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Multiplayer Computer Games are Big Business for Small Devices

Millions of people are addicted to playing games on mobile devices, with rivals and teammates spread around the world. A company in Austin, Texas has developed such a game, known as a mobile multiplayer online game, for the Apple iPhone and iPad, basing it on a pen-and-paper game that was popular in the 1970s called Traveller.

Traveller AR is a game that takes players to the far corners of space on a small screen. The space ship exists in a virtual world of vast dimensions, but you see it on an iPhone.

Brothers Tony and Kieran Howlett grew up playing the old Traveller game and developed the online version at their Austin-based company, IngZ Inc.

Tony says they modified the game for remote, online players. “We create missions, we have what we call a mission system," he said.

Don Ballew of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, has been on many missions. “If you get bored, you can just pull your pad out and pick up right where you left off no matter where you are at," he said.

Ballew, who spoke to VOA via Skype, is a big Traveller AR fan and says he seldom has trouble finding another member of his player group. “We are scattered all over the world, so, in our little group, there is usually somebody online at some point in time during the day," he said.

While the game can be played as a peaceful venture, players can find their ship destroyed in a fight. “That's part of the thrill of the game, you never know what you are going to run into," said Ballew.

No problem, says Tony Howlett. His company sells ship insurance. “So if your ship blows up and everything on it blows up, you survive and we will give you a new ship, but it won't have any of the things you added to it," he said.

Although only a small percentage of players buy extra features, Kieran Howlett says being tied into Apple's large customer base makes it lucrative. “Once they approve you, you are in their store and you benefit from their resources and distribution, and then you have to follow their rules," he said.

Creating the virtual space world of Traveller AR was an undertaking that involved around 30 computer programers, as well as artists and designers.

Computer programer Chris Kauffman said, “It is a lot of different people working in a lot of different areas. I am not much of a visual artist, but I can take the pictures that you give me, and I can make them move around.”

Tony Howlett says the ultimate attraction of these role-playing games is the opportunity they give players to momentarily leave their ordinary life behind. “They may work a regular job during the day, but here they are in this giant space ship, and they are the king of the universe," he said.

Traveller AR is now in the beta testing phase, but it has already become one of the top 20 role-playing games in Apple's online store, and the Howlett brothers are working on other applications they hope will also meet with success online.