Launching a TV service is seldom fun and games, but that's literally what it was for Playjam, a new subscription game service available to Dish network subscribers for $4.99 a month. An OpenTV property, Playjam reaches more than 27 million homes around the world, partnered with BSkyB's UK-based service and Cablevision.
"This is for the casual gamer, the person who doesn't want to buy a game console for $199 or games for $50 apiece," says Kevin Fururichi, Playjam executive producer and creative director. "But they're small and light enough to deliver and are still addictive."
The games cover the largest possible audience, with both puzzles and action games offered. The new service has five games a week (a new one added each week to keep the service fresh) and delivers them via satellite to the set-top box.
"We architect the games so the basic engine loads quickly," Fururichi explains. "If the game gets more complex, it pulls down additional resources."
The games are located on a satellite channel that is broken into different tracks for each game. Viewers get the first couple of levels for free, but, if they want to play more, they need to subscribe to access the download. According to Fururichi, delivery to the set-top box takes about 12-20 seconds, depending on the processing power of the box. The games are written in "OpenTVC" computer language and are between 200 and 500 kB. They differ from the Cablevision service, which is HTML- and browser-based.
Fururichi and Playjam are already looking to the next-generation service, hoping to allow the games to scroll vertically and also to sort out business hurdles to allow gamers to compete with each other on the same server. A phone jack would be used to provide a back-channel to the server, allowing head-to-head competition, a feature that has proved popular with BSkyB's service. The trick is figuring out how the cost of the phone lines and installing and placing the servers would be recouped.
Current energies, however, are focused on getting subscribers. Adults tend to be the biggest market because they control the satellite bill, but kids are definitely a potential market. "Some of the kids of Playjam employees are playing the games so much," says Fururichi, "that they're smashing their remotes."