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Want to put your money where your mouth is?

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Writing, in a sense, is an ongoing battle against preconceptions. Not just the preconceptions of the reader, but also against the writer's own preconceptions and prejudices. You can't challenge someone else's views unless you challenge your own on a regular basis.

For example, this is an article about a PC online gaming service with cash prizes. For a great many of you - a majority, most likely - that means that you have already decided that this article isn't relevant to you. After all, you're not the kind of hyper-competitive player who spends countless hours honing their abilities on multiplayer online games, learning every nuance of the maps and weapons in Counter-Strike, getting the flick of the wrist required for a 180 degree turn and an instant headshot just so. You play for fun. Most people do.

I understand and accept that preconception, because it's exactly the same thought process I went through when I first heard about - a site whose simple tagline is "Win real cash playing your favourite games". It doesn't sound like a site for people who play games for fun, to relax, to work off some stress, or for any of the myriad reasons we all play games. You'd be forgiven for thinking that its core target market is probably made up of dementedly angry German kids.

You'd be wrong, though. Like I was wrong. As it transpires, is a service as competitive as the name implies - but it might also be your best chance of a genuinely enjoyable online gaming experience, no matter what your skill level. Interested yet?

Anyone who has spent any time playing games like Counter-Strike, UT or Quake can pinpoint the biggest problems with online gaming. There are the technical problems, like lag. There are the player problems, like cheating and vastly differing skill levels. Then, there are the really basic social problems - the griefers who just want to screw the game up for other players, the angry 14 year olds who just want to shout "faggot" in warbling pubescent voices at everyone who shoots them, the teamkillers who take the art of the griefer to a whole new level...

In other words, online gaming is all too often an unfriendly and unpleasant mess. It's not hard to see why, for many people, it's simply not worth the effort to navigate this quagmire of cheating, griefing and abuse. Especially since once you do, your reward is often being headshotted from half a kilometre away by some 14 year old who has been skiving off classes for six months to perfect his sniping skillz.

Got The Skillz

When three successful British businessmen with a shared love of videogames sat down to create a service that would allow people to play against each other for small sums of money, they may inadvertently have solved many of those problems in one fell swoop.

The idea behind is simple; you play either against your friends, or against people of a similar skill level to your own, in online games with a small prize pot on offer. The emphasis is on "small"; the majority of games cost only a few dollars to participate, so the stakes are correspondingly low. Since the service prevents you from depositing more than $150 in your account each month (about 110 Euro-bucks, or 75 quid sterling), your potential winnings or losses are fairly heavily limited.

In other words, this isn't a service designed with "pro-gamers" in mind; may run some big money tournaments, but the bread and butter of the site is average Joes like you or I chipping a couple of dollars into a prize pool for a game of Counter-Strike.

That has a few major impacts on how the game plays. For a start, you can be pretty sure that there aren't very many griefers out there who are prepared to pay real money to get their jollies by winding up other players; they're likely to stick to free servers, leaving as the world's first entirely griefer-free gaming service. That, in itself, is almost worth the price of entry.

Several other policies and technologies which the service has adopted should also make online gaming into a smoother ride, though. For legal reasons, the service is strictly over-18 only - and without wanting to sound ageist (while undoubtedly accomplishing exactly that), that ought to cut those warbling cries of "faggot!" down to a minimum. It's also set to be extremely heavily policed from a cheating point of view, as you'd expect from a service with real money resting on the outcome of games.

The team has created its own anti-cheat mod for Half-Life 2, which will be required to play on the service, and will be backing it up with 24/7 human oversight. Admins are able to drop into games and look for signs of cheating that might be missed by the game modification - and the firm is promising a zero tolerance approach to cheats, with their accounts being closed immediately when they are discovered.

Of course, none of this is worth much if the games you play are destroyed by lag - and as any prolific online gamer can tell you, it's not just lag at your end which can ruin a game. Just one player joining a match with a high ping-time can mess the game up for everyone else, by destroying the delicate balance of prediction and data which makes players appear in the same position on your screen that they do on everyone else's.