New technology comes into play when games are on the line

ST. LOUIS (MCT) – Online gamers live or die – in the virtual world anyway – on their ability to respond quickly to opponents’ moves.

While part of that response depends on reflexes, a gamer’s equipment and the Internet can slow down delivery of the response, cause jittery images or lose a player’s move altogether.

GameRail, a new St. Louis company, has developed technology that can shave milliseconds off response time – also called latency – by directly connecting Internet access providers and the servers. The technology also reduces jitter and delivers signals – or data packets – more reliably.

College student Dane Johnston said GameRail tripled the speed of his connections to servers in St. Louis, and significantly cut the response time with servers elsewhere.

“GameRail definitely surprised me with how quickly and effectively it fixed my issues,” Johnston said.

GameRail, which has its headquarters downtown and an office in Maryland Heights, Mo., is the brainchild of Blake Ashby, 42, and Darrell Gentry, 33, two longtime technology entrepreneurs. Gentry is an avid gamer who has worked for years to improve computer connections used in games.

The venture, organized as Progression LLC, is getting support from River City Internet Group, a Maryland Heights Internet service provider, and Bob Guller, managing member of the Bandwidth Exchange Buildings LLC in St. Louis.

One investor and board member is Mark Senda, the former president of business telecom provider Xspedius Communications LLC in O’Fallon, Mo. Xspedius was purchased this year by Time Warner Telecom.

GameRail uses telecom “hotels” like the Bandwidth Exchange Buildings to make direct connections to Internet service providers and game servers. Telecommunications and cable companies have robust connections in these hotels, which also may house the servers that run the games.

GameRail routes the signals over a nationwide fiber optic network operated by Broadwing Corp., a Texas company. That means a signal goes from a player’s Internet service provider to the game server in a single hop.

By contrast, most signals on the Internet move from one carrier to the next, often traveling a zigzag path to reach their destination. For example, it’s not unusual for a signal from St. Louis to travel through Los Angeles or New York before arriving in Chicago.

“We get (a gamer’s signal) before it hits the dirty Internet,” Ashby said. “It allows their skill to come through more.”

Ashby said GameRail can shave 20 to 30 milliseconds off the time needed for a signal to travel from a player to a game server – a savings of 30 percent to 50 percent, sometimes more.

Dedicated gamers spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on computers and gizmos to speed up processing time, Ashby said. He doubts they’d blink at $11.99 a month, the amount GameRail plans to charge when it completes beta testing in a few months. The service would supplement rather than replace a customer’s Internet access provider.

Ashby said GameRail is being cautious about rolling the service out commercially. Initially, it will be available in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and St. Louis.

“Gamers are very sophisticated consumers,” he said. “They will know if we’ve dropped the ball.”

Senda said he’s been impressed by GameRail’s managers and its knowledge of the gaming market, which has exploded in recent years.

“They understand what the gamer is looking for,” said Senda. Among the entrepreneurial groups he’s looked at, “This is probably the most creative and interesting one that I’ve come across.”

Senda said he expects GameRail to begin generating revenue by summer, perhaps sooner.