Skip to Content

All the Internet’s a Game

Gamelayers makes a treasure hunt of everyday Web browsing.
April 22, 2008

A San Francisco startup hopes to turn ordinary Web browsing into a massively multi­player online game. In what Gamelayers calls PMOG (for “passively multiplayer online game”), players devise and follow “missions” that wind across websites (invisibly to nonplayers), leaving messages and prizes for one another. To get started, players download software that adds a toolbar to their Web browsers. When they log in to PMOG, software tracks their Web usage and gives them points for each top-level domain they visit within a 24-hour period. Those points buy tools that players can use to build missions, which can take many forms: a PMOG player might, for example, put a popup on the Boston Red Sox home page, inviting fellow players on a mission to learn about Red Sox history. At each site on the tour, a player following the mission would find a narrative written by the creator.

Justin Hall and Merci Hammon

Along the way, players can send instant messages and links, leave gifts, and even plant little bombs that cause browser windows to temporarily (and harmlessly) shrink. “It’s like instant messaging meets [social-­bookmarking site] meets Wikipedia,” says company investor Joichi Ito, a board member of the Mozilla Foundation and CEO of the venture capital firm Neoteny. Ito believes that Gamelayers will draw participants who grew up playing video games; as players devise new types of games and game components, Ito says, advertising strate­gies can evolve accordingly. ­Justin Hall, ­Gamelayers’ CEO and cofounder, says advertisers could create missions that incorporate advertising messages: Warner Brothers, say, might promote the next Batman movie with a tour of the superhero’s history.

Similar ideas have been tried before. Third Voice, a short-lived startup that lasted from about 1998 to 2001, allowed users to annotate websites. Gamelayers’ success “will depend on how well it avoids spam, both literally and figuratively, from people that you’re not interested in hearing from,” says Jonathan ­Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at the University of Oxford, who was on Third Voice’s advisory board. ­Zittrain adds that Gamelayers, like Third Voice, is likely to trigger “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 group of users. Hall says that people can register for the beta version of the game now, though no date for its public release has been set.



Location: San Francisco, CA


Founders: Justin Hall, Merci Hammon, Duncan Gough

CEO: Justin Hall

Number of employees: 5

Funding amount: $500,000

Funders: O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, Joichi Ito, Richard Wolpert

Keep Reading

Most Popular

open sourcing language models concept
open sourcing language models concept

Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free

Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.