Title:
METHOD OF CONDUCTING A TRADE OF VIRTUAL ITEMS IN A VIRTUAL WORLD
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Conducting a trade of virtual items between a first virtual character and a second virtual character in a virtual environment is provided. Displaying a trade icon within the virtual environment such that a first user controlling the first virtual character can interact with the trade icon to initiate the trade. At least a portion of the inventory of the first virtual character is presented to the second user and at least a portion of the inventory of the second virtual character is presented to the first user. Further, a selection by the first user of at least one virtual item from the inventory of the second virtual character is communicated to the second user; and a selection by the second user of at least one virtual item from the inventory of the first virtual character is communicated to the first user.



Inventors:
Christensen, Sally (Richmond Hill, CA)
Borst, Karl Joseph (Toronto, CA)
Application Number:
12/255259
Publication Date:
12/24/2009
Filing Date:
10/21/2008
Assignee:
Ganz (Woodbridge, CA)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20040166942Distributed game acceleratorAugust, 2004Muir
20090118022ENHANCED METHOD OF PRESENTING MULTIPLE CASINO VIDEO GAMESMay, 2009Lyons et al.
20090042695INTERACTIVE REHABILITATION METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR MOVEMENT OF UPPER AND LOWER EXTREMITIESFebruary, 2009Chien et al.
20100022291System and Method for Providing Promotional Play of a Wagering GameJanuary, 2010Segreto et al.
20050043102Electronic miniature tag gameFebruary, 2005Anderson et al.
20080015012Wagering Game with Enhanced Progressive GameJanuary, 2008Englman et al.
20100056261Wagering Gaming With Inter-Player Competition FeatureMarch, 2010Englman et al.
20090291762REMOTE GAMING ENVIRONMENTNovember, 2009Walker
20060223604Gaming machine, game control method, and their programOctober, 2006Ogiwara
20090312080AUTOMATIC TRANSFORMATION OF INVENTORY ITEMS IN A VIRTUAL UNIVERSEDecember, 2009Hamilton II et al.
20030036429Gaming machine with automated featureFebruary, 2003Witty et al.



Other References:
How to Trade Baseball Cards (http://www.ehow.com/how_2192393_trade-baseball-cards.html), Wayback Machine date of 2/2/2008
Parker, "Rare Bird Delivers High Performance Thrill," March 31, 1996 (http://articles.dailypress.com/1996-03-31/classified/9604010070_1_dual-air-bags-barry-hood-rare-bird)
Primary Examiner:
GRANT, MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Pearne & Gordon LLP (Cleveland, OH, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method of conducting a trade of virtual items between a first virtual character and a second virtual character in a virtual environment, the method comprising: providing outputs which cause displaying the first virtual character and the second virtual character in the virtual environment, each of said first and second virtual characters representing a real-world item in the virtual environment; maintaining an inventory of one or more virtual items owned by the first virtual character in the virtual environment and an inventory of one or more virtual items owned by the second virtual character in the virtual environment; displaying a trade icon within the virtual environment and initiating a trade by detecting a first user controlling the first virtual character has carried out an interaction with the trade icon; responsive to detecting said interaction with the trade icon, displaying an invitation inviting a second user controlling the second virtual character to participate in the trade; presenting at least a first portion of the inventory of the first virtual character to the second user and presenting at least a second portion of the inventory of the second virtual character to the first user; communicating to the second user a selection by the first user of at least one selected virtual item from the inventory of the second virtual character; communicating to the first user a selection by the second user of at least one selected virtual item from the inventory of the first virtual character; and responsive to approval of the selected virtual items selected by the first and second users, exchanging the at least one selected virtual items between the inventories of the first and second virtual characters by transferring said at least one selected virtual item selected by the second user to the inventory to the second virtual character, and by transferring said at least one selected virtual item selected by the first user to the inventory to the second virtual character.

2. The method according to claim 1, wherein the virtual items in the inventories of the first and second virtual characters comprise pieces to a collection, and further comprising providing a prize to a virtual character who has obtained a specified collection.

3. The method according to claim 2, wherein the pieces comprise at least one of a die, a collectable card and a playing card.

4. The method according to claim 1, wherein the trade icon is a piece of virtual furniture displayed within a virtual room, said piece of virtual furniture being approachable by the first virtual character to initiate the trade.

5. The method according to claim 4, wherein the virtual room is dedicated as a trading room, and the first user, responsive to approaching the piece of virtual furniture, is presented with a list of virtual characters in the room from which to select the second virtual character as a desired trading partner.

6. The method according to claim 1, wherein said presenting at least the portion of each inventory comprises: responsive to initiation of the trade, excluding from the portion of each inventory to be presented an ineligible portion of the inventory identified by the virtual character associated with the inventory as being excluded from the trade.

7. The method according to claim 1 further comprising limiting a number of virtual items that can be acquired by each of the first and second users via the trade to a predetermined number.

8. The method according to claim 7, wherein the number of virtual items that can be acquired by each of the first and second users via the trade is three or less.

9. The method according to claim 1, wherein the virtual items in the inventories of the first and second virtual characters comprise virtual representations of real-world items other than legal tender.

10. The method according to claim 1 further comprising excluding from trade eligibility a unique virtual item that does not have at least one duplicate within the inventory.

11. The method according to claim 1, wherein each of the first and second virtual characters represents in the virtual environment a toy provided with a registration code, and said displaying of the first and second virtual characters is responsive to registration of each respective a registration code on a website.

12. A method of conducting a trade of virtual items comprising: displaying a first virtual character to a user and displaying a second virtual character to the user; controlling actions of the first virtual character in a virtual environment; using a computer for selecting an inventory of one or more virtual items owned by the first virtual character in the virtual environment; interacting with a trade icon within the virtual environment to request a trade by said user controlling the first virtual character, with another user; selecting at least a first portion of the inventory of the first virtual character to trade to the second user; viewing at least a second portion of the inventory of the second virtual character to be received from the second user as a trade; approving the trade from the first user to the second user; and responsive to approval of the trade, approving by the first user, an exchange of virtual items selected by the first user.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/074,828, filed Jun. 23, 2008, the entirety of which is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

This application relates generally to a method of facilitating a trade in a virtual environment, and more specifically to a method of conducting a trade in a virtual environment by allowing a trade participant to select one or more virtual items they wish to acquire from an inventory of the other participant to the trade.

2. Description of Related Art

In recent years, websites and video games in which users care for virtual pets or other characters in a virtual environment have become increasingly popular. For example, as described in U.S. Patent Application Publication 2006/0100018 A1 to Ganz, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated by reference herein, a user purchases a toy provided with a registration code in the toy's packaging. When the user carries out a registration process on a website, which involves entering the registration code, a virtual world is presented to the user. The virtual world includes a virtual pet corresponding to the toy purchased by the user.

For entertainment, the user can perform various activities in the virtual world such as playing with the virtual pet, participating in games, searching for virtual items, feeding virtual food to the virtual pet, buying virtual items for the virtual pet, etc. In addition to their entertainment value, most of these activities result in the award of a virtual item to the virtual pet. Interactions between virtual pets, and accordingly between the users controlling those virtual pets, are also possible in the virtual world. For example, two virtual pets could engage each other in a trade to exchange virtual items. During such trades, the user of one virtual pet selects one virtual item from the inventory of that virtual pet, and proposes offering the selected virtual item to the user of the second virtual pet. It is left up to the discretion of the second user to select a virtual item from the virtual pet controlled by the second user to be offered in exchange for the virtual item offered by the first user. However, the virtual items selected and offered by each respective user may not be what the potential recipient of those virtual items desires to acquire. Further, when a user selects a trading partner, that user can not determine whether the trading partner owns anything that the user wishes to acquire via the trade.

Accordingly, there is a need in the art for an improved method of conducting a trade of virtual items in a virtual environment.

BRIEF SUMMARY

According to one aspect, the subject application involves a method of conducting a trade of virtual items between a first virtual character and a second virtual character in a virtual environment. The method includes providing outputs which cause displaying the first virtual character and the second virtual character in the virtual environment, each of said first and second virtual characters representing a real-world item in the virtual environment. The method also includes maintaining an inventory of one or more virtual items owned by the first virtual character in the virtual environment and an inventory of one or more virtual items owned by the second virtual character in the virtual environment. A trade icon is to be displayed within the virtual environment and initiating a trade by detecting a first user controlling the first virtual character has carried out an interaction with the trade icon. Responsive to detecting said interaction with the trade icon, an invitation is to be displayed inviting a second user controlling the second virtual character to participate in the trade. At least a first portion of the inventory of the first virtual character is to be presented to the second user and at least a second portion of the inventory of the second virtual character is to be presented to the first user. The method also includes communicating to the second user a selection by the first user of at least one selected virtual item from the inventory of the second virtual character, and communicating to the first user a selection by the second user of at least one selected virtual item from the inventory of the first virtual character. Responsive to approval of the selected virtual items selected by the first and second users, the at least one selected virtual items is exchanged between the inventories of the first and second virtual characters by transferring said at least one selected virtual item selected by the second user to the inventory to the second virtual character, and by transferring said at least one selected virtual item selected by the first user to the inventory to the second virtual character.

According to another aspect, the subject application involves a method of conducting a trade of virtual items. The method includes displaying a first virtual character to a user and displaying a second virtual character to the user, controlling actions of the first virtual character in a virtual environment, and using a computer for selecting an inventory of one or more virtual items owned by the first virtual character in the virtual environment. The method further includes interacting with a trade icon within the virtual environment to request a trade by said user controlling the first virtual character, with another user; and selecting at least a first portion of the inventory of the first virtual character to trade to the second user. Also included is viewing at least a second portion of the inventory of the second virtual character to be received from the second user as a trade; approving the trade from the first user to the second user; and responsive to approval of the trade, approving by the first user, an exchange of virtual items selected by the first user.

The above summary presents a simplified summary in order to provide a basic understanding of some aspects of the systems and/or methods discussed herein. This summary is not an extensive overview of the systems and/or methods discussed herein. It is not intended to identify key/critical elements or to delineate the scope of such systems and/or methods. Its sole purpose is to present some concepts in a simplified form as a prelude to the more detailed description that is presented later.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention may take physical form in certain parts and arrangement of parts, embodiments of which will be described in detail in this specification and illustrated in the accompanying drawings which form a part hereof and wherein:

FIG. 1 is an example of a virtual environment displayed by a user computer, wherein the virtual environment includes a room and a trade icon in the form of a trading table;

FIG. 2 is an example of a virtual environment displayed by a user computer, wherein two virtual characters are engaged in a trade;

FIG. 3 is an example of a virtual environment displayed by a user computer, wherein a dialog box including fields to be populated with selected virtual items is displayed by the user computer;

FIG. 4 is an example of an inventory of virtual items associated with a virtual character from which another user can choose one or more of the virtual items to be acquired by a trade;

FIG. 5 is an example of the dialog box of FIG. 3 with the fields populated by virtual items selected by each user from the other user's inventory to be acquired by a trade;

FIG. 6 is an example of an inventory of virtual items associated with a virtual character registered to the user viewing the inventory; and

FIG. 7 is another example of an inventory of virtual items associated with a virtual character registered to the user viewing the inventory.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Certain terminology is used herein for convenience only and is not to be taken as a limitation on the present invention. Relative language used herein is best understood with reference to the drawings, in which like numerals are used to identify like or similar items. Further, in the drawings, certain features may be shown in somewhat schematic form.

It is also to be noted that the phrase “at least one of”, if used herein, followed by a plurality of members herein means one of the members, or a combination of more than one of the members. For example, the phrase “at least one of a first widget and a second widget” means in the present application: the first widget, the second widget, or the first widget and the second widget. Likewise, “at least one of a first widget, a second widget and a third widget” means in the present application: the first widget, the second widget, the third widget, the first widget and the second widget, the first widget and the third widget, the second widget and the third widget, or the first widget and the second widget and the third widget.

The subject application relates to a method and system for conducting a trade of virtual items in a virtual environment. An example of an entertainment system including a virtual environment that is suitable for use with the invention is described in U.S. Patent Application Publication 2006/0100018 A1 to Ganz, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference. Other suitable entertainment systems and virtual worlds may also be used.

FIG. 1 shows an illustrative embodiment of a virtual environment 10, including a virtual room 12 in which a plurality of different virtual characters 14 are displayed. The virtual characters include a first virtual character 14, named “Opus” as indicated by status bar 15, and a second virtual character 16, named “Captain Pinkers” as identified in a list 20 of virtual characters in the virtual room 12, situated across a trading table 18 from the first virtual character 14. Although only the first and second virtual characters 14, 16 are shown at the trading table 18, other virtual characters 22 can optionally also be displayed within the same virtual room 12, but not involved in the trade between the first and second characters 14, 16. According to alternate embodiments, a plurality of virtual character pairs can simultaneously be conducting a trade amongst themselves within the virtual room 12, but only two virtual characters participate in each trade. The virtual room 12 in FIG. 1 is a virtual room dedicated to conducting trades between virtual characters, however, alternate embodiments include virtual rooms dedicated primarily to purposes other than conducting trades, but still offer virtual characters the ability to conduct trades as described herein.

Each of the first and second virtual characters 14, 16 displayed in the virtual room 12 of FIG. 1 represents a real-world item in the virtual environment. In the present example, the first virtual character resembles and represents a toy in the form of a plush stuffed animal with the general appearance of a dog. Likewise, the second virtual character also represents a stuffed animal, which in this example, appears as a pink dog dressed as a pirate. The real-world items represented by the virtual characters in the virtual environment can be toys such as the stuffed animals described in the illustrative embodiment, or they can be any real-world item capable of being depicted by a virtual character in the virtual environment.

The virtual characters can be displayed in the virtual environment in response to registration of a registration code provided along with the real-world item represented by the virtual character at a time of purchase. Registration of a registration code is described in detail in the U.S. patent publication to Ganz incorporated by reference herein.

The computerized system of the embodiment maintains an inventory of virtual items associated with each virtual character. For example, in FIG. 7 illustrates an inventory of virtual items owned by a virtual character having an appearance of a rabbit. The inventory of virtual items is shown in what is referred to as a “dock”. This also provides the user controlling the virtual character in FIG. 7 with various other information about the status of the virtual character. The virtual items owned by the virtual character and included in the inventory can include pieces to a collection that can be acquired by the virtual characters. When the complete collection comprising all of the individual pieces for that collection are acquired by the virtual character, then that virtual character is granted a prize in the form of another virtual item. For example, the individual pieces forming a portion of a collection as a whole can include a collectible card, and/or a playing card collected by the virtual character in efforts of completing the entire collection.

Die can also be included in the inventory of virtual character. Each die can be “rolled” during a game in the virtual environment to advance the position of a game piece. One such game is referred to as DiceKinz. In DiceKinz, each user controls a game piece with the objective of navigating the game piece a given number of individual squares displayed in the virtual environment as a game board. Each die represents a number of squares that can be advanced by the game piece when rolled. The individual die can optionally include a special feature, allowing the game piece to be advanced in a manner other than a predetermined number of squares like that afforded by rolling a typical die.

According to alternate embodiments, the virtual items maintained within the inventory of the virtual character can optionally include any other virtual item such as a piece of virtual furnishing, virtual food items, a virtual toy, and the like. The virtual items can include any virtual item that can be exchanged between virtual characters, and can optionally exclude virtual currency to make the transaction an acquisition of a virtual item via a trade instead of via a purchase. Further, the virtual items maintained in the inventory of a virtual character can include virtual representations of the real-world item, and optionally any real-world item other than legal tender.

Referring once again to FIG. 1, a trade icon 21 is displayed within the virtual room 12. The trade icon 21 can be any graphical element generated by the system and interacted with by a user, or a virtual character under the direction of a user to initiate a trade. According to the illustrative embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the trade icon 21 is illustrated as a letter “T” displayed on top of a piece of virtual furniture, such as the trading table 18 for example, that the user can direct the first virtual character 14 to approach to initiate a trade. According to other embodiments, the trade icon 21 can be a button displayed as part of the dock 24 shown in FIG. 7, or can be any other graphically-depicted item displayed by a user computer to the user that is identifiable by the user as capable of being manipulated to initiate a trade process. The trade icon 21 in FIG. 1 also serves to distinguish the trading table 18 from another table 25 within the same virtual room 12 that is not approachable by virtual characters to initiate a trade.

Responsive to interacting with the trading table 18 bearing the trade icon 21 or other virtual object including the trade icon 21, such as by approaching the trading table 18 of FIG. 1 for example, the user is presented with the list 20. This gives the user the option to extend an invitation to another user to participate in a trade. The list 20 can be presented to the user in a dialog box, for example, within the virtual environment 10, and lists the other virtual characters 22 in the virtual room 12 when the trading table 18 was approached by the first virtual character 14. This list 20 allows the user to select the other virtual character with which the user wishes to conduct a trade. For the example illustrated in FIG. 1, the user has selected the second virtual character 16 by selecting the appropriate check box and pressing the “INVITE TO TRADE” button 28, and in response to said selection, the invitation to participate in the trade was communicated to the user who registered the second virtual character 16.

In response to the extension of the invitation to the user of the second virtual character 16, the system of the embodiment displays or otherwise communicates this invitation to the user of the selected virtual character. Examples of suitable communication channels may include e-mail, virtual messenger, a dialog box displayed by a user computer, or any other suitable electronic communication method.

Once the invitation communicated to the user of the second virtual character 16 has been accepted, the virtual environment 10 includes an indicator 30 informing other users controlling virtual characters in the virtual room 12 that the first and second virtual characters 14, 16 are engaged in a trade, as shown in FIG. 2. In FIG. 2, the indicator includes a bubble surrounding the letter “T” above each of the first and second virtual characters. Instead of the bubble, however, any other indicators suitable for informing users of other virtual characters in the room of the ongoing trade can also optionally be used. Displaying the indicator to identify virtual characters engaged in a trade can prevent other users from attempting to engage the same virtual characters in another trade at the same time. Users controlling a virtual character engaged in a trade can only participate in a single trade at a time.

FIG. 2 shows an example of the virtual environment 10 observed by users controlling virtual characters not involved in the trade between the first and second virtual characters 14, 16 while the trade is ongoing. FIG. 3, in contrast, shows an example of a virtual environment 10 displayed to the users controlling the first and second virtual characters 14, 16, which are involved in the trade. For the example shown in FIG. 3, the first virtual character 14 named Opus is involved in a trade with the second virtual character 16 named Sally. An image 29 displaying or otherwise identifying each virtual character 14, 16 is displayed next to fields 32 presented in a dialog box 34 that is displayed in response to both users agreeing to participate in a trade. The fields 32 are to be populated with the virtual items that will change ownership if the trade is completed.

Each user is presented with the dialog box 34 or other suitable display via the user computer as shown in FIG. 3 when both parties agree to participate in the trade. Each user can select the “View Dice” button 36, for example, to cause the opposing party's inventory 38 (FIG. 4) of virtual items 40 available to be acquired by trade to be displayed. According to an embodiment of the invention, responsive to the selection of the “View Dice” button 36 another dialog box 39 such as that shown in FIG. 4, for example, can be presented via the user computer to the user that selected the “View Dice” button 36.

FIG. 4 presents the inventory 38 of virtual items 40 associated with the virtual character with whom trade is being conducted. In other words, if the user of the second virtual character 16 in FIG. 1 selected the “View Dice” button 36, then the dialog box 39 shown in FIG. 4 would present the inventory 38 of virtual items 40 associated with the first virtual character 14 to the user of the second virtual character 16. Similarly, the user of the first virtual character 14 can also select the “View Dice” button 36 in the dialog box 34 presented to that user to view the inventory 38 of virtual items 40 associated with the second virtual character 16. Each user is presented with the inventory 38 of virtual items 40 associated with the virtual character controlled by the other user that are available to be acquired via the trade.

As a user selects virtual items 40 from the inventory 38 associated with the virtual character controlled by the other user, these selected virtual items 40 are differentiated from the non-selected virtual items 40 by a square 42 surrounding these selected virtual items 40 or by any other suitable visible indicator. According to embodiments of the invention, users can optionally select from the inventory 38 as many virtual items 40 they desire to acquire, or they can optionally be limited to a predetermined number of allowable virtual items 40. According to the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, users are permitted to select up to three virtual items 40 that they wish to acquire as part of this trade, as indicated by the text instruction 44 included in the dialog box 39.

Upon completing the selection of virtual items 40 the user wishes to acquire, the user can select the “DONE” button 46 to populate the fields 32 of the dialog box 34 shown in FIG. 3 with the selected virtual items 40. The virtual items 40 selected by the user (i.e., wanted by the user making the selection), which in this example are Dice bearing the appearance of virtual characters, will appear in the fields 32 identified as “DICE YOU WANT,” identifying those virtual items 40 at the items the user wishes to acquire. Likewise, the virtual items 40 selected by the user controlling the opposing virtual character in the trade will be populated in the fields 32 identified as “DICE THEY WANT,” identifying those virtual items 40 as the items the user controlling the other virtual character participating in the trade wishes to acquire.

Populating the fields 32 of the dialog box 34 in this manner communicates the selection by each user to the other user, allowing each user to review the proposed trade before committing to make the exchange. If either user desires to change the virtual items 40 they selected from the inventory 38 of the virtual character controlled by the other user, then that user can select the “View Dice” button 36 once again. This will again cause the system of the present invention to display the inventory 38 of virtual items 40 associated with the other virtual character from which the user can change the previous selection. Just as before, once the user has finished selecting all virtual items 40 the user wishes to acquired via the trade, the user can select the “DONE” button 46 to update the fields 32 of the dialog box 34 shown in FIG. 3 to reflect the changes made to the previous selection.

Once both users agree to the virtual items 40 selected to be exchanged and shown in the fields 32 of FIG. 3, each user can select the “READY TO TRADE” button 50 in the dialog box 34 displayed to each user via their respective user computer. The “READY TO TRADE” button 50 is grayed out or otherwise made unavailable to be selected by a user until that user has selected at least one virtual item 40 to be acquired from the virtual character registered by the other user, thereby preventing one user from receiving nothing in exchange for a virtual item 40 from the inventory 38 associated with the virtual character controlled by that user.

In response to both users indicating that they wish to proceed with the trade by selecting the “READY TO TRADE” button 50, the trade confirmation dialog box 52 shown in FIG. 5 is visually presented to each user via their respective user computer. The trade confirmation dialog box 52 adds an additional level of security to minimize the number of inadvertently accepted trades. Each user is presented with the same trade confirmation dialog box 52 that includes all of the virtual items 40 to be exchanged between the inventories 38 of the virtual characters 14, 16 as part of the trade. If either user selects a “REJECT” button 54, the system can revert the trade's progress to the dialog box 34 shown in FIG. 3, allowing the parties to change the virtual items 40 they selected from the inventory 38 of the virtual character controlled by the other user, or cancel the trade altogether.

If, on the other hand, each user agrees to the terms of the trade, including the virtual items 40 to be exchanged, the users can select via their respective user computer a “TRADE” button 56. Once one of the users selects the “TRADE” button 56 all buttons 54, 56 are grayed out or otherwise made unavailable to that user, granting the other user a predetermined period of time in which to also select the “TRADE” button 56 and finalized the trade. Upon selecting the “TRADE” button 56 the users have committed to the exchange of the virtual items 40 displayed in the fields 32 of the trade confirmation dialog box 52 of FIG. 5. When both users have selected the “TRADE” button 56 to thereby approve of the exchange of virtual items 40 shown in the fields 32 of the trade confirmation dialog box 32, the system of the present invention exchanges the selected virtual items 40 between the inventories 38 associated with the virtual characters 14, 16 involved in the trade.

According to alternate embodiments of the invention, certain virtual items 60 within the inventory 62 of the user can optionally be excluded from eligibility to be traded. For example, the inventory 62 of virtual items 60 associated with a virtual character can be displayed to the user who registered that virtual character as shown in FIG. 6. Virtual items 64 in use within the virtual environment 10 by the virtual character, such as dice currently in use by the virtual character as part of the DiceKinz game for example, can be excluded from trade eligibility until those virtual items 64 are no longer in use.

According to alternate embodiments, unique virtual items 66 in the inventory 62 of the virtual character can optionally be excluded from trade eligibility. As shown in FIG. 6, a die representing a dog that the virtual character has only one of in its inventory 62 is excluded from being selected by another user to be acquired as part of a trade. The off-colored (e.g., grayed out) counter 68 indicating a quantity of a specific virtual item 66 in the inventory 62 of a virtual character highlights that virtual item's ineligibility to be traded. As such, the items ineligible to be traded can be omitted from the portion of each virtual character's inventory 62 displayed to the opposing user during a trade as shown and discussed above with reference to FIG. 4, or can be displayed as the portion of the inventor 62 presented to the opposing user, but grayed out and unable to be selected by the opposing user.

Other embodiments allow a user to manually select virtual items 70 in the inventory 62 of a virtual character registered by that user that the user desires to exclude from the portion of the inventory 62 that can be selected by another user to be acquired via a trade. A visual indicator 72 such as in an off-colored trade eligibility icon displayed by the system to the user within the inventory 62 as shown in FIG. 6 can differentiate between virtual items eligible to be traded from those that are not. In FIG. 6, selection of the indicator 72 bearing the “T-” symbol makes the respective virtual item 70 ineligible to be traded. Any of the virtual items 64, 66, 70 that are designated as being ineligible to be traded by the user or the system can be excluded from the portion of the inventory 62 displayed to an opposing user from which the opposing user can select the virtual items desired to be acquired. Alternate embodiments can optionally display the ineligible virtual items 64, 66, 70 to the opposing user in the portion of the inventory 62 as described above with reference to FIG. 4, but grayed out, or otherwise made unavailable to be selected.

The examples discussed above focused primarily on virtual items in the form of dice used in a virtual environment 10 to participate in a game where progress was based at least in part by the dice played. FIG. 7 illustrates an alternate embodiment with virtual items 80 include playing cards within the inventory 82 of a virtual character. In the present example, each playing card constitutes a single, individual portion of a complete set to be collected within the inventory 82 of the virtual character. By collecting all of the playing cards required to complete the set in the inventory 82 of the virtual character, the virtual character is granted a prize, that can optionally also be placed in the virtual character's inventory 82, eligible to be traded. The prized granted to the virtual character can be any virtual item beneficial to, or capable of being used by the virtual character. Examples of prizes include, but are not limited to virtual currency, a virtual furnishing to be arranged in a virtual room associated with the virtual character, virtual food to be fed to the virtual character, access to a restricted portion of the virtual environment that was not available to the virtual character before collecting all playing cards to complete the set, a piece of virtual clothing to be worn by the virtual character, or any other virtual item beneficial or capable of being used by the virtual character.

Illustrative embodiments have been described, hereinabove. It will be apparent to those skilled in the art that the above devices and methods may incorporate changes and modifications without departing from the general scope of this invention. It is intended to include all such modifications and alterations within the scope of the present invention. Furthermore, to the extent that the term “includes” is used in either the detailed description or the claims, such term is intended to be inclusive in a manner similar to the term “comprising” as “comprising” is interpreted when employed as a transitional word in a claim.