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Brave New World

Roger Walkden on GDI's combination of social networking and games on demand.

Last week, Games Domain International unveiled the first details of its virtual games community, A World of My Own (AWOMO). Aiming to combine games on demand with a 3D social networking environment, the service will allow like-minded users to meet on a virtual island, socialise and play games together, with technology that GDI claims is far superior to current games on demand services.

As the company opens up the beta testing of the service to 30,000 users, GamesIndustry.biz sat down with GDI's CEO Roger Walkden to talk in detail about the service, opportunities for publishers and advertisers, and whether it's a further nail in the coffin of High Street retail.


GamesIndustry.biz: There are number of companies and services already on the market that offer games on demand. What makes Games Domain International's offering different?

Roger Walkden: We have something completely unique and new. We have new, patented technology that allows the digital download of videogames on standard broadband connections at superfast speeds. Whatever anyone else is able to claim, because we have a completely new delivery methodology, we're going to be upwards of ten to fifteen times faster than anyone else. What we're doing is offering proper games on demand.

A lot of companies are using the term 'games on demand' very glibly at the moment. I was sent a release the other day saying how a game was available for the user to play only a few hours after downloading. Well, why the hell do you have to wait a few hours for anything? That's what our service stresses. What is currently taking other sites several hours to download, our system does it in minutes. That is proper games on demand. Two hours isn't on demand, it's like waiting for a bus. And that's what makes our system unique and different.

Apart from speed, what else does the technology offer to the user?

It comes with a ton of other benefits from a gaming perspective, one of which is that it doesn't store all of the information you need to run a game on your hard-drive. When you normally download a game you have to store 4 or 5 GB of game that sits on your hard-drive and clogs it up. And if you've paid for it once, you're not going to want to delete it, so it sits on your hard-drive whether you've played the whole game or not. Our system doesn't do that. Even if you've played through the entire game it would only store around 30 or 40 per cent of that game on your hard-drive.

And the other angle of A World of My Own is the social networking space that you're offering. Can you expand on that?

We're not the first community built around games. But this is the first time that somebody has built a virtual world which is not built around one game but built around a collection and community of games. Our vision is to have the A World of My Own island built with districts that make it very obvious where you would go for a certain type of game that you want to play, and therefore meet other people that have similar interests. That, to us, is a very compelling way of thinking about gaming communities as well as offering a unique service. It's the first time a virtual world has been built around a new idea and it's separate to what anyone else can offer. We're not throwing games down people's throats, we want people to see it as a community where you can hang out and play games as you like, when you like.

How is the service going to work in terms of pricing and such?

We haven't announced the level of the subscription models or anything like that just yet, but it is going to be a subscription model. The idea is that the more you play, the cheaper it will get for you. We want to encourage the user to play more games and in doing so, pay less. It's actually going to be a free of charge experience if you want to download A World of My Own and go in and walk around. We're offering that absolutely free of charge. It's when you want to download games that you'll have to pay.

How will you approach the marketing of the service - how do you convey everything you have to offer to your target audience?

We're going to be partnering with a number of large media partners who can do two things for us. One is to help us drive people into AWOMO. And we also want to give people in our world some new community features which our media partners will be helping us to build. Partners will have virtual spaces where they can set down a building and the user will be able to get an experience from that media inside A World of My Own. It's a long term thing were we provide our partners with something and they provide something in return.

Obviously you need the content - the games for people to play. Can you talk about which publishers you're currently working with?

We are currently talking to all of the major publishers. If you think about it, this is a bit like the launch of a new platform. When you launch a new platform a lot of companies understand the benefits of being there first. Obviously we're encouraging companies to be in there at the start where there will be a considerable amount of new traffic as people sign up. We're working with a lot of publishers to help them get used to our new platform in this closed beta.

What sort of feedback have you had so far from developers and publishers that have seen your technology and service?

It's been like pushing against an open door. It's so different and so unique. Frankly, a lot of people have had trouble believing what we've got because it's so different, but once we get through that barrier we seem to have been okay. I've had some presentations where we've had to pull the wires out of the back of the machine simply to prove what we're doing is real.

What sort of games are you looking to offer? Are you going for a wide range of content - everything from casual games to the blockbuster?

We're aiming at all genres but with a particular emphasis on the blockbusters from the big publishers.The benefit of a fast download for a casual game isn't there - casual games are only small files. But when you're talking about 4 or 5 GB sized games there's considerable advantage in not having to wait around for several hours before it begins, but picking the game up within minutes. Our service is targeted at people that want to play those sort of games you'd find in a dedicated retail store on the PC shelves.

So is traditional games retail dead?

No, not at all. If you look at the music market, places like HMV and Woolworths took a hit when things like iTunes launched but they haven't collapsed. What we're offering is a new way to play games and it will affect some people and not others. We're taking a much more inclusive approach than iTunes did with the music industry. We don't want to upset anyone as we think about a new way of downloading and buying games. Making sure that retail is on board with our technology at the same time is very important.

Any area where a lot of people gather is an opportunity for advertisers. Are you talking with any particular companies about ad opportunities in AWOMO?

Yes, because there are opportunities for both in-game advertising and in-world advertising. I mention the two because the technology we've got actually enables in-game advertising almost as a side benefit. We're able to put advertising into old games as well as new ones which will all be demographically targeted.

Roger Walkden is CEO of Games Domain International. Interview by Matt Martin.

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Matt Martin

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Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.