It's been impossible to get away from the talk surrounding social network games in the past six months, and well into 2010, it's looking a lot like being the hot topic for this year - alongside motion control, of course...
But while Facebook has dominated that space so far, now MySpace is making a bid to capture the imagination of game developers - here co-president Mike Jones explains just how important games are the social network's future.
Q: Obviously there's been a lot of talk in the past year about Facebook doing well out of games - so what are the plans for MySpace? Another massive user base there, but the site is probably best known at this point for music and breaking new bands...
Mike Jones: Well, I think MySpace has actually done a lot in games already, but we've been fairly quiet about it. We've been testing a lot of things and making sure that it works the way we expect it to. What I can say now is that the same step forward that we took with music, making it a real commitment within the business, we're absolutely doing with games.
So we're putting a huge amount of weight behind it - a lot of the discussion we're going to have today [at GDC] is starting to show that the product and audience is going to get heavily exposed to games. Just as they use MySpace to discover and listen to music, I want them to use MySpace to discover and play games. It's an absolute big, big part of our mission.
For MySpace today, when we think about engagement on MySpace, we have about a billion minutes per month of engagement within games. People are spending about a billion minutes per month playing games.
We've done an okay job of exposing games so far, but not a great job - not as good a job as we've done with music. I think we've done an okay job of making sure game developers have what they need to be successful - but not a great job yet.
Part of that success really relies on making sure that the MySpace communication tools really promote the virality - meaning that when a developer launches a game within MySpace, a) we give them a bunch of push to get an initial audience set-up, and b) make sure there are tools available for them to communicate with their players, and really create and promote virality for those games.
There's a bunch of other bells and whistles that we could talk about that we're going to do within games, but the real pin for us is making sure we nail virality - so we're putting a lot of work behind that now. This first step we're taking today is about launching a whole new games gallery, making games a big part of the user experience, promoting it on user home pages, promoting it on sign-up.
We're making sure that when users sign up to MySpace, on the first screen after sign-up they have recommendations, which include games and bands - at the same time. That's getting the user initially seeded with the content.
And then we're going to talk a lot about APIs, and the way that we're going to give data back to developers, so they can control and grow their audience bases on MySpace. What I would guess you'd find is that a year from now you'll be finding 50-60 per cent of our audience playing games every single day. Today it's close to 20-30 per cent, so even from a flat audience rate for MySpace of 100 million-plus users, I think we have a 2-3 times level of growth that we can see within gameplay on MySpace.
I think that's something game developers can be committed to, because we are absolutely focused on making that happen. There's a success metric which we look at weekly, which is the percentage of users playing games. That's how clear the mission is.
So we see a lot of growth there - and in addition, we will be growing the MySpace audience, so the 2-3 times growth should actually be compounded.
Q: Who are some of the success stories so far in terms of games on MySpace?
Mike Jones: There are big studios like Playdom and Zynga that have large games right now on MySpace, which is fantastic, and there's bunch of small developers that have games on MySpace. It's a pretty wide swathe of individual developers - some of which you've heard of, some that you haven't.
We definitely want to work with both, so a lot of the algorithms we're using to recommend games are not only based on pure scale, but also based on velocity and relevance - so we have a DNA system that looks at the interests of our users. A certain user will be interested in the following things, and he or she is like these other users that like a certain game, so when that happens we'll push it.
What that means is that we won't only push it to the gallery, we'll push it to the hundreds of thousands of users that sign up every day, we'll push it to the splash page on initial log-in, we'll push it within featured spots all throughout the environment.
That means that when a developer launches on MySpace, sure they get their gallery placement, but if they get any good momentum behind the game we should be able to fuel them with installations, fuel them with audience, without them even knowing it.
Q: From a business model perspective, how do you monetise that? Is there a percentage cut of revenue?
Mike Jones: No, it's actually much simpler than that. MySpace in general is pretty good at monetising social network behaviour - we have an incredible brand sales relationship, we work with all the major brands, and the fact is that we see this as a fantastic part of the MySpace experience, so I'm not worried about participating necessarily in revenue that's happening within the games.
In general we want game developers to go and flourish, and we also want them to be transparent with us, so there are things we can be doing. They need to tell us, and we're listening and changing things.
A lot of things you're hearing about today came out of a session we had a few months ago when we talked with a lot of the major game publishers, and some of the smaller ones, and asked them what they wanted MySpace to be giving them right now - and that's what they're going to get.
We've been working with them very closely to make sure we deliver what they need, and part of that is fewer restrictions on monetisation, certain other guiding principles they need - so we're very open to it.
I'm not worried today about making money from game development - what I'm worried about today is making sure that game developers have a great platform that spreads virally, that hits 50-60 per cent of our audience every single day.
Q: And ultimately, at the top of that list, is creating a better experience for your users?
Mike Jones: Absolutely. And they meet new people through games, discover new music through games, they have better experiences through games - and that becomes a part of their identity on MySpace. In general it just rounds out the whole experience, so we see it as a very complementary relationship between developers and MySpace.
Q: MySpace transformed the way people found new music - how do you expect MySpace to transform the games industry?
Mike Jones: We have a very sophisticated engine that helps people discover music on MySpace - that same algorithmic approach is going to be used for games. We're investing heavily into a recommendation and DNA system that really allows us to show the right games to the right users, in the same way that we show the right music to the right users.
Mike Jones is co-president of MySpace. Interview by Phil Elliott.