The following application is a continuation-in part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/380,489 which is a continuation in part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/279,991, filed Apr. 17, 2006 and Ser. No. 11/355,232, filed Feb. 14, 2006, which both claim 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. Each of which is hereby incorporated by reference in their entirety for all purposes.
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.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
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.
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 being offered a financing agreement according to one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 4 is a block diagram 300 according to one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 5 is a block diagram depicting a system 240 according to one embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 6 illustrates a method of applying for a financing option according to one embodiment of the present invention.
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 or virtual 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 real world 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
- 14. Or any combination of the above or
- 15. A change or rate of change to any or all of the above or any other attribute of a player or player character
- 16. A future right to create, encumber, purchase or sell any one or more of the above or any other object
- 17. A financial object or instrument, including a bank or other balance in real or virtual currency
Character Life—a fixed or variable, finite or infinite, random or dynamic period of virtual, real world, or any other combination of time and/or number of turns or other measuring unit that a player character can exist in a game environment, including any renewals or extensions, e.g., reincarnation or “extra lives,” etc.
Character Skills—game attributes inherent in, developed or acquired by a player character during game play or otherwise such as, but not limited to: the ability to cast (certain) spells, hide, grow, shrink, read, write, program, listen, speak, foretell the future, read minds, use (certain) weapons, sell, create, manufacture goods, provide services, cook, shoot, hunt, trap, operate businesses, find herbs, gather food or drink, perform, run, walk, crawl, jump, teleport, transmutation, assemble herbs into potions, mine, learn, create chemical compounds, invent, heal, diagnose, treat illness or wounds, raise the dead, train others, publish, assemble objects into other objects, fly, and/or enchant other player characters.
Computer Generated (CGC) or Non-Player (NPC) Character—any character that is controlled by the game system and/or a computer program and/or rules established by the game system 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 and/or as compared with past performances of the player or those of other players or player characters or NPC's in the past or simultaneously with the player or otherwise of any or all or any combination of the above.
In-game Marketplace—shall mean a virtual environment where Characters can exchange items, attributes, or any other exchangeable game element. Exchanges may be made using any one or more of (including but not limited to) real or virtual currency, bartering, debt or any other means of exchange.
Novice Player—shall mean a player that is identified as requiring the help of an expert to complete a Game Parameter or that has relatively few hours of playing experience as compared with other players or that regularly underperform or that would be otherwise considered a novice based upon or as determined by any one or more of: a) the game server, b) two or more other players, c) a majority of players, d) a supermajority of servers.
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. A player can also be any person that plays a Video Game.
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, for example, 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 or Virtual 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, or
- 7. A Player Attribute may include any Character Attribute
Player to Player Contract—a real and/or virtual but binding contract between player characters that allows the players to provide or exchange game, character or player attributes to one another. Once a player-to-player contract is established, the game server or peer-to-peer network automatically distributes acquired 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. Such connections may be direct as in a connection with the device, or via a local network or via a wide area network or other connection methods such as a WAN, or the Internet or VPN.
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. In certain embodiments, the Video Game Consuls are an integral part of the Video Game Central Server.
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” does 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.
Furthermore, in any database described, the required data may reside directly in the described database and/or the database may contain one or more pointers or other information necessary to retrieve the required information from another database. Such additional database may or may not be controlled or otherwise be associated with the game or database in question. For example, in the case of a player's credit information, a database may be created to physically store all required information, or certain of the information may be retrieved from a third party database, such as Equifax's databases, using information necessary to access and retrieve such player character credit information, e.g., player character's name, address, social security number, credit card numbers, etc.
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, and/or 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 IntelŪ PentiumŪ 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.
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, this type of game is played in a persistent virtual 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 the 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 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 10 according to one embodiment includes a central server 20 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. Typically the number of video game playing units changes at various times as players join games and as players stop playing games. Similarly, more than one server may operate to coordinate the activities of the video game playing units, as is well known in the art.
Central server 20 may comprise any computing device (e.g., one or more computers) capable of communicating with other computing devices. The server 20 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 20 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 20, 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, hand held gaming devices, mobile phones, and personal data assistants (PDAs).
Some or all of video game 17 can be stored on central server 20. 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 20. 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 20 via the same game device (e g. 18 c).
Regardless of whether video game 17 is stored on central server 20 or video game devices 18, server 20 is typically configured to facilitate play of the game between multiple game players.
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 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 virtual environments as previously described allow for interactions between players, the amount and depth of interaction may be limited by the parameters of the game. For example, most virtual environments generally lack sophisticated financial systems. This shortcoming limits sales and purchases of goods and services to trade or barter systems or very rudimentary purchasing systems which do not have the ability to conduct multi-person transfers or offer multiple purchasing and selling options to interested parties. This limits the ability of the economy of the virtual environment to expand; limiting transactions to immediate exchanges, and decreasing the depth of play available.
Various embodiments of the invention address this issue by providing easy to use, yet sophisticated means for acquiring goods and services in a virtual environment. Such means allow for complex transactions by players and increase the complexity or richness of interactions between players thereby increasing the enjoyment and longevity of the game.
Characters in a virtual environment are frequently desirous of goods or services including game aspects, virtual items, virtual services such as assistance with solving missions, and virtual attributes to facilitate their play and increase their enjoyment of the game. Such goods or services can be offered by any means generally used in the real world to provide goods or services such as through a virtual store or business, an auction, advertisements, listings, postings, mailings whether virtual or real, solicitations, individual character offerings, etc. Real representations of virtual items may also be acquired both in the virtual environment and the real world.
In one embodiment, a shopping character may browse available goods and services and/or all possible goods and services. The shopping character may be able to view the item through a screen or pop up window, or other means of viewing virtual items, may view a description of the item, may purchase the item based on the name, or may randomly purchase items that may or may not be of value.
According to one embodiment, the purchase price of an item may be displayed to the user in one or more real or virtual currencies. The currency displayed by player-defined and/or player-dependant. For example, the player may indicate which currencies he would like to see displayed. The player may make a currency display selection at any suitable time including, but not limited to, the time of purchase, or during an initial character set up period. Alternatively or additionally, the game system may employ certain default currency display settings. For example, the game system may identify a default real world currency for display based on the billing address supplied by the player. For example, the player's real world billing address is listed as being in France, the price of any items the player considers purchasing may be displayed in Euros.
If an item meets the needs or desires of the shopping character, the shopping character may opt to acquire the item. The good or service may be purchased outright, obtained through trade or barter, or acquired through a financing agreement. Once the good or service is purchased, regardless of means, it may then be transferred to the virtual inventory of the character. In some embodiments, for example in a layaway type purchase, there may be a delay in the transfer of the item to the character's inventory. A single transaction may take place between two or more characters.
In one embodiment, the good or service is purchased outright. Such a purchase may be accomplished using real and/or virtual currency. The price of the good or service may be fixed, negotiable, or subject to market forces. For example, in an auction, the price of the good is variable depending on the number of characters who are interested in the item. In most stores, the price of an item may be fixed based on the calculations of the store owner. In sales such as garage sales, second hand transactions, or direct character to character transactions, the price may be negotiable.
In another embodiment, the good or service is acquired through a trade or barter transaction. Such transactions may take place according to any means used to exchange goods and services. In one embodiment, one party may directly trade or barter with another party. In another embodiment, the barter or trade may take place through an exchange intermediary. In yet another embodiment, multi-way barter transactions are facilitated.
An exchange intermediary may be, for example, a local exchange trading system. A local exchange trading system uses a local credit unique to the exchange trading system so that direct swaps do not need to be made. For instance, a character may earn local credit by performing a service for one character and spend the local credit later by buying a good from a different character in the same network. Transactions are recorded in a central location open to all members such as in Exchange Trading Database 120 in FIG. 2. Exchange trading systems may also extend between virtual worlds, such that the local credit of the exchange trading system can be earned in one game and used in another game.
In another embodiment, an exchange trading system is managed by the game server, a group of two or more player characters, or a third party facilitator. The game server may accept any items offered by the purchaser. In one embodiment, the game server may only accept items from the player character that are in demand. A database, such as item database 118
may be created listing all items or services available for use within the virtual environment. Another database may be created listing all goods or services that characters are seeking. Alternatively, or jointly, a database may be created listing items that characters are willing to sell. Such databases may exist independently or may be cross-referenced to each other. In another embodiment, such database(s) may reside in whole or in part at the game server or game consuls or a combination of these, e.g., each player may maintain a local database or a local database of pointers to yet another database. Characters or players may view such listings, or may be notified when a match or a near match occurs. Such notification may occur through electronic mail, virtual mail, regular mail, instant messaging, screen alerts, cell or regular phone messages, pager or any other type of notification commonly used in a real or virtual environment. According to one embodiment, Exchange Trading Database 120
may be configured to create transactions using some or all of the following method steps:
- 1. Receive request to post item;
- 2. Verify demand for item;
- 3. Post item;
- 4. Sell item to interested buyer;
- 5. Post credit to account of seller.
In another embodiment, a seller may have a list of items which are acceptable for trade. The particular goods or services in which the seller is interested may be stored by any means applicable, for example in Exchange Trading Database 120
. Such information may be stored using some or all of the following method steps:
- 1. Receive a virtual item to be sold or exchanged from a first player character.
- 2. Receive a list of virtual items that can be exchanged for the first virtual item.
- 3. Store Exchange Offer.
If another player expresses interest in the stored item, either by submitting a list of items sought, or through browsing a listing of items offered for sale or exchange, or through any other means, such as advertising that brings an item listed for sale or exchange to the attention of an interested party, the game server, exchange server or other database server may fulfill an exchange offer using all or some of the following steps:
- 1. Receive a request to purchase a first virtual item from a first player character.
- 2. Determine that first virtual item has an exchange offer from a second player character.
- 3. Determine that the first player character has a second virtual item that can be exchanged for the first virtual item.
- 4. Output exchange offer to first player character.
- 5. If offer is accepted, transfer second virtual item to second player character and first virtual item to first player character.
In an embodiment, items stored may have a virtual or real currency value associated with it. In this manner, bartering is facilitated and simplified. Players may search listings of items by name, type, or other identifiers or by such valuation. A valuation may be stored that is determined by the game server, another value may be assigned by the owner of the item, while yet a third value might be determined based upon a free market or exchange. In this fashion “currency equivalents” may be established so as to speed negotiations, exchange, bartering, bartering among multiple parties and/or with transactions with multiple otherwise dissimilar items and/or any combination of these, e.g., multiple dissimilar items being partially bartered, partially traded for currency among multiple unrelated players.
Such transactions can be conducted between any number of characters, for example a first character may have an item a second character wants and a second character may have an item a third character wants while the third character may have an item the first character wants. A transaction such as that outlined above could be conducted between all three players so that each player obtains the item(s) they desire. Alternatively, each item could be held by a server and the value of the item converted to a virtual currency which could be used to purchase goods and services on that server. In addition, or in the alternate, players can trade items using a mix of bartered items, currencies, promises to pay, promises to perform services, etc.
In one embodiment, the server or exchange trade facilitator may convert the item to a common currency at a fixed price, or the price/local credit may fluctuate based on the demand. Alternatively, the game server or other facilitator may auction the item and credit the offering player with the amount acquired from the auction. Such an auction may have a reserve price or may not include a reserve. All barter and trade transactions including those mediated by exchange trading systems may be used alone, or in combination with other forms of payment. In the event an exchange, trading post, or bartering system is used and hosted or provided by a third party or the game server or any other player(s), there may be a fee for conducting such transactions. Such fees may be paid in real or virtual currency. Such fees may be collected before, during, or after the transaction. Fees may be based upon the value of the items exchanged, or a percentage of the total transaction, or may be a fixed fee. Such fees themselves may be paid through barter or other methods as described herein.
According to one embodiment, player characters and other in-game entities may have access to one or more virtual financial institutions such as a virtual bank. Virtual banks are described, for example, in co-pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/535,585, “Financial Institutions and Instruments in a Virtual Environment,” filed Sep. 27, 2006 and Ser. No. 11/421,025 “Financial Institutions and Instruments in a Virtual Environment” filed May 30, 2006, each of which is hereby incorporated by reference. Such virtual banks may be able to provide characters access to currency in one or more different virtual or real world denominations. Furthermore, a virtual bank, financial institution, or other entity may be capable of converting currency from one denomination to another. One or more fees may be charged for such currency denomination conversions.
If a buyer does not have enough currency to purchase an item outright, or does not have an item of sufficient value to barter or trade, or if the player simply prefers not to use his currency, items or future promises to perform a service or deliver an item, or for any other reason or no reason, a financing option may be used. Financing options may be any type of financing used in the real world, including, but not limited to, rentals, leases, installment plans, rent to own agreements, lease purchase agreements, hire purchase agreements, closed-end lease agreements, credit purchases including credit cards or other credit instruments, any means generally used to finance goods or services in the real world, or any combination thereof.
Financing options may be requested or offered at any time during the game. They may be established prior to making purchases such as through virtual or real credit cards, debit cards, lines of credit, etc. or offered during or after a purchase is initiated in the form of installment plans, hire purchase plans, rentals, leases, installment plans, rent to own agreements, lease purchase agreements, closed-end lease agreements, “store” credit cards or other credit arrangements.
According to one embodiment, a finance option may be dynamically calculated based on, for example, factors such as the price of item the character wishes to purchase, characteristics of the character wishing to make the purchase, the availability of the item the character wishes to purchase, etc. Accordingly, as these factors may well fluctuate from transaction to transaction, the finance options offered may similarly fluctuate.
According to another embodiment, the game server may control which entities are allowed to offer and arrange financing agreements. For example, an entity may be required to have a license in order to offer financing agreements. Licensing may be controlled, for example, by the game server, game manufacturer, one or more players, or any other real or virtual entity or group of entities. Licenses may or may not be available for purchase and/or resale. The number of licenses in a given virtual environment may or may not be limited or controlled.
Similarly, the game server or other intra- or extra-game entity may control which characters or entities in the virtual environment may receive financing offers and/or enter into financing agreements. For example, as described in greater detail below, a character may be required to have a real world credit card on file and may further be required to authorize that the real world credit card can be used as a guarantee against any financing agreements entered into by the character before the character is allowed to receive financing offers or enter into a financing agreement.
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 financial agreement server 104 and a Credit Server 106.
Game server 102 may include multiple databases, including, for example, a Player Database 110, Player Character Database 112, Financing Agreement Database 114, Market Database 116, Item Database 118, and Exchange Trading Database 120. Financial Agreement Server 104 may include a Financial Agreement Database 122, an Interest Rate Determination Program 124, a Financing Offer Database 126, an Exchange Rate Determination Program 128, a Fee Determination Program 130, a Collateral Database 132, and an Insurance program 154. Credit Server 106 may include a Lock Credit Line Program 140, a Ping Credit Line Program 142, a Release Credit Line Program 144, an Account Database 146, an Escrow Database 148, a Margin Database 150, and a prohibit Sale of Virtual Assets Program 152.
In another embodiment, the financing module is integrated, embedded or is otherwise in communication with anything that is or can promote or offer such financing, including, but not limited to the game server or game consul and/or any one or more players or characters or NPC's that serves as a/an: a) banker b) lender, c) broker, d) salesman, e) wholesale or retail business, f) financing agency, g) online or virtual business, or any other entity or application that provides or can provide a financing option. For example, in one embodiment, a financing module is integrated or embedded in the virtual shopping cart of a virtual environment. Such a module may be activated automatically when an item is placed in the shopping cart as seen in FIG. 3, or may be turned on or off by the character making the purchase, the seller, or third party providing the service. For example, some characters may opt not to be offered financing agreements or certain financing agreements. In another embodiment, financing agreements may be separately applied for by the purchaser as in FIG. 6 or offered prior to the placement of a good or service in a virtual shopping cart, for example when a character account is created.
For example, in one embodiment, once a player places an item in the virtual shopping cart, a financial agreement may be generated using exemplary system 300
in FIG. 4
. Such a system may include a central server 310
, a Finance Agreement Generating Program 312
, a Finance Agreement Enforcement Program 314
, an Asset Liquidation and Redistribution Program 316
, a Credit Card upsell program 318
, and a Virtual Cash to Real Cash Exchange Program 320
. In one example, Finance Agreements may be generated using Finance Agreement Generating Program 312
which may use some or all of the following steps:
- 1. Receive a request to purchase an in game item.
- 2. Generate and output one or more virtual offers to finance the item of interest.
- 3. Receive an acceptance of a finance offer from the player character.
- 4. Retrieve or request a credit card or other financial guarantee instrument from the player character.
- 5. Establish and store financing contract information, including one or more of the credit information, payment amount, the number of payments, the dates for each payment and/or the means to calculate any one or more of the forgoing.
- 6. Output virtual item to player character (or provide a key or other means for player character to retrieve or otherwise take possession of the item.
In one example, a player character wins an auction for a virtual item on an in game auction site run by the game server, or a third party or another character or characters in a virtual world. The winning bid is 200LD, which has a U.S. dollar value of $20.00. The in game site has agreed to have the finance option module embedded in its checkout page. Based on factors described herein, the finance module calculates and presents one or more finance agreement offers to the buyer: 40LD a month for 6 months, 25LD a month for 12 months or 15LD a month for 24 months. If the buyer accepts one of the offers, the credit card associated with the player account is “pinged” to ensure there is an adequate balance and a virtual financial agreement is created. The seller is paid 200LD plus a 10LD fee and the buyer is given the virtual product. On a specific date of each month, the player character is notified that a payment is due. If the payment is not made, the player may be given the option to pay the obligation with real or virtual cash or the credit card associated with the account is charged the real cash value of the payment plus an optional processing fee and/or penalties. In addition or in the alternate, the player may establish that payments be made automatically so as to avoid any such processing, late or other fees and penalties.
According to another embodiment, multiple entities may offer competing financing terms to a buyer. The offers may vary on terms and include any number of incentives. The buyer may then accept any offer or reject all of them. Accordingly, the buyer may be presented with a pop-up window or other user-interface that allows the buyer to review any and all financing offers and then accept or reject them as desired. The user-interface may be provided to the buyer at any suitable time including, for example, when a character enters a store, accesses a list of available items, signs into the virtual environment, places an item in a shopping cart, in response to a request from the buyer, etc.
According to some embodiments, the buyer may be allowed to make a counter offer in response to an initial or subsequent financing offer. The buyer and financing entity may then engage in negotiations in order to reach a satisfactory agreement. Moreover, either the buyer or the financing entity may be provided with a means by which they can automatically accept or reject offers or counter offers based on identified criteria.
It should be appreciated that additional fees, including some or all the fees described herein, may be payable, for example, to an entity offering the financing option, such as the game manufacturer or a real world third party that has created a financing module that is compatible with and/or accessible to characters within the virtual environment. Such fees may be charged on a per transaction basis, as a percentage of the finance option agreed upon, or using any other means.
Alternatively or additionally, financing agreement-related fees may be paid to the seller of the goods or services. Again, such fees may be charged on a per transaction basis, as a percentage of the finance option agreed upon, or using any other means. In this case, the seller may or may not be the originator of the finance offer.
Furthermore, financing companies may offer various incentives to sellers to encourage the sellers to provide financing offers to buyers. Incentives may include, for example, different up front and/or revenue share fees or other virtual or real world benefits.
Such a system 300 may further include any number of suitable databases. For example, it may include a Player Database 322, a Player Character Database 324, a Finance Agreement Database 326, and a Virtual Financial Intermediary Database 328.
Financing agreements may provide financing for part, or all, of the amount due. The financing offered may include virtual cash, real cash, or combinations thereof. Regardless of when they are offered or how they are generated, sellers or third parties offering financing agreements may offer such agreements to some or all purchasers. For example, financing agreements, or particular types of financing agreements, or particular terms in financing agreement may be only offered to characters who meet particular criteria, including, but not limited to, 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; the assets (tangible or intangible) 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 (real or virtual), the growth rate of the game, the type of player account, inflation rates, the purpose of the financing, or other financial evaluators. In one embodiment, the bank may verify the character's virtual credit score. In another embodiment, the lender may verify the player's real world credit score or a combination or real and virtual credit scores. 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, information regarding creditworthiness, or any combination of the above. Alternatively, financing agreements may be offered to every character.
Information regarding the players or the player character for use in determining offers may be stored by any means applicable including, for example in player database 322 and player character database 324. Player database 322 may include information about each player who accesses the game. This information may be provided to the game sever by a player when the player registers to play the game, or at any other suitable time or using any suitable means. Examples of player information include, but are not limited to: player character ID, character personal information, player character billing or financial information, character real currency account information, and player character(s).
Player character database 324 may include information about each player character that participates, or is able to participate in a game. Accordingly, it is understood that a player may create and control more than one player character. Examples of information the player character database may maintain include, but are not limited to: character name, character nickname or handle, virtual cash currency preferences, virtual cash account, account number, account balance, and virtual inventory. Of course it will be understood that for many of these information categories, a given player character may have multiple entries. For example, each character may have multiple accounts and/or attributes.
The terms of the financing agreement may be determined by the lender, including the seller, 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 to be financed, the type of collateral or other guarantee that will be required, the interest rate for the agreement, the term of the agreement, the payment schedule for the agreement, any fees or penalties that may be incurred, an annual percentage rate, or any combination thereof. In one embodiment, the character may be able to vary one or more of the terms of the financing agreement such as interest rate, due date, grace period, penalties, service charge, transferability, fees, automatic repayment, payment of other obligations, and exchange value. In the event the player character is permitted to change one or more of the terms of the financing agreement, the system may adjust certain or all of the other unmodified terms. For example, if the character requests or otherwise changes the due date, the lender or the system may change the interest rate accordingly. In another embodiment, the terms are dictated by the lender or game server.
Information regarding the terms of the agreement may be stored by any means applicable, for example in Finance Agreement Database 326. Finance Agreement Database 326 may include information about any virtual agreements entered into by player characters. Examples of information the database may maintain include, but are not limited to: agreement ID, player character ID, Player character type, agreement type, collateral, and finance agreement obligation(s). Of course it will be understood that for many of these information categories, a given finance agreement may have multiple entries. For example, a given agreement entered into by a given player character may have numerous obligations which can be tracked and maintained by the finance agreement database. Examples of finance agreement obligation information that could be tracked and maintained by the contract database includes, but is not limited to: player character, obligation type, obligation amount, obligation date, obligation penalty, obligation security item(s) or amounts, obligation grace period, obligation warning message, and default rules.
In one embodiment, a limit on the amount that may be financed 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 character's 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, 1) the player character's real or virtual income, or m) any other player character attribute, or n) any combination thereof. Such limits may apply to the borrower, the lender, or both.
When interest is expressed in an item, i.e. upon viewing, selection, at checkout or at any other appropriate time, one or more options of financing agreements or terms of financing agreements may be presented to the character. If the character accepts a virtual finance option, the selling entity is credited the full amount of the purchase or as otherwise agreed by the parties to the negotiation. Additionally, the seller may receive a portion of the fees and interest charged by the financing module or other lending agent. Such fees may be a flat fee, and/or a percentage of the fees and/or interest charged by the financing module. The fees and interest may be paid to the seller at any time determined by the agreement between the seller and the owner of the financing module. For example, the fees and interest may be awarded when the financing agreement is executed, periodically as they are paid by the purchaser, or after completion of the financing agreement.
In one embodiment, the financing agreement offered is an installment plan. Payments may be made at regular intervals until the principal and interest are paid in full. In one embodiment, a deposit may be required along with an initial payment. In another embodiment, a deposit may not be required. The intervals at which payments occur may be dictated by the seller or may be chosen by the purchaser. In one embodiment, the intervals may be altered during the term of the agreement. In another embodiment, the intervals are fixed for the duration of the agreement. In one embodiment, the seller retains the item until all installments are paid, for example, as in a “layaway” plan. In another embodiment, the goods or services are immediately transferred to the buyer.
In another embodiment, the item may be rented. The rental agreement may be explicit, implied, or written. The rental agreement includes the parties, the property, the term of the rental, and the amount of rent for the term, the type and frequency of payments. A rental may or may not require a deposit to be held pending the return of the item. Such a deposit may or may not earn interest which may be awarded to the renter upon completion of the rental or retained by the rental agent.
In one embodiment, the financing option may be a rent to own agreement. A “rent to own agreement” is a means for acquiring ownership over time without acquiring debt. In such an agreement, the item will be owned by the buyer when the rental term is completed. The item may also be returned by the buyer at any time. Such agreements may require down payments, credit verification, or other form of security to guarantee the agreement. In another embodiment, a final payment (e.g., $1 or 10% of the original sales price) may be required to effect transfer title from the owner to the buyer.
In another embodiment, the financing option may be a hire purchase agreement. In a “hire purchase agreement,” the contract allows the buyer to hire the goods for a monthly rent. When a sum equal to the original full price plus interest has been paid in equal installments, the buyer may then exercise an option to buy the goods at a predetermined price (usually a nominal sum) or return the goods to the seller. Such agreements may require down payments, credit verification, or other form of security to guarantee the agreement.
In a further embodiment, the financing option may be a closed-end lease agreement. A closed-end lease allows a person the use of property for a fixed term, and the right to buy that property for the agreed residual value when the term expires. The item being leased may not be owned by the lessor, the lessor may acquire the property from a third party for a certain amount with the lessee providing an offset amount against the capitalized cost and the lessor's cost of financing the purchase. The total lease cost may then be paid in a lump sum or amortized over the term of the lease with periodic payments.
The owner of the good or service may further permit a purchase to be made on credit. In one embodiment, the owner may delay payment for the particular good or service until a later date. Payment may be made in combination with other types of financing, such as delaying the start date of an installment plan, or payment may be due in full upon the later date, or any combination thereof.
In a further embodiment, the seller, game server or third party may allow the buyer to apply for a credit card to secure the financing agreement or to be used instead of an alternate financing agreement. Such a credit card may be provided similarly to real world store credit cards, where an application is completed and may be granted on the spot. In another embodiment, there may be a delay in processing the application. In another embodiment, such a credit card may be a “secured credit card.” Offers may be generated by any means applicable, for example by credit card upsell program 318
using some or all of the following steps:
- 1. Receive request to initiate a virtual financing agreement.
- 2. Output offer to register for a credit card to secure the transaction.
- 3. Receive acceptance of the offer including player billing information.
- 4. If credit card application is accepted, bind virtual financing agreement with new credit card.
- 5. If credit card application is denied, output request to player character to provide alternate financial guarantee instrument.
In another embodiment, such credit cards may be offered upon creation of a game account using some or all of the following steps:
- 1. Receive request to create new player or character account.
- 2. Output offer to register for a credit card, including an upfront virtual benefit if offer is accepted.
- 3. Receive acceptance of offer, including player billing information.
- 4. Submit credit card application for approval.
- 5. If credit card application is accepted, issue credit card, set up player account with credit card, and store virtual benefit with player account.
- 6. If credit card application is denied, output request for alternate financial guarantee instrument to secure virtual transactions.
For any of the financing options described herein, such financing option or agreement may also provide for certain charges or fees for currency conversion. For example, in the event that an amount of virtual currency is loaned, if the value of the virtual currency changes during the term of the loan, the total loan amount due or each payment due may be modified to reflect such changes in the value of the virtual currency as compared with another virtual or real currency as required by the financing agreement.
Incentives or virtual benefits to open an account can take any form designed to entice a player or character to apply for an in game credit card. For example, the incentive could be in the form of a preferred interest rate, an extended grace period, virtual cash back, reduced or no fees for the credit card or for game play for a prescribed period, or points towards or useful for the purchase or to acquire game parameters or attributes. In one embodiment, the card can be issued with a certain amount of credit line that can be used to secure contracts with no payment obligation for the player. For example, the player could be given $50 worth of credit line to use to secure against in game contracts. If the player defaults on a contract in the game, the game can automatically charge the credit card account the specified amount along with any applicable fees or penalties. As long as that amount is less than $50, then the player is not obligated to pay off the balance on the credit card.
Financing agreements, regardless of type, may include fees for the financing options including, but not limited to, interest payments, exchange fees, servicing fees, credit verification fees, processing fees, insurance fees, application fees, late payment fees, prepayment fees, penalties, taxes, currency conversion, etc. Fees may also be levied for the right to offer or use or assign financing agreements. For example, a player or business interested in providing financing options may be required to have a premium account or may be required to pay a one time or recurring flat fee, per transaction fee, a fee based on a percentage of the transaction, the current or estimated depreciated value of the purchased item or good, or any combination of the above.
Fees such as interest rates 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 may be 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%). In another embodiment, interest rates may be determined in whole or in part by a currency exchange rate, e.g., during the term of a loan, any change in the exchange rate of two or more related virtual currencies and/or between a real and the loan virtual currency may cause a change in the interest rate. 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. Interest rate calculations and interest rates for a particular agreement may be calculated by any means applicable, for example using Interest Rate Program 124.
Financing options may require collateral or some other form of guarantee. The guarantee may be any form of asset or financial instrument, whether real or virtual that can be used to underwrite a default or otherwise secure or guarantee the financing option. Such guarantees may include a real or virtual credit card number, bank account number, brokerage account number, PayPal account number or that of another third party facilitator, prepaid card number, credit line from a bank or other lending institution, debit card number, or other monetary account, e.g., a stock, mutual fund or other financial accounts. Additionally, collateral may be provided by permitting billing to an account owed to a third party, for example, a cell phone account such as one offered by Cingular Wireless, a standard telephone account such as one offered by Qwest Communications, an Internet Service Provider Account such as one offered by EarthLink, a cable account such as one offered by Comcast, or a DSL account such as one offered by Qwest Communications. The collateral or guarantee may be provided by the buyer or by a third party for example, a co-signor, or the third party may be independent of the transaction. Collateral may be an item, which the game or other entity may prevent or forbid the sale, destruction, encumbrance, or transfer of said collateral until such time as the loan is partially or fully repaid.
Information regarding guarantees may be stored by any means applicable. In one embodiment, such information is maintained in whole or in part in Virtual Financial Intermediary Database 328. Virtual Financial Intermediary Database 328 may include information related to the methods and financial instruments used to guarantee Financial Agreements. For example, the virtual bank database may include information including, but not limited to: player character owner, player character owner credit card number, account balance, maximum deposit limit, interest rate, interest payment schedule, player character account, and Financing Agreement number. It will be appreciated that any of these categories of information may include subcategorizable information and/or formulae. For example, the player character account information may include numerous sub-categories of information including character ID, character balance, character interest rate, and interest payment schedule. Alternatively or additionally, the finance agreement information may include sub-categories of information including character ID, finance agreement amount, payment(s), interest rate, and credit card number.
In one embodiment, the guarantee is an escrow account. The buyer or provider of the guarantee delivers an asset(s) to a third party to be held in trust pending a contingency or the fulfillment of a condition or conditions in a financing agreement such as the payment of a purchase price. Upon the occurrence of the event, the third party holding the asset(s) will deliver the asset to the proper recipient. For example, assets of the purchaser may be held in escrow to guarantee payment. When payment is complete, or at some other mutually agreed upon point in the payment cycle, i.e. when some fraction of the payments are made, the assets are released back to the purchaser. If the purchaser fails to make the payments, the assets may be liquidated to compensate the buyer. In another embodiment, the asset being purchased and the purchase payment may both be put in escrow to be released at some mutually agreed upon time or condition. In one embodiment, items held in escrow can be exchanged for other items of similar or greater value. In another embodiment, items placed in escrow must remain in escrow until completion of the financing agreement.
In another embodiment, the guarantee may be provided by a margin account. Margin is collateral deposited to cover the credit risk of a counter party. Such an account may be opened by the purchasing character, a financial entity, the game server, or a third party character. In one embodiment, such an account is provided to a character once certain game attributes, skills or a particular level have been obtained. In another embodiment, a third party character may “vouch” for another character, providing virtual credit or some other form of collateral to guarantee the payments of the buyer.
In one embodiment, the collateral is a real world credit line, credit card, or bank account. The real world credit line, credit card, or bank account may be associated with the player account for that particular character, or the character may opt to enter a different credit line, credit card, or bank account. The player may indicate the amount of collateral in the form of the real world credit line, credit card, or bank account he is willing to allocate to secure the financing agreement. According to one embodiment, real world credit lines, credit cards, or bank accounts can be frozen by the virtual business, game server or financial intermediary and/or just periodically “pinged” to ensure their validity and that sufficient credit or cash is available to underwrite the financing agreement. The continuing availability of the real world credit line, credit card, or bank account may be determined by any means applicable. According to one embodiment, Ping Credit Line program 142
may be configured to complete some or all of the following steps:
- 1. Determine that a player character has an outstanding virtual financing agreement.
- 2. Determine real and virtual cash value of the financing agreement.
- 3. Retrieve credit card associated with financing agreement.
- 4. Ping credit card for the outstanding real cash value of the financing agreement amount.
- 5. If credit equal to financing agreement amount is not available,
- 6. Liquidate virtual assets of player character equal to virtual cash value of virtual financing agreement.
- 7. Deposit virtual cash in seller's account to pay off financing agreement.
In the event the real world credit line, credit card, or bank account securing the financing agreement is cancelled or closed, the system could receive notification that the real world credit line, credit card, or bank account is no longer valid. Upon notification that the credit line, credit card, or bank account is no longer valid, the financial intermediary, system, game owner, server owner, or other debt holder may require payment in full of the remaining amount in the financing agreement, require the player to provide a new credit line, require additional collateral to secure the financing agreement, 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 financing agreement, foreclose on virtual assets held by the defaulting character, freeze the virtual accounts of the character or player, or any combination thereof.
The lock on the real world credit line may be released when the financing agreement is completed. According to one embodiment, Release Credit Line program 144
may be configured to:
- 1. Receive indication that final payment of virtual financing agreement has been received.
- 2. Retrieve credit card associated with virtual financing agreement.
- 3. Notify credit card issuer to release credit line.
Alternatively, as payments are made on the financing agreement, 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 financing agreement is repaid, instead of waiting for the entire financing agreement 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 program 144
may be configured to:
- 1. Receive indication that a periodic payment of virtual financing agreement has been received
- 2. Retrieve credit card associated with virtual financing agreement
- 3. Notify credit card issuer to release an equal or other determined portion of the credit line.
Such programs could also be used on virtual credit cards or other monetary accounts.
According to one embodiment, during registration a player may be able to opt in to using the credit card to which monthly player fees are charged as security for any virtual obligations incurred in the virtual environment. According to a further embodiment, only those characters whose players have opted in with a credit card on file are eligible to receive virtual financing offers and/or enter into virtual financing agreements.
In calculating the amount to be secured, factors such as game growth rates, taxes, inflation and/or exchange rates, credit worthiness of the character or player, purpose of the financing agreement, 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 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 seller, g) any combination of the above.
In one embodiment, the amount of a real world credit line to be frozen can be based on the exchange rate of virtual currency for real currency. According to another 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 financing agreement. 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 adjustable for the term of the financing agreement.
In another embodiment, a player can purchase a play time card that allows them to play for a specific period of time. A portion of the credit on the card may be frozen to secure virtual obligations in the game environment. In one embodiment, said play time card may be replenished or reinstated, i.e., when the card has an amount less than the original amount, an amount may be added to the balance to bring the balance back to the original amount or some other amount.
Regardless of the method of purchasing or financing, payments, whether in currency or barter, must be made. In one embodiment, a character may agree to perform services in exchange for other goods or services. In another embodiment, a good or service may be paid for with a combination of other goods, services, currency and/or financing agreement. In yet another embodiment, payment for a good or service may be made in virtual cash. In a further embodiment, payment may be made in real cash. Payment may also be made by transferring money from an account whether virtual or real. Such an account may be a bank account such as a checking of savings account, a money market account, a brokerage account, a prepaid card, an account with a third party facilitator such as PayPal, a credit card account, from a credit line with a bank or other lending institution, or other monetary account. The account may belong to the player, player character, or a third party. Payments may also be made using any combination of two or more of the forgoing payment options.
Transfers may be made by any means generally used to transfer funds between accounts including real or virtual checks, debit cards, credit cards, pre-paid cards such as play time cards or smart cards, real or virtual wire transfers, electronic transfers, bill payment services, third party facilitators such as PayPal, financial transfer companies such as Western Union, or any combination of these.
Payment may be due up front, or may be made periodically. Payment may be made manually, in which case the character submits each payment individually, or automatically, in which the game, bank server, store server, or other facilitator automatically removes funds from the character's account or charges the player's real world credit line when payments are due. For example, payments can be made automatically using some or all of the following steps:
- 1. Determine that a virtual or other obligation of a player character is due.
- 2. Determine real cash value of obligation.
- 3. Retrieve credit card associated with player character.
- 4. Charge real cash value of obligation to credit card.
In one embodiment, the character can elect to make payments with a fixed real cash value amount that may or may not be guaranteed against currency fluctuation. If either (i) the player account does not have adequate funds for the payment amount or (ii) the player character does not pay the invoice sent by seller or payment facilitator, then a real cash value can be determined for the virtual payment amount and charged to the credit card or other credit line associated with the player character. Additionally, characters may be notified when payments are due. Such notification may take the place of email or other mail, instant messaging, screen alerts, or any other type of notification generally used within the parameters of the virtual world. Such notification may be made to either the character or the player.
In one embodiment, once a request to make a payment is made, some or all of the following method steps may be used:
- 1. Receive a request to make a payment.
- 2. Retrieve or receive real cash and virtual currency options for the player character.
- 3. Generate two or more amounts for the payment based on the currency options.
- 4. Output amount(s).
- 5. Request information regarding account for payment.
- 6. Debit amount from selected account.
Payment information may be stored by any means applicable, for example in virtual item payment database 246.
In one embodiment, the game server, or other database can itself advance credit such that purchases are aggregated to a fixed amount and then charged to a real world credit card, debit card, third party facilitator, real world bank account or other monetary account or any combination of these in a lump sum. In another embodiment, a real world credit card, debit card, third party facilitator, real world bank account or other monetary account may be charged a set amount and the amount may be held either in a virtual bank or other database and drawn upon for purchases within the virtual world until such time as the fixed amount is depleted. Once the amount is depleted, the credit card, debit card, third party facilitator, real world bank account or other monetary account may be charged an additional fixed amount which may be drawn upon by the character.
In order to make a payment using currency, it may be necessary to exchange real currency for virtual currency or vice versa. It may also be necessary to change real currencies for each other or virtual currencies for each other. For example, a specific seller may only accept U.S. Dollars, therefore anyone desiring to purchase the seller's product or services using an alternate currency such as the Euro, would need to exchange Euros for dollars in order complete the transaction. Similarly, a seller may only accept a particular type of virtual currency such as that of a particular township or city-state in the virtual world. A character from a different location in the virtual world may be required to exchange virtual currency or real currency for the specific currency accepted by the seller. In one embodiment, the character must provide currency in the requested denomination. In another embodiment, the seller may provide a list of acceptable currencies. For example, the server may receive a request to set up currency options from a character, retrieve available virtual and real cash options, output options, receive option selection, and store option selection with player character account for future transactions. In a further embodiment, a character may request that all prices be displayed in a particular currency. Such a preference may be enacted by any means applicable, for example using Currency Selection Preference program 248.
The exchange rate for virtual for virtual currency or virtual for real currency 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 variable. Such a variable 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, i.e., 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, or the relative demand of particular types of virtual currency. 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) law or regulation of the game or within the real world, f) negotiation among the affected parties, or g) any combination of the above. Information regarding the exchange rates may be stored by any means applicable. In one embodiment, they may be stored in currency exchange database 254. In another embodiment, they may be stored in Exchange Rate Database 126. In yet another embodiment, the rates may be retrieved from existing systems or networks or via third parties that maintain such conversion information.
An exemplary payment system 240 configured to provide the virtual environment described above is shown in FIG. 5. Such as system may include a Central Server 242, a Currency Exchange Program 244, Virtual Item Payment Program 246, Currency Selection Preference Program 248. Such a system may further include any number of possible databases including, but not limited to, Player Database 250, Character Database 252, Currency Exchange Database 254, Item Database 256 and Market Database 258.
Player database 250 may include information about each player who accesses the game or links to such information residing in third party databases. This information may be provided to the game server by a player when the player registers to play the game or at any other suitable time and using any suitable means. Examples of player information include, but are not limited to: player character ID, character personal information, character billing information, character real currency account information, and player character(s).
Player character database 252 may include information about each player character that participates, or is able to participate, in a game. Accordingly, it will be understood that according to some types of games, a single player may create and control more than one player character. Examples of information the player character database may maintain include, but are not limited to: character name, virtual cash currency preferences, real cash currency preferences, virtual cash account, account number, account balance, and virtual item ID. Of course it will be understood that for many of these information categories, a given player character may have multiple entries. For example, a given player character may have any number of attributes which could be tracked and maintained by the player character database.
Currency exchange database 254 may include information or links to such information such as currency types and exchange rates. Item database 256 may include information about the various items that are available for use in the game. Examples of information the item database may maintain includes item identification, item descriptors, and item attributes. Market database 258 includes information about the items that have been offered for sale/barter/etc. in the game. Examples of information the market database may maintain includes item ID, item value, quantity available, and the items for which exchange is available.
In another embodiment, characters may create their own exchanges such that currency is exchanged at a rate that differs from the posted or other exchange rate(s). For example, if a player character wishes to buy a virtual sword and the price is: $10 USD or 100 units of in game currency (e.g. piece of gold, $, LD, etc.), there may be third party player characters that may desire to pay the real cash value in exchange for some amount of LD, that may be less or more than the current exchange rate. This may occur for a variety of reasons including when a character desires to avoid transaction fees or when a character does not want to go through a financial intermediary. Certain currencies may also be at a premium i.e. the use of U.S. dollars as hard currency vis-ā-vis a currency that fluctuates wildly.
In a further embodiment, the game may control the use of the proceeds of the financing agreement. In one example, the game server, bank server, or business server could prohibit the player character from converting an amount of virtual cash or assets equal to, or greater or less than, the financing agreement amount into real cash. In a further example, the game server, bank server or business server could prohibit the player character from reselling or otherwise encumbering the virtual assets purchased with the financing agreement until such time as the virtual financing agreement is repaid. For example, the server could block the sale of assets below a minimum level using some or all of the following steps:
- 1. Determine a total virtual obligation amount for a player character.
- 2. Set a minimum virtual asset limit for the player account based on the total virtual obligation amount.
- 3. Disallow selling of any player character assets below the virtual asset minimum.
Control of the use of proceeds could be maintained by any means applicable, for example through Finance agreement Enforcement Program 314.
In the event that a character becomes delinquent in his payments, a warning may be issued. According to one embodiment, a grace period may be granted if a payment is not made on the specified date or sufficient funds are not available in an account from which a withdrawal is to be made. Warnings may be delivered by any means that would notify a player and/or character, including, but not limited to, in game or real world a) alerts, b) instant messaging, c) e-mail, d) voice mail, e) postal mail, or f) text messages. For example, some or all of the following method steps could be used to generate a warning if an account cannot be charged as required:
- 1. Determine that a virtual obligation cannot be paid with a virtual account associated with a player character.
- 2. Determine a real cash value for the virtual obligation.
- 3. Retrieve credit card associated with player character.
- 4. Attempt to charge real cash value of virtual obligation to credit card.
- 5. If attempt fails, output warning message to player character.
In the event that a grace period is not issued or expires and the account remains delinquent, 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 e) the seller, f) any related or affected parties, or g) any combination thereof. According to one embodiment, the delinquent player may be prevented from obtaining any further financing whether from a bank, a business or another player. 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 or player. In yet another embodiment, the delinquent character may be excluded from transacting certain types or all business, owning certain types or any land, or engaging in other contracts within the virtual world, or may suffer other penalties in addition to or in lieu of the forgoing, penalties may include, but are not limited to, loss of play time, damage or hit points, loss of an avatar or clothing or a name, loss of an attribute or item, virtual illness, visible affliction, higher prices to purchase goods, services or items in the future (forever or for some prescribed period), etc. Furthermore, the visual or audible appearance or behavior of a player's avatar may be altered if a player fails to fulfill his virtual financial obligations. For example, the avatar may have to wear certain items like a ball and chain or begin any conversation with the phrase, “I don't pay my bills.”
Additionally, or alternatively, the assets of the delinquent player may be seized and sold to cover the debt. In one embodiment, the financed asset is merely returned to the seller. In another embodiment, the character or player is additionally assessed a penalty. In a further embodiment, more than the asset financed is seized. The assets may be sold one at a time (in any order specified by the rules of the game server i.e. most to least valuable, least to most valuable, most to least liquid, least to most liquid, etc) until the virtual obligations of the player character have been met. If all the assets of the player character are sold and the virtual cash does cannot cover the virtual obligations, the cash can be paid to the creditors using any suitable means including, but not limited to: (i) in ratio equal to the obligation for each creditor compared to the total outstanding obligations; and/or (ii) in order of priority. A creditor can be given priority based on (i) paying to be a priority creditor when the virtual contract is established; (ii) the amount of the obligation; (iii) the date the virtual contract was established; (iv) the remaining obligation of the contract vs. the total obligation; or (v) paying off debts to independent third party player characters or entities as opposed to those player characters/entities that are either own by or related to the indebted player character. The real world credit line or other guarantee 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 financing agreement may become immediately due. For example, some or all of the assets could be liquidated using Asset Liquidation and Redistribution Program 316
. Such a program may use some or all of the following steps:
- 1. Determine that a virtual obligation cannot be paid with a virtual account associated with a player character.
- 2. Determine a real cash value for the virtual obligation
- 3. Retrieve credit card associated with player character.
- 4. Attempt to charge real cash value of virtual obligation to credit card.
- 5. If attempt fails, lock virtual assets of player character account.
- 6. Post and sell virtual assets on appropriate in game marketplace or exchange.
- 7. Retrieve virtual creditor list.
- 8. Determine the percentage of player character asset value due to each virtual creditor.
- 9. Transmit the appropriate percentage of asset value to each virtual creditor.
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, or a ball and chain could be attached to the foot of the avatar, or a warning could float over the head of the avatar, or the color or other characteristic of the avatar could change, e.g., the avatar's clothing may partially or completely disappear, or the avatar could start leaving footprints wherever it goes, making it easier for the lending company or enemies to track down 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, additional collateral may be required, part of the debt may need to be settled with a payment or through a complete or partial liquidation of assets, etc. Such changes could be controlled by any means applicable, for example through Finance Agreement Enforcement Program 314. Such changes may be made immediately or only after providing a notice or warning to the delinquent player.
In another embodiment, debts such as financial agreements may be insured by the seller or the buyer. One example of this would be payment protection insurance. Payment protection insurance provides an income to maintain a borrower's debt repayments in the event of an accident, sickness, death or any other cause for default that prevents them from working, or paying their debts when due, e.g., due to unemployment. Such insurance typically pays debts for a specific amount of time. According to one example of this embodiment, in the event of a default, the insurance policy pays the debt; however the defaulting character's rating would be lowered and/or future policies rejected outright and/or other penalties as hereinabove defined. If an insurance company (real or virtual) pays the debt, the insurance company could seek restitution from the defaulting player character and/or impose or cause to be imposed any penalties as provided herein above or as otherwise provided by the game server, game owner, lending entity, etc. Such information may be stored by any means applicable. In one embodiment, insurance agreements are generated by insurance program 134
. Such a program may use some or all of the following steps:
- 1. Receive a request from a first player,
- 2. Store and output a virtual contract to insure to the first player
- 3. Receive an offer to accept the contract, including at least one virtual insurance premium amount from a second player character.
- 4. Receive an acceptance of the virtual insurance premium amount from the first player character.
- 5. Retrieve or receive a guarantee from both the first and second player character.
- 6. Activate virtual insurance contract and store credit card numbers with contract.
- 7. When virtual premium is due, charge premium amount to account requested by first player character.
A secondary market for finance agreements may also be created. In the secondary market, groups of finance agreements can be bundled and sold to other entities. Such transactions may be for the remaining amounts owing or any other amount as agreed to by the parties.
Types of transactions may be limited by the level of participation of the player or player character. Such limitations could depend upon the skill, experience, attributes, items owned by the player and/or sophistication of the authorized user and/or the player's real or virtual credit score and/or real or virtual current or predicted income levels. For example, players may advance through different levels of play and after achieving certain benchmark standards or having an account established for a particular length of time, they may be granted wider access to financial intermediaries and the services provided by such intermediaries.
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 databases and/or maintained separately in additional databases, or in other structures besides a database, e.g., pointers to data in one or more third party databases. Moreover, any such databases could be independent or linked, and the data in these databases could be stored centrally on a server or separately on game devices and/or by one or more third parties.
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 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.