“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Everyone heard that question in grade school. The most common answers included policeman, fireman, and Power Ranger, but me? I wanted to be video game tester. In my mind a video game tester got to stay at home and play video games while getting paid for it. I eventually learned that a video game tester does more than hang out in his underwear playing video games, but with the rise of Major League Gaming (MLG) and other pro leagues, some players do get to stay at home and play, even if their skill level is vastly greater than the average player.
But what if literally anyone could stay at home and make money playing their favourite games?
That’s the selling point behind Gaming4Keeps, a new experience that will allow players around the world to bet against each other in competitive online gameplay. I first heard about Gaming4Keeps last summer, when I was approached by a friend named Eric Somerville that I’d met a few years prior when I reported on his previous venture, a zombie survival camp. I was gifted a copy of Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and the beta version of Gaming4Keeps, though I had to use the trackpad on my Macbook instead of a mouse which is essentially like bringing a whistle to a gunfight. It’s possible to win but it’s going to take some serious skill and an even greater amount of luck.
In any case, Gaming4Keeps is set up like an online casino where you decide how much you want to wager, with lobbies that range from 5 to 25 cents all the way to $1 to $5. I decided to go into the 10 cent room for my first match, which means that every kill was worth 10 cents. Every time I fragged someone I went up 10 cents, and vice versa for my opponent. Your kill/death ratio at the end of the game determines how much you’ll be paid or how much you’ll owe.
After several rounds of owing anywhere from 10 to 70 cents I finally got the hang of it and decided to step up to the one dollar servers. In my first round (the rounds last anywhere from 5-10 minutes), I had 8 kills and 3 deaths, which rewarded me $5. If you do the math and put in a 9-5 schedule (possibly at higher stakes), it could be a lucrative occupation. That dream of staying home and playing video games while getting paid for it could be reality.
Or at least, it can be for some. For others, it very well may be a slippery slope. According to the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, 3.2% of Canadian adults are affected by moderate to severe problem gambling and 2.2% of youth aged 15-24 are affected. A cocktail of gaming and gambling addiction could skyrocket those numbers, especially if there’s no way to monitor players. Anyone who has entered a casino and seen people dumping money into slot machines like an assembly line can relate.
It also raises a slew of other questions. How can Gaming4Keeps operate legally? How can they monitor skill level? How can they prevent players from cheating and create equitable matches? They’re questions that need to be asked, which is why Eric and I messaged back and forth to discuss the beta, the legal and ethical issues, and the possible future of online competitive gaming. These are his responses.
Dork Shelf: Let’s start off with the basics. What is Gamking4Keeps and how does it work?
Eric Somerville: Gaming4Keeps helped develop the technology that allows games to be tracked in real time and paid in real time. GamerSaloon.com is the company that will be launching the CS:GO cash competitions. They have been in the skilled gaming business for 10 years, facilitating head-to-head matches and multiplayer tournaments for cash prizes. The service for CS:GO will be available to the public in Feb, 2016. Currently, it is in the final stages of the beta release. The name of the real-time platform is called The CS:GO Bounty Arena.
DS: How is this legal?
ES: This is usually the first question asked by people outside the industry. The law specifically separates games of chance from games of skill. Games of skill, where the person risking the money controls the outcome, are completely legal. This contrasts to games of chance that are highly regulated and only legal in specific jurisdictions, like a lottery, or games where you do not have a direct affect on the outcome, like betting on a sports game. Since CS:GO requires only skill to succeed, it falls within the legal parameters of skilled gaming. Much like how you can enter a golf tournament and take home a prize, so too can you sign up and join our ongoing competitions at GamerSaloon.com.
DS: At the moment you’re testing it on Counter Strike, but what games or gaming genres do you see it going to?
ES: Any game where skill is the determining factor in the outcome can be played competitively for money.. The real-time element of the CS:GO Bounty Arena, which allows us to offer instant cash for achievements within the game, is currently restricted to PC games. While at the moment we only offer Bounty Arena games for CS:GO, we foresee the platform extending to other popular PC games such as League of Legends and DOTA 2.
DS: Is it only available on PC?
ES: Currently CS:GO and The Bounty Arena are only available on the PC. The flexible nature of the PC as a game console allows for this kind of innovative development.
DS: Will outsiders be able to tune in and bet on the outcome of other players/matches? Is there any concern that an outside source such as a competitive off-brand website will view your servers and make off-ground betting?
ES: Betting on matches is not legal since the person risking the entry fee is not the one controlling the outcome. We do not currently offer betting within the CS:GO Bounty Arena or any other area within GamerSaloon.com. While we have safeguards within our platform to prevent betting, we are not able to control the actions of another entity. We aim to create a competitive gaming environment based on a high level of integrity and fully compliant with all legal obligations. We will be live-streaming weekly high-profile Bounty Arena matches and offering viewers several ways to engage, so make sure to follow GamerSaloon on social media to stay in the loop!
DS: eSports and MLG are becoming increasingly popular. Do you think they’ll take a blow since this makes compete-for-pay possible for every gamer in the world?
ES: I think this is a dream come true for the average gamer. We love the idea of putting our skill to the test with the potential of a tangible reward. I think this will only increase the popularity of the eSports scene. Studying and following the pros will help sharpen your skills and make your game that much better.
DS: What measures are you going to take against hackers who can manipulate the game, which in this case essentially seems like a form of stealing?
ES: We do not tolerate cheating and strict action will be taken to flagged accounts. Every game is recorded from every possible angle which allows us to review all game footage as needed. Players have mechanisms to report suspicious activity and our highly trained customer support team will be monitoring each game very closely. We also have integrated cheat detection software, and automatically ban anyone found on third party lists which track CS:GO cheaters. We have taken precautions to use the same encryption and procedures as major banks when handling transactions. There are many, many layers to catch would be troublemakers. Every competition up to and including real world professional sports has to deal with the possibility of cheating but our experienced staff and robust technology is well-equipped to provide a user experience of the utmost integrity.
DS: Is there a way to regulate skill in servers or are disguised pros allowed to enter matches with people of average skill?
ES: We track the outcomes of every player and check players’ global CS:GO rankings each time they enter the Bounty Arena. In some cases, we restrict access to certain lobbies based on skill level and other lobbies are totally open to all players since some players have requested to play with the pros as it helps them improve their game. We also run mini-map modes called AIM Maps for 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 where each player, or team, is matched against a new opponent based on their performance within that gaming session. Our matchmaking algorithm takes into account several factors of a player’s performance and dynamically matches them as they play. We have spent several months developing our algorithm and we are confident this mode will help keep players on par with their opponents.
DS: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while starting Gaming4Keeps?
ES: The technological challenges. Trying to make the service as simple to use and enjoyable as possible while being secure has required a lot of mental and technological gymnastics. We are a team of dedicated gamers and developers who have spent countless hours working to create the platform. Now that the Bounty Arena is fully functional and ready for launch, we are excited to leverage GamerSaloon’s marketing reach in the industry to let the word out!
DS: When will the final version be out and what’s your goal with Gaming4Keeps?
ES: The final version should release in mid-February.* Everything works and people are playing for real stakes as we speak. We just want to take the last testing group’s feedback and ensure we have everything people want to see in the final form of the Bounty Arena. In the end, the goal of the Bounty Arena is to provide the most engaging experience for gamers across all skill levels. The real-time CS:GO Bounty Arena is the future of gaming, and it’s only at GamerSaloon.com.
*Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted in early February. Gaming4Keeps has since gone live with an official launch on February 22.