The stereotype of social games is that its not very active, it’s designed to suck money out of players players and that it’s not even very actively social, instead pestering friends with notices about virtual farm implements. Kabam, however, has worked against that stereotype with games like Glory of Rome, Dragons of Atlantis, and Kingdoms of Camelot. We talked to Kabam’s new Chief People Officer Derek Sidebottom and their VP Brand Marketing & Communications Ted Simon about â€œsellingâ€ the company to both recruits and skeptical gamers.
[a]list: What’s a Chief People Officer do anyway?
Derek Sidebottom: It reflects a different way to look at human resources. It shows that Kabam thinks highly of the process of hiring that they’d make it into an executive role. It’s a way of accelerating and enhancing the environment to work for the people working in the company. Our chief asset is our people, and we want to help them do the best they can and excel at what they do.
[a]list: Kabam includes veterans of Blizzard, EA and Google among others. What do you think attracts people to the company?
Derek Sidebottom: A couple of different factors. They’re excited by our products and what we’re doing. They’re working on rich multiplayer games and there’s a subset of people that the product appeals too. They’re also fascinated by the degree to which we’re counting on value and what we’re asking our employees to do for us; the “Kabam contract” is what we view as a two-way street where we support our employees and they’re allowed independence to achieve their goals.
[a]list: So it’s like the “city-state” model of development where development groups given more autonomy?
Derek Sidebottom: Yes, we’ve adopted a studio model driven by individual responsibility. The teams are somewhat smaller than a AAA game studio and our job is to build a structure around our teams.
[a]list: How has Kabam managed to increase in size roughly ten fold in a short period of time?
Derek Sidebottom: I think from a pure recruiting perspective [our employees have] become evangelists for us, promoters of the culture. There’s great energy for this company in the hallways; within 10 minutes of visiting us, many say they love it here. They meet up with people here and it only increases; it reinforces behavior that’s consistent with what we aspire to be.
The four races of Dragons of Atlantis.
[a]list: What specific sort of hires are the most sought after by social gaming studios specifically and developers in general?
Derek Sidebottom: We’re looking for top quality engineers, artists and developers to fuel our growth. The unique aspect is on the business intelligence side we can directly observe player behavior, what’s working and what’s not, and continually improve our games accordingly. That’s appealing to a lot of hires.
Ted Simon: That’s a really important distinction between a retail company and a social company: we have a direct relationship with our customers, it helps us optimize, enhance and build out the game after launch.
Derek Sidebottom: Drive and effectiveness are very important; because we have short dev cycles, we look for people who are excited to have a huge impact on the game quickly and like to respond to feedback.
Ted Simon: I was talking to ofne of the engineers recently who he said they worked at a AAA studio that put out a product every couple of years.Â In contrast, at Kabam he can have an idea and push it out by the weekend – he was really excited about that. That’s the reason why a lot of developers are looking into this space.
Derek Sidebottom: We see that during the interview process, they like the impact they can have immediately.
Ted Simon: I was talking to a colleague that has a game that has been in development for eight years… that narrows down what it is! Anyway, I’m excited about that game, but it’s really hard hacking away at one thing for so long and still have nothing to show for the effort.
Derek Sidebottom: I think the way we can connect with the customer, we can see what works and what doesn’t with the clients, [developers] can go back to the drawing board right then and there and see that appeals to them.
[a]list: Do you think its a key advantage for Kabam that they were one of the first movers in the MMSG market?
Derek Sidebottom: Is it good to have a first mover advantage Well, yes! That has an advantage in attracting and retaining people, it’s helped us in being well known… being first in the space is great. We’re learning very fast, getting an amazing response from the customers and people are having fun building games at Kabam.
Ted Simon: When you go back and identify the reasons gaming has expanded on Facebook, many people point towards the casual explosion…a lot of companies chased that market. We zigged where others zagged – our performance to date indicates we made a smart decision to target core gamers, though, giving us great position in the market.
[a]list: Do you see the market increasing for more engaging titles on Facebook?
Derek Sidebottom: Absolutely and I think the word of mouth drives it. Maybe there is a perception by the core gamer that all Facebook titles are a casual games and are probably delighted when they see [our games], and the social aspect helps them tell friends.
Is there room for everyone in social games I think absolutely. All my family members play social titles, but they don’t all play our games. And [the movement towards social games] highlights the disruption in the industry. It is a different way of looking at the [gaming] space.
Ted Simon: The industry is entering a new cycle, and we expect there could be at least one major player that won’t be able to adapt.
[a]list: Being able to come out and have an immediate impact must open a lot of eyes for young people wanting to break into the industry.
Derek Sidebottom: That’s part of the interview process and their eyes light up; we see that again and again.
Ted Simon: It’s pretty exciting when you push out a new feature and revenue increases by a measurable amount.
[a]list: Speaking specifically to massively multiplayer social games, do you see the potential for those experiences increasing in the years to come?
Ted Simon: Yes, we believe that’s a definite trend. If you look at all the data, there’s a upward slope for the overall online games market, while the sales of retail console titles are stagnant, maybe even declining. We expect that within the next few years online will be a bigger part of the market than the retail if trends keep up. There are several elements pushing this macro trend.
Whereas in the traditional model, you’ve got the companies in control selling a console for $300 and $60 for a game. Our model, which is really frictionless, helps people join up; just point, click and you’re in. No need to go to the store, and if you don’t like the game, you’ve lost no money. If you choose, however, you can pay for power ups but you choose what you pay for and when you buy and that’s a very different model particularly when you compare with traditional models.
There’s are parts of the world where you won’t see many expensive game consoles; in these markets, players will go where they see the value is and enjoy gaming experiences via their internet access.. At the same time, game fidelity is improving. Sure you can push more pixels on an Xbox 360, but the technology level is improving almost daily for browser based games. All in all, there’s lots of reason to like our position.
[a]list: Do you think that the ability to interact with others in real time is one of the biggest draws and best ways to promote MMSG?
Derek Sidebottom: Absolutely. I’ve been playing quite a bit, it’s great to interact with your alliances. There’s emerging gameplay as [players] interact that wasn’t considered and that’s fascinating; we look to enable that further. As people look to enhance their alliances, it shows people building castles in a certain area in a certain way.
Ted Simon: We asked some of our heaviest users “What is most important to you?” and over 70 percent said it was the ability to join alliances. You can have people building relationships through the game with other people, not just their friends. That’s another way it’s exciting, the social interaction.
Derek Sidebottom: People talk about what alliance they’re in, it’s very engaging that you can respond to what you’re seeing and hearing [in real time].
[a]list: Anything else you’d like to add?
Derek Sidebottom: We’re still growing! It’s exciting to be part of a expanding organization. It’s an great place to be, and I’ve just been here a few weeks. You have to sell it and believe it, though, to your customers and to employees. And now that I’m on the inside, I believe it. It’s a fabulous organization led by wonderful people in a growing space.
[a]list: Guys, thanks.
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we can directly observe player behavior , whatâ€™s working and whatâ€™s not, and continually improve our games accordingly. T