Game sites use lure of friendly competition


Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


By Victor Godinez / The Dallas Morning News


If you've ever wanted to make a quick buck or maybe win a television while surfing the Web, a slew of new online gaming sites may have what you're looking for.

These sites are a far cry from the blood-spattered action game offerings most people associate with online gaming. Instead, these sites offer bingo, trivia games, word puzzles, board games, card games and simple arcade games.

Users can play against each other, chat online and pocket cash and a variety of prizes if they've got the skills.

One such site is WorldWinner.com, one of the few online game portals where you have to pay to play, although the entrance fees for most of the games are usually only 50 cents.

"People like to compete, and obviously a zillion hours are spent each year playing solitaire, but no one has ever been able to compare with human solitaire because you can't compete with other people," says Alex Saidakovsky, WorldWinner.com co-founder.

Besides solitaire, WorldWinner offers a variety of other games in which gamers can compete in tournaments and win cash prizes up to $80.

Mr. Saidakovsky says that the site has had about 10,000 players since launching two months ago. Many of those players, he says, compete every day.

Mr. Saidakovsky says he plans to expand the number and type of games. Sports games, such as golf or baseball, will give gamers the chance to participate in virtual cash prize tournaments that they might not have the financial means to enter in real life.

"We see it leading to a virtual sports community of sorts, which would have a number of superstars who become legends, in a way," he says.

Other sites are aiming for a slightly less competitive atmosphere.

www.BingoOnline.com, for example, gives users the opportunity to chat and simply get to know each other when they don't feel like checking off their virtual bingo card.

"It is very much about community and connection," says Kim Northrup, director of BingoOnline.com. "Thirty percent of the people there have never played bingo at all. Which tells me that they're there for an entirely different reason – they're there for the chat and the community."

Ms. Northrup says that BingoOnline's audience is heavily skewed toward older women, contrary to the image of teenage boys monopolizing the online gaming world.

"The interesting thing to me was 70 percent of them have been online less than three years, 25 percent have been online less than one year," she says. "They're relatively newer users to the Internet and newer users to computers."

Ms. Northrup attributes this demographic to the fact that many women are interested in gambling and games such as bingo but are reluctant to try their hand at real-world bingo without any prior experience.

"Women really want to play the table games in Reno, Vegas and Atlantic City, but they're intimidated by the culture," she says. "So they can get online and, under the cloak of anonymity, actually learn how to play these games."

According to a recent report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=11), women are actually more likely overall to play online games than men, 37 percent to 32 percent.

The report, entitled "Tracking Online Life: How Women Use the Internet to Cultivate Relationships With Family and Friends," also found an increasing gap between the percentage of women and men who play online games as their ages went up.

For example, 31 percent of women over 50 have played an online game, compared with 21 percent of men over 50.

Similar to BingoOnline.com but offering a greater variety of games is Flipside.com, which offers card, board, arcade and casino games such as poker, blackjack and slots.

Players can either compete for tokens that can be exchanged for prizes, such as a $50 electronics store gift certificate, or use the tokens to essentially purchase lottery tickets for drawings of big-ticket items such as an $8,000 plasma-screen television.

David Herschman, executive vice president for sales and marketing of Flipside, says that the site has become enormously popular with gamers of all ages.

"Last month we were the 42nd-largest Internet property in the world," he says. "We had 6.4 million visitors, and we had a reach of 8.1 percent of the Internet population. That was our best month ever."

The draw, he says, is that Flipside, like BingoOnline.com, is free to gamers, making possible an immersive experience that previously had been available only to those willing to spend $40 or $50 a game on CD-ROM.

"Now look at what we have," he says. "We have people able to play against people from all around the world and chat with them in real time, people they've never met, and it's all free.

"It's a much better consumer experience, and so, for that reason, a lot of people who ordinarily wouldn't play a video game are now playing. And that's why you're seeing a lot of these single moms and stay-home moms doing it because they weren't the type of people to go out and buy a Sega [video game console]."

Flipside recently launched a marketing blitz to get more people onto its site, Mr. Herschman says. For example, moviegoers at the AMC theater at Grapevine Mills mall see an ad for Flipside before certain movies.

"Compared to everything else on the Internet, I think games are one of the best ways for people to socialize," Mr. Herschman says. "There's a lot of pure chat going on on the Internet, but a lot of that is just people talking about sex. In games, you tend to have people who ... get to know each other. It's kind of like a more natural way to meet people. It's not all forced all at once, it's not all about sex, it's people just sharing a part of their lives."

RealTIME Media offers another variation on the online game theme with scratch-and-win games and sweepstakes for a variety of retail Web sites.

RealTIME has paired with America Online and American Airlines, for example, to create a contest in which users can enter a drawing to win 1 million frequent-flier miles by logging on to www.aolaadvantage.com. The miles can be redeemed for prizes besides just airline tickets.

"We're not necessarily looking for gaming-type people," says Annette Gibbons, marketing manager for RealTIME Media. "These are people who are interested in [the company's] products or services, and it's just giving them an extra incentive to want to visit those sites."

Jeremy Schwartz, senior analyst for Forrester Research, says that while online games played on computers are popular, the advent of high-powered, broadband-ready consoles such as Sony's PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's Xbox will couple with interactive television to create even more widespread Internet gaming.

Television entertainment developers will eventually realize that gaming can be effectively merged with televised shows to create hybrid products, Mr. Schwartz says. Viewers will become gamers who control the actions of their favorite characters in a soap opera, compete for prizes on virtual game shows or simply communicate across the Web.

In a recent Forrester report entitled "Pervasive Gaming Goes Mainstream," Mr. Schwartz writes that the intertwining of television and online gaming is inevitable.

"Producers and game designers will take a back seat to pervasive gamers who are able to control every aspect of what's on the screen," he says. "A fan of Homicide, unhappy that a favorite character is being written out of the TV show, can click to 'The Homicide Game' and not only keep his favorites alive but write out the characters he hates, as well as introduce new story lines."

"There's no question that these technologies are becoming, and the access and use of these technologies is becoming, less of a niche thing," Mr. Schwartz says. "There's all kinds of possible scenarios that could really tie people into this."