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"What goes around comes around" for poor quality sites

Wed 31 Mar 2010 7:00am GMT / 3:00am EDT / 12:00am PDT
OnlineCasual

Underhand methods of acquiring users only work in the short term, says Miniclip CEO

Rob Small, the CEO and co-founder of online gaming giant Miniclip.com has said that websites that spam their users instead of trying to connect with them are likely to fail in the long term, even if such tactics can make money in the short term.

"Users are pretty savvy but I think that what goes around comes around and that if you want to create a business that's going to be around for a long time and be successful then you need to think about how you're going to connect with your audience, and spamming them is not something we'd contemplate doing," Small told GamesIndustry.biz.

"It's something that would tend to lean towards a very intensive period of success perhaps but that might end up with some fairly serious issues."

Talking about social gaming company Zynga, Small pointed to the problems the company has had to deal with in relation to its offer-based business model, which was "fairly unsavoury".

"Certainly companies that are well-known for using rather underhand techniques for acquiring users, using mechanisms like that is a way to make, clearly, some pretty large amounts of money over a short period of time. But I wonder if they're going to be around in five years time and continue to be as successful," he said.

Miniclip, which was founded in 2001 and now attracts over 57 million unique users per month, has never spent money on advertising, said Small. Instead the site attracts users by allowing third-parties use of its hosted games, and through word of mouth marketing.

He added that the younger demographic was an important one to the business - especially as users who have grown up playing Miniclip games have been shown to stay with the site.

"We're seeing the demographic mix extending because [...] a lot of those initial successes that we had were nine years ago now and those guys are probably at university.

"When we speak to our audience and get feedback from them we see that they're university students playing all the new games and all the old favourites they used to love."

Social games such as Miniclip's can't compete against the consoles on quality, admitted Small, but he added that they can compete on the fact that the games are predominantly free.

"I think the concern when you're going down the console road is that things move so quickly in that market that it's very easy to get left behind, and although you might have an intensive period of success for a year or so, it's very difficult to build a very long pipeline of successful titles," he pointed out.

"You can see that by the bumpy road a lot of the older development studios have had in recent times. Even having something like a Tomb Raider under your belt doesn't guarantee you're going to be successful forever and a day."

But he sees online games and console ones as being intrinsically separate - "I don't see that there's any kind of crossover," he said.

"You have to look at the fact that Zynga has the same investors as Facebook and they're kind of the same company therefore."

"It's also very expensive and time-consuming to build a lot of these very successful social games," he added. "And although some of the numbers people throw out seem fairly low, I think in reality the continued development that needs to go on to ensure the audience continues to play is significantly more that perhaps they might let on."

Small also pointed out the potential of the mobile platforms, on which Miniclip currently has sites running.

"We have a site that runs on iPhone and the Google Nexus. Both of those have had a few hundred thousand views, which on something like the Nexus, which is a new phone, makes us think there is this demand for people to move towards accessing this content online."

You can read the full interview with Rob Small, in which he also talks about Miniclip's journey to 57m users and the social network and kids' gaming markets here.

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