1. What excited you about social games and why did you see an opportunity in this field?
In 2007, Michael and I lead the team that launched a fun little Facebook application called Are You Normal. We were astonished at how quickly it grew, accumulating tens of thousands of users per day. That alerted us to the potential of social networks for rapid growth. The problem was that we had built Are You Normal as an experiment in virality, and hadn’t baked in a monetization model. It was a promo for a social network rather than directly monetizing itself. When Michael and I decided to start our own company, we wanted to build something with less friction: we wanted to build hugely popular apps that would make money directly. As the business has evolved, it turns out that we still do both kinds of apps. Some are directly monetized like our City of Ash for iPhone and Hockey Pool Pro. Other games market products like Need for Speed Nitro for Facebook. In that case, it was a huge opportunity to work with a major brand. And a third category has emerged. We’re also doing educational games which help people to improve their lives, and that provides yet another form of compensation.
2. How has your professional background helped you in your role as CTO of Ayogo?
I’ve had quite a varied career. The two major phases were my work with enterprises and my work in social media.
Developing software for enterprises like Cisco, EMC and Daimler Chrysler, I learned about scalability and the software development lifecycle. Issue triage, release planning, development methodologies etc. We work very hard to make reusable software modules that allow us to assemble social and mobile games quickly, and port them between platforms (social networks, websites, smartphone devices) easily.
Building a social network at Kinzin, I learned a lot about how social media is changing lives and habits. Historically, everything was communicated socially from friend to friend. Then there was the “mass media” phase where media powers had incredible power in determining what is cool or interesting. Now we live in a hybrid world where they still have huge megaphones, but everyone else has a little megaphone too. Everyone who uses Facebook is a micro-publisher. Hundreds of millions of people are publishers now. So in the old days, you had to find a way to make a deal with some kind of media or distribution channel. Now you just need to make something compelling and get a critical mass of users to try it. Building Kinzin also gave me quite a bit of insight into the convection of messages, users and notifications through a social network. As Facebook has broadened its focus beyond college students, we’ve seen them re-invent some features similar to those we had in Kinzin.
3. What is the focus of Ayogo’s technical team?
Within the technology group, our focus is on acceleration. We always want the second time we implement any particular game feature easier than the first, and the third time it should be virtually free. We hate re-inventing wheels or cutting and pasting code, instead of reusing software components. We are also responsible for making sure that things scale up smoothly from hundreds through hundreds of thousands of users. Acceleration is different than velocity. The first time we do something, we are not necessarily faster than anyone else. It’s when we take that component and reuse it that we see the benefit. Many companies in this space just slap junk together and the second game takes as long to build as the first. We’re a small company, so everyone on the development team ends up contributing to game design. We all have our favorite social games (and board games, console games, etc.) and try to extract the underlying psychological principles so that we can apply them in our own games.
4. Tell us about some innovative software platforms that Ayogo has developed (will develop?)
Ayogo has a lot of cool technologies that we hope to one day describe on the technology blog. We call the complete set “the Ayogo Framework.” Individual parts have more interesting names like CashCache (for currency management), the Shed (for item ownership), Job Board (for incentivized user actions), PhoneKit (for portable mobile user interfaces) and UserSpace (for profile management). Admittedly, a couple of those names are terrible computer geek puns. All together, these technologies allow us to assemble social games from parts, like a Mechano set, and port them between social networks or smartphone platforms.
5. Which games do you play and why?
I go through spurts of addiction to Facebook and iPhone poker games. Poker’s thrills are well-documented and playing it in Facebook keeps the stakes low and the game casual. I am looking forward to Sid Meier’s Civilization Network Facebook game. Civilization games have been a weakness of mine for more than a decade now. Last year I lost a couple of weeks of my life with Civilization for iPhone. When you combine dopamine-producing platforms like the iPhone and Facebook with the carefully constructed Skinner Box of the Civilization game model…the potential is frightening.
On console, I actually love Need for Speed NITRO quite apart from our business interest in it. I usually do not like racing games, but they did a great job making that one fun for casual race-gamers. I also love Rock Band and Guitar Hero. I do most of my console gaming in front of my kids so that excludes many of the most interesting console games. My daughter likes to watch me play Super Monkey Ball though. When she was two, she noticed that I had it on my iPhone and the Wii. One day when she was two, she pointed to the MacBook: “Got Super Monkey Ball on that?” I’ll have to talk to Sega about that.
Thanks Paul! We’ll continue the Q&A series next week…until then, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. Better yet, why not join our Facebook Page? Also, make sure to check back to read more about Paul’s insights about the industry on this blog.