Social Flash gaming portal Kongregate
has today announced the launch of a series of new features as part of their Beta release. The site has been running since last October, when it was launched as an invitation-only Alpha build, though it has gradually opened up to the public through that period. Kongregate is billed as a Web 2.0 gaming hub and has attracted more than 300 user-submitted Flash and Shockwave games over that time, including Fancy Pants Adventures
, and the IGF nominated shooter Gamma Bros.
The site was founded by Jim Greer, a former technical director of gaming portal Club Pogo, and his sister Emily, an interactive marketing executive, and is funded by Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, Joe Kraus, co-founder of Excite and JotSpot, Jeff Clavier, whose previous investments include Userplane and MyBlogLog, and former Disney Online president Richard Wolpert, amongst others. Hoffman notes that the site “is first to deliver high caliber Web 2.0 features to the gaming segment” and provides an “infectious community”.
The latest inclusions to the site consist of an achievement and incentive system, with features like collectable cards and the ability to earn points by completing challenges with the possibility to earn rewards and unlock areas of the site in future updates.
We spoke to Jim Greer about the site, its community elements, and how they’re attracting and sourcing new and exclusive content.
When was Kongregate formed, and where did the idea for the site come from?
Kongregate was formed nine months ago, in June of 2006. The idea for the site came out of my previous job - I was the technical director for Pogo at EA. Club Pogo, the subscription service, has been a huge hit - 1.4 million people paying $6 per month or $40 per year. They're paying for the same kind of features that make Xbox Live so successful - turning the individual web games into a persistent experience, where your friends can see your accomplishments and all that good stuff.
That's great, but the games on Club Pogo are targeting a different kind of player than me. I prefer the kind of Flash games you see on Miniclip, AddictingGames, and JayIsGames. It seemed like there was an opportunity to build a community that adapted the best parts of Xbox Live and Club Pogo and letting anyone upload games for it.
How difficult was it to attract financial backing for the project?
Surprisingly easy - we built the initial version of the site with our own money, and then once we had something working we started talking to investors. We met Reid Hoffman, who founded LinkedIn and has invested in Digg, Facebook, Flickr and a bunch of other great sites. It really only took one meeting for him to decide to invest.
What precedent is there for gaming related Web 2.0 sites?
Well, it depends on what you mean by Web 2.0. For sites that allow user uploads, the biggest is Newgrounds, which has been around for a long time and has a lot of great games on it. They have a very different style of community than ours - it's mostly about reviewing games and hanging out in the forums.
There are some other new user-uploaded sites, like The Great Games Experiment and GameGum - they're both quite different. GGE does all kinds of games - PC, Console, etc. - so it has greater breadth but most of the games are not playable on the site. GameGum most closely resembles Digg, except the games are hosted rather than linked to.
I would say that the profiles, badges, and points on Pogo make it into a social network for the older, more female demographic they serve.
When did the Alpha launch, and how successful has it been so far?
We had an invitation-only version of the site up in October, and quietly opened that up right around Christmas. That included chat, profiles, points, levels, ratings, comments, leaderboards, and forums. Since then we've been adding features and games - we just hit 300 games four days ago and today we are up to 330, so we've got no shortage there. The user growth has been strong, especially in the past month - we've gotten a huge push from an exclusive on The Fancy Pants Adventures World 2 Demo
How are you ensuring that developer retain the rights to their games?
Well, the agreement that developers click through when they upload the games is something we really pushed our lawyers on. They kind of resisted having a contract that gave us so few rights. Basically when you upload a game you're giving us non-exclusive, revokable license to host the game, and to put our community features around it. That's it - you can do anything else you want to with the game, and you can take it down at any time.
How difficult do you expect it to be to keep track of copyrights?
Luckily we are in a much easier situation than someone like YouTube. We get dozens of games uploaded a week, not hundreds of thousands. If someone flags a game as infringing their copyright, we can look at it and take it down if they have merit. Typically identifying the original author of a web game isn't difficult, since they generally host them on their own site.
How difficult do you expect it to be to source exclusive content for the site?
First off, we're not depending on exclusive content - we want to be the best place to play web games because of our challenges, achievements, and other community features.
Having said that, we are doing one big push that will help us get some exclusives. We're building a microtransactions wallet, similar to Microsoft Points - players can fund it with their credit card for $5 or $10, then draw down from that in $0.25 or $2.00 intervals. The idea is to let our best developers make bigger, deeper web games, and charge for the premium content in them. For example, The Fancy Pants Adventure
has three levels. When he makes Fancy Pants 3
, he could have three free levels and then another nine after that, and charge $0.25 each, or $2.00 for the whole thing. Players would be able to buy the levels without leaving the game, with one click. We'll split that money with the developers 80% for them, 20% for us.
Currently there's no good way for developers to make money on these games, much less make 12 levels. We're betting that there's a market for that, if the experience can be made as easy as Microsoft has made it with Xbox Live Arcade.
How are you attracting developers to the site?
Well, first off we share advertising revenue with them. That starts at 25% and goes up to 50% based on integrating with our APIs and linking to us from your game on other sites.
We're still small, so that's not huge revenue right now. But we also run weekly and monthly contests for the top rated games, and give out about $8,000/month in prize money. That's meaningful money to many of these guys - our average developer is about 19 years old - most of them make the whole games either on their own or with a partner to do art.
Also, the indie Flash development scene is pretty tight knit. A lot of people come to us through word of mouth.
What do you feel are the advantages for developers who appear on the site?
For one thing, we don't impose a lot of the restrictions that other portals do. For instance, if you do a deal with Real Arcade or Yahoo Games to have your game on their site, you don't get to link back to your site. You typically don't get to even put your logo and brand into the game. If they sell a premium downloadable version of it for $20, you might get $5. Maybe $8 or $9 if you're a big developer like Popcap.
On our site you can link to your site and promote your company however you want. If you have a downloadable to sell, you can link to your site for that and keep the full $20. Currently most of our developers are just one or two person shops, but we've had some interest from bigger studios, for this reason.
Why do you feel that the community elements enhance the gaming experience?
Why is World of Warcraft
more addictive than Oblivion
? Why is playing Call of Duty 2
on Xbox Live better than playing it on the PS2? It's because when you accomplish something, your friends can see it. You earn points, achievements and status, and you care about those things because you're in a social setting. That doesn't exist for Flash games yet, that's why we're building it.
We've got a lot of this already, and we're launching our public beta today with a big new piece of it - challenges and achievements.
How do you intend to integrate advertising into the site, and how tolerant does you think the site's users will be, or are, of this?
We've already integrated loading ads - these go in front of the chat, rather than the game. We've had no complaints - we clearly state that the ads support the developers. I think that helps.
How much of a challenge is it to keep the community going at this point in time?
As you can guess, the main issue is trolls being abusive in chat. We've appointed a bunch of high-level players as moderators, who can ban users for an hour, day, or week, with a couple of clicks. That helps a lot, but there's still stuff that gets through.
How do you feel the rewards and achievements offered by the beta will keep the community at a healthy level?
I think the main thing these will do is attract a new category of players to the site, and encourage them to register, rather than just lurking.
When will the site be launched in full, and what can users expect from that?
We're planning on taking the "beta" label off this summer, when we launch premium games and microtransactions. We've also got a list of players feature requests about four pages long, and we're working our way through that.
What other plans do you have for the company in the future?
Our goal is to be the #1 web games destination - if we can achieve that it will mean we've helped to create a whole new market and distribution channel for great web games, one that's more friendly to indies than anything that's out there now.