Mine space: PMOG players can leave gifts or traps for other players, which remain invisible to nonplayers. When tripped, a mine, shown above, pops up in a red window and (harmlessly) causes the victim’s browser to flash red and shrink, simultaneously docking the victim points. Players can buy armor that defends against mines, and they can use tools to take revenge on players who set traps.
Hall says that the company is now experimenting with business models, and it’s likely to try to make money by building missions that would be sponsored by advertisers. Although the details aren’t set in stone, Hall says that PMOG would probably contain a category of sponsored missions that players could take, and players might be rewarded for taking them by receiving something like bonus points. However the business plan shakes out, Hall wants to be careful not to abuse the access to personal data that PMOG has. “Users are trusting us with their personal surfing history,” he says. “Users are trusting us with their screen real estate. We like the idea of giving them a total opt-in solution.” Hall thinks that some films, in particular, might be well suited for advertising through PMOG. He envisions one day creating similar games for mobile phones, or extending the concept to transform other types of data on the Web into play.
Similar ideas have been tried before. Third Voice, a startup that lasted from about 1999 to 2001, allowed users to annotate websites. Although the site sparked some debate among people who worried about Third Voice users leaving graffiti on websites–by advertising for competitors on corporate sites, for example–it was the dot-com flameout, not controversy, that brought down the company. Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, who was also a member of Third Voice’s advisory board, says that the demise of Third Voice shouldn’t be taken as a comment on the viability of giving users the chance to interact with Web pages and to share those interactions with others. “I think that’s exactly the feature that could be very powerful,” he says. “It will depend on how well it avoids spam, both literally and figuratively, from people that you’re not interested in hearing from, and [it] will no doubt trigger, I think, similar forms of outrage from webmasters, who want to know that the site you see is the site they intend for you to see.”
GameLayers is now testing PMOG with a small, initial group of users–about 6,000 have registered as of this week. Hall says that the game will open to the public soon, although no exact date has been set.