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THQ's online boss Mike Hogan

On social games, online strategies, the problems with Facebook and the Joyent deal

While THQ has previously asserted that it's blockbuster or nothing for its core titles, social gaming remains an undiscovered country for the publisher.

On the eve of the announcement that it would tackle Facebook et al with the help of cloud tech firm Joyent asked Mike Hogan, vice president of Online Publishing and Operations at THQ, about the publisher's broader plans, business model and whether there was still room at the top for new social game ventures. Also contributing is Adrian Ludwig, Joyent's VP of Marketing. Can you explain what the Joyent partnership means for your devs on a day to day basis?
Mike Hogan

For me it's all about building a platform that the developers can actually use, and they can work on stuff that they're good at, which is developer grating game. So the Joyent platform, the reason we went with it is a couple of things. First of all it's scalable. With social games you never really know how it's going to be. You could start out small and then within a matter of days have to scale very quickly, and Joyent are very good at that, bring that expertise to the table. The second thing is that unlike a lot of other competitors, which I will not name, Joyent provide a service level guarantee. Other companies out there, cloud computing networks, aren't what I would consider production quality. The Joyent network is. They stand behind their product, the support and help so far has been just wonderful and we have been in the development mode on a couple of our games right now and couldn't be more pleased with the help and support we've got from them.

So for me from an operations perspective it's all about reliability. And you just don't get the support that you want. In some cases there's no phone number that you can call, the only way you can get help from some of their competitors is to actually someone in the organisation. They won't give you any kind of phone number or however many hour response times, that sort of thing. 'It's broken and we'll fix it if we get around to it.' Which is fine, but not if you're serious about your business. When you start talking about online games, even for something as simple as a social game, it's still a service. You're still catering for your customers and you still want them to be able to come and play your game and have an entertainment experience whenever they want it. And for me, when I look at partners, I look for partners that are reliable. There's always going to be a problem, and if there is a problem I know that I can call and these guys are going to be at the other end and they're going to help me solve my issue. Not so much with the other guys.

Adrian Ludwig

It's actually tempting not to step in, because the things that Mike is saying about us is much nicer than I would say. I think it fundamentally comes down to business model. Our business model at Joyent is to have our customers be successful and to work with our partners to make sure that their businesses grow. And then as their businesses grow our business grows. Whereas a lot of the other cloud providers right now, they're in the business of selling part of a pool that they've built. And so frankly they don't care whether the particular customer is successful or not, as long as in general the number of customers satisfies the need that exists and the resources that they have. So it's just very different, how you think about your customer relationship, and what it means.

We have built our business on the success of customers going from being relatively small in a particular application to being relatively big. That's happened in the gaming space, it's happened in the social space, so we fundamentally believe that getting those customers to be successful is the way that we'll be able to catch up with the bigger competitors in this space. When you say 'social networks', do you mean just Facebook or are you looking at other places too?
Adrian Ludwig

We definitely are. We have seen a lot of success on Facebook we also have partnerships with the other social networks – MySpace, Yahoo is doing some work on social networks as well. And then we're seeing quite a bit of success with social games that are mobile. One of the areas that are very, very exciting is what I think of as real-time social gaming. We've got some technology that makes it easy for someone to build a multiplayer game and not have to deal with some of the complexity of managing all those states for those different players at the same time. We're actually starting to see people build games which are sort of social in nature but are not necessarily tied to one of the social networks.

We're thinking a lot about real-time connectivity and how that's going to work. I know THQ's got a lot of interesting things which are going on in that space. You've mentioned that this partnership will enable your studios to come up with more innovation. Given you've got the market leader, Zynga, apparently claiming it isn't interested in innovation, how far will you be pursuing that as opposed to following established models?
Mike Hogan

There are obviously certain paradigms that work well on social games, so you want to try to learn from your competition and you want to try to find out what works and maybe make it work a bit better. But we do have some games coming out that we believe are going to be unique. You can't pound a round peg into a square hole, so we've got some instances where we are I would say innovating, pushing the envelope a little bit. But again you don't make huge, huge changes, you make small changes rapidly and find out what works and what doesn't work, then improve on what does. That's the whole social games paradigm. With any company you're not going to see huge sweeping changes, you're going to see small, quick iterations.

Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: 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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