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PlayXpert - An Interview with CEO Charles Manning

Yesterday we learned that PlayXpert, a company that specializes in community management tools, has temed up with SOE to provide a chat service that will allow users to text chat with player in SOE games. Today, PlayXpert CEO Charles Manning answers a few questions from MMORPG.com's Joe Iuliani.

An Interview with CEO Charles Manning
MMORPG.com:

Will there be added features for those who already use the Sony Station Gateway?

Charles Manning:

Well, the Station Launcher is available now and it's provided by SOE. It provides a means for SOE Station Players to log in and see an integrated roster across the various SOE games they play. What we're announcing is a new capability in our Chat Widget that allows Station Players to logon to Station Friends from PlayXpert and chat through our tabbed chat interface and see the same integrated roster. The difference is that a user is logging into the system from our system as a gateway from our Chat widget, and as a result, our patent pending overlay technology enables this to happen in any PC game. So, you could be in BioShock and see your friends get online in EQII and you could initiate chat sessions with them or visa versa.

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MMORPG.com:

Does the incorporation of the Sony Station Gateway work as a widget to existing PlayXpert?

Charles Manning:

Really, this works as a "feature" in the Chat widget. The reason we didn't make this its own "widget" per se is because categorically it's so similar to other chat systems that players use (like Google Talk, Yahoo, or Xfire). We think that a unified roster is really important and if we have different rosters in different widgets, it ruins the user experience and reduces efficiency.

MMORPG.com:

I've noticed PlayXpert supports a number of existing messaging services; does PlayXpert have their own instant message ID?

Charles Manning:

We do. Having our own PlayXpert ID allows us to provide unique services throughout the PlayXpert environment that are decoupled from the identity bridges that exist via the various gateways.

The good news is that we're also a young enough community that many of the desired user IDs are still available.

MMORPG.com:

Along the lines of the Sony Station Gateway, are there plans to incorporate friend lists from other games?

Charles Manning:

You bet. Increasingly, publishers and studios are appreciating the value of allowing game play to extend outside of the game. "Federated Identity" is an issue in the gaming space because the same person could represent various different identities in various games and communities. To the extent that players can have a unified roster that inter-meshes these identities together so that the "identity of the friend" is decoupled from the "community that the friend is from," players will have an optimized experience allowing them to be on top of their game.

MMORPG.com:

What kind of system impact does PlayXpert have on game play?

Charles Manning:

We've worked very hard to make sure we don't make an impact on a system when PlayXpert is in use. There are a few variables here: 1.) CPU utilization; 2.) Memory utilization; 3.) Bandwidth utilization; and 4.) the most important, Frame Rate impact. For the first three variables, I'm happy to say that we don't impact the system any more than the same activity performed out of game impacts the system. For example, if you use Wowhead to research quests for WoW, you're likely going to alt-tab out of game, open a browser, go to Wowhead, and search what you need. The memory, cpu, and bandwidth utilization to perform this task is no different out of game than it is with PlayXpert in game.

Given this, the real question is, "Do we impact frame rates?" The good news is that because of the patent pending approach we've taken to deliver overlay (as a kernel level driver ), there is no significant frame rate impact. This is because we're injecting the PlayXpert user interfaces on top of game play as the data is going to the graphics processing unit (completely separate from the game). Any other way of performing overlay will impact frame rates (and will likely break a TOS of a game) because it's interrogating shared memory of a game and like a hack tool, injecting UI into the executable.

MMORPG.com:

Ventrilo is supported by PlayXpert, are there plans for its own widget, or will it work along the lines of the TeamSpeak widget?

Charles Manning:

Both the Ventrillo and TeamSpeak widgets work as individual widgets and are supported today. They provide the ability to see who's in what channel and who's talking. In the TeamSpeak widget, we even allow administrators to ban or kick other users (just like they can from the native client application). In our next release, we're also providing support for Vivox as our default voice widget. By delivering Vivox support, we're making voice totally free to the user and available in-game in any game. They've got a great Codec, and they're a managed service so you don't have to 'sign up' for anything to make it work.

MMORPG.com:

How much can a user customize the PlayXpert User Interface?

Charles Manning:

The interface is fully skinable but candidly, we haven't totally finished exposing all of the details so that the world can make their own skins yet. This documentation will be available in the near future. We have lots of ideas to make it possible for clans and guilds to skin PlayXpert with their logos so that everyone in the clan can have a common look and feel. We've also started to play around with the idea of skinning PlayXpert based on the game that's being played. There are lots of options here in the future.

MMORPG.com:

Are there plans for a "mini" mode of PlayXpert?

Charles Manning:

You mean one that takes up less space? Yes, this is something that could be available as a new skin definition. The good news is that the skinning system we use not only lets you change the look/feel, you can also change controls, control locations, and sizing.

MMORPG.com:

Can you tell us more about the Game Scanner feature?

Charles Manning:

The Game Scanner feature is something we have "turned off" right now, but it will be called the "Games Widget" when it's released (not yet released). It is a super-duper matching service plus discovery tool that identifies what games you have installed. If the games you play are being played by others, the Games Widget will show where, and with whom you can play. We're also discussing having the Games Widget work in conjunction with a game download service so that you can quickly and easily access demo's or free-to-play games that friends are playing.

MMORPG.com:

When will the new version of PlayXpert be available?

Charles Manning:

Our community has been waiting for a new version since the New Year. We're planning to release it at GDC at the same time as we're showing it off to GDC attendees. GDC visitors can see PlayXpert in the OMPR/IBM Pavilion, booth 6241. They can also visit www.playxpert.com for more information.

Thanks for letting us talk with MMORPG.com readers.