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St. John: "Money made on social games is tiny compared to general online"

Hi5 boss on Facebook dominance: "I've never heard so much bull---t in my life"

Outspoken Hi5 boss Alex St John has rubbished claims that Facebook is the de facto social networking victor.

"I've never heard so much bull---t in my life," the WildTangent founder and DirectX co-creator told listeners at the Social Games Summit in London yesterday.

He observed that games such as Runescape and Club Penguin had achieved enormous success without being tied to any social network, and felt that the open internet remained the most lucrative business opportunity for social and casual games. "What kills me is games go viral - Club Penguin, Runescape - completely on their own, often with not very sophisticated business models [compared to Facebook]."

"The amount of money that's being made on social games is actually pretty tiny compared to the general online basis. The internet is unequivocally the open dominant place where money is flowing on an enormous scale.

"Tell me what the difference is between Club Penguin that has 50m subs on its own and no VC funding and a game that needs Facebook and VC funding to get going.

"There's some real value to some of the new things discovered with social networking that could really help the games industry, but nobody needs that s---."

However, he acknowledged that some games had become dependent on Facebook. "The interesting phenomenon is the games that can't make on it their own without social network infrastructure... Zynga can't steal its audience from Facebook to save its live.

"Little game companies don't have 20 million email address lists and a marketing platform. Facebook gave you a free email list and marketing platform. Of course it worked."

He felt that Facebook's non-specialised nature meant it was on a back foot compared to other social game networks, among which he included Hi5's own Sociopath.

"I love ragging on Facebook, but they're going to kick my butt at keeping in contact with your grandparents. They're going to have a gaming business but they will never be good at it."

Developers relying on Facebook would "Trade off some of the value that your games intrinsically contain," he argued.

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Alec Meer

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A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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