We are currently applying for Y-Combinator, an angel fund which has a very interesting model. The application interview has been an interesting exercise, and I’m quoting some excerpts that may interest you below. Questions and comments are most welcome – the application hasn’t been submitted yet, so there is still time for some changes!
What is your company going to make?
Farsides is making online games with a strong multiplayer experience, using the open source model. We have currently two very early prototypes being worked on: an adventure game that uses the web as a playground (aka “Alternate Reality Gaming for the masses”), and another one testing the potential of stronger social interactions in Facebook games (to try to regain some the viral potential Facebook progressively took away).
What’s new about what you’re doing? What substitutes do people resort to because what you plan to make doesn’t exist yet?
1) Making social games richer by applying them to the “real” world. Facebook games already went one step forward in this direction, by implementing games in an existing social context – playing with people that you already know (at least a little). By going one step further, and immersing even more games into reality, we reach out to a largely untapped market. (On this, cf the presentation from Jesse Schell on the future of games, it gives a good glimpse of this evolution http://g4tv.com/videos/44277/dice-2010-design-outside-the-box-presentation/).
A lot of Facebook players didn’t use to play before Facebook games; they will remain casual players with specific tastes, but they are progressively getting tired of the copycats. The declining numbers on the top games are not only due to FB restrictions on game notifications, they also represent a growing player “fatigue”. The fact that the top gaining application are now games that bring something “new” is a good symptom of that effect.
2) Social game developpers currently don’t yet know how to handle the high level experience and communities. This only affects the players that are strongly engaged and play long enough to reach the upper levels of the game, but this group is important for long term retention in online games, and they are those you tend to get the most lifetime revenue from – they are loyal, they play for a long time and spend a lot.
So what’s new is 1) games that strongly relate to the world around us and thus delivers a richer, more adult social gaming experience, 2) built with a rare 10 years-long experience at producing and handling online worlds.
What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get?
There is a largely untapped potential in leveraging the open source model in video game development. We have done a lot of community management, with very different types of communities, and it’s very obvious that gaming communities are among the most vibrant and passionate of all. However, unlike in other industries, the “author complex” is very strong in the gaming industry, and passionnate players almost always hit a wall when they want to contribute to their favorite game. You always have: on one side the developers, and on the other side the players – no middle ground.
The open source model, allied with a high sense of transparency, removes those barriers to maximise players engagement and contributions. Nowadays, the successful online games are often the ones that are the closest to their community, building on top of the players expressed needs and desires – the open source model is profiled to make the most out of this approach. And we push the concept as far as we can – we even work on a decentralized model, communicating though mailing-lists and chat to make sure that the community can participate there too!
Cf http://opensource.com/business/10/9/facebook-generation-vs-fortune-500 for some of the differences of approach, too.
How will you make money?
We use the freemium model, with microtransactions. We don’t plan to do anything fancy here at first, so we’ll use the current industry standard. One thing at a time. : )
How long will it take before you have a prototype? A beta? A version you can charge for?
In pure open-source style, even if the games aren’t good enough to be played yet, we already have public prototypes – and even some crazy players on HackIt’s one! Our objective is to reach the beta stage with some first metrics by the beginning of 2011, and a version that can show good metrics and generate revenues within a year from now. But these dates can change, we’ll monitor our expenses to make the most of our first round, and only scale when we know that we have a good enough concept.
Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered. (The answer need not be related to your project.)
There is an amusing experiment, related in this blog post http://alpha-build.net/2010/08/23/how-chemicals-in-your-brain-make-you-a-jerk-on-the-internet/ and that shows the root cause for a lot of the Internet trolls & jerks drama. In two similar experiments, subjects have to chose between a) doing nothing (which results in having 5 people killed) or b) making a voluntary action (which results in only 1 person being killed). When the action doesn’t involve a direct interaction with the person being killed (such as actioning a lever), most people chose b). When the action involves a direct interaction with the person being killed (such as pushing it over a railway), most people chose a).
So it’s not anonymity that makes us jerks over the Internet – but more the lack of more direct interactions. Journalists like to see this as “it’s easier to be a PITA when you don’t risk a punch in the face”. But it goes deeper than this – and especially, the experiment gives a corrolary result: Improve the level of direct interaction between people, for example with extra-good community management and customer service, and you are more likely to generate constructive relationships with your customers.
You can also read the full version in case you are hungry for more ;p