New Company Lets Console Gamers Win (Or Lose) Money While Competing From Their Couch

If you’re not a pro gamer, making big money by playing games seems like a pipe dream.

But World Gaming wants to change that.

The brainchild of gamers Billy Levy and Zack Zeldin, the World Gaming website is a place where gamers can set up matches and compete against each other in Xbox 360, PS2 and PS3 titles to win money.

“You can come and compete on the site, in an environment that is regulated, safe and secure,” Levy said to me during a phone interview with Zeldin last week. “We’re managing things and giving people the opportunity to do online what they’re doing in these live events.”

While they’ve certainly got ingenuity on their side, why should gamers come to World Gaming to place their bets?

When they thought of the idea for World Gaming, Levy and Zeldin were students at Florida Atlantic University studying business management; in the past, they’ve even started their own freon distribution company and a tax preparation business. But following some hefty wagering on “Madden” and watching their friends play online poker, the self-made entrepreneurs decided to combine those two things. After successfully shopping their idea around to investors, World Gaming was born. Levy, 26, acts as president and Zeldin, 24, is vice president.

Though World Gaming is currently in closed beta, the pair recently walked me through the site. Gamers will be able to sign up for a profile on which operates like a social networking website — though linked to a bank account or credit card — to easily communicate with friends and potential competitors; if you’ve used Facebook or MySpace, you’ll recognize a lot of the features. There, you can message friends, scope out other people’s ranks and reputations and then issue (as well as reject) challenges.

Through the online interface, players can discuss the date, wagering amount, and the specifics of the game they want to play. World Gaming will support titles on the PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360, and not just sports titles like “Madden NFL 09” and “NHL 09,” but also shooters like “Halo 3” and “Resistance: Fall of Man” as well as some browser-based games on the site itself, like Chess, Checkers, Solitaire, and Mahjong. When I asked about the possibility of PC and Wii titles, Levy responded that there are no plans for PC at this time but they “definitely plan on looking at the Wii in the future,” particularly with games like “Super Smash Bros.”

Regarding the business model, World Gaming will only take 10% of the winnings, with the maximum being $25 even for games with a jackpot of over $250. Gamers will be able to place bets from $1 to $1000, and are able to participate in the site’s various tournaments. To prevent cheating, the company has access to the game data and promises a knowledgeable in-house customer support team. There’s also a reputation and feedback system, which Levy compared to eBay, that will allow gamers to make informed decisions about who they’re playing against. If a player gets three accusations of cheating, they’re banned from the site, not just by username and e-mail address, but also according to their billing address.

Cheaters aside, Levy ultimately thinks World Gaming will open up the field for gamers who want to make money from games but can’t make it to live competitions due to the expense or having to take time off from work or school. “You can play in your sweatpants from your own couch instead of having to travel,” he explained. “With World Gaming, someone might be able to play a tournament on our site that costs five dollars to enter and win a couple hundred bucks. … Gamers now have the opportunity on a regular basis to monetize their skills. And for some people, it’s not even about the money, it’s all about the competition. It’s all your control and your skill.”

I asked the duo why they think their skill-based gaming website will succeed where others — like the cash-for-kills FPS “Kwari” which shut down earlier this year — have failed. Besides the large cost of hosting, Zeldin said, “With [“Kwari”], you’re also trying to market and target a brand new game that people are not familiar with, whereas we have a library of franchise games. … everyone’s heard of ’Halo.’ I’m a gamer but I’m not that confident in a game I don’t know the buttons for, and I think that was one of the biggest problems they faced.”

World Gaming is slated to launch in the fourth quarter of 2008 or the first quarter of 2009 in over 100 countries.

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