Exclusive News: Former Microsoft XBox Manager Joins Sparter Advisory Board

maruyamaandxbox.jpgDuring last week’s E3 Business and Media Summit in Santa Monica, Gaming Today had an opportunity to sit down with Dan Kelly, CEO of Sparter Inc. and Yoshi-Hiro Maruyama, former General Manager of Microsoft Japan’s XBox Division and Square executive to discuss his appointment on the company’s advisory board.

Sparter Inc. focuses on direct Gamer2Gamer commerce in the burgeoning MMO market by offering tools and a web space where users can exchange hard won gold for hard earned cash as gamers buy or sell directly from other gamers – not corporations. In addition, the site’s ability to track exchange rates based on purchases on the various servers or realms and a critical seller feedback system helps inform and protect interested consumers about the best sellers. Sparter.com, the company’s web portal, currently supports gold transfers for multiple games including World of Warcraft, Everquest, Guild Wars and Lord of the Rings Online.

“We are very excited that Yoshi will be the first member of Sparter’s advisory board,” said Dan Kelly, Sparter CEO. “Yoshi is a visionary and well respected veteran of the gaming industry. We know that his expertise in the sector, his experience in working as a publisher, and his keen sense of the global market will be invaluable to us as we continue to improve Sparter’s platform and services. More importantly, Yoshi understands how vital it is that we as an industry address consumer interest in trading virtual items. I am incredibly excited that a publishing executive of Yoshi’s stature has agreed to work with Sparter in creating a workable solution for both gamers and publishers.”

“I am looking forward to becoming a member of the Sparter family,” said Yoshi-Hiro Maruyama. “I believe that Sparter is the platform that can accommodate the needs of today’s gamers as well as the rights of publishers in dealing with RMT. Sparter also offers the best opportunity to support our consumers and, through cooperation with publishers, punish the truly bad behavior like in-game spamming, bot farming and use of exploits. I hope to leverage my experience and relationships to facilitate dialogue between Sparter and other participants in the industry to develop a solution that benefits everyone within the gaming ecosystem.”

Speaking directly with Mr. Maruyama, Gaming Today asked him why he was endorsing the company so strongly. Maruyama, a trained economist, said that the industry needs to evolve to benefit itself and its customers. He recognized that there is a desire for safe, protected transactions where players and companies can enable the exchange of money for virtual products and that the industry as a whole needed to work toward making that happen. Sparter CEO Dan Kelly envisions the addition of publishers like Mr. Maruyama to Sparter’s Advisory Board will help the various MMO companies see that protecting and enabling gamer to gamer commerce works to expand the market while promoting or leveraging additional income for further content development.

About Yoshi-Hiro Maruyama: Mr. Maruyama ended his tenure as the General Manager of the XBox Division at Microsoft Japan in September 2006. In this capacity, Mr. Maruyama was responsible for growing XBox market share and preparing the launch of the next generation XBox360 console. He also successfully led efforts to work with major Japanese game companies and creators to produce high quality games for the Japanese market. Mr. Maruyama brought in Hironobu Sakaguchi, a creator of Final Fantasy series, and Mr. Akira Toriyama, a creator of Dragon Ball Z series, to create Blue Dragon.

Before joining Microsoft, Mr. Maruyama served as senior vice president and chief operating officer of Squaresoft Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Square Co. Ltd., and one of Japan’s largest family-owned game software developers. At Squaresoft, Mr. Maruyama increased Square’s U.S. market development efforts. Within two years, the company became one of the most popular game developers in the country with the release of such titles as Final Fantasy 7, the first million seller title for Sony PlayStation in the U.S. He also negotiated a joint venture with Electronic Arts to create Square Electronic Arts, which eventually grew to be one of the most popular Japanese game publishers based in the U.S., with annual revenues reaching $100 million. Mr. Maruyama previously served on the boards of D Wonderland Inc. and Gama Internet Technology USA, Inc.

The Sparter designed commerce system, unlike gold farming operations, keeps the investment in the hands of the people playing the games and offers one solution to the casual or hardcore gamer for removing the grind to generate gold while protecting players from fraud. Players interested in discovering what Sparter is all about as well as a number of answers to commonly asked questions about the service can find out more on Sparter.com .

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4 Comments on Exclusive News: Former Microsoft XBox Manager Joins Sparter Advisory Board

Ron

On July 16, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I had the chance to talk with both Mr. Kelly and Mr. Maruyama during this interview. I’ve played a bunch of MMOs, and I’ve always been kind of down on RMT, simply because I believe it hurts the economies of servers when gold that is farmed on other servers is suddenly dumped into economies. However, what Sparter is proposing to do is something totally different. Basically, they are facilitating the trade between gamers of gold for money.

Now, there’s no difference in a real life friend giving me ten bucks for 100 in-game gold. Honestly, the market is tending towards RMT every day, and the willingness of a well-known executive to sit on the advisory board should give us all a look at how the industry is beginning to regard the issue.

Regardless of how you feel on the issue, you should do your research, and see what Sparter has to offer. You’ll know the time for RMT to be fully accepted is drawing near when you see MMO publishers (besides Sony) coming on board with companies like Sparter.

Sure, there will always be the elitist gamers who disagree with the practice, but honestly, the secondary market can only help the gaming industry, and that’s good for everyone.

Tom

On July 25, 2007 at 2:03 am

There is no doubt that Sparter have created an excellent C2C trading platform for the secondary MMO market. There is also no doubting the lengths they have gone to promote this new venture, especially through mass PR. What conerns me is the lack of attention given to the issues that have plagued RMT for many years, namely the extent of fraud due to the intagible nature of the product.

In it’s FAQ section, Sparter merely refers to fraud, on either side of the transaction as a “well it could happen, but it probably wont and we wont tell you what will happen if it does”. In acting as an intermediary Sparter is taking themselves out of the blame equation whilst still profiting from the transaction. The disheartened and out-of-pocket customer will return again putting the past bad experience down to a bad seller. It’s clear to see whilst opening up a massive C2C trading platform, Sparter is also opening up more opportunities for fraudulent buyers and sellers, and at present they seem quite intent to take a ring-side view with their 10% commission fee in hand.

When Sparter is written about in Blogs and on Community Sites without being prompted for good PR and inbound links, maybe this and many other issues will be addressed. For now let us all enjoy the PR Department approved doctrine being sent forth by Mr. Kelly & Co.

Shawn Sines

On July 25, 2007 at 6:49 am

Tom,

I’d like to hear what you think they could do. Sparter offers an eBay like selling experience with ratings and as it is not directly involved at the corporate end how can it address the issues you mention? eBay has much the same problem with fraud but as consumers we’ve come to accept the risk it seems.

The concept has a long way to go to overcome many of the negative aspects the industry as a whole has ignored about the process. I believe after looking at the situation that the Sparter exchange site is really just the first part – they want to help make the RTE market safer but it required publisher cooperation on an issue many of them frankly do not want to deal with.

Sure virtual currency exchange for real money has an intangible nature.. but if you think about it there would not be a company making money at this if the currency in those games did not have an intrinsic value to game players – people who often as the question – how much is my time worth? Can I afford to spend it on grinding or should I simply just purchase gold so I can concentrate on the activities I like? Personally I think that proposition makes sense.

My observation is that Sparter has methods in place for identifying bad sellers/buyers and warning consumers. How else should they address the fraud issue?

Ron

On July 25, 2007 at 9:15 am

If you read the FAQ on the Sparter site, you’ll see that the seller doesn’t receive your money until the transaction is completed, and the virtual item has been delivered.

“Once currency is selected and paid for, we put your funds in escrow and notify the seller that he should deliver the currency to you within the timeframe you selected. The delivery of the currency will happen either through in-game email or through some other means depending upon the game. It is the seller’s responsibility to deliver the currency to you and we do not release your money to the seller until delivery has taken place. In the unlikely scenario where your currency is not delivered or is late, the seller’s rating will decrease and in certain situations he may be banned from the marketplace. Sparter will then refund your money or ask another seller to fill your order.” from http://sparter.com/web/faq.jsp#b15

It’s difficult to protect against fraud in the world of RMT, but this sounds to me to be a good-faith effort to do so.