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IBM makes play for online games

The company's new BIG software is intended to allow game developers to easily build support for business functions into online games.

IBM is set to release on Tuesday an early version of software intended to allow game developers to easily build support for business functions into online games.

The company's Business Integration for Games (BIG) will provide ready-made tools for handling business tasks such as processing sales transactions and managing pay-to-play tournaments. IBM will release an early version of the software under its AlphaWorks program to encourage companies to experiment with emerging technology.

Game developers, particularly at larger studios, typically write their own software engines for handling transactions and other behind-the scenes functions, an approach that seldom pays off in a better game, said Patricia Fry, head of the gaming unit within IBM's Digital Media Emerging Business Opportunity division.

"There's a tendency in this industry for major developers to build tools for themselves and manage them internally," Fry said. "But there's a recognition that as this market is maturing, maybe it makes sense to specialize and use off-the-shelf components where it makes sense. That makes the developer's time to market faster, and they can focus on the more creative aspects of game design."

IBM is supporting several other projects aimed at the online game industry, including Butterfly.net, an effort to apply grid computing techniques to hosting


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online games. Such outsourcing projects tie into IBM's broad strategy for on-demand computing, in which businesses outsource most of their computing tasks to focus on core business activities.

Fry said outsourcing makes sense for the game industry, given the tight deadlines and intense competitive pressure developers work under.

"Within the online game environment, we're talking to many developers that are realizing their core competency is making great games," she said. "That doesn't mean they need to do all the stuff to bring it to market and manage the game...We think our on-demand strategy will reduce the risk for game developers and hosters."

The market for online games is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years, attracting interest from major computing companies such as IBM and Sun Microsystems along with a wealth of specialists focused on managing business and information technology tasks.