Title:
Systems and methods for performing online in-game inquiries
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Systems and methods for performing online in-game inquires are disclosed. In one embodiment, a consumer-based inquiry may be presented to a player using a variety of inquiry interfaces while the player is participating in an online game. In another embodiment, new players may be given the option of responding to survey questions in lieu of all or a portion of a subscription fee. However, new players may also be given the opportunity to participate in such survey questions in addition to being charged a subscription fee. In yet another embodiment, responses to survey questions are received and stored on a server-side database.



Inventors:
Winkler, Marvin (Laguna Hills, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/109541
Publication Date:
05/25/2006
Filing Date:
04/18/2005
Assignee:
MW Holdings LP
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
WILLIAMS, ROSS A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
CROWELL & MORING LLP;INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY GROUP (P.O. BOX 14300, WASHINGTON, DC, 20044-4300, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method comprising: selecting an inquiry from a plurality of inquiries based on one or more predetermined criteria; presenting said inquiry to an online user while said online user is in a virtual game environment; receiving a response to said inquiry from said online user while in said virtual game environment; and storing said response in a remote database.

2. The method of claim 1, further comprising enabling said online user to access said virtual game environment using a client application executing on a user computer.

3. The method of claim 2, further comprising generating said virtual game environment by a server-side system that is accessible by a plurality of user computers over a network.

4. The method of claim 1, further comprising storing said plurality of inquiries in the remote database, and wherein said predetermined criteria include one or more of a player characteristic and a current gaming scenario.

5. The method of claim 1, wherein presenting said inquiry comprises presenting said inquiry to the online user in one of a pop-up message window, online message dialog, tab, dialog box, embedded game graphic control and game menu interface.

6. The method of claim 1, wherein said plurality of inquiries are consumer survey questions.

7. The method of claim 1, further comprising reducing a subscription fee of said online user in response to said online user's participation in responding to one or more of said plurality of inquiries.

8. The method of claim 1, further comprising rewarding said online user according to a point system for responding to one or more of said plurality of inquiries.

9. A system comprising: a network; a user computer coupled to the network to execute a client application for accessing a virtual game environment; a server in communication with said user computer over said network, wherein said server is to, generate said virtual game environment, select an inquiry from a plurality of inquiries based on one or more predetermined criteria, present said inquiry to an online user while said online user is in a virtual game environment, receive a response to said inquiry from said online user while in said virtual game environment, and store said response in a remote database.

10. The system of claim 9, wherein said server generates said virtual game environment for access by a plurality of user computers over the network.

11. The system of claim 9, wherein said plurality of inquiries are stored in the remote database, and wherein said predetermined criteria include one or more of a player characteristic and a current gaming scenario.

12. The system of claim 9, wherein said inquiry is presented to the online user in one of a pop-up message window, online message dialog, tab, dialog box, embedded game graphic control and game menu interface.

13. The system of claim 9, wherein said plurality of inquiries are consumer survey questions.

14. The system of claim 9, wherein said online user is to pay a subscription fee in order to be able to access said virtual game environment, and wherein said subscription fee is reduced in response to said online user's participation in responding to one or more of said plurality of inquiries.

15. The system of claim 9, wherein said online user is rewarded according to a point system for responding to one or more of said plurality of inquiries.

16. A computer program product comprising: a computer usable medium having computer program code embodied therein, the computer program product having: computer readable program code to select an inquiry from a plurality of inquiries based on one or more predetermined criteria, computer readable program code to present said inquiry to an online user while said online user is in a virtual game environment, computer readable program code to receive a response to said inquiry from said online user while in said virtual game environment, and computer readable program code to store said response in a remote database.

17. The computer program product of claim 16, further comprising computer readable program code to enable said online user to access said virtual game environment using a client application executing on a user computer.

18. The computer program product of claim 17, further comprising computer readable program code to generate said virtual game environment by a server-side system that is accessible by a plurality of user computers over a network.

19. The computer program product of claim 16, further comprising computer readable program code to store said plurality of inquiries in the remote database, and wherein said predetermined criteria include one or more of a player characteristic and a current gaming scenario.

20. The computer program product of claim 16, wherein said computer readable program code to present said inquiry comprises computer readable program code to present said inquiry to the online user in one of a pop-up message window, online message dialog, tab, dialog box, embedded game graphic control and game menu interface.

21. The computer program product of claim 16, wherein said plurality of inquiries are consumer survey questions.

22. The computer program product of claim 16, further comprising computer readable program code to reduce a subscription fee of said online user in response to said online user's participation in responding to one or more of said plurality of inquiries.

23. The computer program product of claim 16, further comprising computer readable program code to reward said online user according to a point system for responding to one or more of said plurality of inquiries.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/630,502 filed on Nov. 22, 2004.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates generally to consumer inquiries, and in particular to a system and method for performing consumer surveying of online in-game players.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

A virtual world environment (VWE) is a computer-generated reality comprised of graphics, images, video and/or audio data which are all used to define the virtual world. Typically, the VWE is presented to users on a computer screen once the user has accessed the virtual world. When multiple users have accessed the same VWE, they may perceive and interact with each other from their individual computer systems connected to a common network.

One form of VWEs are online role playing games (RPGs) which can be traced back to the 1970s to non-graphical online multi-user dungeon (MUD) games, to text-based computer games such as Adventure™ and Zork™, and to pen and paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.™ RPGs are games where players assume the roles of fictional characters via role-playing. At their core, these games are a form of interactive and collaborative storytelling. Whereas cinema, novels and television shows are passive, role-playing games engage the participants actively, allowing them to simultaneously be audience, actor, and author. Each player's character has a number of characteristics, often including strength, intelligence, charisma, and various paranormal traits. The exact abilities vary by game. Numerical values assigned to these characteristics reflect the character's learned and intrinsic attributes and abilities, and can be used during game play to evaluate the outcome of various chance events. In most game systems most or all of these characteristics can be improved in some way via gameplay, usually by gaining experience points for completing certain objectives.

Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) are a more recent incarnation of online RPGs which enable thousands of players to play in an evolving virtual world at the same time over a network, such as the Internet. Although VWEs may be displayed in two dimensions, three-dimensional VWEs have become increasingly popular. In addition, some VWEs use rendered geometric models and audio data to provide both a visual and auditory 3D perspective for the user.

In order to access an online RPG, such as an MMORPG, players must run a client on their local computer systems to connect to the VWE, which is generally hosted by the game's publisher. The virtual worlds they create are called “persistent worlds”, meaning that the world continues regardless of who is logged in or not. When a player logs in, they are represented in the game world by an “avatar,” which is a graphical representation of an online user in the VWE. The avatar may be a scanned image of the user's face or any other computer-generated graphic for that matter.

Most online RPGs run several identical copies of the virtual world, called “shards” or “servers,” from which the player may choose. In this fashion, the player is able to shape their own experience by providing multiple (or customizable) avatars from which the player may select. Once a player enters the VWE, they can engage in a variety of activities on their own, or with other players who are concurrently accessing the same VWE. The game host will generally supervise the virtual world and continually offer players new activities and enhancements to experience. Game hosting has become a multi-million dollar a year venture with most online RPGs being commercial in nature. That is, a user must pay a subscription fee, which is often done on an hourly basis or a monthly basis, in order to continue to access the VWE.

Marketers are constantly searching for better ways to reach consumers and tailor their marketing efforts. RPG and MMORPG players represent an ever increasing collection of consumers which, heretofore, there has been no way to effectively and directly survey. Thus, there is a need for an improved system and method of performing consumer surveying of online in-game players.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Systems and methods for performing online in-game inquires are disclosed. In one embodiment, a method includes selecting an inquiry from a plurality of inquiries based on one or more predetermined criteria, and presenting the inquiry to an online user while the online user is in a virtual game environment. The method further includes receiving a response to the inquiry from the online user while in the virtual game environment, and storing the response in a remote database.

Other aspects, features, and techniques of the invention will be apparent to one skilled in the relevant art in view of the following detailed description of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is one embodiment of a computer system capable of being used to carry out one or more aspects of the invention;

FIG. 2 is one embodiment of client-server system capable of implementing one or more aspects of the invention;

FIGS. 3A-3B depict embodiments of inquiry dialog boxes consistent with the principles of the invention;

FIG. 4 is one embodiment of a process for carrying out one or more aspects of the invention; and

FIG. 5 is another embodiment of a process for carrying out one or more aspects of the invention;

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

One aspect of the invention is to submit consumer-based inquiries to a player while participating in an online game. In one embodiment, the online game is a computer RPG, and may be an MMORPG. In another embodiment, the consumer inquiry may be presented to the player in the form of an integrated or external user interface that pops up or presents itself inside of a game control, menu, or avatar. Regardless of the form of the consumer inquiry interface, the inquiry may include one or more in-game Yes/No (binary) questions, multiple choice questions, or questions designed to solicit text-based responses. The question(s) may also be presented as pictographs, icons, or other graphic representations that the player would select and choose from. A selectable icon may be used to indicate to the player that a survey question is available for answering. Selecting the icon may generate the consumer inquiry interface, according to one embodiment. In one embodiment, the icon imagery may be isolated from the game theme (e.g., a treasure chest icon on the game menu interface or embedded into the in-game graphics). In another embodiment, the consumer inquiry interface could be a game avatar that the user would interact with in either conversational or menu driven inquiries. In still another embodiment, instead of being prompted the player may initiate the survey response at any time.

The online game may use a fee-based subscription model whereby players are charged a period membership fee to be able to access the RPG client, and in turn the RPG environment. New players may be given the option of responding to survey questions in lieu of all or a portion of a subscription fee. In this fashion, players may be incentivized to participate in online in-game consumer surveys. However, new players may also be given the opportunity to participate in such survey questions in addition to being charged a subscription fee.

The online game may also offer the player to join a reward point system that would enable them to accumulate points for participation in the inquiry system. This would provide the player with incentives that can be used outside of the game.

The survey questions or inquires (which may be displayed in a pop-up message window, online message dialog, a tab, dialog box, system notification, embedded game graphic control or game menu interface, etc.) are intended to generate responses from the players. Such response may then be analyzed and/or used to marketing purposes. For example, Company A may desire to query online players to determine what percentage prefers their product to say one of Company A's competitors. In one embodiment, this could be accomplished by submitting such a question directly to the players while they are in the RPG world, such as in the form of a pop-up message window, online message dialog, a tab, a dialog box, embedded game graphic control or game menu interface. The responses, which may number in the thousands and up, may then be transmitted to a server-side database where they are then stored. While in one embodiment, the survey responses may be stored in a delimited text file, it should equally be appreciated that the data may be stored in any number of others ways that include but not limited to object, relational, or ISAM database(s) or XML file(s).

Another aspect of the invention is to enable a game host (also referred to as a “game master” or “game lord”) to submit one or more questions to all (or any portion of) the players which are currently in-game. These questions can be submitted in real or non-real time. This does not preclude an intermediate review or censor process that would monitor, authenticate, or approve messages submitted into the system. As mentioned above, such questions may be submitted via a pop-up message window, online message dialog, a tab, a dialog box, embedded game graphic control or game menu interface or any similar dialog box. In one embodiment, players may be awarded a bonus for answering survey questions. It should be appreciated that such bonuses may be related to one or more gaming objectives.

Yet another aspect of the invention is to enable marketers to submit inquiries directly to online gamers. In one embodiment, marketers may upload questions directly to a server, which then generates an inquiry interface (e.g., IM window, tab, dialog box, etc.) on the in-game players' interfaces.

It should further be appreciated that all or some of the functionality described herein may be directly integrated into the gaming code, and not reliant on externally generated consumer inquiry interfaces. For example, the consumer-based inquiries may be presented to players using the same gaming interface. In this fashion, the survey functionality described herein may become an integrated part of the gaming environment itself.

When implemented in software, the elements of the invention are essentially the code segments to perform the necessary tasks. The program or code segments can be stored in a processor readable medium or transmitted by a computer data signal embodied in a carrier wave over a transmission medium or communication link. The “processor readable medium” may include any medium that can store or transfer information. Examples of the processor readable medium include an electronic circuit, a semiconductor memory device, a ROM, a flash memory or other non-volatile memory, a floppy diskette, a CD-ROM, an optical disk, a hard disk, a fiber optic medium, a radio frequency (RF) link, etc. The computer data signal may include any signal that can propagate over a transmission medium such as electronic network channels, optical fibers, air, electromagnetic, RF links, etc. The code segments may be downloaded via computer networks such as the Internet, Intranet, etc.

As discussed herein, a “computer” or “computer system” is a product including circuitry capable of processing data. The computer system may include, but is not limited to, general purpose computer systems (e.g., server, laptop, desktop, palmtop, personal electronic devices, etc.), personal computers (PCs), hard copy equipment (e.g., printer, plotter, fax machine, etc.), banking equipment (e.g., an automated teller machine), and the like. In addition, a “communication link” refers to the medium or channel of communication. The communication link may include, but is not limited to, a telephone line, a modem connection, an Internet connection, a digital subscriber line (DSL), an Integrated Services Digital Network (“ISDN”) connection, an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) connection, a frame relay connection, an Ethernet connection, a coaxial connection, a fiber optic connection, satellite connections (e.g. Digital Satellite Services, etc.), wireless connections, radio frequency (RF) links, electromagnetic links, two way paging connections, etc., and combinations thereof.

The present disclosure relates to any application that renders a VWE, such as an online RPG, MMORPG, or any other form of a virtual environment. Typically the VWE will be experienced by a user through a client application executing on a user computer, such as computer system 100. It should be appreciated that computer system 100 may comprise any personal desktop computer, notebook computer, work station, or other digital computer system that includes a processor or a central processing unit (CPU) 110, which may include an arithmetic logic unit (ALU) for performing computations, a collection of registers for temporary storage of data and instructions, and a control unit for controlling operation for the computer system 100. In one embodiment, the processor 110 includes any one of the x86, Pentium™ class microprocessors as marketed by Intel™ Corporation, microprocessors as marketed by AMD™, or the 6×86MX microprocessor as marketed by Cyrix™ Corp. In addition, any of a variety of other processors, including those from Sun Microsystems, MIPS, IBM, Motorola, NEC, Cyrix, AMD, Nexgen and others may be used for implementing processor 110. Moreover, the processor 100 need not be limited to microprocessors but may take on other forms such as microcontrollers, digital signal processors, reduced instruction set computers (RISC), application specific integrated circuits, and the like. Although shown with one processor 110, it should equally be appreciated that computer system 100 may alternatively include multiple processing units.

The processor 110 is shown as being coupled to random access memory 120, which may include synchronous dynamic random access memory (SDRAM). The processor is also coupled to a display device 130, which may be a television, monitor, LCD screen or any other display screen capable of displaying rendered graphics and text. Although not shown, user computer may also include a graphics controller, a graphics engine, a video controller and/or video memory.

The processor 110 is also coupled to non-volatile memory 140 which may include (but not be limited to) a hard disk, floppy disk, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, tape, high density floppy, high capacity removable media, low capacity removable media, solid state memory device, etc., and combinations thereof. The network interface 150 may include a network interface card (NIC), a modem interface, integrated services digital network (ISDN) adapter for high-speed data transmission used to exchange data with other computer systems, including server-side system 170, coupled to network 160.

The user input device 180 may include a keyboard, mouse, joystick and the like for enabling a user to interact with and provide commands to the computer system 100. Computer system 100 may further include system firmware, such as system BIOS, for controlling, among other things, hardware devices in the computer system 100. The system firmware may include ROM and/or flash (or EEPROM) memory.

As is familiar to those skilled in the art, the computer system 100 may further includes an operating system (OS) and at least one application program, which in one embodiment, are loaded into RAM 120 from non-volatile memory 140. The OS may include any type of OS including, but not limited or restricted to, DOS, Windows, Unix, Linux, Xenix, etc. The operating system is a set of one or more programs which control the computer system's 100 operation and the allocation of resources. The application program is a set of one or more software programs that performs a task desired by the user. Additional details of user computers are not required to fully disclose the present invention, since such devices are generally well known to those of ordinary skill in the art.

Typically, a client application (e.g., client app 190) that is usable to implement one or more aspects of the invention would be loaded into RAM 120 from non-volatile memory 140 (e.g., hard drive, removable floppy disk, CD-ROM, etc.). Once loaded into RAM 120, the computer-readable instructions which comprise the client app 190 may be executed by processor 110. The user may then interact with the client app 190 (and hence the VWE) by providing one or more inputs via the aforementioned user input device 180. The client app 190 may reside completely in RAM 120, completely in non-volatile memory 140, or may reside partly in RAM 120 and partly in non-volatile memory 140. In one embodiment, client app 190 is usable to graphically render a VWE that includes various artifacts, objects, avatars, rooms and other virtual representations.

Referring now to FIG. 2, depicted is one embodiment of a client-server system 200 capable of implementing one or more aspects of the invention. System 200 includes server-side system 170 in communication with a plurality of user computers 2201-220N (“210”) via network 160, as previous described. Server-side system 170 includes one or more world servers 220 which continuously update one or more world databases 230. In one embodiment, world databases 230 contain data which can be used to represent the current version of the entire VWE or world.

As previously mentioned, in one embodiment each of the user computers 210 may each execute a client application 1901-190N that are usable to access the world servers 220 and the VWE's they maintain. In addition, each of the user computers may maintain a local database which includes a subset of the information contained in a corresponding world database 230. While in one embodiment each of the world servers 220 may individually be used to serve a VWE, in another embodiment a network of distributed servers may be used to administer the VWE and corresponding world database 230.

World servers 220 may be used to download the client applications 190 and/or a portion of the VWE's world database 230 to a large number of individual user computers 210. User manipulations of the VWE (e.g., adding, deleting, or moving objects within the VWE) may be handled automatically by the world server 220 to which the user computer's client application 190 is connected.

Referring now to FIGS. 3A-3B, depicted are two embodiments of pop-up message windows usable to implement one or more aspects of the invention. In one embodiment, such message windows may be used to enable marketers to submit inquiries or survey questions to online gamers. In the embodiments of FIGS. 3A-3B, users are prompted to select a response from among the available radio buttons and to submit the response by clicking a submit/Next Question button. It should of course be equally appreciated that numerous other means of soliciting user responses may also be implemented (e.g., pop-up message window, online message dialog, tab, dialog box, system notification, embedded game graphic control, game menu interface, etc.).

FIG. 4 depicts one embodiment of a process 400 for carrying out one or more aspects of the invention. Process 400 begins when a new player signs up at block 410. As mentioned above, a new player may be given the option of paying a subscription fee (e.g., monthly, hourly, etc.) to access the game client, and hence the game environment. In one embodiment, in lieu of paying the subscription fee, the new player may also be given the option of agreeing to provide responses to a number of inquiries (e.g., focus group survey questions, consumer-based surveys, etc.). The signing up process may include the player providing personal information to a server-side system (e.g., server-side system 170), such as a username, password, payment information and the like.

Once the signup process is complete, process 400 moves to decision block 420 where an optional determination of whether the player is currently online may be made. In another embodiment, this determination may not be made, but rather process 400 may continue to block 430 where a determination may be made as to whether there are any current inquiries/survey questions to present to the online players. In one embodiment, a server-side database may be queried for potential inquiry/survey questions to present. It should also be appreciated that the existence of a inquiry/survey question may be based on one or more criteria, including one or more player characteristics and/or current gaming scenarios.

Once there is an inquiry to be made, process 400 continues to block 440 where the inquiry dialog box is generated in the in-game environment. While in one embodiment, the inquiry dialog box is presented to all online in-game players, in another embodiment, the inquiry dialog box may only be presented to a sub-group determined using one or more selection criteria. Thereafter, at block 450, responses to the presented inquiry may be received. In one embodiment, such responses are transmitted to a server-side system (e.g., server-side system 170), which in one embodiment may be a game host server. At block 460, the received responses may then be stored on a server-side database.

FIG. 5 depicts another embodiment of a process 500 for carrying out one or more aspects of the invention. In this embodiment, process 500 starts with block 510 as a user log's into the system and identifies him or herself. In one embodiment, this may be done by providing a username and/or password to a client application, such as client app 190 running on user computer 100.

At block 520, the system may check to see if the user is a participant in the inquiry or survey system. If the user participates, then at block 530 the system checks for an available question or inquiry. If there is a pending inquiry then at block 540 the information for the inquiry may be retrieved from a supporting server-side queue. It should be appreciated that this queue may be maintained by server-side system 190 or any other third-party server coupled to the user's computer system via a network connection. At block 550, the question may then be presented to the user by, for example, displaying the inquiry in a pop-up message window, online message dialog, tab, dialog box, embedded game graphic control, game menu interface, etc.

After the user responds to the presented inquiry, the user's response is stored at block 560. In one embodiment, user responses may be stored in a client-side database maintained by client-side system 190. Thereafter, at block 570, the supporting queue may be updated to reflect that the pending inquiry has been fulfilled.

Process 500 may then continue to block 580 where a determination is made as to whether another question/inquiry is available. If so, process 500 reverts to block 540 and the process loop 540-580 is repeated. If, on the other hand, there are no further inquiries/questions, the user may be returned to the normal gameplay environment at block 590.

While the invention has been described in connection with various embodiments, it will be understood that the invention is capable of further modifications. This application is intended to cover any variations, uses or adaptation of the invention following, in general, the principles of the invention, and including such departures from the present disclosure as come within the known and customary practice within the art to which the invention pertains.