There are people who want to help you and your distant friends legally put money on the line the next time you play video games. The latest crew with this idea is called Playhem.
The group is based in New York and has determined that there are 38 States in America in which gamers will be able to use their new service to link up and throw some money into their next match of FIFA 11 or NHL 11 on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
"We were looking for a site that could recreate our college gaming experience," one of Playhem's founders, Dan Putt, told Kotaku during a demo of the new service. They weren't satisfied with what they found, so they built their own.
Playhem, which goes into public beta next week, is similar to Virgin Gaming, another young operation built upon the idea that there is money to be made letting gamers play each other for cash. The Playhem twist, according to Putt, is that his service is designed not for super-skilled gamers but for friends. "This is about friends playing friends," he said, "playing with money, not playing for money." (See Playhem's site, where you can sign up for a beta.)
Playhem.com is combination of a social networking site and a commerce site. A user creates a profile and can add friends, preferably through Facebook integration, which makes the process easily usable, Putt showed me. You can challenge your friends or strangers to matches in any of the supported games. Right now that list is small, with just NHL 11 and FIFA 11 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 supported. The company's organisers say they plan to add many more games, including Halo Reach, and are in talks with publishers. Once two players have agreed to a match, they play it against each other. The results are sent back to Playhem, whose customer service will deal with any disputed outcomes, according to Putt. Challenges can be for money or for points. Playhem gets a cut: 12% for matches against most people; 6% for matches against the people a user designates as their five favourite friends - that's the encouragement to keep this on that chummy college-dorm level.
Services such as Playhem and Virgin Gaming don't mesh with state gaming laws around the country. According to Playhem, money matches on their service will be available in 38 states, excluding Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Vermont. A company rep added that "users from Canada and Western Europe are 100% in the clear to use our site."
Points matches in Playhem will be available to users in all regions. Points will be redeemable for currently undisclosed prizes.
How do you not get hustled in a service like this? Playhem's Putt says they will use a chess-based skill rating system and will also lock all new users into $US5-maximum matches for their first 10 games. That, he said, will keep new users from blowing their savings and will discourage better players from creating dummy accounts to hustle other players.
Like Virgin Gaming, Playhem will also offer tournaments which players can set up for themselves.
The company hopes to expand support not just to more games but to more platforms, allowing users to put money on the table for PC and mobile games as well. Their service doesn't appear within any games now, but linking the supported games, such as the EA titles, to Playhem.com is a matter of changing some settings on a player's account in EA.com and in the game.
Putt doesn't expect Playhem to be a get-rich-quick scheme for skilled gamers. He said he expects it will be played more casually than that. "I don't play FIFA and throw in $US25 expecting to make money," he said. "It just makes it more fun."