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WildTangent turning laptops into casual gaming boxes for the living room

Play PC games in your living room with WildTangent's Orb software.

This morning at the Game Developer's Conference here in San Francisco, Alex St. John, the CEO of WildTangent, will announce a new version of the company's gaming software that he hopes will make people think twice about buying a video game console.

Taking a cue from the growing number of casual gamers buying consoles, St. John, who is most famous for helping create Direct X specification for Microsoft, figures that people are itching to get their hands on video games, but that they shouldn't have to buy a proprietary piece of hardware and pricey software titles, or even relegate gaming to one room in the house.

His solution is to take WildTangent's gaming marketplace software and tune it to work on the go, or in the living room on large televisions. The application, called "Orb" (not to be confused with the Orb media-sharing software) is designed to let anyone with a laptop and a gamepad navigate the various games available for play without having to use a keyboard or mouse. St. John notes that a majority of machines that have shipped out in the last year or so can more than handle the graphics capabilities of the Wii and original Xbox, and if users are looking to take part of that software ecosystem, they don't need to buy anything new.

WildTangent's Orb interface has been made friendly for large screens and aging eyes. Instead of paying, users can now opt in to play games for free after sitting through preroll commercials. WildTangent

Orb has also been created from the ground up with a new advertising model that lets home users play titles for free as long as they're willing to sit through a commercial from sponsors that's inserted at the beginning of each gaming session. St. John equates WildTangent's model to that of television programming, noting that advertisers have been more than willing to get on board, whereas users aren't always into shelling out the cash up front to play a game.

Besides advertising, WildTangent runs off a micropayment system similar to what you see on Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace with packages of credits that are purchased several at a time instead of an a la cart model. With the new system users don't even have to invest in the micropayments if they're willing to opt in to the advertising in front of each gaming session.

In addition to the new software, Orb will be launching with developer support to get various titles into the marketplace. The two being announced today are Sierra Online and THQ. St. John says other developers will likely want to join up to place their games on Orb in time for software that's slated for release in April.