Business As Usual

The (virtual reality) world of Oz

- Rose G. De La Cruz -
Seven months after setting up shop and spending P65 million, Level Up! Inc. commercially launched last January 31, 2003 an online video game called Oz.

"Oz is a virtual reality world with real-life people as players. It is rapidly transforming the lives of many young Filipinos by making them more sociable and befriending more people. The players have the chance to chat with thousands more at the same time in Oz than through any personal computer with an internet connection," said Level Up! general manager and Oz game boss Ben Colayco.

To date, the company has registered at least 4,500 players, most of whom play the game in internet cafés, which are traditionally venues to surf, chat, and e-mail in the local market. The average game player is a student, aged 14 to 21 years old, who has the disposable income to pay for the internet prepaid cards needed to play the game.

"We are signing up seven to 20 new internet café operators every day. They commit to push the game in their outlets," said Colayco.

By the end of this year, Level Up! is projecting the number of players to swell up to 20,000.
Oz originated in Korea and spread to Japan and Singapore.

"We adopted Oz to Philippine conditions such as enabling our players to chat in Pilipino, English or Taglish," said Colayco, who conservatively placed the number of video game players in Metro Manila alone at one million.

"One basic rule is that the language used should not be vulgar or violent, which we automatically boot out from our control center in Makati. We also ban the abusive player from playing," he said.

To enter Oz, a player must have an e-mail address, a prepaid internet card, and a registered identity or avatar. Players can buy gold coins, using their prepaid cards or allocate the entire card value for playing time. The more friends a player wins, the more points he is entitled to, enabling him to play longer and going to the higher levels of the game.

"At any given time, we can accommodate up to 10,000 dial up connections from people wanting to play the game," said Colayco.

Players have already formed themselves into clans and have met each other in the real world. For its part, Level Up! hosts offline activities or occasions for Oz players to meet each other. The next party is slated for early May at the Rockwell Center. A sports event for Oz players will also be held this summer.
"Our vision is to provide Filipinos with digital entertainment that is not violent and that fosters brotherhood and community involvement through online video games," said Colayco, who sold the concept to its investor, Argosy Partners.

Aside from the sale of the CD, Level Up! makes money from the sale of pre-paid cards to internet café owners, store retailers and even schools. The CD itself entitles the owner to play four hours’ worth of free game upon installation.

The prepaid cards come in denominations of P50 (which is good for four hours), P100 (for 12 hours or seven days unlimited) and P350 (for one month).

"We plan to develop the game some more to feature local merchants, style, and culture, thus allowing the local market to redesign Oz world as they see fit. This attention to popular trends and culture is what makes the game uniquely Filipino," said Colayco.

"We welcome competitors. because this would lessen our load to push internet or online gaming in the country."

Given that the video game industry is worth an estimated $15 billion worldwide, there is indeed room for Level Up! and its competitors.
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