Patent application title: Network Based Webcam Wheel of Fortune Game
Sean Macguire (Key West, FL, US)
IPC8 Class: AA63F924FI
Class name: Including means for processing electronic data (e.g., computer/video game, etc.) in a chance application lot generator (e.g., card distribution, simulated dice, random number generator, etc.)
Publication date: 2012-06-07
Patent application number: 20120142408
A network-based webcam wheel of fortune game is disclosed. Images from
the participants webcams are positioned on the circumference of a virtual
wheel that is displayed to all players and non-playing viewers via their
monitors. This wheel is then spun. The winner is for instance the
participant whose image this virtual wheel stops on. As a prize, the
winner is then broadcast to all participants for a predetermined amount
of time, who then vote on the quality of the performance.
1. A network-based wheel of fortune game, comprising a virtual wheel of
fortune wheel displayed to players of the game via a network, virtual
images of players of the game, the images being provided on the wheel,
the wheel being adapted to be spun and to select the virtual image of one
of the players.
2. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 1, wherein the wheel is adapted to select the player once the wheel comes to a rest.
3. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 1, wherein the images of the players are provided on the circumference of the wheel.
4. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 1, wherein webcams are provided to allow the payers to see the wheel.
5. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 4, wherein the images of the players are obtained via the webcams.
6. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 5, wherein the images of the players are one of still pictures and live pictures.
7. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 1, wherein the game is further displayed via the network to non-playing viewers via monitors thereof.
8. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 1, wherein the player selected when the wheel comes to a rest is the winner of the game.
9. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 8, wherein the image of the winner is broadcast to all players.
10. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 9, wherein the image of the winner is broadcast to all players for a predetermined amount of time.
11. A network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in claim 1, wherein the players can vote on the quality of the performance of the winner.
12. A method of playing a wheel of fortune game, comprising (a) providing a number of players connected via a network, a virtual wheel of fortune wheel displayed to all the players via the network, and virtual images of the players located on the wheel; (b) spinning the wheel; (c) and selecting the virtual image of one of the players.
13. A method as defined in claim 12, wherein the wheel is adapted to select the player once the wheel comes to a rest.
14. A method as defined in claim 12, wherein the images of the players are provided on the circumference of the wheel.
15. A method as defined in claim 12, wherein webcams are provided to allow the payers to see the wheel.
16. A method as defined in claim 15, wherein the images of the players are obtained via the webcams.
17. A method as defined in claim 16, wherein the images of the payers are one of still pictures and live pictures.
18. A method as defined in claim 12, wherein the game is further displayed via the network to non-playing viewers via monitors thereof.
19. A method as defined in claim 12, wherein the player selected when the wheel comes to a rest is the winner of the game.
20. A method as defined in claim 19, wherein the image of the winner is broadcast to all players.
21. A method as defined in claim 20, wherein the image of the winner is broadcast to all players for a predetermined amount of time.
22. A method as defined in claim 12, wherein the players can vote on the quality of the performance of the winner.
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
 This application is a Nonprovisional application claiming priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/888,078, filed Feb. 3, 2007, which is herein incorporated by reference.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention relates to multimedia, and more particularly, to a system, method and apparatus for playing a network based game.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 In the classic wheel of fortune game, a large wheel spinner is rotated by an employee of the casino, and gradually loses it's inertia until it stops at one of a plurality of spaces extending around the periphery of the wheel. These spaces are generally marked with representations of money to indicate what players have won. There is usually a betting surface marked with similar representations of money where users place wagers on where the wheel will stop. This game is compelling because of the anticipation generated by the rotating, and slowing wheel.
 In recent years, the advent almost ubiquitous high-speed internet access combined with a dramatic drop in price of computer-attached cameras or webcams, and sites like YouTube® facilitating video interchange, has made uploading videos simple, accepted, and very popular. It seems that people like to look at each other.
 There has also been an explosion in so-called Social Networking and matchmaking sites like e-Harmony® http://eharmony.com and MySpace® http://myspace.com. These sites facilitate the process of people getting to know each other. One of the best known ways to get to know someone is by playing a game with them; however this simple method is currently largely ignored by these sites at this time.
 Rafaeli in U.S. Pat. No. 6,755,741 teaches the use of webcams to allow remote players to participate in a casino games, including roulette. Orak in U.S. Pat. No. 6,935,945 discloses an internet game show, and Marnell in U.S. Pat. No. 5,188,363 teaches a combined wheel of fortune and poker game. Therefore, webcams and network-based casino games are known, as are varieties of the wheel of fortune.
 Even though there are multiplayer games available to play via the Internet known in the art there are currently none which involves using the webcam and it's users as the game itself. Therefore a need has arisen for a game which allows users to participate as themselves using their webcams via the Internet, which also helps people to get to know each other.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 It is therefore an aim of the present invention to provide a novel network-based game.
 It is also an aim of the present invention to provide a novel network-based wheel of fortune game.
 It is a further aim of the present invention to provide a novel network-based wheel of fortune game using webcams to provide pictures of participants on a virtual wheel of fortune.
 Therefore, in accordance with the present invention, there is provided a network-based wheel of fortune game as defined in network-based wheel of fortune game, comprising a virtual wheel of fortune wheel displayed to players of the game via a network, virtual images of players of the game, the images being provided on the wheel, the wheel being adapted to be spun and to select the virtual image of one of the players.
 Also in accordance with the present invention, there is provided a method of playing a wheel of fortune game, comprising (a) providing a number of players connected via a network, a virtual wheel of fortune wheel displayed to all the players via the network, and virtual images of the players located on the wheel; (b) spinning the wheel; (c) and selecting the virtual image of one of the players.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 The features of the invention will become more apparent in the following detailed description in which reference is made to the appended drawings wherein:
 FIG. 1 is a flowchart of a game in accordance with an illustrative embodiment of the present invention, showing how the game is started and run; and
 FIG. 2 is a schematic representation of a user interface for the game.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention is a webcam wheel of fortune which combines the anticipation embodied by the classic casino wheel of fortune game, combined with the egomania described by Andy Warhol's famous quote "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15_minutes_of_fame into an exciting social networking experience.
 The most basic form of this game is played by an automated croupier spinning the wheel like the wheel of fortune, but instead of a physical wheel with representations of money, images from the players' attached webcams would appear on the circumference of the wheel to be spun.
 The game simulates the slowing of the wheel, with appropriate sound effects if desired, showing subsequent images for longer and longer until finally the wheel `stops` on a particular image. The player whose image appears is the winner of the round.
 In one embodiment, the prize for winning the round is being broadcast to all the other participants for a specified duration, which the user can use as they see fit; in other words, they get their "15 seconds of fame", which is recorded. This prize has the additional benefit of helping the participants to get to know each other, and as such offers an excellent opportunity to be used to create and enhance social networks. Additionally, players and non-participating viewers may vote on the `performance` of the winner. Then using this feedback, the best and worst performances could be played again at the end of the game, and ongoing scores could be preserved to encourage players to keep coming back. The game could also be used as a premise for matchmaking. Note that other prizes such as money are not only possible, but encouraged.
 It is also within the purview of this invention to support multiple variations on our webcam wheel of fortune theme, for example, winners of individual games, or participants with the highest or lowest cumulative vote scores progress to a semi-final type situation where the winners of these previous games would make up the elements on the wheel, with the winner to be voted on, and so on to a final spin where a single, ultimate winner would emerge. This would allow millions of people to be able to participate in the game as viewers, voters, or participants.
 Similarly, a reverse-version of the game is likewise envisioned in that the player selected by spinning the wheel is `out`, the ultimate winner of the game being the player who was never selected. It is also envisioned that each player removed in this manner would have a chance to say `goodbye` to the rest of the people playing, and thus receive their `15 seconds of fame` as a consolation prize.
 In another embodiment, it would be possible for users to influence the spinning of the wheel itself by sending signals created by attached input devices such as keyboards, trackballs, mice or other `pointing devices`, or using biofeedback monitors such as the LightStone® sold by Wild Divine http://wilddivine.com, etc.
 Finally two important elements of the game are the ability to restrict who can join, and allowing non-playing viewers. The person who created the game decides who can play, or watch. This further enhances the social networking aspects of the game since the game would then allow the viewers to get to know the players better as well as letting the players get to know each other better. For example, this might be useful on a dating site where a group restricted to men would be permitted to watch a group restricted to women playing the game, or vice versa.
 Now, in accordance with the present invention, in one embodiment of the present invention, a network-based webcam wheel of fortune game is disclosed herein.
 The present invention is a wheel of fortune type game played by participants via computers with attached and functioning web cameras, connected to a network, generally the internet. Players and non-playing viewers see a virtual wheel, or representation thereof, onscreen, which consists of an image or images submitted by each player arranged around the circumference of the wheel in a manner similar to the wheel of fortune game found in many casinos. To begin the round, the wheel is spun. As the virtual wheel slows down, the images of the players are visible for a longer and longer period of time until the wheel stops on a particular image. The person associated with that image wins the round, and is awarded a prize.
 Referring therefore to FIG. 1, a flowchart showing basic game play is presented. The game starts at 101, generally by having a potential player navigate to a URL where the webcam wheel of fortune game is offered. The user may choose between two options, that is to join an existing game at 102 (if they are so permitted), or start a new game at 103. If the user is allowed to start a new game, the next step is to choose options at 105, including who may participate. It must be remembered that a purpose of the game is to help people to get to know each other; therefore, the person starting the game may choose to restrict players and non-playing viewers according to factors including but not limited to availability of a live webcam image, sex (gender), payment of fees, age, sexual orientation, profession, geographic location, pre-existing membership in an organization, existing registration online, etc. Restrictions may likewise be inherited by the game by virtue of it being accessible only to those people who can access a certain URL, etc. Restrictions may likewise be set as to the minimum and maximum number of players, number of rounds in the game, or time limit, etc., and the operator of a game may likewise remove access to anyone who is disruptive, etc. Finally, the game operator gives the game a name, like "Funky Wheel of Love", so others can find it, and perhaps join in or watch it. The game is then registered and started.
 If the user decides he/she wants to join an existing game 102, he/she is presented with a list of games, like our "Funky Wheel of Love", and decides whether or not to join. If he/she chooses not to join an existing game, he/she is sent back to the option of creating a new game at 103. Once he/she chooses to join an existing game at 102, he/she then selects at 104 which of the available games to join, as well as whether he/she would like to be a viewer or a participant. The system then checks at 106 that the user satisfies whatever criteria have been put in place for that particular game, which were determined when the game was created at 105. If he/she is not permitted to join, he/she is sent back to 103 where he/she gets to start a new game, or join another game.
 The next step is to add the user to the game at 107. If the user is a player, an image is grabbed from his/her webcam, or other picture, for use as part of the game, and possibly get permission from the user to allow software to access his/her webcam, as well as choosing a name for use during the game if the user is not already registered, etc. Non-playing participants would just be provided with a view of the game, and added to the virtual audience for that game.
 The system then verifies at 108 if the player was added successfully; if not, an error message is displayed at 109, and the user may then attempt to fix the problem, and the system can try to the user later at 107. Otherwise, the user may just leave the game. The option of users leaving the game is not specifically represented on the flowchart anywhere, since users may drop off at any time, from anywhere, for any reason.
 The system then checks at 111 to see if there are enough players, or if the game should be ended. This is a general check to see if the game to be played is within the parameters selected by the user who started the game at 105. If the minimum number of players is not met, the system can wait, or if the number of players has dropped to 0, the system may choose to end the game at 114. If the user who started the game had specified that the game consists of a specific number of rounds, or a time limit, then these conditions are checked. If met or exceeded, the game is ended at 114, the best and worst of the player's performances are shown at 115 and the game is de-registered at 117 so that it can no longer be played. The game is then over at 120. Otherwise, the system waits at 119 for additional players, and then loop backs to 111 to see if what is needed is there so as to start the game.
 Once there are enough players, the round is started at 110. The images from the each of the currently connected participants are now loaded onto the virtual wheel, and the audience is added. This can be an important step since users may have joined or left since our last round. In one embodiment, live webcam images from some or all players may be displayed on the wheel instead of static images.
 The wheel is then spun at 112. This means that the virtual wheel goes from appearing static, to being shown as being pulled backwards, i.e. wound up, then released so that it appears to spin at a high rate of speed. A variety of music and sound effects may be used here, including the well known `click, click, click` made by the original casino wheel. The effect of friction is simulated on our wheel and it gradually (and dramatically) slows down, finally selecting a player at 113, typically a winning player. Note that using live webcam images during the launch phase and slowing phases of our wheel spin is likely to be particularly effective as the wheel is moving slowly enough that people can actually see each other. Eventually the wheel slows down, landing on an image of one of our players, who is the winner of the round 113.
 The winner is then awarded his/her prize at 116, which in the present embodiment, is being broadcast to all the other participants for a fixed amount of time; i.e. the winner's 15 seconds of fame, which may be stored for later replay. Other prizes, such as points, money, or combinations thereof are likewise envisioned. A vote is then taken at 118 as to the quality of the winner on a scale of -10 to +10, although other scales and inputs may be used. The game then continues at 111. The voting results are stored, and at the end of the game (at 114), the best and worst performances may be rebroadcast at 115 for all to enjoy. Ongoing statistics for players may likewise be kept for allowing the possibility of larger prizes after winning a certain number of rounds, and as an incentive to keep users coming back.
 Referring now to FIG. 2, a block diagram of the viewer is shown. The viewer itself is found at 200, and will generally consist of a window displayed within a web browser, although other methods of displaying the viewer may be employed. At 201, there is shown a group of non-playing participants watching the game, which are represented herein by little happy faces. These symbols may be scattered around the playing area to represent an audience. In the present embodiment, each person watching the game will be denoted by a symbol; in this case a happy face, although any representation may be used. In addition, it is within the purview of the game that these symbols might use size, color or other indicia to represent the number of people per symbol, i.e. a red happy face equals 1000 people watching, a blue happy face equals 100 people watching, etc. Thus, 100 red happy faces would indicate that 100,000 people are watching a game.
 At 202, there is shown a small window containing the image of a user the current user is chatting with, with three other screens directly below it, again with people chatting. Clicking on a window in the playing area, the wheel at 206, 207, 208, 209 brings that user to the chat area and allows the user to chat with them directly and view their image or webcam, which may be live. The title of the game being played is shown at 203, and in the current example, the title is "funky wheel of love".
 Below the windows at 202 is a text area 204showing an ongoing chat, presumably, but not limited to, the people in the windows 202 above. Below the text area 204 is a voting area 205 where viewers can rate the winners on a scale, e.g., from -10 to +10.
 In the middle of the window 206, 207, 208, 209 is the game area. Player images are arranged in a sort of three dimensional wheel, with these images getting larger as they approach the front of the screen, and smaller as they recede into the background. The images rotate, clockwise or counter-clockwise, or are otherwise mixed up. For now, the system uses a wheel that rotates clockwise. In FIG. 2, the results of a recently completed game are displayed, with the winner appearing at 207, and with an area 208 being used for status messages and in this case the text "WINNER" indicating that our user won and "ROUND 4" indicating that this was the fourth round of the game. The player in the window at 206 almost won, the wheel went one click too far. Likewise, the user at 209 would have won had the wheel clicked over one more space. The actual implementation of the wheel and the layout may of course vary. Finally, there is a window 210 showing the user's own webcam image, so he/she can see himself/herself.
 The user at 207 will now receive his/her prize, which in the current embodiment, is for him/her to be broadcast to the rest of the players and viewers for a predetermined length of time, which can be used as the winner sees fit. Again, other prizes are certainly possible. In addition, viewers and participants can rate the quality of our winner using the voting mechanism at 205, which will allow ratings from -10 to +10 although other scales or input methods may be used. The ability of participants to provide feedback adds an interesting incitement for users to perform their best, or in some cases, worst, and keeping track of these performances and scores is incentive for users to keep coming back.
 Finally, a database of winning performances may be stored and replayed at the end of the game, showing the highest and lowest rated winners. A database of ratings and performances may be kept, allowing users to be tracked over time, and possibly receive prizes when certain levels have been attained, or when a certain number of games have been won, or a certain amount of time, e.g. a week or month, has passed. It is also envisioned that these performances be made available for users to watch at a later time.
 Although the invention has been described with reference to certain specific embodiments, various modifications thereof will be apparent to those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention as outlined in the claims appended hereto. The entire disclosures of all references recited above are incorporated herein by reference.
Patent applications by Sean Macguire, Key West, FL US
Patent applications in class Lot generator (e.g., card distribution, simulated dice, random number generator, etc.)
Patent applications in all subclasses Lot generator (e.g., card distribution, simulated dice, random number generator, etc.)