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Publication numberUS20070191103 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/355,232
Publication date16 Aug 2007
Filing date14 Feb 2006
Priority date14 Feb 2006
Publication number11355232, 355232, US 2007/0191103 A1, US 2007/191103 A1, US 20070191103 A1, US 20070191103A1, US 2007191103 A1, US 2007191103A1, US-A1-20070191103, US-A1-2007191103, US2007/0191103A1, US2007/191103A1, US20070191103 A1, US20070191103A1, US2007191103 A1, US2007191103A1
InventorsAndrew Van Luchene
Original AssigneeVan Luchene Andrew S
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Online game environment that facilitates binding contracts between player characters
US 20070191103 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.
Images(4)
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Claims(20)
1. 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.
2. The server of claim 1, in which the server is further operable to:
grant rewards to the sponsoree based on the sponsoree's game play; and
wherein at least some of the plurality of periodic benefits allocated to the sponsor represent a portion of the rewards granted to the sponsoree during game play.
3. The server of claim 1, in which the server is further operable to maintain a database including sponsorship information.
4. The server of claim 3 in which the server is further operable to create and maintain a player account for each player.
5. The server of claim 1 where the server is further operable to provide a list of available pending sponsorship contracts.
6. The server of claim 1 where the server is further operable to identify one or more prerequisites for entering into a given sponsorship contract.
7. The server of claim 6 wherein the prerequisite includes one or more game criteria that must be met by a player before entering into the given sponsorship contract.
8. The server of claim 6 wherein the server is further operable to determine whether a player has fulfilled the requirements.
9. The server of claim 8 wherein the server is further operable to create the sponsorship contract upon a determination that the player has fulfilled the requirements.
10. 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.
11. The method of claim 10 further comprising:
providing a game account for the sponsor;
providing a game account for the sponsoree;
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.
12. The method of claim 10 where at least some of the terms of the sponsorship contract are determined by the sponsor and sponsoree.
13. The method of claim 10 where the performance by the sponsoree that triggers payment of a deferred benefit to the sponsor is accessing a more difficult level in the game.
14. The method of claim 10 where the performance by the sponsoree that triggers a periodic benefit to the sponsor is accumulation of one or more items.
15. 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.
16. The method of claim 15 further comprising allowing another player to replace the sponsor or sponsoree in the sponsorship contract upon fulfillment of a condition.
17. The method of claim 15 further comprising identifying a contract price for the sponsorship contract.
18. The method of claim 17 further comprising identifying a buyout price for the sponsorship contract.
19. The method of claim 18 where the buyout price is determined by a central game server.
20. The method of claim 15 further comprising receiving a first offer from a first player desirous of becoming the sponsor in the sponsorship contract.
Description
  • [0001]
    The present application claims the benefit of priority from U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/652,036, entitled “Method and Apparatus for Facilitating Player to Player Contracts in a Massive Multi-Player Online Video Game” filed Feb. 14, 2005, the entirety of which is hereby incorporated by reference for all purposes.
  • 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.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • [0008]
    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.
  • [0009]
    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.
  • [0010]
    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.
  • [0011]
    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).
  • [0012]
    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. 16 c, 16 d) to access central server 12 via the same game device (e.g. 14 c).
  • [0013]
    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.
  • [0014]
    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.
  • [0015]
    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.
  • [0016]
    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.
    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 Benefit 1 400 2 Helpers Will show secret
    Experience pts passageway
    Sponsoree Benefit 2 1 Storage Unit 1 Plot of land One healing spell
    Sponsoree Benefit N $500 One status bar One weapon
    Sponsor Benefit 1 2% of 10% of $ All health points
    Experience over 90%
    pts to Level 6
    Sponsor Benefit 2 All 10% of stamina An item to be
    Linen Pilferred named once Level
    8 reached
  • [0017]
    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.
  • [0018]
    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.
  • [0019]
    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.
  • [0020]
    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.
  • [0021]
    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.
  • [0022]
    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.
  • [0023]
    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.
  • [0024]
    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.
  • [0025]
    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.
  • [0026]
    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 loth, 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.
  • [0027]
    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.
  • [0028]
    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.
  • [0029]
    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.
  • [0030]
    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.
  • [0031]
    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.”
  • [0032]
    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.
  • [0033]
    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.
  • [0034]
    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.
  • [0035]
    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.
  • [0036]
    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.
    TABLE II
    Session Number 123565 123566
    Player Number XYZ245678 XXCD23344
    Session date Jan. 12, 2005 Jan. 12, 2005
    16:45-19:45 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
  • [0037]
    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.
  • [0038]
    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.
  • [0039]
    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.
  • [0040]
    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.
    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
  • [0041]
    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.
  • [0042]
    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.
  • [0043]
    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.
  • [0044]
    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.
  • [0045]
    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.
  • [0046]
    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.
  • [0047]
    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.
  • [0048]
    In accordance with the above description, the present disclosure also provides methods for playing video games incorporating elements of the system described above.
  • [0049]
    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.
  • [0050]
    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.
  • [0051]
    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.
  • [0052]
    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.
  • [0053]
    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.
  • [0054]
    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.
  • [0055]
    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.
  • [0056]
    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.
  • [0057]
    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.
  • [0058]
    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.
  • [0059]
    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.
  • [0060]
    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.
  • [0061]
    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.
  • [0062]
    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.
  • [0063]
    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.
  • [0064]
    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.
  • [0065]
    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.
  • [0066]
    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.
  • [0067]
    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.
  • [0068]
    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.
  • [0069]
    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.
  • [0070]
    The method may further provide a virtual marketplace through which players can view unactive sponsorship contracts.
  • [0071]
    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.
  • [0072]
    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.
  • [0073]
    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.
  • [0074]
    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. Accordingly, the subject matter of the present disclosure includes all novel and nonobvious combinations and subcombinations of the various systems, methods and configurations, and other features, functions, and/or properties disclosed herein.
  • [0075]
    The following claims particularly point out certain combinations and subcombinations regarded as novel and nonobvious. These claims may refer to “an” element or “a first” element or the equivalent thereof. Such claims should be understood to include incorporation of one or more such elements, neither requiring nor excluding two or more such elements. Other combinations and subcombinations of the disclosed features, functions, elements, and/or properties may be claimed through amendment of the present claims or through presentation of new claims in this or a related application. Such claims, whether broader, narrower, equal, or different in scope to the original claims, also are regarded as included within the subject matter of the present disclosure.
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Classifications
U.S. Classification463/42
International ClassificationA63F9/24
Cooperative ClassificationG07F17/32
European ClassificationG07F17/32