SkillJam Technologies Corp.s skilljam.com is one of the top skill-gaming-community destinations on the Web, with a base of more than 7 million users, a number that is growing monthly.
SkillJam has built its business by connecting with more than 100 partners, including America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp.s MSN and RealNetworks Inc. Scott Philp, vice president of business development at SkillJam, in Los Angeles, said he believes that as successful as the company has been on the Web, it could grow significantly faster and attract new users by moving into the mobile space, where gaming is just beginning to take off.
“As I sat back and looked at the market, I saw that we have great games and a great network right now,” Philp said. “With the mobile community blowing up like it is, this is a space we should be in. When I looked at the competition and whats out there, [I concluded] we are better.”
Providing a mobile solution would also give gamers multiple opportunities to access SkillJam content from any location, and this flexible access would provide a new revenue stream for the company, Philp said.
“I look to build the mobile space as a significant part of this company eventually. We are going to offer our games and provide a way to monetize the network and offer our content to people who are waiting at the bus station or dont have access to the Web,” Philp said.
SkillJam offers a variety of online content, such as card games, trivia and arcade games. Participants compete for rankings and prizes. For this reason, in seeking out a vendor, SkillJam not only had to deal with the array of issues faced by any developer moving into the mobile space but also had to be particularly concerned that the solution was secure and fully integrated with the companys existing network setup.
“We are a unique customer due to the fact that skill gaming in general works off a sophisticated tournament engine, where players are competing against each other, and there are several variables within that,” Philp said. “Youre not just putting a piece of software there and saying, Hey, play the game. People are actually interconnecting with one another and playing against each other.”
With all this interactivity and competition, preserving the integrity of the games is particularly important to SkillJam, according to Philp. “SkillJam is a platform for users to compete and play for cash and prizes, so a general concern is that these same users will find ways to beat the system.”
The company must maintain system security for the funding of accounts, for access to funding information within accounts and to ensure that users cannot find ways to spoof the system to achieve higher scores, Philp said.
SkillJam IT managers had considered developing an in-house solution, but Philp said they found that working with AIR Media made more sense on several levels.
“Initially, as we looked to enter the mobile sector, we evaluated the idea of doing it ourselves,” Philp said. “We came to the conclusion it made more sense to partner with a company that had expertise in the mobile sector and could open the door to carrier relationships.”
In the past, SkillJam relied on a variety of partnerships to build its business. Philp said he believed the company would need a new kind of partner to lead it into the mobile space—a technology partner that could provide the infrastructure to move SkillJam content to a mobile platform and to open doors with mobile providers.
When SkillJam initially went looking for such a partner, it found a scarcity of vendors that could meet these demanding needs. Then SkillJam executives met with AIR Media Inc., a San Francisco-based company that provides technology for moving branded assets from the Web to the mobile space. Philp said AIR Media offered everything SkillJam needed.
“We looked at AIR Media as the group that could take our technology and take our content and push it across multiple networks, which means we could enter the BREW [Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless, a technology from Qualcomm Inc.] market or the Java gaming market,” Philp said.
AIR Media provided a sophisticated technological solution and offered an unusual business arrangement, Philp said. In this partnership, AIR Media would receive a percentage of each SkillJam transaction rather than operate under a traditional software licensing agreement. This meant that AIR Media had a strong interest in the success of the project beyond just any companys desire to stake a reputation and build a customer relationship.
“AIR Media has significant time and interest invested here, so they are really busting it to get this product where it needs to be, as opposed to if we just licensed it and had a product,” Philp said.
In addition, the AIR Media solution offered seamless integration with SkillJams security system. “AIR Media provided a clean extension of the existing SkillJam Web clients to the mobile space,” Philp said. “This meant that a SkillJam mobile client-side component has support for user log-in authentication, associated encoding/encryption, game score encoding/encryption and other general anti-tamper techniques.”
SkillJam officials began talking to AIR Media representatives last spring. The deal was finalized last fall, and Philp said that seven months after closing the deal the company is ready to launch the new product. Considering the level of customization and interaction required between the parties, Philp said the process of incorporating the AIR Media software into SkillJams network infrastructure has gone relatively smoothly.
“This was a new venture for all of us here, but, luckily, AIR Media made it smooth,” Philp said. “We basically had to supply them with the information they needed. They took on a lot of the workload and really got behind what they said they would do. Its a constant interaction between our developers and theirs to make sure we are getting to the point we needed to be.”
The new product, which Philp projects to go live next month, will be known as SkillJam Mobile. For the initial product launch, SkillJam Mobile will be separate from the SkillJam.com site, giving users separate log-ons. Philp said the company hopes to combine the two sites in the future.
SkillJam Mobile will offer what Philp calls multipack gaming, an innovative concept in the mobile space. Most carriers have games on their systems but are able to deliver them only one at a time.
“What we are offering, and what AIR Media is helping us deliver, is a suite of games in a single offering,” Philp said.
SkillJam Mobile is about to go through its final network stress testing in anticipation of certification from National Software Testing Labs, Philp said. “We are in the 11th hour of getting ready for launch. We are getting into QA [quality assurance]. At that point, we will be certified by NSTL,” he said.
SkillJam doesnt have signed contracts in hand with major carriers just yet, Philp said. That will have to wait until the company passes certification tests and proves it can handle major carrier network traffic.
“The tests document that this software can make it as though [it has been] launched on a major network or carrier,” Philp said. “We cannot have an agreement until certification is complete, but we have been in positive discussions. We will eventually be with a large number of the major carriers.”
In the meantime, Philp said he remains optimistic. “We look at mobile as a great way to grow and a great way to expand across several channels and increase our customer space by a significant amount,” he said.
Ron Miller is a free-lance writer in Amherst, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected].