Social The CrowdStar Way
November 15, 2010 Page 3 of 5
You have a very strong background from traditional games, and as we know the market is shifting. There are traditional games, and there will be traditional games, but social gaming is one of the most seismic shifts we've had in the industry in a long time.
Taking those experiences and sort of integrating them together, what do you think you bring over from that side? Was there something that the social space is missing?
PH: Social games have moved through phases, right? Phase one was very simple quiz apps, questions and stuff. Phase two -- and I'm generalizing wildly -- was the HTML-based, you know, Mafia Wars and so on. Hugely successful. Phase three is Flash. We really brought things to life.
And now we're getting to a point where, certainly with our new launch like It Girl and other games by our competitors, there's a sophistication level, and the team size, and then obviously the data and the systems that lie beneath that is very sophisticated.
And then of course, you're going to grow your business without breaking it...
To answer your question, when I look back at my time at the big studios on the console side, I've seen so many mistakes. When EA grows a studio or Sony grows a studio to like 200 people or more on one game, you just get to see what breaks socially within a group. It becomes really dysfunctional and hard to control 200 people to a three-year schedule and 50 million bucks. It's kind of insane.
I think what I was determined to do -- and Suren and Peter and Jeff more so -- was that if I was going to come from a sort of EA and Sony background, I wasn't going to come in and build some sort of hierarchal studio model by default, like stamp an EA sort of executive produced pyramid on top of the studio.
So, the great thing about CrowdStar is obviously the hierarchy is kind of flat, so we've sustained that. We've just brought in lightweight processes. People call it "agile". You can call it whatever you like. But if you meet every day for short periods and if you have goals per team, you can keep meeting levels down but introduce some framework that companies have, and some ways of expressing what your games are all about.
Big companies just figured that stuff out a long time ago brilliantly. EA called it the X statement, where you just have that one defining mission statement. So, there's some definite things that I've introduced with the help of others to bring process, but make sure we don't break the process by just adding hierarchy and middle management levels, which would destroy the culture of CrowdStar and the speed and the agility of the staff. You just don't want to break that because it's pretty amazing.
What about in terms of design? Originally, a lot of the people in these companies came from the web direction, so they knew a lot about interface and UI. They knew a lot about testing.
PH: They also know a lot about how to hack together speedy modules and get it to market in an instant. That's one of the huge things I've found. Engineers here... You can call it "hacker", you can call it whatever you like, but that ability to sort of get it live so people can experience it quickly is also a very web-focused way of thinking about things.
But in CrowdStar, what's awesome is it's a pretty good, strong combination between those guys and some guys from a console background. So, really good computer science code structure background, and thought about how to build product.
And all of our game leads, as engineers and otherwise, are all focused about games very specifically. So, the people that we have leading our games think about game first. So, I think there's a pretty good combination between those two skills.
When you look at the audience, or potential audience, for social games, you see a lot of people who didn't have time for or interest in traditional games and their platforms. Do you see the audience changing over the next couple of years, or expanding?
PH: I think we can definitely see it expanding. I remember I was at GDC this year, and there was this huge argument with a couple of guys from Sony and EA that I used to work with, I was like, I've been at forums with these guys at traditional game shows, the girls in games discussion panel.
They'll all be talking about Barbie and pink games and blah blah. I'm like, you know, social games, this is the mass market. This is the female gamer. Just because it's not 12 million playing Halo, these guys don't like it very much, but I was pretty excited about it.
So, there's that side of the market, which is generally a huge audience that sort of monetizes reasonably well. But there's a definite -- in the last few months -- a growing market for more core games that have a smaller size of people playing every day, but they monetize better because those guys are used to paying money, right, for game experiences and digital content.
And I think, for those guys, as these games get more sophisticated and they realize they're probably in for a sort of more social experience but over a six-, 12-, or 24-month period, that's pretty exciting.
You definitely see that the market's shifting towards some more elaborate games, more traditional in some ways than games you've seen before.
PH: Yeah. It's kind of weird. Because, like, when you're my age, it's kind of unfortunate, but if you look back to the early mid-'90s, you look to the Bullfrog stuff and some of the games coming out with the sort of sim theme, or the isometric engines, in some ways, it's gone back, but it's far more interesting and far more powerful because you're actually thinking of social interaction as a game mechanic first rather than just a pure game mechanic.
It's kind of cool. You're not putting all that time, energy, and effort in building a single-player experience. You're actually thinking about a group of people first, so it's pretty cool from that side.
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