Tired of “alt + tab” to chat with friends? Read on!

PlayXpert CEO Charles Manning has taken some time to bring WarCry readers an incredible look at a brand new gaming platform. Billed as ‘made by players for players’, PlayXpert seeks to bring the best of out-of-game communications systems and tools into virtually any game.

Please introduce yourself and outline your role at PlayXpert.

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Thanks for the opportunity to talk to WarCry more about PlayXpert. My name is Charles Manning. I’m the president and CEO of the company.

Exactly what is PlayXpert?

PlayXpert is the ultimate PC gaming platform – built by players for players. It provides universal in-game overlay on top of most any PC game – and combines it with an extensible, modular widget architecture so that virtually any tool can be brought into the game experience in a semi-transparent way. What is unique about our technology is that we can bring any tool you want into the game – without impacting game performance and without requiring any special “hooks” into the game. We build widgets – but the community can also build widgets – which is really powerful. Examples of the widgets we build include our chat widget (inter-connects with all of the major chat systems like gTalk, MSN, Yahoo, or even Xfire), our web browser widget which lets users browse any site they want from the comfort of their game, or even our tunes widget which lets you manage your music while in-game.

How and when did you come up with the idea for PlayXpert?

Honestly it was a composite of a few things. Like most good ideas, it was fleshed out among friends and the concept arrived. Our whole team is incredibly technical – we have great strengths in understanding the underpinnings of the Windows operating system and operating systems in general. The concept was simple. We wanted to build a system that leveraged the momentum that Xfire had established (this was in 2006) to bring “outside” chat into the game experience, but we wanted to build it as a next-gen architecture. What this meant for us was that we wanted to build PlayXpert – but only if we could improve significantly on the concept to bring “anything” in game – not just simple text chat. Furthermore we wanted to build PlayXpert so that it could fix some of the technical limitations of other previous overlay techniques. These limitations where drag on frame-rate and potential account banning because other overlay systems appear as cheats and hacks.

So, we took the problem from a gamer’s perspective of what we wanted (an in-game operating environment for anything) – but applied it like a bunch of engineers (and we developed our overlay as a kernel-level driver).

This idea lead us down the path of thinking about PlayXpert as a “mash-up” of sorts that allows players to bring various tools and social components into the game experience regardless of whether the game was developed to incorporate them – all semi-transparently and in a way that doesn’t impact game-play.

This had profound benefit to us as players for the games we play – and we thought this would equally be valuable to the gaming community. Instead of every company in the gaming world having to build a component to their tool to bring it “in-game,” we wanted to be a universal mechanism for anyone in the gaming business to use PlayXpert as a standard in-game overlay operating system. The widgets simply become “apps” on the OS.

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How did you assess the need for this type of software ‘add on’ in PC games and MMOs?

It’s funny you mention this in particular. I actually believe that the modding community is one of the key reasons games like WoW are so sticky. WoW mods make the game experience new and fresh. They can certainly make things complicated at times – but they can also unlock whole new dimensions of game play. In the same way, we believe that having a universal overlay platform that works across all games – regardless of whether the game supports LUA or some other modding environment – is significant because it engages a sector of your community to build add-on capabilities that make games sticky, more social, and potentially more dynamic. When you look at fan sites today or even things like quest database websites, it’s clear that there is value in what is happening outside of the game. PlayXpert brings that back into the game experience without the need of alt-tab!

Explain the widgets used in the PlayXpert software.

Everything in the PlayXpert system is made up as a “widget.” We have a chat widget, browser widget, music widget, CommandLine widget, and many, many others. These widgets are built by us – and the community. We have over 50 widgets being built by outsiders as we speak and I expect that 2009 is going to be an exciting year for seeing whole new dimensions of game play being possible via PlayXpert widgets. The cool thing is that we’ve invested heavily in the infrastructure of the widgets themselves. So, just like Firefox manages “extensions,” PlayXpert manages its widgets for things like updating, versioning, authorship, licensing, etc. Our widget gallery is the main catalogue of all available widgets out today (http://playxpert.com/web/guest/widget_gallery)

Are widgets optional? Is the UI customizable?

Widgets are optional. You can decide what widgets you want, you can uninstall widgets, disable them, or install new widgets. The UI is also customizable – but players should expect more things to be revealed in the coming months in the realm of customization. We want to give players the ability to dynamically skin PlayXpert according to the game they’re playing – and we’re very close to making that a possibility.

What widgets are available?

A full list is available at http://playxpert.com/web/guest/widget_gallery

What other widgets does PXP have plans to develop as a native component of the software?

We have a pretty full roadmap – and all of the items we’re developing are new widgets. Stay tuned over the next few months on what we announce ourselves. Although we’ve got some very smart guys, I expect a good deal of innovation from the community with regards to new widgets. We already have users ranging in the ages of 15 to 35 years old who are building widgets. Some are general purpose others are specific to their clan or guild for coordination and planning. Some are game specific and others are cross-game tools. It’s all over the map. This is the power of the platform. Gamers can innovate without having to deal with the absolute nightmare of dealing with universal in-game overlay. We’ve taken the hard work out of the equation.

Is PlayXpert the only widget developer or is the technology to develop widgets open to the community?

Totally open. This is the power of the system.

PlayXpert is currently in beta. When do you expect it to reach full release status?

We expect to be in full release in January, 2009.

Will there be a fee to use PlayXpert or perhaps a ‘premium’ version?

Everything available today will remain free to the community. We will however be providing “premium” widgets and even new features on existing widgets which will be unlockable. Think of this like the free-to-play model for games. We have a great set of tools and we also have a platform allowing ourselves (and others) to make money by innovating and delivering value to players through widgets.

Does PXP work with most PC games?

It does. Unlike other “overlay” tools – the goal we set out to do was to build a universal overlay platform that would work across all DX games. To do this, we built our overlay system at the kernel of the operating system (as a display driver). The implication of this is that we’re not touching the game at all – we’re actually manipulating DX in real-time as it’s going to the GPU. This means that we don’t break each time your game changes. It also means that we don’t trigger anti-cheat tools like other overlay systems do. Because we’re not interrogating shared memory of the game, we’re not manipulating the game executable at all. In short, our approach, although significantly more challenging to develop, is much more advanced, keeps us out of the hamster wheel of constantly updating each time a game updates, and has the least impact on frame-rates.

What MMOs has PXP been tested on?

PlayXpert has been tested on hundreds of games – but some of the noteables that our users play the most include: World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Guild Wars, Warcraft III, Manga Fighter, Asda Story, Shot Online, Tabula Rasa, Star Wars Galaxies, Battlefield 2, Battlefield 2142, Age of Conan, Counter-Strike: 1.6, Counter-Strike: Source, Portal, EVE Online, Track Mania, Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 4, Dreamlords, Knight Online, Half Life 2, Gold Slam, Dungeon Runners, Sins of a Solar Empire, Gears of War, Titan Quest, Team Fortress 2, World in Conflict, Assassins Creed, Lineage II, Neverwinter Nights 2, Unreal Tournament III, Crysis, DIRT, Exteel, Maple Story, Oblivion, Civilization IV, Pi Story, Richman Online, FEAR, and Unreal Tournament 2004.

What game developers/publishers are currently partnered with PlayXpert?

We’re actually partnering with a number of publishers and studios and allowing them to bundle PlayXpert with their games. We aren’t yet able to announce who they are – but expect announcements to come early next year. These partnerships allow publishers to brand PlayXpert as they desire and deliver various cross-game community tools to their users without requiring their dev teams to lift a finger.

You are likely to see many versions of PlayXpert out in the market over the next 6 months. In fact, we have a very exciting announcement of one new partner – GuildLaunch. GuildLaunch is a leading guild hosting site home to over 800,000 active members who host their guilds, manage their rosters, and coordinate their guild efforts through blogs, forums, and guild websites. A branded version of PlayXpert is being made available to all GuildLaunch members so they can have access to the sites tools and communication without leaving the game. Furthermore, we’re working closely together to build new widgets that specifically serve the GuildLaunch members.

Does PXP have plans for other software development to enhance PC gamers’ experience?

We have a lot of plans – stay tuned!

What is your best tip for new users and do you have a quick start guide for those challenged by turning on their computers?

We actually just upgraded our installation wizard on PlayXpert for this very reason. We made the install process even easier by allowing users to register, configure their various chat network settings, and qualify if they have a good enough gaming rig to play the games they want to play.

Please add any other tidbits/teasers you wish readers to know!

I predict that our growing community of users is going to be excited about what we’re doing around premium widgets. Our widget architecture allows users to build free widgets – but also charge for various features. This allows anyone to develop a really cool “thing” and deliver it to a large audience of players and potentially make a little money in a micro-transaction fashion.

The next couple of months are going to be news-intensive for PlayXpert, and we encourage players to visit www.playxpert.com on a regular basis to keep current with our news curve. Thanks for letting us talk with WarCry readers!

Thanks to Mr. Manning for taking the time to explain PlayXpert. I have to say that I have used the program while playing Guild Wars and it’s an amazing product. Stay tuned for a review and, in the meantime, head to the PlayXpert site and grab your software to try it out for yourself. I wonder if they’ll simply remove the ‘alt and tab’ keys now? *g*

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