require the player to provide a new credit line, require additional collateral to secure the loan, secure a secondary line of credit which was previously provided or may be secured from other player characters, notify other characters of the opportunity to purchase a loan, foreclose on virtual assets held by the defaulting character, freeze part or all of the virtual accounts of the character or player, including preventing the player character from continuing play or buying and/or selling any assets, or any combination thereof.

The lock on the real world credit line may be released when the loan is repaid. According to one embodiment, Release Credit Line when Loan is paid program 144 may be configured to:

    • 1. Receive indication that final payment of virtual loan has been received
    • 2. Retrieve credit card associated with virtual loan
    • 3. Notify credit card issuer to release credit line

Alternatively, as the loan is paid down, a percentage of the real world credit line may be released in proportion to or in some other ratio with the amount paid. In this example, the real world credit line held is reduced as the loan is repaid, instead of waiting for the entire loan to be repaid, thus freeing real world credit lines for other purposes. Such a release could be managed by any means available. According to one embodiment, Release Credit Line when Loan is paid program 144 may be configured to:

    • 1. Receive indication that a periodic payment of virtual loan has been received
    • 2. Retrieve credit card associated with virtual loan
    • 3. Notify credit card issuer to release an equal or other determined portion of the credit line.

A real world credit line can secure the loan payment amount, the entire loan amount, or a ratio of the two. In calculating the amount to be secured factors such as game growth rates and/or game stability, number of players playing or expected to play, taxes, inflation and/or exchange rates, credit worthiness of the character or player, determined or expected risk of the venture or purpose of the loan, probability that the loan will be repaid, the amount of debt the character has outstanding or any combination thereof may be considered in determining the total amount to secure on the real world credit line. Such determinations and evaluations may be made manually or automatically by a) the game manufacturer, b) the owner(s) of the server(s) upon which the game resides, c) one or more player characters, d) market forces, e) negotiation among the affected parties, f) any combination of the above.

In one embodiment, the amount of a real world credit line to be frozen may be based on the current or projected exchange rate of virtual currency for real currency and/or the current or projected rates of inflation within the real world and/or the virtual economy. According to one embodiment, the exchange rate could be one for one. Alternatively, the exchange rate may be based on the exchange rate at the time of the formation of the loan. It may also be based on the exchange rate at the time the player's credit card is charged. In another embodiment, the exchange rate may be periodically adjustable for the term of the loan. Such adjustments may be based on actual or predicted inflation, actual or predicted exchange rates, market forces or other economic indicators or a combination thereof. The exchange rate may be fixed in that the rate does not change for the duration of the game or segment of the game. Alternatively, the exchange rate may be pegged to a floating real world exchange relationship, for example the U.S. dollar/Japanese yen spot exchange rate, a percentage thereof, a plus or minus adjustment thereof, some other economic indicator, or a combination thereof. The exchange rate may also vary depending on the country of origin of the player, or may be fixed to a particular real world currency, e.g., all exchange rates are quoted in dollars. In another embodiment, the exchange rate may be floating and determined by market forces such as the relative demand for virtual currency versus real world currency, e.g., the rates created or as modified from time-to-time within a currency exchange (real or virtual). Said exchange rates may further be established or determined by any suitable method including, but not limited to, by a) the game manufacturer, b) the owner(s) of the server(s) upon which the game resides, c) one or more player characters, d) market forces, e) negotiation among the affected parties, f) any combination of the above. The exchange rate may also be composed of any combination of the above methods. For example, the exchange rate could be fixed for a certain length of time and then change to market forces or vice versa. Alternatively, there may be a cap on the amount of fluctuation in the exchange rate during the term of the loan.

In a further embodiment, the game may control the use of part or all of the proceeds of the loan. In one example, the game server or bank server could prohibit the player character from converting an amount of virtual cash or assets equal to, or greater or less than the loan amount into real cash. In another example, the game server or bank server could prohibit the (borrowing) player character from spending loan proceeds, i.e., virtual cash equal to, or any portion or percentage of, the balance of the loan on anything other than virtual assets and/or services specified by the loan. In a further example, the game server could prohibit the player character from reselling or otherwise encumbering part or all of the virtual assets purchased with the virtual loan until such time as the virtual loan is repaid or a certain percentage of the loan is repaid.

Security for a loan may also be provided by a third party. In one embodiment, the bank could secure the loan with real world credit lines from other players. Characters may be willing to lend currency when interest rates meet a particular threshold, for example at a specified interest rate, which rate may be fixed for the term of the loan or which may vary based upon any one or more variables including, the term, changes in the borrowers status, credit scores (real or virtual), assets (real or virtual), over time, rate of defaults on loans within the game environment in general or for the lender, tied to other interest rates (real or virtual), total amount of loans outstanding within the game and/or by the lender and/or the player character, etc. Additionally, player characters could specify that a certain percentage of their currency be lent to other player characters with varying virtual credit scores. For instance 40% of the loans could go to player characters with a high credit score, 30% to characters with a low credit score, and 30% to characters with a mid credit score. In an alternate embodiment, the bank could secure the loan through the real world credit line or other collateral provided by the character requesting the loan in combination with the real world credit line from other players or a third party. In another embodiment, characters could review the statistics of other characters seeking loans and notify the bank or other financial intermediary that they are willing to supply a guaranty for a particular borrower(s), which guaranty may be for part or all of the loan amount(s) requested. Private loans between players may also be conducted and facilitated by an embodiment of the present invention. According to another embodiment, players can pay an additional up front or recurring fee so that their characters can issue or take loans from other player characters or NPCs.

According to a further embodiment, a player character or virtual bank can loan currency to another player character and receive loan payments without those loan payments being secured by a credit card. The first player character establishes a request for an amount of currency. A second player character (or, alternatively, two or more player characters or a virtual bank) agrees to loan the first player character the currency for a term and with an interest rate and/or other payment terms, and the virtual currency is placed in escrow with the central server. When the first player character agrees to the loan terms of the second player character, the central server releases the funds at such times and amounts and tracks the payments due from the first player to the second player, according to the terms and conditions of the loan agreement. This method may also be used with loans that are secured with a credit card line of credit.

An exemplary method of obtaining third party security is provided in the flow chart in FIG. 8. As shown in the flow chart, a character requests a loan and the bank submits the loan request to other players or player characters that have expressed an interest in securing loans. Once one or more players or characters have agreed to secure the loan, the borrower is presented with the terms of the loan. The bank or server may then lock the real world credit line of the securing player or character according to the amount each has agreed to secure or some fraction thereof and deposits the loan in the borrower's account.

In another embodiment, the collateral is a non-financial asset. Such an asset includes any item of economic value including, but not limited to, a virtual object; a virtual skill or attribute; virtual property or business; a real world object or property; a promise to perform certain services, a promise to refrain from certain activities, such as doing battle with one or more player characters or a clan, or any combination thereof.

In one embodiment, the sale or transfer of the item pledged as collateral may be limited, in full or in part, by the game server, bank server, owner of the server, or one or more characters or virtual businesses. For example, a pawnshop may hold the asset in trust until the loan is paid. The sale or transfer of collateral may be governed by a program such as Prohibit Sale of Virtual Assets program 114 which may be configured to perform one or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Receive a request to sell a virtual item from a player character.
    • 2. Determine if there is an outstanding loan or lien against either the player character or on the item.
    • 3. If there is an outstanding loan or lien, prohibit the sale of the item and notify player character.
    • or
    • 4. If the purchase price is equal to or exceeds the lien or loan amount, allow the sale of the item and immediately pay down the loan obligation with the proceeds.
    •  or
    • 5. If the purchase price is equal to or exceeds the loan amount allow the sale of the item but lock up an amount of the proceeds of the sale equal to all or a portion of the outstanding loan amount.

The bank or other party providing the loan may desire part ownership in an asset in return for the loan. For example in one embodiment, the loan could be structured so that it is convertible for a percentage ownership of the item or asset that it was used to purchase (and/or in addition to additional assets and/or penalties). In this embodiment, the player character that took out the loan or the bank that issued the loan can convert the loan obligation into a percentage ownership of the asset(s) that the loan was used to purchase. The terms of the conversion could be specified in the loan agreement and the conversion rate may change over time as the loan balance is reduced. In another embodiment, the bank could obtain possession of the entire item or asset in the event of a default. The bank could then sell or otherwise dispose of the asset.

Such information or proceeds may be stored by any means available. According to one embodiment such information is generated through Loan Converted to Shares of Asset program 120 which may be configured to perform some or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Receive a request to convert all or a portion of an outstanding loan into shares of a virtual asset by a virtual bank server or player character.
    • 2. Retrieve and amend loan obligation.
    • 3. Retrieve and amend ownership structure of virtual asset.
    • 4. Notify loan parties and owners of asset that loan has been converted into shares of a virtual asset.

According to another embodiment, rather than a loan, the bank could take a percentage of the venture that a player character was presenting. The percentage could be as an owner or as virtual stock or stock options. In the event that the percentage is in stock or stock options, the bank may limit the amount of stock the business may issue such that the percentage ownership does not become diluted or is not diluted more than a determined percentage. In another embodiment, the bank may receive a percentage of stock or stock options in the business with each issuance of new stock. This decision can be made by the game server based on the venture and the player character credit scores or real world credit line and/or manually. In another embodiment, the bank may have a first right of refusal to purchase any additional shares issued by the business.

Additionally, the terms of the loan may include interest. The interest rate may be fixed in that the rate does not change for the duration of the game or segment of the game. Alternatively, in another embodiment, the interest rate is pegged to a floating real world or virtual world interest rate, a percentage thereof, or an interest rate plus or minus a particular sum (i.e. prime +/−2%). An exemplary real world interest rate would be the three month U.S. treasury bill yield to maturity. In another embodiment, the interest rate may be determined by market forces such as exchanges in the virtual or real world or other economic indicators. Said interest rates may further be established or determined by any suitable method including, but not limited to, a) the game manufacturer, b) the owner(s) of the server(s) upon which the game resides, c) one or more player characters, d) market forces, e) negotiation among the affected parties, f) the availability of funds, g) the current or predicted real or virtual credit score of the player, h) the current ratio of bank funds on deposit vs. the total amount of loans, i) payment performance, j) adherence to loan restrictions or other terms, k) number of initial or subsequent defaults on loans by the player character, l) real or virtual credit scores, m) any other financial or other terms as determined by the lender and agreed upon by the borrower n) by any real world or virtual rule, law or regulation, or o) any combination of the above.

In another embodiment, interest rates may be customized on the basis of risk or a change in risk: i.e. reasons for or uses of the proceeds of the loan; the financial or business plan underlying the loan; default rate of the borrower; credit worthiness of the borrower; type of virtual investment pursued by the borrower; portfolio of the bank; outstanding loans of the borrower; how much currency the bank has available to lend; costs to the bank for obtaining the currency; the term of the loan; or any change in any one or more of the foregoing and/or any combination thereof. Evaluation of the risk may be determined by a) the game manufacturer, b) the owner(s) of the server(s) upon which the game resides, c) one or more player characters, d) market forces, e) negotiation among the affected parties, or f) any combination of these.

In charging interest, the game or virtual bank server may periodically determine an average balance over a fixed time period, multiply the balance by the specified interest rate and charge the virtual interest rate to the account. Such compounding time periods may be continuously hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or as determined by a) the game manufacturer, b) the owner(s) of the server(s) upon which the game resides, c) one or more player characters, d) market forces, e) negotiation among the affected parties, f) any real world or virtual rule, law or regulation, or g) any combination thereof.

The terms of the loan may include various types of payment options including equal payments, in which equal payments are made within specified terms such as daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or any fraction thereof. In one embodiment, part of each payment goes to the principal and the rest to interest payments. In another embodiment it may be an interest only loan. In an alternate embodiment, the equal payments may require a final balloon payment. In another embodiment, the interest only loan may require a final balloon payment. The loan may have a pre-payment penalty in which payment before the end of the loan will incur a fee or other penalty. In another embodiment, the loan may be paid in full prior to the end of the term of the loan without penalty. In yet another embodiment, the loan may be refinanced. According to another embodiment, player characters can choose, at any time, whether they want a loan to be charged to their virtual cash account or their credit card on file or any combination of these options. In a further embodiment, the payment option is provided by the bank or other entity providing the loan. In another embodiment, the payment option may be selected or proposed by the character as shown in FIG. 5. Such payment information and receipt of payment may be stored by any means desired. According to one embodiment, simple loan payment program 110 may be configured to:

    • 1. Receive an indication that a loan payment has been made
    • 2. Store loan payment with loan record

The loan terms may also include fees. In one embodiment, the fees are part of the interest rate, in another embodiment the fees must be paid separately. Such fees may be a percentage of the loan or a flat fee or a combination thereof. In one embodiment, the fees are expressed as part of the annual percentage rate. Fees may also be incurred if payments are late, for example, the payment may be for one amount if received by or on a first date, and a second higher amount if paid by or on a second date. Fees may also be charged to verify the availability of the credit line being used to guaranty the loan. In one embodiment, a loan origination fee is charged to the credit line to verify that the account is active.

According to another embodiment, any one or more of the maximum loan amount, interest percentage rate, late or other fees and pay period, term or any other terms and conditions on the loan can be affected by any one or more of the following including:

    • 1. The virtual or real world assets of a player character within the game or one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third party games.
    • 2. The level or skill level of a player character within the game or one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third party games.
    • 3. The trend or rate of change of the skill level of the player character within the game or one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third party games.
    • 4. The age of the character account within the game or one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third party games.
    • 5. The type of player account, e.g., basic or premium.
    • 6. The player character's previous payment history or performance within the game or one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third party games.
    • 7. The existing outstanding debt or other virtual loans outstanding to the player character within the game or one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third party games.
    • 8. The player character's purpose or intended use of the proceeds of the virtual loan within the game or one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third party games.
    • 9. The current or projected interest rates and/or inflation rate and/or exchange rate(s) within the game and/or the real world and/or within one or more affiliated or unrelated third party virtual games or virtual economies.
    • 10. The current or projected interest rates charged by the credit card companies.
    • 11. The current or projected stability or future prospects of the game or of virtual games in general or of one or more specific virtual games and/or virtual economies.
    • 12. The current or projected credit worthiness of the player character and/or the player character(s) or financial intermediaries' current or projected credit worthiness.
    • 13. The current or projected health of a real world economy, e.g., the projected growth rates of the US Economy, e.g., the current or projected US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
    • 14. By agreement among one or more players and/or financial intermediaries.
    • 15. By law, regulation or governing body.
    • 16. Randomly.
    • 17. The projected impact of one or more loans on the outcome of the game for the borrowing player character and/or one or more or all of the players in a game.
    • 18. The projected impact on the growth rate of the virtual economy, e.g., the Virtual GDP
    • 19. The projected impact on the inflation rate within the virtual economy.
    • 20. The projected effect of such loan(s) upon the availability or use of certain resources.
    • 21. The projected impact on the overall enjoyment or longevity of the game and/or one or more players within the game.
    • 22. The projected impact on the profitability of any one or more of the following, including: the player character(s), the financial intermediaries, the game owner, the affected parties to the loan(s), the real world financial institutions, or any third parties.
    • 23. And/or any combination of any of the forgoing.

According to another embodiment, the loan may be issued as a virtual debit card. The use of the card may be limited to purchases that are specified in the loan obligation or by the account (in the case of a loan not being involved). Player characters can give these debit cards to other player characters and/or NPC's who can use the outstanding or remaining balance on the card for virtual purchases specified when the debit card was created. Debit cards can be given to a first player character when a second player character relies on the first player character to purchase something for him, but cannot trust the player character with virtual cash that has unrestricted purchase parameters. Debit cards can be used to create in game payment vehicles that can only be used to purchase certain virtual assets and/or services. Debit cards can also be created that have access to specified amounts of funds. Such amounts may be a percentage of the cash available in the account or may be a fixed amount or a combination thereof such that there is a minimum or maximum percentage of available assets that can be used or minimum or maximum fixed amount and a percentage that is available.

Information regarding the debit card may be stored by any means applicable. In one example, such information is stored on game server 102. In another embodiment such information is stored on bank server 104.

A Debit Card Database 168 or 172 may comprise information such as:

    • 1. Bank ID
    • 2. Debit Card ID
    • 3. Debit Card Amount by category 1−n
    • 4. Debit Card Issue Date
    • 5. Debit Card Conditions 1−n

In another embodiment, information regarding the debit card may be stored on game server 102 through Debit Card Issuance program 116 which may be configured to:

    • 1. Receive an indication that a debit card was issued from a bank including player character info, bank info, debit card amount and conditions
    • 2. Create and store debit card record

According to another embodiment, percentages of the debit card value can be allocated to different virtual asset classes. For instance, 50% of the value could be used to buy specific raw materials and 40% could be used to purchase services from specific NPCs and player characters to turn those raw materials into a specific product. The remaining 10% of the value could be used by a player character for anything, but, for example, only when the other 90% has been spent to create the specific product and that product has been deposited into the debit card issuer's account. The specific asset classes or services may be outlined in the loan application or determined by a) the bank, b) the game manufacturer, c) the owner(s) of the server(s) upon which the game resides, d) one or more player characters or e) any combination thereof. For example, if the loan is secured by another character, that character may require that a certain percentage of the purchases for the purposes of the loan be made from characters or businesses he designates.

Information regarding the issuance of the debit card may be stored according to any means applicable. In one embodiment, Debit Card Issuance program 148 may be configured to follow one or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Receive a request to create a debit card including a virtual cash amount, a specified receiver of the card, and conditions (if any) for spending the virtual cash from one or more player characters.
    • 2. Create debit card including usage conditions (if any).
    • 3. Transfer cash from player character(s) account(s) to debit card.
    • 4. Output debit card to specified receiver.
    • 5. Notify player character(s) and game server that debit card was created and issued.
    • 6. Update debit card bank database.

Information regarding the allocations and usage of the debit card may stored according to any means applicable. In one embodiment, such information may be stored on Debit Card Usage program 118 on the bank server which may be configured to follow some or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Receive an indication that the purchase of a virtual item or service will be paid for with a virtual debit card.
    • 2. Determine if purchase qualifies based on debit card conditions (if any).
    • 3. If purchase is qualified, allow purchase and deduct virtual cash from the account balance.
    • 4. If purchase is not qualified, disallow purchase.
    • 5. Notify bank that purchase was attempted and made.

In another embodiment, Debit Card usage information may be stored on the game server and Debit Card usage program 150 may be configured to:

    • 1. Receive request to use debit card from a player character to purchase an in game good or service or to pay a debt.
    • 2. Determine if use falls within debit card condition parameters (if any)
    • 3. Allow use if condition parameters allow it
    • 4. Don't allow use if it falls outside of condition parameters
    • 5. Notify player character using debit card, player character(s) who created debit card, and game server if debit card was used or not allowed to be used.
    • 6. Update remaining cash balance

According to a further embodiment, the loan may be issued in the form of a virtual credit card in which the character may make purchases up to the amount of the loan using the virtual credit card or may give the virtual credit card to another party to make the purchases. Additionally, the character may be enabled to vary one or more of the credit terms of the credit card such as interest rate, due date, grace period, penalties, credit limit, service charge, transferability, weekly or monthly or annual fees, automatic repayment, payment of other obligations, monetary advance, re-negotiated debt, and exchange value. The bank or entity supplying the loan may limit the use of the credit card to purchases in support of the reason for the loan, or may allow any purchases to be made. The credit on the credit card may additionally be allocated to different virtual asset classes as described above for virtual debit cards.

In one embodiment, credit card purchases made by another party may only be made in the name and for the benefit of the player character that owns the virtual credit card. In another embodiment, the “other party” may make purchases for the benefit of any one or more of: himself, the owner of the virtual credit card, and/or any third party. Such restrictions may be made and included as part of the terms associated with such virtual credit card and/or by and between the owner and the third party borrower of the virtual credit card. In one embodiment, the terms are automatically enforced by the game server and/or the financial intermediary. In another embodiment, the terms are defined and stored between the affected players and either enforced by the game server or by the player(s) themselves, via an enforceable contract or any combination of the foregoing. In another embodiment, in the event assets are purchased, the subsequent sale of the assets may be precluded in whole or in part.

An exemplary method for obtaining a loan is provided in FIG. 7. According to the method in FIG. 7, the character logs into an existing bank account and requests a loan. Based on the available credit provided by the real world credit line securing the account, the credit score either real or virtual or both of the character and the amount of outstanding debt the character and/or player may have, along with any other determining factors, the bank or other entity determines the amount of currency it is willing to lend to the character. The character then, or previously, indicates the amount it wishes to borrow and the bank or other entity determines the interest rate and other terms of the loan, though these steps may be performed in either order, i.e. the bank or other entity may determine the terms and interest rate for the loan prior to disclosing the amount it is willing to lend. The player may then be presented with payment options as shown in FIG. 5 or payment options may be dictated by the lending entity and the character may then either accept or reject the terms and the loan as shown in FIG. 6. In another embodiment, the player character indicates the loan terms and conditions he is willing to accept, e.g., an interest rate and length of loan, and lending entity determines the amount it is willing to loan the player character given the requested terms and conditions.

According to one embodiment, complex Loan Generation program 128 may be configured to follow some or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Receive a request to borrow virtual cash including a player character ID, a credit card number, and/or a real world credit line amount, an virtual asset to purchase or build with the loan,
    • 2. Validate credit card number and real world credit line amount
    • 3. Retrieve player character account to access credit score of player character
    • 4. Determine a virtual cash loan amount based on real world credit line amount, virtual asset being purchased or created, and credit score of player character
    • 5. Determine an interest rate and virtual cash payment schedule based on real world credit line amount, virtual asset being purchased or created, and player character credit score.
    • 6. Output a loan offer including a virtual cash loan amount, interest rate and virtual cash payment schedule to player character
    • 7. Receive acceptance of loan offer from player character
    • 8. Lock real world credit line
    • 9. Create new loan record
    • 10. Output virtual cash to player character account

Alternatively, generation of a loan may create a written contract between the character and financial intermediary or between characters. An exemplary contract is shown in FIG. 9. According to one embodiment, bank server 104 may be configured to perform some or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Receive real world credit card number and credit line from a player character
    • 2. Retrieve player character profile
    • 3. Validate available credit line on real world credit card
    • 4. Determine amount of virtual loan and interest rate based on real world credit line and player character profile
    • 5. Output loan offer to player character
    • 6. Receive acceptance of offer from player character
    • 7. Lock real world credit line for all or a portion of loan value
    • 8. Create Loan Contract
    • 9. Output Loan Contract to Player Character
    • 10. Receive real or virtual signature of contract from Player Character
    • 11. Deposit Loan amount into player character account

Once the loan is generated, regardless of the type of loan or the lender, a system of payments is instituted. Payment of the loan may be made manually, in which the character submits each payment individually, or automatically, in which the game or bank server automatically removes funds from the character's account or charges the player's real world credit line when payments are due. In one embodiment, the character can elect to make loan payments with a fixed real cash value amount that is guaranteed against currency fluctuation. If either (i) the player account does not have adequate funds for the game server to withdraw the virtual loan payment amount or (ii) the player character does not pay the invoice sent by the bank when due, then a real cash value can be determined for the virtual loan payment amount and charged to the credit card associated with the player character or, if applicable, with a third party or other player character who agreed to secure the loan for the defaulting player character.

In another embodiment, in the event a payment is not paid when due, then one or more player characters' fees to play the game may be increased. Such increase may be sufficient to recover the amount in full upon the next payment and/or the fees may be increased to recover the outstanding debt over some determined period of time that may be equal to or different than the term of the original loan, i.e., a “secondary loan.” This “secondary loan” may be further secured by one or more credit or other financial instruments provided by the defaulting player character or another player character or the original or subsequent financial intermediary and may also carry additional interest, fees, penalties, and/or other constraints, e.g., additional collateral may be required to qualify for such secondary loan(s). In one embodiment, Loan Payment program 138 may be configured to perform some or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Determine that a loan payment is due
    • 2. Determine value of loan payment in real and virtual cash
    • 3. Output notification to player character that loan payment is due including payment options and values
    • 4. Receive payment option choice from player character
    • 5. If option choice was virtual, remove virtual cash amount from player character account
    • 6. If option was real, retrieve credit card associated with loan and charge real cash amount to credit card

Management of payments may be accomplished by any means applicable. In another embodiment, Loan Payment program 132 may be configured to follow some or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Retrieve loan agreement
    • 2. Determine if payment is due
    • 3. If payment is due, determine virtual cash payment amount due
    • 4. Withdraw amount from player character account
    • 5. If player account does not have enough virtual cash to cover payment,
    • 6. Determine a real cash value of the virtual payment
    • 7. Retrieve credit card used to secure loan
    • 8. Charge real cash value to credit card
    • 9. Notify player that credit card was charged

According to a further embodiment the owner of the security may be notified that there is not enough virtual cash in the account to make the necessary payment and provide the owner of the security with a variety of options for making the payment. The owner of the security may elect to make a payment using virtual currency from another account, may elect to sell an asset to generate virtual currency to make the payment, buy virtual currency to pay the debt, or elect to have the underlying real world credit line guaranteeing the loan charged In the event that the loan is guaranteed by a third party, the third party may charge a fee to the borrower for missing a payment. In such embodiments, Loan Payment program 132 may be configured to follow some or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Retrieve loan agreement
    • 2. Determine if payment is due
    • 3. If payment is due, determine virtual cash payment amount due
    • 4. Withdraw amount from player character account
    • 5. If player account does not have enough virtual cash to cover payment, notify owner of credit card securing said loan
    • 6. If credit card owner chooses to pay debt with virtual cash, notify borrower and update loan balances due, along with any additional interest or penalties, otherwise:
    • 7. Determine a real cash value of the virtual payment
    • 8. Retrieve credit card used to secure loan
    • 9. Charge real cash value to credit card
    • 10. Notify player that credit card was charged

Alternatively or additionally, a secondary credit card belonging to the debtor or a third party may be charged some or all of the shortfall amount.

Additionally, characters may be notified when payments are due. Such notification may take the place of email or other mail to either the character or the player, instant messaging, screen alerts, or any other type of notification generally used within the parameters of the virtual world. In one embodiment, Loan Payment (invoice) program 134 may be configured to follow some or all of the following steps:

    • 1. Retrieve loan agreement
    • 2. Determine if payment is due
    • 3. If payment is due, determine virtual cash payment amount
    • 4. Determine advertisement(s) based on player character activity
    • 5. Generate invoice including virtual cash payment amount, date due, and advertisements
    • 6. Transmit payment to player character
    • 7. Determine if virtual payment was made on or before date due
    • 8. If virtual payment was not made
    • 9. Determine a real cash value of virtual payment
    • 10. Retrieve credit card associated with loan agreement
    • 11. Charge real cash value of virtual payment to credit card

In a further embodiment, once a loan is applied for and approved, a character in the game transfers the virtual currency to the borrowing character. A reminder is sent to the borrowing character that payment is due and/or a reminder is sent to the player. Such a reminder may take the form of an e-mail, voice mail, instant message, text message, icon or graphic symbol, or other type of written, visual or verbal communication commonly used in these environments. If the loan payment is not made in a timely manner in either virtual or real currency, the financial security underlying the debt is charged.

If the loan is between characters instead of through a financial intermediary, it may still be monitored and/or facilitated by the game or bank server. According to one embodiment, Loan Payment (invoice) program 134 may be configured to:

    • 1. Retrieve loan agreement
    • 2. Determine if payment is due
    • 3. If payment is due, determine virtual cash payment amount
    • 4. Determine advertisement(s) based on player character activity
    • 5. Generate invoice including virtual cash payment amount, date due, and advertisements
    • 6. Transmit payment to player character
    • 7. Determine if virtual payment was made on or before date due
    • 8. If virtual payment was not made notify owner of credit card securing said loan
    • 9. If credit card owner chooses to pay debt with virtual cash, notify borrower and update loan balances due, along with any additional interest or penalties, otherwise:
    • 10. Determine a real cash value of virtual payment
    • 11. Retrieve credit card associated with loan agreement
    • 12. Charge real cash value of virtual payment to credit card

According to another embodiment, some loans may have priority over other loans, i.e., if a player character enters bankruptcy or otherwise defaults on any loan, some loans may recover from the assets of the player character before those of other loans. Priority of loans may be established at the time the loan is secured and/or based upon the date secured, for example, giving preference to loans secured earlier over those secured later. Priority may also be granted based on the type of loan obtained, or the type of underlying assets used to secure the loan. For example, a loan used to purchase property may have priority over a loan used to purchase a disposable asset or vice versa.

In the event that a character becomes delinquent in his payments, the character and/or player may have one or more limitations imposed upon his actions in the virtual world by a) the bank, b) the game manufacturer, c) the owner(s) of the server(s) upon which the game resides, d) one or more player characters or e) any of the foregoing by any affiliated or other third party games, and/or f) any combination thereof. According to one embodiment, the delinquent player may be prevented from obtaining any further loans whether from a bank or another player and/or prevented from using part or all of any financial instruments, e.g., a debit card. In another embodiment, the delinquent player may be blocked from converting virtual currency to real currency. In a further embodiment, a lien may be imposed upon the assets of the character. In yet another embodiment, the delinquent character may be excluded from transacting business, owning land, or engaging in other contracts within the virtual world and/or within the virtual world of affiliated and/or third party virtual worlds. Additionally, or alternatively, the assets of the delinquent player may be seized and sold to cover the debt. The real world credit line used to secure the debt may also be charged in real world currency to cover the amount due. In one embodiment, upon delinquency, the entire amount of the loan may become immediately due. In another embodiment the virtual representation, of the character such as an avatar can be altered to indicate that the character has a delinquent account. For example, a virtual collection agent could trail the avatar around, a balland chain could be attached to the foot of the avatar, a warning could float over the head of the avatar, etc.

In a further embodiment, if a payment is missed, any preferential terms may be subject to change. For example, the interest rate could increase, payment terms could accelerate, guaranteed exchange rates could become variable, caps on interest or exchange rates could be removed, etc. For example, in the event of a full or partial default on a loan, and the security for such defaulted loan is either insufficient or is otherwise no longer available, e.g., the securing credit card has been cancelled, the defaulting player character and/or one or more of the player character(s) that have agreed to secure such defaulting player character's loan, may be required to pay higher fees to play the game until such time as the loan is repaid in full along with any late or other penalties. In yet another embodiment, upon such default of a loan, the game owner, the game itself, the lending institution and/or the creditor may send a message to other participating games to indicate that said player may be a credit risk and to deny further loans and/or to freeze the assets of said player and/or sell assets, included virtual cash held in other participating games to satisfy part or all of said default.

As shown, information regarding loans and the entities providing loans may be stored in game server 102 in a plurality of databases including, as non-limiting examples a loan account database 166 or a debit card database 168. A Loan Account Database 166, may include information such as:

    • 1. Bank ID
    • 2. Loan Account ID
    • 3. Player Character ID 1−n
    • 4. Credit Card # 1−n
    • 5. Conditions 1−n
    • 6. Amount
    • 7. Payments
    • 8. Interest Rate
    • 9. Start Date
    • 10. Payment Date(s)
    • 11. Type
    • 12. Automated withdrawal?
    • 13. Penalties (1−n)

In another embodiment, loan creation information is stored on game server 102. According to one embodiment, loan creation program 108 may be configured to:

    • 1. Receive an indication that a virtual loan has been created from a bank, including the loan amount, conditions, and bank ID and player character IDs
    • 2. Create and Store virtual loan record
      According to a further embodiment, Loan Generation program 130 may be configured to:
    • 1. Create a new loan record
    • 2. Notify game server that loan record has been created
      Such information may alternatively or additionally be stored on bank server 104 in loan account database 170. Such information may pertain to past, present or pending loans. The database may also include information on loans which are guaranteed by a third party, including another player. The database may further include information regarding defaults, if any, or late payments or other penalties and charges on the loan.

Additionally, the database may include information regarding the transfer of the loan amount to the character or player account. Each loan will be assigned a unique identifier such as a number or a sequence of alphanumeric characters. For each loan identifier, the database links the loan information with the character and player information. Information generated from the loan may also be linked with the character's credit score.

It will be appreciated that while, for the sake of discussion, these databases have been described separately, the data in these and any other suitable databases could be merged into a single large database and/or maintained separately in additional databases, or in other structures besides a database. Moreover, any such databases could be independent or linked, and the data in these databases could be normalized and/or stored centrally on a server or separately on game devices.

CONCLUSION

Of course it will be appreciated that the systems methods described herein are provided for the purposes of example only and that none of the above systems methods should be interpreted as necessarily requiring any of the disclosed components or steps, nor in the order listed, nor should they be interpreted as necessarily excluding any additional components or steps. Furthermore, it will be understood that while various embodiments are described, such embodiments should not be interpreted as being exclusive of the inclusion of other embodiments or parts of other embodiments.

The invention is described with reference to several embodiments. However, the invention is not limited to the embodiments disclosed, and those of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the invention is readily applicable to many other diverse embodiments and applications as are reflected in the range of real world financial institutions, instruments and activities. Accordingly, the subject matter of the present disclosure includes all novel and nonobvious combinations and subcombinations of the various systems, methods configurations, embodiments, features, functions, and/or properties disclosed herein.

Where a limitation of a first claim would cover one of a feature as well as more than one of a feature (e.g., a limitation such as “at least one widget” covers one widget as well as more than one widget), and where in a second claim that depends on the first claim, the second claim uses a definite article “the” to refer to the limitation (e.g., “the widget”), this does not imply that the first claim covers only one of the feature, and this does not imply that the second claim covers only one of the feature (e.g., “the widget” can cover both one widget and more than one widget).

Each claim in a set of claims has a different scope. Therefore, for example, where a limitation is explicitly recited in a dependent claim, but not explicitly recited in any claim from which the dependent claim depends (directly or indirectly), that limitation is not to be read into any claim from which the dependent claim depends.

When an ordinal number (such as “first”, “second”, “third” and so on) is used as an adjective before a term, that ordinal number is used (unless expressly specified otherwise) merely to indicate a particular feature, such as to distinguish that particular feature from another feature that is described by the same term or by a similar term. For example, a “first widget” may be so named merely to distinguish it from, e.g., a “second widget”. Thus, the mere usage of the ordinal numbers “first” and “second” before the term “widget” does not indicate any other relationship between the two widgets, and likewise does not indicate any other characteristics of either or both widgets. For example, the mere usage of the ordinal numbers “first” and “second” before the term “widget” (1) does not indicate that either widget comes before or after any other in order or location; (2) does not indicate that either widget occurs or acts before or after any other in time; and (3) does not indicate that either widget ranks above or below any other, as in importance or quality. In addition, the mere usage of ordinal numbers does not define a numerical limit to the features identified with the ordinal numbers. For example, the mere usage of the ordinal numbers “first” and “second” before the term “widget” does not indicate that there must be no more than two widgets.

When a single device or article is described herein, more than one device/article (whether or not they cooperate) may alternatively be used in place of the single device/article that is described. Accordingly, the functionality that is described as being possessed by a device may alternatively be possessed by more than one device/article (whether or not they cooperate).

Similarly, where more than one device or article is described herein (whether or not they cooperate), a single device/article may alternatively be used in place of the more than one device or article that is described. For example, a plurality of computer-based devices may be substituted with a single computer-based device. Accordingly, the various functionality that is described as being possessed by more than one device or article may alternatively be possessed by a single device/article.

The functionality and/or the features of a single device that is described may be alternatively embodied by one or more other devices which are described but are not explicitly described as having such functionality/features. Thus, other embodiments need not include the described device itself, but rather can include the one or more other devices which would, in those other embodiments, have such functionality/features.

Numerous embodiments are described in this patent application, and are presented for illustrative purposes only. The described embodiments are not, and are not intended to be, limiting in any sense. The presently disclosed invention(s) are widely applicable to numerous embodiments, as is readily apparent from the disclosure. One of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the disclosed invention(s) may be practiced with various modifications and alterations, such as structural, logical, software, and electrical modifications. Although particular features of the disclosed invention(s) may be described with reference to one or more particular embodiments and/or drawings, it should be understood that such features are not limited to usage in the one or more particular embodiments or drawings with reference to which they are described, unless expressly specified otherwise.

The present disclosure is neither a literal description of all embodiments of the invention nor a listing of features of the invention which must be present in all embodiments.

Neither the Title (set forth at the beginning of the first page of this patent application) nor the Abstract (set forth at the end of this patent application) is to be taken as limiting in any way as the scope of the disclosed invention(s). An Abstract has been included in this application merely because an Abstract of not more than 150 words is required under 37 C.F.R. § 1.72(b).

The title of this patent application and headings of sections provided in this patent application are for convenience only, and are not to be taken as limiting the disclosure in any way.

Devices that are described as in communication with each other need not be in continuous communication with each other, unless expressly specified otherwise. On the contrary, such devices need only transmit to each other as necessary or desirable, and may actually refrain from exchanging data most of the time. For example, a machine in communication with another machine via the Internet may not transmit data to the other machine for long period of time (e.g. weeks at a time). In addition, devices that are in communication with each other may communicate directly or indirectly through one or more intermediaries.

A description of an embodiment with several components or features does not imply that all or even any of such components/features are required. On the contrary, a variety of optional components are described to illustrate the wide variety of possible embodiments of the present invention(s). Unless otherwise specified explicitly, no component/feature is essential or required.

Although process steps, algorithms or the like may be described in a sequential order, such processes may be configured to work in different orders. In other words, any sequence or order of steps that may be explicitly described does not necessarily indicate a requirement that the steps be performed in that order. On the contrary, the steps of processes described herein may be performed in any order practical. Further, some steps may be performed simultaneously despite being described or implied as occurring non-simultaneously (e.g., because one step is described after the other step). Moreover, the illustration of a process by its depiction in a drawing does not imply that the illustrated process is exclusive of other variations and modifications thereto, does not imply that the illustrated process or any of its steps are necessary to the invention, and does not imply that the illustrated process is preferred.

Although a process may be described as including a plurality of steps, that does not imply that all or any of the steps are essential or required. Various other embodiments within the scope of the described invention(s) include other processes that omit some or all of the described steps. Unless otherwise specified explicitly, no step is essential or required.

Although a product may be described as including a plurality of components, aspects, qualities, characteristics and/or features, that does not indicate that all of the plurality are essential or required. Various other embodiments within the scope of the described invention(s) include other products that omit some or all of the described plurality.

Unless expressly specified otherwise, an enumerated list of items (which may or may not be numbered) does not imply that any or all of the items are mutually exclusive. Therefore it is possible, but not necessarily true, that something can be considered to be, or fit the definition of, two or more of the items in an enumerated list. Also, an item in the enumerated list can be a subset (a specific type of) of another item in the enumerated list. For example, the enumerated list “a computer, a laptop, a PDA” does not imply that any or all of the three items of that list are mutually exclusive—e.g., an item can be both a laptop and a computer, and a “laptop” can be a subset of (a specific type of) a “computer”.

Likewise, unless expressly specified otherwise, an enumerated list of items (which may or may not be numbered) does not imply that any or all of the items are collectively exhaustive or otherwise comprehensive of any category. For example, the enumerated list “a computer, a laptop, a PDA” does not imply that any or all of the three items of that list are comprehensive of any category.

Further, an enumerated listing of items does not imply that the items are ordered in any manner according to the order in which they are enumerated.

In a claim, a limitation of the claim which includes the phrase “means for” or the phrase “step for” means that 35 U.S.C. § 112, paragraph 6, applies to that limitation.

In a claim, a limitation of the claim which does not include the phrase “means for” or the phrase “step for” means that 35 U.S.C. § 112, paragraph 6 does not apply to that limitation, regardless of whether that limitation recites a function without recitation of structure, material or acts for performing that function. For example, in a claim, the mere use of the phrase “step of” or the phrase “steps of” in referring to one or more steps of the claim or of another claim does not mean that 35 U.S.C. § 112, paragraph 6, applies to that step(s).

With respect to a means or a step for performing a specified function in accordance with 35 U.S.C. § 112, paragraph 6, the corresponding structure, material or acts described in the specification, and equivalents thereof, may perform additional functions as well as the specified function.

Computers, processors, computing devices and like products are structures that can perform a wide variety of functions. Such products can be operable to perform a specified function by executing one or more programs, such as a program stored in a memory device of that product or in a memory device which that product accesses. Unless expressly specified otherwise, such a program need not be based on any particular algorithm, such as any particular algorithm that might be disclosed in this patent application. It is well known to one of ordinary skill in the art that a specified function may be implemented via different algorithms, and any of a number of different algorithms would be a mere design choice for carrying out the specified function.

Therefore, with respect to a means or a step for performing a specified function in accordance with 35 U.S.C. § 112, paragraph 6, structure corresponding to a specified function includes any product programmed to perform the specified function. Such structure includes programmed products which perform the function, regardless of whether such product is programmed with (i) a disclosed algorithm for performing the function, (ii) an algorithm that is similar to a disclosed algorithm, or (iii) a different algorithm for performing the function.

The present disclosure provides, to one of ordinary skill in the art, an enabling description of several embodiments and/or inventions. Some of these embodiments and/or inventions may not be claimed in this patent application, but may nevertheless be claimed in one or more continuing applications that claim the benefit of priority of this patent application. Applicants intend to file additional applications to pursue patents for subject matter that has been disclosed and enabled but not claimed in this patent application.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification463/25
International ClassificationA63F9/24
Cooperative ClassificationG07F17/3281, G07F17/3244, G07F17/32
European ClassificationG07F17/32, G07F17/32K, G07F17/32M8F
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Nov 15, 2006ASAssignment
Owner name: LEVIATHAN ENTERTAINMENT, LLC, NEW MEXICO
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:VAN LUCHENE, ANDREW STEPHEN;MUELLER, RAYMOND J;REEL/FRAME:018520/0656;SIGNING DATES FROM 20061002 TO 20061114