Smoke breaks are common in the workplace, but increasingly people are taking interludes from their jobs without leaving their desks - and having fun in the process.
That's because more and more people are playing games online, says Jessica Rovello, chairwoman of Arkadium Inc., a New York-based company that creates game software that allows computer users to download a gaming interface to their computer desktop for playing backgammon, chess and checkers.
"This is not blackjack," Rovello says. "This is not poker. This is arcade games, chess and solitaire. It's for the average Joe. It's not intimidating. It's not overly technical. It's just fun."
Gamers can go online and play others around the world.
Arkadium offers players a chance to choose an avatar, a graphic representation of themselves, and to instant message each other through chat rooms - often to challenge others to a game.
"Our goal in the way we designed it was to bring friends together, college roommates, brothers and sisters who might live in different areas of the country and have always played backgammon against each other but who might want to play for a little bit more than just bragging rights," Rovello says.
Arkadium is running a special that allows people to play up to 2,000 games in a year at no cost. After 2,000 games are played, subscribers can pay $12.99 for three months of unlimited games or $24.95 for a year.
Milo (the only name he uses online), 26, of Orlando, Fla., has been playing games through the Arkadium Gamedek interface about a year. He says he gets online a few hours each day for checkers, chess and some of the strategy games.
Can get a game fast
"I can usually get a game pretty fast if I'm online," says Milo, who was casting about for an opponent in the chat area this week. "I obviously have to have a player willing to play right in front of me, which isn't all that easy to get."
Arkadium has up and running 22 of the 30 games it plans to offer. Others will be added in the next few weeks.
With games such as checkers and skeet shooting (using the mouse), you might think mostly young men were playing online. But Rovello says that's hardly the case. While males may be part of the clientele, most of the Arkadium subscribers are women older than age 35, Rovello says. "It's interesting," she says. "When you think about the stereotypical Internet user and gamer, you don't think of a mature woman, but that's who it is."
Rovello says that online subscribers are playing more than 1.5 million games a month through Arkadium's distribution channels. Arkadium has several partners in its online gaming efforts, including Terra.com, the largest Spanish portal on the Internet.
Gamers who want to get the Gamedek desktop interface need only go to www.arkadium.com and sign up.
The gaming interface will allow you to bet money on the games you play, depending on whether Internet wagering on games is legal in your community. Maryland prohibits people from forms of Internet gambling.
Winning cash from playing games such as chess, which require skill, is seen differently by the law than winning on slot machines, which are games of chance, Rovello says. That is why Arkadium Inc. can legally offer its games in many of the states that it does, she says.
Arkadium requires users to be at least age 18, because of the availability of cash betting in some states, Rovello says.
The system allows a $25 maximum bet per game, she says.
"That is to protect the people playing, and, again, we really didn't establish this to make money from people who are playing high-stakes games all day long," Rovello says. "We wanted to create an environment that was more of a fun community where we are making our money as a business off of the volume of people who are playing. We're not looking to have 10 or 20 people playing for $3,000.
"We're looking to have a lot of people playing for small amounts."
Samantha Thompson, 29, of Los Angeles says she considers herself a "small-time" player.
"I play 50-cent games or the tournaments that have a $1 entry fee, or a $5 fee," says Thompson, an executive assistant at a Los Angeles-area university. "I play for fun, but I do play the cash games. I've made quite a bit of money on Mah Jongg (an electronic version of the Chinese tile matching game). That's the one I'm good at. I also play Solitaire and Bombsquad and Treasure Hunt, but I'm not as good at those games."
Thompson says she has been playing Arkadium games for a while. She says the company's design and the chance to compete against others appeal to her.
"I go on pretty much every day, unless I have something else going on, but generally I'll check in at least once a day, usually in the evening," Thompson says. "It's a community where I've gotten to know the people on there. A bunch of my friends play on there already, and I've met other people who I have no idea who they really are. ... I just know them by their screen name."