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Startup Marries Games to Grid Computing

Web game developers can make decent money through advertising, but that revenue generally depends on clickthroughs and other variables beyond their control. What if they could earn some cash simply by making their games popular? That’s essentially the value proposition of Plura Processing, a startup that sells distributed network computing power.

Backed by $2 million in funding from Houston’s Creeris Ventures, Plura was founded in 2007 on the observation that “There is an immense amount of excess computing power wasting away on everyone’s home computers. We thought a technology that could tap into that power in a safe way could be game-changing to high-performance computing and cloud computing,” Chief Strategy Officer Shion Deysarkar tells me.

To do that, they’re partnering with game makers. Developers of online Flash and Java games can become Plura affiliates. “When people come to these sites to play games a Java applet is initiated, which connects the user’s computer to our grid-computing network,” Deysarkar explained to me. Plura then sells that computing power to its customers, and in return, affiliates get a cut of the revenue based on the average number of simultaneous users and percentage of compute power used, up to $2,600 a month. (Here’s a more detailed explanation on the Plura site.)

The setup is still in beta with a handful of partners, including Desktop Tower Defense, which is among the most popular web games of all time. Assuming all this works as billed, I think it’s definitely a revenue stream game developers should consider, in addition to advertising. For companies in need of high-performance computing resources, Plura claims to offer rates that are highly competitive with Amazon’s EC2, at least for certain applications.

Of course, there are concerns from the affiliates’ point of view, which Deysarkar acknowledges: Some users may balk at the idea of a third party using their computing power or an occasional slowdown in individual performance. (With Plura’s applet installed, loading DTD seems to require a few extra seconds for me.) Those are challenges for both game developers (and Plura) to consider.

From a gamer’s perspective, the coolest thing is how a service like Plura incentivizes Flash developers to improve their product. “If a game developer can increase the time someone plays his game from 5 minutes to 6 minutes,” as Deysarkar put it to me, “that’s a 20 percent increase in revenue.” So it’s in their interest not only to attract new players, but keep existing ones playing. That’ll probably translate into better and bigger games for players, more money for developers — and more computing power to sell.

Image credit: Plura Processing

16 Responses to “Startup Marries Games to Grid Computing”

  1. Our affiliates have hundreds or thousands of people that are playing their games (or using their services) at any given time. The affiliate gets paid for the aggregate time for all of their users while their computers are being used to play the game.

  2. I can see some scenarios where this could work… if you more or less can make sure in advanced some cpu cycles (lets say 12 hrs), maybe plura can raise your 0.00000014 dollars to something significant…

  3. We pay the game developer or website operator for the traffic from people that are playing their game. The game developer gets a nice source of revenue that is independent from ads. Large affiliates can earn very substantial monthly income from Plura.

    The users get access to better games and better content since the developers are earning more for the time they spend working on their game.

  4. Hey guys – I thought I would just add a little clarification for those interested.

    Plura isn’t a downloaded/installed application. Rather, it’s a Java applet (or JAR) that runs in the background. Because our affiliates (i.e., game developers, site owners, etc.) can control when and how Plura is used, it doesn’t need idle PC time to run.

    Here’s a potential example for how Plura could be used.. Let’s say someone wants to play a graphically-intensive Flash RPG. When the player starts the game, there’s a loading/menu screen. CPU use by the Flash player is really low, so the game can dynamically set Plura CPU use to be high, maximizing computing power during this time. When the player is engaged in some battle, the Flash player may be using a lot of CPU. Then the game can dynamically minimize Plura CPU use. At the end of the play session, the game sees how much compute time the player provided and rewards him with an in-game item (e.g., +1 longsword).

    So what you get is something that the user loves (because he’s being directly rewarded) and a model for computing power that does work (because it’s using the PC as efficiently as possible). Both sides win. :)

    One more clarification: Plura payments scale with # of users and length of time on a site. The $2,600 mentioned in the article assumes 1,000 concurrent users at any given time. If there are more users, the potential payment increases (e.g., 10,000 concurrent users => $26,000).

  5. i think the idea is worthy of a trial. With 200+ million unique consumers playing just flash games each month as per comScore, it means that there are almost 200 million unique PC/Machines to add to the grid. why not add a carrot to the consumer? anyway the players are teen/tween types who would love some extra bucks? we created invisible ads in games that help developers gain extra money when their games get scraped, and the eco-sysytem loves it!

  6. What they’ve really married is a business model that users hate (crapware) and a business model that doesn’t work (idle PCs). All the other companies that have tried this (e.g. United Devices) have failed.