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RockYou's Jonathan Knight

The company's VP of games on a promising 2011, Apple and the 3D revolution

Last year wasn't a great 12 months for RockYou, with the CEO stepping down, controversy over security on Facebook and a round of lay-offs. But 2011 started with an acquisition of Manchester's Playdemic, makers of Gourmet Ranch, and will continue to see the social games company score talent to make games it hopes will establish the company as a real player in the online gaming business.

Here, senior vice president of games for RockYou, Jonathan Knight, talks through the realistic plans for 2011, locking up talent and putting design first, the foresight of Apple and the tablet and 3D revolution. What's RockYou's plan for 2011 and into 2012?
Jonathan Knight

The focus for this year is that we're trying to build, and I think we are building, a world class social gaming studio that's going to publish what I think will be some of the very best games out there. We've got a really clear commitment to great games and great game makers and pushing the medium forward.

That's really the focus and it's a pretty tall order given where we were at last year. I have a big vision, and we share a big vision, for where the space is going in terms of platforms and genres and the overall business. We have a long view of this and we want to be a world leader in social gaming.

The first mission is to make really high quality, highly polished games. And even before that, we have to ask ourselves, 'how do we do that?' For me it's about locking up the talent and assembling great teams. That's what you do in game making, you find teams that either work really well together or you know you can fit together with another team and balance each other and make up other's deficiencies and find people that are really passionate about social gaming. There are a lot out there.

I would say there's a great migration happening from traditional gaming to social gaming in terms of design talent, so that's where I'm focused - and it's where other companies are focused as well. So that's where it starts and that's what I've been doing for the past three months, to assemble great teams with great game designers in place and let them do their thing. Where is that talent coming from - from the guys who used to make boxed games or new talent that is more familiar with social networks, and have grown up with web design experience?
Jonathan Knight

The successful social gaming companies are the ones that are doing the mix to find the right balance between what you might call web DNA and mixing that with gaming DNA. We're trying to figure out that balance between the web business, web metrics and gameplay.

For me, you have to have both and you really need good game design first, then make that collaboration. If you start with just a web business and then think you can slap some game on it after that, that's when you get product that consumers are rejecting.

A lot of social gaming companies are learning very quickly that design matters more than ever in this space because production values are fairly simplistic. The design mechanics need to really shine though, and if they're not there and it's not hooking you, consumers figure that out right away. Bruce Shelly said at DICE this week that we should remember it's commercial art we're making, and made a point of ensuring metrics and game design are balanced...
Jonathan Knight

At RockYou we're all driven to make a profit, it's a business after all. I certainly feel we're focused a little bit more on creating innovative experiences. Because we have a challenge - we don't have 150 million customers at our disposal, we didn't grab and keep those a year ago and that was our fault.

But now we have several million customers and we have to build up our customer base and that's what we're going to be doing this year. One fan at a time, we're going to be committing people to play our games. That's a tougher challenge if you've got 150 million users and you just need to introduce them to your next game. That makes us need to create more innovative and appealing and unique products.

Things that will pull someone away from what they are doing to check it out. I think you'll see that in the games that come out in the next couple of months from RockYou. It's not going to be the same recipe for each game but I do think 3D plays a big part of that. But even 3D in Facebook gaming can mean a lot of different things to different people.

To get back to your original question, the guys that made Gourmet Ranch added a little bit more strategy to it, it's not your original farming game, it's fun and compelling. We're figuring out what the business is, and once we have people playing it and having fun then we can figure out what's selling, what do they want, what are they buying and it's up to us to optimise the business around that. Again, we have to put the design first but you can't put the design independent of business.

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Matt Martin avatar

Matt Martin


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.