Page last updated at 08:13 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 09:13 UK

Browsing and gaming meet online

Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News

RocketOn screenshot, RocketOn
RocketOn aims to sell goods and clothes for its avatars

Despite its billing as a fundamentally social phenomenon, browsing the web can be a very solitary experience.

Visit a popular website and, although thousands of other people may be using it too, you will get little sense of being part of a crowd.

The only sense you will get is if the site is slow to respond and even that it is just an echo of that greater presence.

But now games are starting to emerge that are explicitly social and use the web as their playing surface. No longer is there any need to venture into an online world such as Azeroth or Hyboria to go on quests, complete missions and go up in level.

Instead, RocketOn, Web Wars Eve and the Passively Multiplayer Online Game (PMOG) let you do it all on the web.

Play time

PMOG was one of the first to try to turn the experience of using the web into a game.

Justin Hall, one of the co-creators of PMOG, said its genesis arose from his frustration surrounding the demands games such as World of Warcraft make on their players' spare time.

A survey suggests that the average WoW player spends about 15 hours per week in game. Dedicated players can easily be in Warcraft's online world of Azeroth for twice as long.

PMOG turns inactive webpages into play spaces

"I wanted to play these rich ongoing social games but I did not want to be chained to my computer for extra hours every day," he said.

PMOG apes some of the aspects of online games by letting players carry out and complete missions, lay virtual mines to catch people out or reward the curious with virtual crates loaded with PMOG goodies.

The "passive" aspect comes in as players gather experience points, or datapoints as PMOG calls them, as they browse the web. By gathering datapoints and completing various tasks via PMOG players rise up in level.

Missions typically involve visiting a few sites in succession and are built by players who are keen to show others the out of way places they enjoy.

"Our main focus is to make it a gaming experience compatible with how people live their life online," said Mr Hall.

Far more game than social is the forthcoming Web Wars Eve which builds on the look and feel of the hugely popular science-fiction trading game Eve Online.

In Web Wars Eve players fight for control of valuable websites - those sites with bigger audiences being more valuable.

Details are sketchy but players will be able to park their cruisers and frigates on the websites or territories they control and then defend against those laying siege to them.

Those interested can sign up to be part of the trial, or beta, version of Web Wars Eve and the game is due to launch in early 2009.

Avatars ahoy

For Steve Hoffman, creator of RocketOn, the impetus for his creation came from a dream.

In his dream Mr Hoffman was browsing the web when suddenly all the people also using the site he was on rose to the surface and started chatting.

Screenshot from Eve Online
Web Wars Eve will be based on the popular space game

The end result of that dream is the RocketOn browser extension, which lets people create an avatar that accompanies them as they travel round the net.

If they visit a site at the same time as another RocketOn user they can stroll across the webpage and chat to that other person via the in-built instant messaging system.

Also, said Mr Hoffman, friends can meet up on one website or can gather to watch a video on another site such as YouTube.

When it launches, Mr Hoffman expects RocketOn to be popular with younger web users whose use of the net is an extension of their social life. It adds, he said, a much needed element of spontaneity to social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo and the like.

The application is currently in a trial phase. Eventually, Mr Hoffman hopes, players will be able to buy clothes for their avatars from the websites where the virtual people are hanging out.

"It's a natural extension of where the web is going," he said.

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