Jon Radoff is an entrepreneur focused on the intersection of the Internet, entertainment and social communities. Jon's latest startup Disruptor Beam is a social game company that aims to disrupt the current social game landscape. Disruptor Beam's first major development is Game of Thrones Ascent, the upcoming Facebook game based on the popular HBO TV series. In this interview, Jon shares about social games, his book Game On, gamification and the future of videogames.
"Consistent engagement is the most important element of any Internet business."
Social Nerdia: You've referred to Game of Thrones Ascent as an "anti-social" game. You've also referred to Disruptor Beam as an aspiring "Bioware of social games." What does that mean for gamers and for the company?
Jon Radoff: There's an opportunity to do more than use social networks as a social marketing platform for games; they offer a unique framework for social interaction. We want to bring elements of story and moral decision-making into social games in a way that hasn't been done before.
Social Nerdia: There are a few other Facebook games based on TV shows. What have you learned from the experiences they've created?
JR: In general, other games tend to be advergames; they're experiences that exist to promote the shows. By and large, most TV shows aren't a good setting for a long-running game experience. Game of Thrones is different. It's a passionate fan base that wants to be transported into the world of Westeros, and we're building both the game and our business around the idea of long-term fan engagement.
Social Nerdia: Today, Facebook is the core platform for social games. Do any other options show promise at this point?
JR: Facebook is still the large platform for hooking into any type of social graph, but we see plenty of other opportunities on the horizon. We're not ready to start talking about our plans beyond Facebook yet, but I do think there are some compelling opportunities.
Social Nerdia: You've been a videogame entrepreneur for two decades. How has that helped you shape your latest company?
JR: I've been a gaming entrepreneur, but also a social media entrepreneur and a Web software entrepreneur. The most consistent theme across everything I've done is the Internet. What I've learned is that consistent engagement is the most important element of any Internet business (as I believe it is for any media business), and that means that you've got to be a daily part of someone's life to be the type of business that scales.
Social Nerdia: Let's talk about brands. When should brands consider building a social game as opposed to simply sponsoring or advertising in one?
JR: That's a big topic, and one that I tried to answer in the several hundred pages of Game On; but one of the most important things to think about is authenticity. It's never enough to just splash a brand on something. A game experience has the power to convey the essence of what a brand is about - so it's extremely important that the game experience extend what customers believe to be most important about a brand, not simply act as a new type of billboard.
Social Nerdia: Tell me more about your book Game On. Why did you write it and how would you describe the journey from idea to bookshelves?
JR: There's a lot of power in games, but I felt that people were confused by this recent concept of "gamification." Too many people think of gamification entirely in terms of reward systems: badges, leaderboards, etc. What I try to convey in Game On is the idea that reward systems aren't enough. It's about the total experience.
Social Nerdia: We're seeing more and more gamified applications and web experiences. What is the key to gamifying something online?
JR: Experiences need to be fun. Making something fun turns out to be extremely hard. But if you forget about it and focus on rewards alone, you'll end up with a hollow experience that might be superficially addictive at best, and repulsive at worst.
Social Nerdia: What early stage hardware technologies do you get excited about when it comes to the future of videogames?
JR: I think new interfaces always change game technologies; look at what tablets have done for games in general. The convergence of TV and tablets. Now, there's at least two types of convergence: the technical convergence, which is the hype surrounding things like the so-called "second screen" applications, or the simple fact that I can watch HBO Go on my tablet. But there's also the behavioral convergence, which is that tablets are now part of the digital living room, and that the digital living room is becoming something you can take along with you; we're all acting in a different way due to what the technology has enabled. All of this bodes a great deal of change for games.
Social Nerdia: What advice would you give to aspiring social game developers?
JR: Do something different. Zynga-style clickers have run their course (except for maybe Zynga itself, which can do these better than anyone). The next wave of innovation is going to come from great new ideas that use the social graph in novel ways.