Housewife Invents New Online Social Gaming Site

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Players help each other win prizes.

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I wanted games people would play with each other rather than against each other in a relaxing, friendly environment

Sometimes mothers make the best inventions. If you play games over the Internet, you have lots of company. Like many women, Michelle Kaplan plays games on her home computer to relax after a long day. But somehow, the typical games she found online just didn't seem right to her. Most of them pitted players against each other to win points, status or prizes.

"It seems to me most online games are better suited for young men that like to slay monsters or make touchdowns," says Winster Co-Founder Michelle Kaplan. "But I'm just not like that. I socialize with my friends by helping them, not competing with them. The last thing I need is more stress in my life."

So Kaplan got the idea to build a different kind of game -- one where people cooperate, rather than compete, to help each other win. Working with her husband, a computer engineer, she came up with a new type of game where people win prizes faster if they work together. The result was -- where, as it says on the web site, '...friends help friends win free prizes'.

"I wanted games people would play with each other rather than against each other in a relaxing, friendly environment," says Kaplan. "Then I realized players could help each other win prizes. That's when it all came together."

More Like a Coffee Klatch:
"Winster is more like a coffee klatch than a game site," Kaplan explains. "People make new friends quickly and easily because they aren't trying to beat each other. Helping out other people is much
more fun than you might think."

Kathleen Valentino, a regular Winster member, says, "Due to health reasons, I am housebound, which can be very isolating. Since I started playing Winster, I have found a network of friends to socialize and play fun games with."

To date, the husband and wife team has created ten games to choose from. To play a game on, you first pick a prize you want to win, and then solve some sort of puzzle to earn points until you have enough points to claim your prize. Up to five players sit side by side in a virtual room where they can see each other's puzzles. The trick is they can help each other by trading pieces they don't need for pieces they do need -- so everyone wins.

A Hobby Turns into a Business:
What started as a home project in their garage quickly grew into a real business. Michelle's husband Jerry Kaplan now works full time managing a team of Silicon Valley engineers building games in the Winster style. "Who knew this would be such a big deal?" he says. "We've had hundreds of thousands of people play games at, and some of them spend many hours each day making friends, winning prizes, and just plain having fun."

To design the games, the Kaplan's took familiar activities like Poker, Scrabble, and Bingo and adapted them to this new concept. For instance, on Winster everyone can see your Poker hand, and the goal is to trade cards with your neighbors so that everyone gets the best hand they can.
Valentino concludes, "It has been very difficult for me to stay connected with my friends outside my home. Now, I play with old friends and continue to meet new friends as well. I finally feel like I have my social life back."

About Winster:
Winster, Inc. operates a new type of Internet game site that caters to people who play online games as a social outlet rather than a competitive one. The site offers innovative games designed to foster a sense of community and promote positive social interaction by enabling players to help each other winnprizes. The company was founded in 2004 and is headquartered in San Mateo, California.


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Felicity Odell
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