SAN FRANCISCO--Dennis Fong is someone who has a lot of street cred in the world of video games. A former world champion in games like Quake and Doom, he's also the founder of XFire, a company that enabled easy instant messaging among gamers that he later sold to Viacom for oodles of money.
Now, he's got a new start-up, known as Raptr, and it seems to have some very influential people rather excited.
I got my first introduction to Raptr Friday at the Startup Showcase at the Game Developers Conference. The session, which was organized by Charles River Ventures' Susan Wu, put five entrepreneurs on the spot to give short presentations about their company. Wu and several industry experts then got the chance to weigh in on each presentation.
Essentially, Raptr is a social network for gamers, but one filled with useful applications--at least for those for whom hard-core gaming is a way of life.
But since there are millions and millions of people like that, the company has an instant and wide market.
The service starts with a thin, downloadable client that sits on users' PC system trays. The idea is that the client can identify games that users have on their computers in order to search out and automatically download new patches to those games when they're available. That's so, Fong explained, gamers don't sit down at their computers for a long session with friends only to find that they first have to download a patch for several hours.
It doesn't matter what games the users play, Fong added, because the client is publisher agnostic. That means it can intelligently download the latest patches for World of Warcraft, Doom, Quake 4 or just about any game, all without any kind of partnership or proactive developer interaction.
Another big part of the service is based on the fact that the Raptr client keeps track of statistics about what games users play, how they play them, and so forth.
So, based on that data, the client creates a player's profile, which can then be posted onto the Raptr community site. The idea here is that players can create friends lists and see their friends' profiles.
This is not a new idea, of course, as it's deeply embedded in services like Xbox Live. But because Raptr tracks stats for any games on a user's computer, it is able to make a profile that goes well beyond what is possible on Xbox Live or a similar walled-garden service.
Then, in real-time, the service can track what a user or a user's friends are playing, and send out feeds. That means that you can see what your friends are playing in real-time.
Next, because the service knows what you're playing, and what your friends are playing, it can create a list of recommended games, as well as game-based videos that it thinks you'll like.
Similarly, it can keep track of any game mods, add-ons, or patches related to a user's games and download them automatically when they're available. It can even discover such files ahead of when they're available so that there's no need for you to do it yourself or to keep track of such things.
"So if you have Quake 1 through 4," Fong said, "we know you'll like the Quake 5 demo...and it'll already be sitting on your desktop."
The point there is to keep the sense of instant gratification that gamers like so that they don't have to spend the time looking for and downloading something when they hear about it. Instead, it'll be waiting for them as soon as it's available.
Not to stop there, Raptr is partnering with game publishers like Blizzard--publisher of World of Warcraft to allow the Raptr service to track players' progress through games like WoW and to post that progress on their profiles. That means that friends will not only know what games their friends are playing, but exactly how far along they are in them.
In fact, Raptr has enabled such an integration with Xbox Live, needing only a player's gamer tag to add progress data to a profile.
"Every time you unlock your achievements on Xbox Live," Fong said, "they'll show up on your Raptr profile."
To the session's judges, Raptr was a big winner.
"It seems quite amazing to provide all these services to a PC gamer," said Jamil Moledina, the executive director of the Game Developers Conference. "It seems quite astonishing."
Added Owen Mahoney, the senior vice president for corporate development at Electronic Arts, "I think this is one of the most exciting things I've seen in a long time. I think this is exactly where games want to be."
For my part, I'm not sure how useful it will be, but then again, I'm not a hard-core gamer, so the excitement shown by the judges, combined with Fong's pedigree and a very enthusiastic reception by the audience, seems to indicate that Ratpr is definitely onto something.
Raptr is now in a small beta, and if you're one of the first 2,000 people to sign up, you'll be able to get an account right away. Whether that'll be possible by the time you read this, that's another question.