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Publication numberUS20070191104 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/611,050
Publication dateAug 16, 2007
Filing dateDec 14, 2006
Priority dateFeb 14, 2006
Publication number11611050, 611050, US 2007/0191104 A1, US 2007/191104 A1, US 20070191104 A1, US 20070191104A1, US 2007191104 A1, US 2007191104A1, US-A1-20070191104, US-A1-2007191104, US2007/0191104A1, US2007/191104A1, US20070191104 A1, US20070191104A1, US2007191104 A1, US2007191104A1
InventorsAndrew Stephen Van Luchene
Original AssigneeLeviathan Entertainment, Llc
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Online Game Environment that Facilitates Sponsorship Contracts
US 20070191104 A1
Abstract
A system and method to allow players of a video game to form sponsorship contracts with one another such that a first player can agree, explicitly or implicitly, to provide a second player with an initial playing advantage in return for deferred compensation. The deferred compensation may be based on the second player's performance in the game.
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Claims(20)
1. A system comprising:
one or more servers hosting at least a portion of an online game environment;
a game console in communication with the server such that the online game environment is accessible to a player via the game console; and
a contracts database residing at least one of the one or more servers, wherein the contracts database includes data related to sponsorship contracts in the online game environment.
2. The system of claim 1 wherein the contracts database includes data related to the creation of sponsorship contracts in the online game environment.
3. The system of claim 1 wherein the contracts database includes data related to pending contracts.
4. The system of claim 1 wherein the contracts database includes data related to active contracts.
5. The system of claim 4 wherein the contracts database includes the terms of the active contracts.
6. The system of claim 1 wherein the contracts database includes data related to expired contracts.
7. The system of claim 1 further comprising a user-interface configured to allow the player to access at least some of the data in the contracts database.
8. The system of claim 5 wherein the terms of an active contract identify a sponsor, a sponsoree, and at least one condition under which the sponsor is to be provided a benefit based on the sponsoree's performance in the online game environment.
9. The system of claim 8 wherein the system includes a benefit calculation module configured to identify when a condition has been met by the sponsoree and bestow a benefit to the sponsor.
10. The system of claim 1 further comprising a player account for one or more players accessing the online game environment.
11. The system of claim 10 further comprising a player database including data related to the player accounts.
12. The system of claim 10 wherein the data includes information identifying whether the player associated with the player account is eligible to enter into a sponsorship contract.
13. The system of claim 12 wherein the data includes information identifying whether the player associated with the player account is eligible to enter into a sponsorship contract as a sponsor.
14. The system of claim 12 wherein the data includes information identifying whether the player associated with the player account is eligible to enter into a sponsorship contract as a sponsoree.
15. The system of claim 13 wherein the data identifies one or more prerequisite conditions that must be met by a player before the player is eligible to enter into a sponsorship contract as a sponsor, and whether or not the player has met the prerequisite conditions.
16. The system of claim 15 wherein one of the prerequisite conditions is payment of a fee.
17. The system of claim 16 wherein one of the prerequisite conditions is achieving a given result in the online game environment.
18. The system of claim 1 further comprising a contract value calculation module configured to calculate the periodic value for a sponsorship contract over time.
19. The system of claim 1 further comprising a sponsorship contract market configured to enable the players to buy and sell active sponsorship contracts.
20. The system of claim 18 further comprising an auction module configured to receive bids from a plurality of players and award a sponsorship contract to the player who provides a winning bid.
Description
  • [0001]
    The present application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/355,232, entitled “Online Game Environment that Facilitates Binding Contracts Between Player Characters” filed February 14, 2006, which is hereby incorporated by reference.
  • BACKGROUND
  • [0002]
    Video games which are accessible to multiple players via a server are well known. For example, hundreds of thousands of players access games known as massive multi player online games (MMOGs). Players of these games customarily access a game repeatedly (for durations typically ranging from a few minutes to several days) over 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. The games are often designed such that advancement in the game is based on the benefits received from accumulated game play experience, so that beginning players have an initial disadvantage compared to more experienced players.
  • [0003]
    It would be advantageous to provide improved methods and apparatus for increasing the enjoyment and/or longevity of video games.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES
  • [0004]
    FIG. 1 is a block diagram depicting a network according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
  • [0005]
    FIG. 2 is a flowchart depicting a method according to one embodiment of the present disclosure.
  • [0006]
    FIG. 3 is a flowchart depicting a method according to another embodiment of the present disclosure.
  • [0007]
    FIG. 4 is a flowchart depicting a method according to another embodiment of the present disclosure.
  • [0008]
    FIG. 5 is a block diagram of a system 100 according to another embodiment of the present disclosure.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION Definitions:
  • [0009]
    Unless stated to the contrary, for the purposes of the present disclosure, the following terms shall have the following definitions:
  • [0010]
    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.
  • [0011]
    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.
  • [0012]
    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.
  • [0013]
    Total virtual obligation amount-the total amount of the virtual financial obligation(s) associated with a player character's account.
  • [0014]
    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.
  • [0015]
    Virtual—shall mean in a video game environment or other intangible space.
  • [0016]
    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.
  • [0017]
    Virtual Creditor-shall mean a first player character or other entity who is owed a virtual obligation by a second player character.
  • [0018]
    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.
  • [0019]
    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.
  • [0020]
    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.
  • [0021]
    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.
  • [0022]
    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.
  • [0023]
    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.
  • [0024]
    Character or “player character”—a persona created and controlled by a player in a video game.
  • [0025]
    Avatar—the virtual representation of a player character.
  • [0026]
    Character Account—an account that tracks character attributes.
  • [0027]
    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
  • [0041]
    Character Life—a fixed or variable, finite or infinite period of virtual or real world time that a player character can exist in a game environment.
  • [0042]
    Character Skills—game attributes inherent in or acquired by a player character during game play such as, but not limited to: the ability to cast (certain) spells, foretell the future, read minds, use (certain) weapons, cook, hunt, find herbs, assemble herbs into potions, mine, assemble objects into other objects, fly, and/or enchant other player characters.
  • [0043]
    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/or a player and not by a player on a continuous basis.
  • [0044]
    Game performance parameter—any aspect of a Video Game by which a player character's performance can be measured. Game Parameters shall include, but not be limited to:
      • 1. Completing all or part of a mission
      • 2. Playing for a certain period of time
      • 3. Winning a match against another player character or computer generated character
      • 4. Reaching a certain level or score
      • 5. using or obtaining an ability or technology
      • 6. kill/death ratios
      • 7. obtaining, creating or modifying an object
      • 8. solving a puzzle
      • 9. accuracy with weapons
      • 10. effective use of the proper weapon
      • 11. killing a certain character/creature
      • 12. getting through or to a certain geographic area
      • 13. decreasing or increasing Karma Points
      • 14. getting, buying, exchanging or learning a new skill or player attribute
      • 15. having a child
      • 16. getting married
      • 17. obtaining, buying, trading, producing or developing raw materials
      • 18. producing goods or services
      • 19. earning income
      • 20. earning a higher rank in an army
      • 21. winning an election among two or more player characters
      • 22. achieving deity or other status
      • 23. improving player character status or caste
      • 24. assisting other player characters with any of the above
      • 25. speed of accomplishing or changing the rate or trends of any or all of the above.
  • [0070]
    In-game Marketplace—shall mean a virtual environment where Characters can exchange items, attributes, or any other exchangeable game element.
  • [0071]
    Novice Player—shall mean a player that is identified as requiring the help of an expert to complete a Game Parameter.
  • [0072]
    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.
  • [0073]
    Player Account—shall mean an account on the Video Game Central Server or within a peer-to-peer network that contains a Player profile including personal, billing, and character account information.
  • [0074]
    Player Attribute—shall mean any attribute that can be applied to a player account. Player Attributes shall include, but not be limited to:
      • 1. Real Currency.
      • 2. Discount of monthly fees for playing game.
      • 3. Monthly fee for playing a game.
      • 4. Interest rates for use of or borrowing real or virtual cash amounts.
      • 5. Global character attribute settings for all characters created by player across multiple games.
      • 6. Rewards for encouraging another player to signup to play.
  • [0081]
    Player to Player Contract—a real and/or virtual but binding contract between player characters that allows the players to provide or exchange game attributes to one another. Once a player-to-player contract is established, the game server or peer-to-peer network automatically distributes acquired game attributes between the player characters based on the contract conditions.
  • [0082]
    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.
  • [0083]
    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.
  • [0084]
    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.
  • [0085]
    “Game Environment”—includes the concepts of a virtual world, a region within a virtual world, and/or a sub-region with a virtual world. Accordingly, the term “game environment” may refer to an entire virtual community or a sub-set thereof. The term “game environment” may also be used to refer to an instance of a virtual world that is controlled by one or more servers working together.
  • [0086]
    “Regional Game Environment”—a region or sub-region with a virtual world or community such as a particular level or area within the virtual world/community. Accordingly, a regional game environment may have rules, regulations, currency/(ies), government(s), assets, etc., that are the same or different from other regional game environments in the same or different game environments.
  • [0087]
    The term “variation” of an invention means an embodiment of the invention, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0088]
    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.
  • [0089]
    The terms “including”, “comprising” and variations thereof mean “including but not limited to”, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0090]
    The term “consisting of” and variations thereof mean “including and limited to”, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0091]
    The terms “a”, “an” and “the” mean “one or more”, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0092]
    The term “plurality” means “two or more”, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0093]
    The term “herein” means “in this patent application, including anything which may be incorporated by reference”, unless expressly specified otherwise.
  • [0094]
    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.
  • [0095]
    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”.
  • [0096]
    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”.
  • [0097]
    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.
  • [0098]
    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”.
  • [0099]
    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.
  • [0100]
    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.
  • [0101]
    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.
  • [0102]
    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.
  • [0103]
    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.
  • [0104]
    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.
  • [0105]
    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.
  • [0106]
    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.
  • [0107]
    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.
  • [0108]
    Various embodiments can be configured to work in a network environment including a computer that is in communication (e.g., via a communications network) with one or more devices. The computer may communicate with the devices directly or indirectly, via any wired or wireless medium (e.g. the Internet, LAN, WAN or Ethernet, Token Ring, a telephone line, a cable line, a radio channel, an optical communications line, commercial on-line service providers, bulletin board systems, a satellite communications link, a combination of any of the above). Each of the devices may themselves comprise computers or other computing devices, such as those based on the 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.
  • DESCRIPTION
  • [0109]
    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.
  • [0110]
    The present disclosure provides improved methods and apparatus for video games. In general, various embodiments of the invention allow for players of a video game to form sponsorship contracts with one another such that a first player can agree, explicitly or implicitly, to provide a second player with an initial playing advantage in return for deferred compensation. The deferred compensation may be based on the second player's performance in the game.
  • [0111]
    Referring to FIG. 1, a network according to one embodiment includes a central server 12 in communication with a plurality of video game playing units 14. 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.
  • [0112]
    Central server 12 may comprise any computing device (e.g., one or more computers) capable of communicating with other computing devices. The server 12 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 12 may comprise one or more personal computers, web servers, dedicated game servers, video game consoles, any combination of the foregoing, or the like.
  • [0113]
    Each video game device 14 may comprise any device capable of communicating with central server 12, providing video game information to a player, and transmitting the player's desired actions to the central server. Each video game device typically comprises a processor which is in communication with a storage device, such as an appropriate combination of RAM, ROM, hard disk, and other well known storage media. Suitable video game devices include, but are not limited to, personal computers, video game consoles, mobile phones, and personal data assistants (PDAs).
  • [0114]
    Some or all of video game 16 can be stored on central server 16. Alternatively, some or all of video game 16 may be stored on the individual video game devices 14. Typically, the video game devices are able to communicate with one another. Such communication may or may not be facilitated by central server 12. Accordingly, a player 18 a accessing video game 16 via game device 14 a may be able to play with a player 18 b accessing video game 16 via game device 14 b . As shown, it may be possible for multiple players (e.g. 16c, 16d) to access central server 12 via the same game device (e.g. 14 c ).
  • [0115]
    Regardless of whether video game 16 is stored on central server 12 or video game devices 14, server 12 is typically configured to facilitate play of the game between multiple game players. According to one embodiment, central server 12 is further configured to facilitate the formation and management of sponsorship contracts between two or more players.
  • [0116]
    According to the present disclosure, a sponsorship contract is an agreement between two or more players where one player, the “sponsor,” agrees to provide (e.g., upon formation of the agreement, at a predetermined time before or after formation of the agreement, at an agreed-upon time before or after formation of the agreement) an initial benefit, or advantage, to another player, the “sponsoree.” In return for providing the initial benefit to the sponsoree, the sponsor receives a deferred benefit that is based on the sponsoree's performance in the game. It will be understood that according to some embodiments a sponsorship contract may have more than one sponsor and/or more than one sponsoree, and the same or different benefits may be provided.
  • [0117]
    Generally, a player is the person who buys the game and sets up a player account. A player character is a persona created by a player to interact in the game environment. For the sake of simplicity the terms player and player character are used interchangeably in the present disclosure. However, it should be understood that a player may create and control one or more characters and each character may enter into one or more sponsorship contracts with other player characters. Accordingly, in some embodiments, two characters owned by the same player may enter into a sponsorship contract with each other.
  • [0118]
    According to another embodiment, sponsorship information may be maintained in a database. Table I, below, shows a non-limiting example of the type of information that could be included in a sponsorship contract database. Sponsorship information may include any information related to past, present, or future sponsorship contracts. For example, the database may include information regarding the terms of a given contract, whether a given player is currently a party to a sponsorship contract, whether a given player is a sponsor or a sponsoree in a given contract, and/or whether a given player has indicated interest in entering into a sponsorship contract.
  • [0000]
    TABLE I
    Contract Number 3254 3255 3256
    Sponsoree (unfilled) XXCD23344 XXYY24428
    Sponsor XYZ234567 XYZ234567 XYXY33612
    Status Pending Expired Active
    Listing Date Jan. 01, 2006 Mar. 14, 2004 May 10, 2005
    Creation Date NA Mar. 15, 2004 Jun. 20, 2005
    Expiration Date NA Mar. 15, 2005 NA
    Sponsoree 400 Experience 2 Helpers Will show secret
    Benefit 1 pts passageway
    Sponsoree 1 Storage Unit 1 Plot of land One healing spell
    Benefit 2
    Sponsoree $500 One status bar One weapon
    Benefit N
    Sponsor Benefit 1 2% of Experience 10% of $ All health points
    pts to Level 6 over 90%
    Sponsor Benefit 2 All Linen 10% of stamina An item to be
    Pilferred named once
    Level 8 reached
  • [0119]
    As shown in the illustrated embodiment, each sponsorship contract may be assigned a unique identifier such as a number or a sequence of alphanumeric characters. For each contract identifier, the database links the sponsor(s), if any, the sponsoree(s), if any, the contract status, the date the request for a contract was listed, the date the contract was created, and the date the contract expires. As shown, the database may also include the terms of the contracts, i.e. what benefits were promised to the sponsor and sponsoree.
  • [0120]
    The database typically stores a unique identifier for each player. The unique identifier could be the player's name, a username (e.g., specified by the player), a phone number, a social security number, a combination of the foregoing, etc. In the example above, the unique identifier is a license key number associated with the game license purchased by the player. The unique identifier may be used to link multiple databases related to the same player, as described in greater detail below.
  • [0121]
    In the database shown above, contracts can have a status of active, expired or pending. As used in the current disclosure, the term “active” is intended to mean a contract which has not expired and to which there is both an assigned sponsor and an assigned sponsoree. As used in the current disclosure, the term “expired” is intended to mean a contract which has been cancelled, has been found invalid, or for which the expiration date has passed, regardless of whether both a sponsor and sponsoree have been assigned. As used in the current disclosure, the term “pending” is intended to mean an unexpired contract that lacks an assigned sponsor, sponsoree, or both.
  • [0122]
    Some or all of the information in the sponsorship database may be viewable to game players. According to one embodiment, the sponsorship database may be part of an online forum on which players can browse current pending, active, and/or expired contracts. Players may use the forum to advertise themselves as available for sponsorship, find a sponsor or sponsoree, or help them get ideas for contract terms.
  • [0123]
    According to one embodiment, two or more players may simply decide between themselves to form a sponsorship contract and then inform the server of the parties to the contract and the terms thereof.
  • [0124]
    Alternatively or additionally, the server can take a more active role in contract formation. The server may be configured to receive, from a player, a request to form a sponsorship contract. The request may include or specify contract formation requirements. For example, the request can include data indicating whether the player wishes to be a sponsor or sponsoree. The request may further include specific contract terms or a specifically requested sponsor/sponsoree. The server may then search the contract database to find a potential sponsor/sponsoree that fulfills the requestor's requirements. If such a potential sponsor/sponsoree is found, the contract may be automatically formed. Alternatively, the potential sponsor/sponsoree may be notified that a sponsorship contract has been offered to them and the sponsor/sponsoree may chose to accept or deny the contract request.
  • [0125]
    As a further alternative or addition, the server may be configured to conduct an auction during which players bid for the right to become a party to a sponsorship contract. In this case, the act of bidding acts essentially as a sponsorship request from the bidding player. The auction may be conducted in a manner such that players submit offers (e.g., including an amount of payment) for the right to become a member to the sponsorship contract. For example, Player A may submit a request to become a sponsoree. Player A may be known among various players in the relevant gaming world as a very competent and successful player. Player A might be known by “word-of-mouth” reputation, or by experiences with others who have played with Player A. The server may also provide details of Player A's historical play. For example, upon request the server may provide details of Player A's past scores, duration of play, opponents killed, opponents saved, past information on Player A as a sponsoree, and the like. Accordingly, many players may want to be Player A's sponsor, believing they are likely to have a positive return on their “investment”. Each player who wants to be Player A's sponsor may then submit a bid to the server. According to one embodiment, the server may automatically select the winning bidder according to a set of predetermined criteria intended to identify the offer that is most advantageous to the sponsoree. For example, initial benefits may be limited to monetary contributions. As such, the server may be configured to automatically select the player offering the highest amount of money as the winner. Alternatively, the bids could be forwarded to Player A, and Player A may select the winning bid.
  • [0126]
    A similar scenario could be envisioned for a highly desirable sponsor. For example, Player B may submit a request to become a sponsor. Player B may have a reputation for being a great sponsor, or may be offering a very advantageous initial benefit. Player B might be known by “word-of-mouth” reputation, or by experiences with others who have played with or been sponsored by Player B. The server may also provide details of Player B's historical play. For example, upon request the server may provide details of Player B's past scores, duration of play, opponents killed, opponents saved, past information on Player B as a sponsor, and the like. Each player who wants to be Player B's sponsoree may then submit a bid to the server. According to one embodiment, the server may automatically select the winning bidder according to a set of predetermined criteria intended to identify the offer that is most advantageous to the sponsor. For example, deferred benefits may be limited to periodic monetary contributions based on the sponsoree's fixed earnings. As such, the server may be configured to automatically select the player offering the highest percentage of earnings. Alternatively, the bids could be forwarded to Player B, and Player B could select the winning bid.
  • [0127]
    According to a further embodiment, the initial benefit to the sponsoree may be held in escrow and released to a sponsoree once the contract is accepted. If no sponsoree accepts the contract, the item may be released back to the sponsor. Accordingly, server 12 may be configured to hold the initial benefit in an email message which, if the contract is accepted, is sent to the sponsoree's character account. If the contract is not accepted, the initial benefit may be sent back to the sponsor's character account.
  • [0128]
    The formation of a sponsorship contract may be governed by specific restrictions or prerequisites that must be fulfilled before the contract can become active. These prerequisites may be created by one or more of the players entering into the contract or by the rules of the game. An example of a suitable prerequisite is the requirement that a request to enter into a contract be received during a specific time frame. For example, a particular pending contract may expire on a given date. Accordingly, a player wishing to enter into that contract must make a request prior to the expiration date. Alternatively, a player may specify that he or she will only entertain sponsorship requests on Tuesdays or on a specific date, e.g. December 10th, or on a specific holiday, e.g. Veteran's Day or April Fool's Day. Additional prerequisites may include, but are not limited to, having a sponsor game account, having previously been a sponsoree, or having previously been a sponsor.
  • [0129]
    Accordingly, server 12 may be operable to determine whether a player has fulfilled the prerequisite requirements and create an active sponsorship agreement upon the determination that the player has fulfilled the requirements.
  • [0130]
    A further example of a suitable prerequisite is a list of one or more game criteria that must be met by a player before the player can enter into a given sponsorship contract. Suitable game criteria prerequisites include, but are not limited to, attainment of a predetermined level in the game, attainment of a predetermined number of items, attainment of a predetermined item, attainment of a given amount of currency, amount of time spent playing the game, number of experience points accumulated in the game and the like.
  • [0131]
    As stated above, a sponsorship contract is an agreement between two or more players where a sponsor agrees to provide an initial benefit to a sponsoree in return for a deferred benefit. The initial benefit provided to the sponsoree may take the form of any game element which improves the sponsoree's likelihood of success in the game over that of a non-sponsored player who is otherwise equal to the sponsoree in all respects other than sponsorship status. For example, in a game where players are able to purchase items or otherwise give up any form of currency for items, the initial benefit may take the form of given amount of appropriate game currency. It will be understood that for the purposes of the present disclosure, the term “item” is used in the broadest possible sense and includes, but it not limited to, objects (e.g. weapons, charms, spells armor), skills, abilities, information, etc. Other examples of initial benefits include, but are not limited to, items or game strategy.
  • [0132]
    According to some embodiments, the initial benefit to the sponsoree may alternatively be referred to as an initial detriment to the sponsor. For example, an initial detriment to the sponsor may take place when the sponsor shares with or gives to the sponsoree an item which would have provided a benefit to the sponsor had the sponsor not shared it or given it away. As a specific, non-limiting example, the sponsor receives an initial detriment when the initial benefit to the sponsoree takes the form of something which is transferred from the sponsor's exclusive ownership and/or control to the sponsoree's exclusive ownership and/or control.
  • [0133]
    As stated above, according to the sponsorship contract, in return for receiving the initial benefit, the sponsoree agrees that the sponsor will receive a deferred benefit that is based on the sponsoree's performance in the game. The deferred benefit may be provided as a plurality of benefits distributed periodically to the sponsor, this may be referred to as a “periodic benefit.”
  • [0134]
    According to one embodiment, a player who successfully completes one or more predetermined requirements may earn rewards, or spoils. A given task may include, for example, finding an item, killing an enemy, spending a certain amount of time in the game, solving a puzzle, or the like. The rewards earned for completing the task may include, for example, an item, currency, increased skill level, increased strength, access to new areas of the game, or the like. Accordingly, the server may be configured to bestow rewards to a player upon determining that the player has successfully completed one or more predetermined requirements.
  • [0135]
    According to some embodiments, the periodic benefit distributed to the sponsor represents a portion of the rewards earned by the sponsoree. The distributed portion may be a percentage of the reward earned, if the reward is apportionable. Apportionable rewards may include, for example and without limitation, currency and point-based items, such as experience points, health points, etc. In cases where the reward earned by the sponsoree is non-apportionable, an appropriate alternate benefit may be provided to the sponsor. For example, if the sponsoree receives an item as a reward, the sponsor may be given the item, the right to take or borrow the item, or a benefit that is not the item, such as currency, experience points, health points, or the like. Alternatively, the benefit to the sponsor may take the form of a discount on the subscription price the sponsor is required to pay in order to gain continued access to the game. It will be appreciated that the number and type of appropriate benefit that could be provided to the sponsor is nearly limitless. It should further be appreciated that many such benefits are game-dependant and that such benefits, while not specifically described, are considered to be part of the present disclosure.
  • [0136]
    It will be appreciated that the benefit that is provided to the sponsor may represent a negative benefit or detriment to the sponsoree. For example, the sponsoree may, in various manners, earn 50 health points, but the terms of the sponsorship agreement may require the sponsoree to forfeit 10% of any health points earned to the sponsor. Thus, the sponsoree, in effect, loses 5 (10% of 50) health points for being a party to the sponsorship agreement.
  • [0137]
    Moreover, according to another embodiment, the sponsor may receive a negative benefit for poor performance on the part of the sponsoree. For example, if a sponsoree loses currency or points by failing to complete a task, e.g. by being injured or killed in a fight, the sponsor may share in the loss by also losing currency or points.
  • [0138]
    Accordingly, the server may be configured to calculate and allocate the periodic benefit (positive and/or negative) to the sponsor. Server 12 may be configured to maintain a player session database in order to track a player's progress through the game and allocate benefits accordingly. The information from the player session database can be cross referenced with the contract requirements stored in the sponsorship database in order to calculate any benefits due to the contracting parties and determine how benefits should be allocated. Table II, below, depicts a non-limiting example of the type of data that might be maintained in a player session database.
  • [0000]
    TABLE II
    Session Number 123565 123566
    Player Number XYZ245678 XXCD23344
    Session date 1/12/05 16:45–19:45 1/12/05 17:00–18:00
    Session time 3 Hours 1 Hour
    Session Wealth 32 gold 15 gold
    Session Experience 245 points 34 points
    Session Item 1 1 linen 1 linen
    Session Item 2 Magic potion Sword
    Session Item N Broad sword Leather hat
  • [0139]
    The calculation and/or allocation of benefits may be conducted in real time, as the sponsoree is playing. In this case, each time a sponsoree earns (or loses) a reward, a sponsor benefit (positive or negative) is calculated. The benefit may then be allocated immediately to the sponsor or allocated at a later time.
  • [0140]
    Alternatively, the calculation and/or allocation may be conducted at regular or irregular intervals, or upon occurrence of predetermined events. For example, the net total rewards earned (or lost) by the sponsoree during a sponsoree's player session may be identified at the end of the session and the sponsor's benefit calculated based on the net total. The sponsor's benefit may then be distributed to the sponsor immediately upon calculation of the benefit or at a later time.
  • [0141]
    According to one embodiment, whether or not benefits are transferred to the sponsor in real time is dependant upon one or more predetermined conditions. The predetermined conditions may comprise, for example, the game parameters in which the sponsor is currently playing, the game parameters in which the sponsoree is currently playing, the game environment in which the sponsor is playing, the game environment in which the sponsoree is playing, or any combination thereof. As a non-limiting example, a real time benefit may only be transferred to the sponsor if the sponsor and/or the sponsoree are in a certain game state, such as a battle or mission.
  • [0142]
    Each player may be associated with a player account. Player account information may be maintained (e.g., by the server) in a registered player database. Table III, below, depicts a non-limiting example of the type of data that might be maintained in a registered player database.
  • [0000]
    TABLE III
    License Key Number XYZ2345678 XXCD23344
    Player Name Jack Smith Jane Doe
    Player Address 12 Anywhere St. 15 Anywhere St.
    Sometown, USA Sometown, USA
    Credit Card Number 1111-1111-1111-1111 1111-1111-1111-1112
    Date Registered Jan. 11, 2003 Mar. 15, 2004
    Date Game Installed Jan. 9, 2003 Mar. 9, 2004
    Account Type Sponsor Regular
    Monthly Usage Fee 19.95 12.95
    Character Experience 13578 890
    Level (pts)
    Character Wealth $10,000 $4000
    Items 1 Broad sword Felt hat
  • [0143]
    Once calculated and distributed, earned rewards and allocated benefits may be reflected in the player's player accounts. For example, Jack Smith, above, may be a sponsor for player C. If player C earns $500 during a playing session, and the sponsorship agreement between Jack and player C states that Jack is to receive 10% of player C's earnings, Jack's player account will be credited with an additional $50 in character wealth. This credit may be reflected immediately, even if Jack is not logged onto the game server. Alternatively, the credit may be posted upon Jack logging into the server or after completion of a certain predetermined event, e.g. benefits may be allocated every day at noon, or once a month after a player pays his or her monthly usage fee.
  • [0144]
    As shown, the player account may also include information regarding the monthly usage fee, or subscription price paid by the player. As shown, the subscription price may differ from player to player. According to one embodiment, players may choose between a player account that allows them to enter into sponsorship agreements, the “sponsor” account type, and a player account that does not allow them to enter into sponsorship agreements, the “regular” account type. In the example shown above, players who opt for the sponsor account type pay a higher usage fee than players who opt for the regular account type. Alternatively, players who opt for a sponsor account could pay a lower usage fee than players who opt for the regular account type. Moreover, some or all of the usage fee could be based on the player's sponsorship status. For example, the usage fee could be increased (or decreased) if the player is a sponsor or sponsoree.
  • [0145]
    Accordingly, the present disclosure provides a server configured to receive a player's registration request. The server may further receive a player's account information. The server may then offer the player his or her choice of a regular account or a sponsor account and receive the player's response to the offer. The server may then retrieve the appropriate price of the account type that is dictated by the account type selected by the player. The account price may then be stored on the server. Alternatively, the information may be stored on the player's game device.
  • [0146]
    It will be appreciated that while, for the sake of discussion, the sponsorship database, player session database, and registered player database are described separately, the data in these and any other suitable databases could be merged into a single large database and/or maintained separately in additional databases, or in other structures besides a database. Moreover, any such databases could be independent or linked, and the data in these databases could be stored centrally on server 12 or separately on game devices 14.
  • [0147]
    According to yet another embodiment, the present disclosure provides a server that is operable to provide a video game that is accessible by a plurality of players, receive session data from a first player having a player account, and determine if the player is a sponsoree in an active sponsor agreement. If the sponsoree is in an active sponsor agreement, the server is operable to retrieve the conditions of the sponsor agreement, apply the conditions of the sponsor agreement to the session data, and adjust the sponsoree's playing account. The server may be further operable to identify the sponsor in the sponsor agreement and adjust the sponsor's playing account in accordance with the sponsor agreement.
  • [0148]
    In yet another embodiment, each sponsorship contract may have a contract value. The contract value may be based, for example, on the sponsor's expected earnings from the sponsoree, based on the sponsoree's past performance and the actual earnings received from other, similarly positioned, sponsorees. The contract value may be calculated periodically and the calculated values tracked over time. Accordingly, server 12 may be configured to calculate and/or track a contract value for active sponsorship contracts. This information could then be stored in the sponsorship database or any other suitable database. Furthermore, the contract value information could be made available to the contracting parties, players having sponsor game accounts, or to the game playing community as a whole.
  • [0149]
    In a further embodiment, a player may be able to buy and sell active sponsorship contracts to which he or she is a party, or contracts to which he or she is not a party. The sale price of an active sponsorship contract may be based on the contract value. Alternatively, a bidding system may be used similar to that described earlier with respect to the formation of sponsorship contracts. Other systems may be provided for selling and offering for sale such contracts. In addition, the sale price of an active sponsorship contract may be dependent upon the status of the purchaser. For example, if the purchaser is the sponsoree in the sponsorship contract, and the sponsoree wishes to buy out the contract, the purchase price for the sponsoree (i.e. the “buy out price”) may be different, higher or lower, than that offered to a third-party purchaser.
  • [0150]
    In accordance with the above description, the present disclosure also provides methods for playing video games incorporating elements of the system described above.
  • [0151]
    FIG. 2 is a flowchart depicting a method according to one embodiment of the present disclosure. As shown in FIG. 2 the method comprises providing a video game that is accessible to a plurality of game players. As described in greater detail above, the video game may be located on a central server that is accessible to the plurality of players via a plurality of game devices. Alternatively, the video game may be located on one or more of the video game devices. The method further comprises identifying a first game player as desirous of becoming a sponsor and identifying a second game player as becoming a sponsoree. As described above, the players may identify themselves by submitting a sponsorship request to a server including any contract terms or requirements they desire. Alternatively, players may identify themselves by posting an ad in a game-related forum or chat room or in any other suitable manner. The method further comprises the steps of forming a sponsorship contract between the first and second player, identifying the first player as a sponsor, and identifying the second player as a sponsoree. The method further comprises providing an initial benefit to the sponsoree. The method further comprises allocating one or more deferred benefits to the sponsor based on the contract and on the sponsoree's performance in play of the game.
  • [0152]
    According to one embodiment, the method shown in FIG. 2 may further comprise monitoring the game play of the sponsor and sponsoree and altering the game accounts of the sponsor and sponsoree according to the terms of the sponsorship contract. Some or all of the terms of the contracts may be provided by one or more parties to the contract prior to entering into the contract. Alternatively, or additionally, contracts may be available in which some or all of the contract terms are dictated by the rules of the game or the server. As a further alternative some or all of the contract terms may be provided by players who are not parties to the contract.
  • [0153]
    The performance by the sponsoree that triggers payment of a deferred benefit to the sponsor may be any suitable performance in the game. Examples of suitable payment triggers include, but are not limited to, accessing a new or more difficult level or area of the game, the accumulation of a predetermined amount of game time, the accumulation of one or more items, the accumulation of a given amount of wealth, the accumulation of a given amount or level of health or experience points, etc.
  • [0154]
    According to another embodiment, the method shown in FIG. 2 may further comprise determining whether the first player has met one or more requirements before forming the sponsorship contract. Suitable requirements may include, but are not limited to, attainment of a predetermined level in the game, attainment of a given amount of game currency, and/or attainment of a given item. For example, a player may have to reach level 5, accumulate $5000 cash, and/or obtain certain weapons before being eligible to be another player's sponsor. Furthermore, some or all of the requirements may be dependant upon the position of the other party to the sponsorship agreement. For example, a sponsor may be required to be 3 levels higher, have 10 times as much wealth, or have 200 hours more playing time, than his or her sponsoree.
  • [0155]
    According to another embodiment, the method shown in FIG. 2 may further comprise creating a sponsorship database. The sponsorship database may include sponsorship status identifiers for one or more game players. The sponsorship status identifiers may indicate, for example, whether the identified player is a sponsor, sponsoree, desirous of becoming a sponsor, or desirous of becoming a sponsoree. Accordingly, the method shown in FIG. 2 may further comprise altering the sponsorship status identifier of a player upon the occurrence of a sponsorship event affecting the player. Suitable sponsorship events may include, without limitation, the formation of a new sponsorship contract to which the player is a party, the dissolution of a sponsorship contract to which the player is a party, receipt of a sponsorship request, or the offering of a sponsorship request. The sponsorship database may further include requirements and prerequisites for entering into a sponsorship contract with a given player.
  • [0156]
    According to another embodiment, the method shown in FIG. 2 may further comprise providing a forum for players to view at least some of the information in the sponsorship database. The forum may take the form of a virtual marketplace through which players can view pending, expired and/or active sponsorship contracts.
  • [0157]
    FIG. 3 is a flowchart depicting a method according to another embodiment of the present disclosure. As shown in FIG. 3, the method comprises providing a video game accessible by a plurality of players. Again, as described in greater detail above, the video game may be located on a central server that is accessible to the plurality of players via a plurality of game devices. Alternatively, the video game may be located on one or more of the video game devices. The method further comprises forming a sponsorship contract between a sponsor and a sponsoree. Methods for forming a sponsorship contract are described in detail above. The method further comprises the steps of providing an initial benefit to the sponsoree, providing an initial detriment to the sponsor, and providing a periodic benefit to the sponsor based on the sponsorship contract and the sponsoree's performance in the game.
  • [0158]
    The method shown in FIG. 3 may further comprise allowing another player to replace the sponsor or sponsoree in the sponsorship contract upon fulfillment of a condition. The condition may be, for example, payment of a contract price, if the purchaser is not already a party to the contract. One or both parties to the contract may or may not be allowed to reject the purchase. As non-limiting examples, the contract price may be determined by the game server, by the game rules, by the parties to the contract, or by an auction-style bidding system. Alternatively, the condition may be, for example, payment of a buyout price, if the purchaser is currently a party to the current contract. For example, the sponsoree may be able to terminate the sponsorship contract by paying the buyout price to the sponsor. The sponsor may or may not be allowed to reject the purchase. If an auction-style bidding system is used, the server may be configured to identify the winning bidder. Alternatively, the bids may be submitted to one or more parties to the contract and one or more of the parties may select the winning bid.
  • [0159]
    FIG. 4 is a flowchart depicting a method according to another embodiment of the present disclosure. As shown in FIG. 4 the method comprises accessing a video game. The video game may be stored on a central server and accessible via a game device in electronic communication with the central server. Alternatively, the video game may be stored on the video game device and the central server may facilitate game play and player to player interactions. The method further comprises identifying as either a sponsor or a sponsoree. Methods for players to identify themselves as either a sponsor or sponsoree are described in detail above. The method further comprises requesting formation of a sponsorship contract with another player. This request may be submitted, for example, to the central server and may be made with or without the knowledge of the other player. The method further comprises entering into a sponsorship agreement with another player and either: receiving an initial benefit upon entering into the sponsorship agreement and receiving a periodic detriment during the course of the game; or, receiving an initial detriment upon entering into the sponsorship agreement and receiving a periodic benefit during the course of the game. The methods and consequences of receiving benefits and detriments are described in detail above.
  • [0160]
    According to another embodiment, the method of FIG. 4 may further comprise accessing a database containing information regarding players wishing to enter into a sponsorship agreement and selecting a player with whom to enter into a sponsorship agreement. The step of selecting a player may be performed by offering a bid including at least one desired term for the sponsorship agreement.
  • [0161]
    According to another embodiment, the method of FIG. 4 may further comprise requesting termination of a sponsorship agreement. The request to terminate the sponsorship agreement may take the form of an offer to purchase the agreement.
  • [0162]
    Another method according to another embodiment of the present disclosure comprises the steps of providing a video game, identifying a first video game player as desirous of becoming a sponsoree, and receiving bids form other video game players for the right to become a sponsor for the first player. The method may further comprise each bidding player needing to fulfill at least one condition before bidding on the right to become a sponsor. The at least one condition may comprise, for example and without limitation, ownership of a predetermined amount of wealth or offering the bid during a given time frame.
  • [0163]
    According to another embodiment, the disclosure provides a server that is operable to: communicate with a plurality of game devices, wherein each game device allows at least one respective player to access the server; facilitate play of a game between the plurality of players; identify a first player as a sponsor; identify a second player as a sponsoree; create a contract between the sponsor and the sponsoree; provide, to the sponsoree, an initial benefit from the sponsor based on the contract; and allocate, to the sponsor, a plurality of periodic benefits based on the contract and on the sponsoree's performance in play of the game. The game may, for example be a massive multiplayer video game. The server may be further operable to receive a sponsorship request from a first player. The server may be further operable to conduct an auction wherein players bid for the right to become a party to a sponsorship contract. As such, the sponsorship request may be in the form of a bid during the auction.
  • [0164]
    The server may be further operable to: maintain a database including sponsorship information and/or create and maintain a player account for each player. The player account may include, as a non-limiting example, information regarding the usage fee paid by the player for playing the game. The server is further operable to alter the usage fee for a player based on the player's sponsorship status. Moreover, the server may be further operable to increase or decrease the usage fee if the player is a sponsor, or increase or decrease the usage fee if the player is a sponsoree.
  • [0165]
    The server may be further operable to identify one or more prerequisites for entering into a given sponsorship contract. The prerequisite may include, for example, a timeframe during which a request to enter into the contract must be received in order for the contract to be accepted, or one or more game criteria that must be met by a player before entering into the given sponsorship contract. Non-limiting examples of game criteria include: attainment of a predetermined level in the game, attainment of a predetermined number of items, attainment of a predetermined type of item, and/or attainment of a given amount of game currency. Accordingly, the server may be further operable to determine whether a player has fulfilled the requirements and create the sponsorship contract upon a determination that the player has fulfilled the requirements.
  • [0166]
    The server may be further operable to calculate a contract value for an active sponsorship contract. The contract value may, for example, be calculated periodically. The server may be further operable to track the contract value over time.
  • [0167]
    The server may be further operable to facilitate the sale of an active sponsorship contract. According to some embodiments, the contract value may, at least in part, be dependent upon the status of the purchaser. Thus, for example, a first contract value may be calculated if the purchaser is a current party to the contract and a second contract value may be calculated if the purchaser is not a current party to the contract.
  • [0168]
    In yet another embodiment, the current disclosure provides a method comprising: providing a video game accessible to a plurality of game players; identifying a first game player as desirous of becoming a sponsor; identifying a second game player as desirous of becoming a sponsoree; forming a sponsorship contract between the first and second player; identifying the first player as having a sponsorship status of sponsor; identifying the second player as having a sponsorship status of sponsoree; providing an initial benefit to the sponsoree; and allocating one or more deferred benefits to the sponsor based on the contract and on the sponsoree's performance in play of the game.
  • [0169]
    According to some embodiments, the performance that triggers a periodic benefit to the sponsor may be the accumulation of a predetermined amount of game time.
  • [0170]
    According to a further embodiment, the method may include determining whether the first player has met one or more requirements before forming the sponsorship contract. Non-limiting examples of appropriate requirements include: attainment of a predetermined level in the game, attainment of a given amount of game currency, and/or attainment of a given item. Moreover, the predetermined level may be calculated, at least in part, on the level of the second player.
  • [0171]
    According to a further embodiment, the method may further comprise creating a sponsorship database. The sponsorship database may include, for example, sponsorship status identifiers for one or more game players. Moreover, the method may include altering the sponsorship status identifier of a player upon the occurrence of a sponsorship event affecting the player. Non-limiting examples of sponsorship events include: the formation of a new sponsorship contract to which the player is a party, the dissolution of a sponsorship contract to which the player was a party, a sponsorship request offered by the player and/or, a sponsorship request offered to the player. Furthermore, the sponsorship database may include requirements for entering into a sponsorship contract with a given player. A forum may be provided for players to view at least some of the information in the sponsorship database.
  • [0172]
    The method may further provide a virtual marketplace through which players can view unactive sponsorship contracts.
  • [0173]
    According to another embodiment, the present disclosure may provide a method comprising: providing a video game accessible to a plurality of players; forming a sponsorship contract between a sponsor and a sponsoree; providing an initial benefit to the sponsoree; providing an initial detriment to the sponsor; and providing a periodic benefit to the sponsor based on the sponsorship contract and the sponsoree's performance in the game.
  • [0174]
    According to a further embodiment, the method may further comprise one or more of the steps of: receiving a first offer from a first player desirous of becoming the sponsor in the sponsorship contract; receiving a second offer from a second player desirous of becoming the sponsor in the sponsorship contract; awarding the sponsorship contract to the player submitting the offer that is most advantageous to the sponsoree; or allowing the sponsoree to determine to which player the sponsorship contract is to be awarded.
  • [0175]
    According to a further embodiment, the method may further comprise one or more of the steps of: receiving a first offer from a first player desirous of becoming the sponsoree in the sponsorship contract; receiving a second offer form a second player desirous of becoming the sponsoree in the sponsorship contract; awarding the sponsorship contract to the player submitting the offer that is most advantageous to the sponsor; or allowing the sponsor to determine to which player the sponsorship contract is to be awarded.
  • [0176]
    Another exemplary system 100 is shown in FIG. 5. As shown, the system may include a server 12 in communication with a game device or console 14, through which a player 18, may access an online video game 16 hosted on the server. Server 12 may further comprise a plurality of databases and/or modules which facilitate game play. These databases or modules may be provided as part of video game 16, or may be provided separately. It will be appreciated that, while shown being hosted on the same server, these databases or modules may, in fact, be hosted separately or together on any combination of servers and or game consoles. Examples of suitable databases and modules include, for example, contracts database 102, which may include data related to sponsorship contracts in the online game environment. Suitable information includes, but is not limited to information related to the creation, status, terms, parties, etc., associated with any pending, active, or expired contracts. Some or all of the information maintained by the contracts database may be available to players. Accordingly, the system may include a contracts database user-interface 104.
  • [0177]
    As stated above, according to some embodiments, a sponsorship contract is an agreement between two players in which the sponsoree receives an initial benefit from the sponsor in return for an agreement that the sponsor will receive a plurality of periodic benefits based on the terms of the contract and the sponsoree's performance in play of the game. Accordingly, system 100 may further include a benefit calculation module configured to identify when a benefit is owed to the sponsor based on the terms of the contract and provide the bestow the benefit to the sponsor.
  • [0178]
    System 100 may further include a player database 108, which may track and maintain information related to player accounts. Examples of the types of player account-related information that could be maintained in player database 108 is described above and shown in table III.
  • [0179]
    As stated above, the system may be configured to calculate a value for a sponsorship contract and allow for the selling and purchasing of sponsorship contracts based on the calculated values. Accordingly, system 100 may include a contract value calculation module 110, and a contract market 1 12. If the system allows for auction style sales of sponsorship contracts, system 100 may further include an auction module 114.
  • CONCLUSION
  • [0180]
    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.
  • [0181]
    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.
  • [0182]
    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).
  • [0183]
    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.
  • [0184]
    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.
  • [0185]
    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).
  • [0186]
    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.
  • [0187]
    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.
  • [0188]
    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.
  • [0189]
    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.
  • [0190]
    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).
  • [0191]
    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.
  • [0192]
    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.
  • [0193]
    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.
  • [0194]
    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.
  • [0195]
    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.
  • [0196]
    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.
  • [0197]
    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”.
  • [0198]
    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.
  • [0199]
    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.
  • [0200]
    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.
  • [0201]
    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).
  • [0202]
    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.
  • [0203]
    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.
  • [0204]
    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.
  • [0205]
    The present disclosure provides, to one of ordinary skill in the art, an enabling description of several embodiments and/or inventions. Some of these embodiments and/or inventions may not be claimed in this patent application, but may nevertheless be claimed in one or more continuing applications that claim the benefit of priority of this patent application. Applicants intend to file additional applications to pursue patents for subject matter that has been disclosed and enabled but not claimed in this patent application.
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Classifications
U.S. Classification463/42
International ClassificationA63F9/24
Cooperative ClassificationG07F17/32
European ClassificationG07F17/32