February 3, 2009 / 5:44 PM / 10 years ago

Cyber-yachting race lures web surfers in thousands

PARIS, Feb 3 (Reuters Life) - Frenchman Michel Desjoyeaux may have won the gruelling Vendee Globe solo yacht race last weekend, but for thousands of armchair sailors all over the world the real action happened online.

A screengrab of virtualregatta.com taken on February 3, 2009. REUTERS/Virtualregatta.com

In cyberspace, over 300,000 Internet surfers have been battling to win the three-month long online yachting game Virtual Regatta, and on Tuesday celebrated victory when a software developer surnamed Hughes was declared the winner.

Virtual Regatta (www.virtualregatta.com), which offers a 10,000 euro ($12,860) prize, gives players a taste of competitive sailing without the risk of getting wet. It has also drawn in over ten thousand times the number of participants than the real-life Vendee Globe.

Created by French firm ManyPlayers, players sign up for free and can “sail” the same route as the Vendee Globe, with actual weather conditions on the course recreated in cyberworld.

“The game allows the players to get into the skin of the skippers ... the Internet is a way of turning people from spectators into actors,” said Philippe Guigne, founder of ManyPlayers and himself a winner of the 1997 Tour de France sailing competition.

Players use a Web page showing an interactive map which shows the actual weather conditions and wind speed at specific locations as well as boat speed and compass directions.

The main advantages of ManyPlayers’ approach lies in the high quality of the games which are based on big-name events, and lack of technological barriers such as time-consuming downloads, Guigne said.

“There’s also a sense of community — a lot of players sign up just because their friends did and they want to compete against each other,” he added.

The recipe has proved popular: the number of Virtual Regatta players has ballooned to 320,000 since its start on November 9.

Riding on the success of its formula, ManyPlayers is also exploring a range of capital-raising possibilities to fund expansion, Guigne added.

Several of the players confess to becoming addicted.

“It’s like having a secret life ... I am thinking all the time about my position, and the others, and really not sleeping nights, almost like in a real boat, but without the cold and waves,” one participant posted on Virtual Regatta’s online forum.

Others say they have developed a new found interest in sailing thanks to the game.

“Since November I’ve been navigating the world and have learned the basics of sailing (like 90 percent of us, I imagine),” wrote one player.

To coincide with Roland Garros, ManyPlayers is offering a virtual tennis tournament in May and hopes to attract 200,000 players, double the number last year.

“We’re just going to continue doing what we’re doing — sign on for more games and with more partners,” said Guigne.

Reporting by Sophie Taylor, editing by Marcel Michelson and Paul Casciato

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