Company Logo Saturday, April 07, 2007

Grand-Old Gaming

LiveHive launches NanoGaming for real-time, two-screen pro-baseball action

WATERLOO (Apr 7, 2007)

It's the bottom of the ninth inning, the bases are loaded with two men out, and the Blue Jays are down by three runs.

Vernon Wells cracks a fastball over the right field fence to win the game just as you knew he would. For those fans who relish the game within a game, there's now an outlet to capitalize on your hunches.

A Waterloo company, LiveHive Systems, has developed an interactive online game that should appeal to avid baseball fans.

Its NanoGaming baseball application, launched this week, in time for the opening of the Major League Baseball season, allows fantasy league players to bet on just about every pitch of a game. They bet points on all sorts of situations as they watch the game on the television and compete with each other on computers or wireless devices.

A user playing the game sees the batting lineup next to a virtual baseball park. When a batter is on deck, a series of questions pops up asking the user whether the hitter will get a hit and if so, what type of hit. Even the smallest details have odds, such as how many pitches the batter will get.

Players can bet as little as 100 points on each scenario and see how they rank compared to their friends.

It was this type of informal betting that inspired LiveHive's four founders to create the game.

They were watching a football game at McMullan's pub in Waterloo when they overheard fans predicting what would happen next. They decided to create a platform and company around the online betting idea, even though it meant leaving their relatively secure positions with other companies.

LiveHive, which employs 35 people in offices on Lodge Street, landed $1.8 million in venture capital financing in late 2005.

The NanoGaming software platform debuted during the past NFL season. Like the baseball application, the football game allows fantasy football players to place bets as they tune in to their Sunday afternoon ritual.

Of course, there's more to NanoGaming than just fun. The company's founders believe they have come up with a software package that will allow television networks to harness the power of the Internet.

"A lot of networks are looking for ways to engage people with their content online," said Robert Riopelle, LiveHive's vice-president of business development. "You can also apply this to reality TV, awards shows and elections."

In other words, it allows TV networks and their advertisers to keep a captive audience glued to their computer screens and TVs for more than just a couple of minutes.

LiveHive president Dave Bullock said he's encouraged by research commissioned by Fox and CBS that suggests that 15 per cent of their Sunday afternoon football viewers were online at the same time.

When LiveHive demonstrated its software for the last season of Survivor, it found that a number of the reality show's fans remained online predicting what would happen for close to an hour.

"Anytime you get someone on a site for an hour, that's phenomenal," said Bullock, a former executive at Waterloo technology firm Intelligent Mechatronic Systems Inc.

Bolstered by these anecdotes, the company's founders have met with the major television networks in both the U.S. and Canada.

TV networks are only just beginning to figure out how to reach out to new viewers online. Both CTV and TSN have begun to stream some of their programs online, but the next step is connecting the television to the Internet, said Bullock.

"I think there's an opportunity for us to do this," he said. "We really want this to be a pervasive system."

Unlike Asia, where mobile and online games caught on years ago, North Americans are just starting to warm to these types of applications.

Leo Kivijarv, vice-president of research at PQ Media, a Connecticut-based multimedia research firm, said the popularity of social networking websites like Facebook and YouTube opens the door for online video games.

Kivijarv said video game enthusiasts, like his twin 13-year-old sons, are turning to Internet-based games over PlayStation or Xbox games. Although each gaming console lets a user play with other users, it is much simpler and less expensive to play video games online, he said.

"My kids are joining in because their friends were online," he said.

PQ Media predicted that the market for Internet-based video games would reach $833 million US in 2006. The market for mobile games was expected to reach $343 million US.

"There are a number of people migrating online a lot to play their games," Kivijarv said. "Males 18 to 34 are the heavy users."

Kivijarv said games, like LiveHive's NanoGaming application, could be what TV networks are looking for since research shows this demographic isn't as keen to watch sports on TV as people in their 40s.

The NanoGaming baseball game can be found on SpeedofSport.com. Web users can then click on one of that day's games.

mhammond@therecord.com

linkback: http://www.therecord.com/pdfs/2007Apr7/F01.PDF

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