Fans play baseball on the Web Area software executive creates CyberSkipper

September 21, 1996|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

The Orioles are still fighting for a playoff spot, but 25 of the team's most savvy fans have already finished at the top in a World Wide Web baseball game created by a Baltimore software developer.

The top finishers of CyberSkipper, developed by Inventure Inc., are coming to tonight's Orioles' game against the Toronto Blue Jays from as far away as Illinois and California.

Buster Light, 48, of Silver Spring, one of the top competitors, said the game is hard to stop playing -- especially for Oriole fans and "net surfers" like himself.

"About a half-hour before game time, my wife and I are trying to see who can get to the computer keyboard first," said Light, the owner of a computer graphics company.

The game is a little like fantasy baseball. But, instead of plucking players from around the league, competitors rise and fall on the strength of selections from their home team. Another challenge: Betting not only on a player's good performance, but on whether he hits a home run or steals a base.

The game, available on the Orioles Web site as well as Inventure's (cyberskipper.com), is also on the sites of the Atlanta Braves, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers. The company has had similar gatherings in Atlanta and Oakland. It's planning one for Los Angeles.

Jim Abbott, Inventure Inc.'s president, said he would like to get the game on the Web sites of the other 24 teams and has had discussions with about a dozen. If that doesn't happen, Abbott can put games for all the teams on his company's Web site (cyberskipper.com) -- thanks to the recent licensing of the game by the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Inventure Inc. will make its money by sharing advertising revenue with the teams. So far, the company hasn't earned any money because the team's Web sites lack advertising.

"The aim this year is to build up traffic," Abbott said, and get the attention of advertisers.

The costs of developing such games is low.

Abbott, a former vice president of business development for Maryland Public Television, designed the game with the help of his wife, a student at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and four part-time employees. Its appearance on Web sites started this baseball season. The potential market is huge. The value of Web advertising is expected to rise to $110 million this year from about $60 million in 1995.

So far, the Orioles site has 1,900 players, the Braves 2,100, the A's 500 and the Dodgers 300.

Amy Richter, director of advertising for the Braves, said CyberSkipper gave fans and prospective advertisers a reason to keep visiting the Web site.

"They can get an audio clip of a video clip, but how many times can you keep watching or listening to the same thing?" she said.

"People like competition I think we've given them that."

Here's how it works: When the O's pick their lineup, the Web game players pick theirs.

In five categories -- which include hits, runs, home runs, stolen bases and runs batted in -- players make three selections. No player can be used in more than two categories.

If you put Eddie Murray in the home run category, you get points only if he homers. If he gets four hits, steals two bases and scores three runs, you get nothing.

And there's some handicapping. You can increase your bet on a specific player. And if you choose from the bottom of the lineup, you get extra points.

In the works: CyberSkipper Pro, an eventual pay-to-play game that will choose a different collection of players from different teams every day, and CyberCoach, a professional football version of the game.

Light, the player from Silver Spring, said the game requires a combination of research and intuition.

"You just get a feeling of who's going to be hot," he said. "For FTC example, if you take a doubleheader, whoever hits a home run in the first game is not likely to hit one in the second game."

He added that the game converted one friend who wasn't even an Orioles fan into a nightly watcher. "CyberSkipper is just another reason to watch the game," Light said.

Pub Date: 9/21/96

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