Games can be a way for people to relax and have fun, but that’s not the only reason to play. For those with a more competitive drive, skill gaming offers a chance for game gurus to prove their mettle in tournaments where real cash prizes are up for grabs. Gamezebo spoke with Brian Mahoney, who is Director of Product Development at WorldWinner.com, to learn more about skill gaming and how the company is adapting popular games like Bejeweled, Plants vs. Zombies and Scrabble to the format.

For our readers who aren’t familiar with skill gaming, how does it work?

WorldWinner.com is aservice that enablesgamersto play dozens of popular casual games inonline competitionsfor real cash and prizes. Our games are referred to as “skill-based” contests, meaning they are carefully designed to eliminate elementsof luck in order to provideplayers with a fair, fun, and legal alternative to chance-based gambling sites. We oversee all aspects of each competition, includingmatching players with opponents of similar skill, hosting the games, and verifying each player’s score.

Wehost a wide variety of tournament formats ranging from quick two-player challenges to hugemulti-daycompetitions with thousands of players in them. The prize amount variesdepending on the size and entry fee ofthe competition.

The games that we offer include a mixture of classic casual games such as Solitaire and Free Cell, hot new titles like PopCap’s Bejeweled Twist and Plants vs. Zombies, and exclusive original games in partnership with Hasbro such as Scrabble Cubes, Catch-21, and Trivial Pursuit Turbo.

Can people from all over the world participate, or are the competitions limited to certain regions?

Our cash competitions areavailable in moststates and countries. There are a few states within the U.S. that do not permit skill-based games to be played for cash or prizes, butresidents of those states can still enjoy WorldWinner’s free games without cash or prize offerings. We see over a million games played each day.

WorldWinner recently added PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies to its roster of games. What are the key differences about the skill-based version of the game?

We had to makea fewsignificantchanges to the game in order to adapt it to our competitive format. One of the first things that we do when adapting a game is to make it fully skill-based. We level the playing field where every player has an equal opportunity to win. In Plants vs. Zombies, we made it so that all players in a tournament have the same collection of plants to choose from and all players are faced with zombie invasionsof equivalent difficulty.

Wealsoadded a scoring system to the game because the original game did not use one. In our version, you score points for each zombie that you defeat, and you can earn a time bonus for finishing the game quickly. You also lose points each time a Zombie eats one of your plants.

How closely was PopCap involved with the process of adapting PvZ?

PopCap has been involved throughout our development process byproviding creative input on the game and giving us feedback on how each character should contribute to scoring. Our skill-based version of Plants vs. Zombies usesthe same artwork asthe original game and is built to mirror the retail game experience as much as possible. We are excited to be introducing more of these great characters in the release of a new level.

Were there any challenges about making a skill-based version of PvZ? Does the tower defense genre tend to adapt well to such a format?

The biggest challenge was probably our need toreduce the length of the game.The retail version of the game has many hours of game play, and we had to shorten that down to a competitive game that can be played in five minutes or so. Our adaptation of PopCap’s game is basically a single level of play at a time, with six waves of zombies, but the types and placement of the zombies – and the ability to select plants with which to combat the zombies – are randomized to make the game infinitely re-playable.

The retail game has such great content that we had to make a lot of hard choices with regard to whichindividual plants and zombies we were going to include in the skill-based version.We currently offer “easy” competitions that give players nine different plants to choose from and six different zombies to battle against. However, on June 23 we will launched the next difficulty level thatincludes five additionaltypes of plants and fourmore types of zombies.

Plants vs. Zombies is the first game in the “tower defense” genrethat we have adapted for skill-based game play. This style of game is not always easy to adapt because we need to remove some expected elements while at the same time offering a wide variety of challenges so that players can’t just build the same exact defense every time they play.

I think we’ve done a good job of achieving this balance with Plants vs. Zombies by randomizing the waves of zombie attacks in a way that is unpredictable yet still fair. In order to increase the strategic aspects of the game even more, we allow the player to see in advance how many of each type of zombie he or shewill be battling against. This enables the player to customize his or her selection of plants based on the zombies that will be appearing in the level.

How many other games have you adapted to the skills-based format? How many more are you planning to add by the end of the year?

We currently offer more than 40 skill-based games on WorldWinner, including adaptations of many popular games such as Spades, Hearts, PopCap’s Bejeweled 2, and Hasbro’s Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Clue, and even Twister. We also offer avariety of game show-inspired games such as Deal or No Deal, Family Feud, Wheel Of Fortune, Jeopardy!, and The Price Is Right.

Wehave more great games lined up for later this year, but we’re still early in development andI can’t reveal any of the titles just yet.