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Game Service Provider|
Internet Service Provider
|United Kingdom, Australia|
|Parent||British Telecom, Gameplay.com, Pipex|
Wireplay was one of the first Game Service Providers in the UK, announced by BT in 1995. Wireplay allowed people to play multiplayer games with other people around the country via the use of a modem.
The Wireplay name and assets have changed hands a number of times as the business case for the organisation changed.
Wireplay came out of the video-on demand experiments by British Telecom in Milton Keynes in the mid 1990's and was designed to help people connect to play video games together. The project lead by Colin Duffy and Richard Warren and was launched in 1996 as a DOS-based software, with an interface to join multiplayer games, set up your own tournaments and ladders and chat with people live online. The launch came just 2 days after the US-based equivilent MPlayer went live. The service was launched with Actua Soccer from Gremlin Interactive. At its peak Wireplay had over 50,000 monthly players and was achieving over 1000 concurrent users; which made it one of the larger services in the dial-up era.
The Wireplay software itself often came on magazine coverdisks. The software would dial in using a special call rate number that initially charged 6.5p a minute at peak times, and 2.5p per minute at off peak times. The most popular games at first were DOS-based games such as Duke Nukem 3D and Big Red Racing. Very often, the demo version of Big Red Racing was included on the same disks as the Wireplay software.
There were many limitations to the system, for instance only 4 players could join in a Dukematch (Duke Nukem 3D Deathmatch) at any one time. BT also initially recommended setting your modem to only communicate at 14,400bps when most modems were 28.8k and above. Matches often went "out of sync", requiring the user to exit manually and often having to close the Wireplay software and restart their computer to reset the modem.
During this period, BT announced that they would be releasing new software and started a Beta trial of two new versions of the software, one for DOS and one for Windows, which would be Quake-compatible. The new software was far superior, allowing up to 8 players in Duke Nukem 3D, and gameplay was noticeably more reliable. Beta Testers had all their charges accumulated for using Wireplay credited on their bill on receipt of their completed questionnaires.
The new software was very popular at first, and demand began to exceed the available space for players. Some of these issues were resovlved with the introduction server-hosted games and when Wireplay started using an early prototype 'Rack-system' developed in the BT Martlesham laboratories using multiple connected laptop motherboards to operate game servers.
In 1998 BT IMS (Internet & Multimedia Services) team attempted to launch a 'Free' (i.e. just basic phone call charges) internet service including Wireplay but were unable to do so due to the regulation managed at the time by the Oftel this alowed Freeserve to undercut their internet services offering. As an added-value service the Wireplay team were requried to maintain at £0.01p per minute on top of the base phone bill and were not allowed to account for any revenues generated by the networking side of the telecom. This made it very difficult for that team to gain additional audience or to gain additional investment from within BT. This lead to the decision to sell Wireplay to a newly formed group called Gameplay who had also acquired a mail-order games retailer, Interactive Commercial Enterprises Limited in 1999.
The Australian telecom licensed a version of the Wireplay service which they renamed 'Game Arena' in 2002 - https://whirlpool.net.au/news/?id=732&show=all
This was shut down in 2014 - http://www.kotaku.com.au/2014/09/telstra-shuts-down-gamearena-the-servers-and-the-website/
The new group combined online games play and online game retail was managed by EON Veterans, Mark Bertstein and Mark Strachan with former BT execs John Swingwood (also Director of New Media at Sky at the time) and Colin Duffy also on the board. Boosted by the Dot.Com economy bubble they managed to raise £31Million on AIM; £10Million more than expected.
However, this was not to last with significant misssteps along the way including an aborted attempt to create a range of physical retail stores and a mistimed move into games publishing which appeared to sour their relationships with a number of publishers. Gameplay's thinking was significantly ahead of its time however looking to support various devices including mobile phones and the Sky Set-Top Box through their 'Open' platform. However, many of these initiatives were conducted at a loss. In 2001 Wireplay was clearly in trouble and saw a rapid decline in their share price along with many similar Dot.Com companies of the period. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/1304475.stm
During this time Wireplay's support in terms of technology and management went into decline until Gameplay Gmbh appointed administrators in May 2001. Wireplay was put up for sale in August 2001.
After the fall out of Gameplay redundancies, BlueYonder enlisted former Wireplay staff to setup a competing service, launching in September 2001. The migrating Wireplay staff took a core section of the Wireplay community with them to the new service, effectively consigning Wireplay to the history book. In 2003 BlueYonder closed its gaming operation. Much of the staff and community migrated to Trickery.net
During this period the former wireplay team experiemented with a number of innovations such as streamed gameplay - allowing play of games like Quake2 using a standard cable Set-top box (the gameplay was sent as a video stream to the box rendered on the server). This was a precursor to technology such as Onlive! or Gaikai.
Wireplay was closed down on 2014-10-06