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The Virtual Spectator ? 5 comments
The announcement by Gamerscast they they plan to eventually move to Pay Per View (PPV) for live "premium" spectating of CPL events has led to speculation about what technologies they might offer. What could possibly be worth paying money for, when there is so much "free stuff" on the Internet?

I think it's most likely that Gamerscast (or anybody doing this for that matter) would use a variety of technologies, much as we did at the BDI LAN in Australia (the AU-CPL Qualifier). Gamerscast could develop their own version of the popular (and free) Qtv program created by Zibbo and Perkele. We have already seen that they use streaming video. It would make sense to use different technologies for different purposes. Out of all of these technologies, only one needs to be the "premium" technology that they charge money for.

Coverage of major LAN events is evolving into a cooperative enterprise involving a range of different technologies. We have seen NetGamesUSA who provide instant access to match tables, statistics, screenshots, and demos. We have Qtv, which provides live spectating to thousands through proxy servers in daisy-chains. We have Web Cams, which bring live images, and we have Shoutcast, which brings music and live audio commentary. We have IRC, which provides a massive "venue" for the "crowd" and a central location for official announcements. In addition, we have myriad "news sites" and "demos pages" which provide colourful commentary and information, such as interviews, stories, and match predictions.

What is often lacking with "coverage" of major events is a single location for all of these elements. It's very rare that they are all available at the same time. Currently, they are provided by independent services - no-one offers a "one-stop shop" service. There is nobody who can "produce" the show, who can orchestrate all of these elements into a smooth and seamless production. This entire territory is very much "up for grabs" at the present moment.

Examples from the Americas Cup
Computer gaming is not the only area where Internet coverage of sports events is evolving. We can get some ideas of what is possible by looking at the technologies that were used to provide coverage of the recent America's Cup in New Zealand. Among them was a "virtual spectator", which you could download for US$9.95. I didn't check it out :P.

I saw a free viewer, called the Mendel 3D RaceViewer, but again it didn't look so good so I didn't download it. Then there was another offering, from Quokka, which offered a free version and a second "premium" version that you had to pay for. I checked out the free version and well, it was pretty damn good!

Above is an image showing you what the main Quokka Race Viewer looked like. Basically it popped up on your screen in a window. You didn't need high bandwidth to access it, I found that my 56 Kbps modem did just fine. Despite being "low bandwidth", the Race Viewer was dynamic and it kept updating itself live before your very eyes. This is of course streaming technology, but it's not streaming video. The updates came in batches, so the images along the top for example would refresh and march across the screen. Every now and then a new paragraph would be added to the commentary, and a new row added to the Leader Board, Distance Ahead, and Wind tables. The Elapsed Time and Boat Lengths continually changed, and as the yachts made their way around the course, the yellow line moved.

Overall, the Race Viewer wasn't especially visually exciting, but it was absolutely gripping for anyone who wanted their team to win. The equivalent of this in our scene does not exist yet, but if it did it might be a mixture of NetGamesUSA, Web Cams, "news updates" and Argus.

The Quokka coverage offered a "package" of technologies. In addition to the main Race Viewer was a 2D Race Viewer (above). It was obviously not as "high-tech" as what you would get in the "premium version", but it certainly did the job well enough, showing you the relative position of the two racing yachts. Once again, it popped up in a window of it's own, and it was updated automatically (every 30 seconds or so I think). The equivalent of this would be something like the 2D Argus software we are beginning to see appear now.

The Image Viewer was another popup window which appeared if you clicked on one of the little images in the top row of the Race Viewer. They must have had some pretty cool technology to get digital images relayed so quickly. Something like this could be done with a bank of Web Cams, perhaps showing the faces of the competitors and the crowd as they played. The "added value" here is that the images are screened and selected before being broadcasted (unlike Web Cams), and interesting captions are supplied.

Taken together, the example of the New Zealand Americas Cup coverage shows us that there are likely to be a number of services on offer appearing over the next few years, some of which will combine all of the elements we are seeing currently into one compelling package. Whether Qtv remains in the "free" bracket or becomes exclusively "premium" is difficult to say, and in fact whether anything could be considered "premium" enough to justify PPV is a moot point. We'll just have to wait and see, but one thing is for sure, we can expect some exciting innovation in the years to come for the virtual spectator.

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