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Want to put your money where your mouth is?

Pay the Billz? has taken a twofold approach to solving that problem. Firstly, the company has spent what director Marcus Pearcey ruefully describes as a "massive" amount of money on building a network infrastructure. "We're still only in beta, and we're spending six figures a month on servers already," he told us. That's not surprising, given that the company is operating a server cluster in London, and two in the United States - one on the east coast, one on the west coast. Secondly, a more basic restriction prevents anyone with a ping of over 150 from joining a game - since that would be unfair to them, and would ruin the experience for everyone else.

The final string to's formidable bow is a system called SmartRank - which, as the name suggests, is designed to calculate each player's skill level on a dynamic, ongoing basis. You've probably seen similar systems in operation elsewhere, but's SmartRank has been created with one specific purpose in mind - making sure you always play against people of roughly the same skill level.

After all, nobody would pay to enter a game they had no hope of winning - and without SmartRank, the chances are that there would be plenty of highly skilled predators who would happily enter low-skilled games and clean up the prize pool. The system keeps everything at a nice, competitive level by enforcing segregation based on skill level; so the client won't allow you to join games which are totally outside your skill range.


In effect, that should mean that everyone has a chance to win here and there on the service; you won't be playing against people massively above your own skill level and handing over a few dollars a game for the privilege. At a guess, we'd say that few players will lose more than a handful of dollars a month on, and few will make much more than that either - but along the way, they'll probably have some really good, fun, even games.

To recap, then,'s games are basically offering over-18s-only, cheat-free, lag-free, griefer-free, skill-balanced gaming - with small entry fees and prize pots in the "friendly wager" bracket. That's a fairly heady, and tempting, combination. It's certainly been enough to convince Valve, who just granted an exclusive worldwide license to to run a prize money service for Half-Life 2 and its various mods, including Counter-Strike, and according to Pearcey, the firm is in advanced negotiations with a number of other publishers for similar deals.

All that being said, it remains to be seen just how many people - faced with the abundance of free servers to play games on - will be interested in coughing up cash to play online PC games, even with the chance of a prize for placing well on the scoreboard. The beta of the service, attracting around 10,000 players, has exceeded expectations (so much so that Pearcey admits to having teething troubles with the server infrastructure during beta, with more servers being brought online in a massive hurry to meet demand), but the live service will also need to be very popular to ensure that there are always games for people to take part in.

There's also a niggling concern that a service like is ignoring one of the key factors which makes some online games, like Counter-Strike, so enjoyable - namely teamwork. It's extremely difficult to quantify how well someone has co-operated with his teammates in a game's scoring system, after all - and when there's money on the line, it's not hard to believe that most players will focus on their own stats rather than their team's success.


It's a problem which acknowledges, but it's not one to which the company has any easy answers. Pearcey mentions that custom mods created by the company will reduce the impact of team-play on some games, and there's always the possibility that some games will divide up the prize pot between members of the winning team, rather than choosing the highest-scoring players on both sides. However, for games like Counter-Strike, only time will tell whether games on will be genuinely enjoyable - or just filled with people all too happy to steal your kill or let you die, in the name of boosting their own scores.

We're not without misgivings about, then - but it still sounds like the most interesting idea to turn up in PC online gaming in quite a long time, and could be exactly the thing that's needed to bring "lapsed" PC gamers back to the fold. As for console players, well, Pearcey doesn't rule anything out (although he's quite clear that the next big thing in the company's sights after launching in Europe and the USA is a roll-out in Asia), but he admits that the company hasn't really talked about that area much yet. PC players, however, will be able to sign up for the service in the next couple of weeks. We'll see you down the gun-barrel.

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About the author

Rob Fahey

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.


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