Industry Perspectives: Q&A with Robert Balahura, Founder of J2Play

One of the hardest parts of any social gaming project is distribution and marketing. How do you get your game out there? How do you get new people to find and play it? One potential new answer is J2Play.

J2Play is a service that provides a do-it-yourself viral distribution framework that allows you to easily publish and expose your games to all social site users and generate traffic. We had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Robert Balahura, founder of J2Play, to get his perspective on the space.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. So, I have to ask, how does J2Play actually work?

Game developers can go to our website to learn more and sign up. For technical details developers should visit our developer site. After sign up somebody from our organization will contact you for a chat and helps the developer to get started.

You say a lot about viral distribution. I see that you utilize a YouTube style concept of “discovering” new games based on what a current user is playing. We can also see a number of other channels such as real-time broadcasting, cross-site mini-feeds, user profiles and so on, but what are some of the features we can’t read up about on the J2Play site yet?

We continuously think about new viral features we can add for discovery of games and new ways for social interaction. One concept that is important that we continue to develop are the concept of native viral features and internal viral features. The concept of native viral features provides the native feeds, invites, and notifications automatically to whatever social network the user is playing on as well as a generalized api that is a write once – get all native viral features for all networks type of concept.

The internal viral features are the features that circulate the community of traffic throughout all the games that use our technology to socialize their games. We have not yet integrated some of the existing features we have such as tournaments and other type of leader board based competitions to our social network games solution. We’ve some new social network specific features cooking but it’s too early to talk about those – stay tuned for news later this year from us!

It’s no doubt the viral distribution will increase traffic, but what are the numbers that developers usually see as far as traffic increase? Does J2Play offer anything regarding traffic increase outside the social networks, such as standard search engine optimization?

It’s still a bit early for us say as we’re just starting with our game developer partners but naturally optimizing the viral distribution will be key to be successful as a small developer using our solution and not having a big advertising budget. The key thing for us is to provide the viral distribution out of the box for developers so they don’t have to spend their time building those but can focus on developing content.

Search engine optimization and better design, discoverability of games is next on our development road map.

Let’s shift gears for a second and talk about the social content J2Play adds to existing games. You mention many “out-of-the-box” features, but you also talk about advanced features that utilize an extensive set of APIs. Some of the possibilities you have listed are features such as leaderboards, badges, and real-time multiplayer. What are some of the other features that are possible through these APIs? I’m especially curious about the more advanced ones.

We’ve full loyalty platform and are providing APIs for our tournament module soon. The J2Play solution is a full multi-player games platform so game developers can build different types of multi-player games with the platform and by developing their own game servers. That is fairly advanced stuff compared to most of the games out there now. Developers can also integrate item based microtransactions, an item-model through power ups etc. to their games. We have that from our experience working with Asian developers and content in the past years.

Can developers create their own features or customize your 10 basic ones, so long as they use a supported code language like Flash ActionScript, or C++?

Developers who decide to go with our Pro solution can customize the look and feel of the games site for social networks and do some basic customization inside Flash and C++ if they wish to do so. We think that the functionality is pretty much the same so there is limited need for customization but how people want to present functionality for consumer will vary a lot and we want to enable that.

We also see the possibility of cross-platform gaming through advanced APIs. Does this mean that I could, in theory, play a friend who is on the web from, say, my mobile?

You can do it in practice, not only in theory! We’ve had technology for this for years and it’s all working fine and available for developers to use. It would be cool to see more, especially bigger, developers to think more about the cross-media consumption of content and related content innovation. I hope that we’ll see interesting developments in this area in the upcoming years.

We all know about the ad-based business model for web games, and we can read about some of the percentages on the J2Play website, but one of the newer business models coming about is the use of microtransactions. Now, I read that you have a feature for this coming soon. Could you shed some light on what we can expect from your microtransaction system and when we can expect it?

We’ve a basic version out already now and like I mentioned earlier, have worked with Asian content with this model so the back-end is ready for this model as well as have had the cash model for say our poker game for years. We are currently customizing our solution to fit better the social networking type of use and rolling out a more advanced version with select developer partners later this year.

Certainly, you’re one of the few leading the way in furthering the social games world. In fact, you’ve just recently received a $250,000 grant from fbFund. With the favor of Facebook, what are the next steps for J2Play?

The Facebook grant and partnership enables us to move forward a little bit faster as well as focus our product development on more technically demanding, harder problems to solve areas of social games.

Well thank you for your time. Before I let you go, I do have one last question: We talked a lot about what’s coming up for J2Play, and a lot of it is actually in beta at the moment. For those that may be curious, how can they go about signing up for your beta?

They can sign up on our website and if they’ve questions before signing up developers can contact Kasra who is happy to answer their questions.

One more thing to mention, our solution is perfectly suited to flash or pc downlodable game developers who already have games built – we have an out of the box solution to ‘socialize’ their game and publish it to currently 9 social networks automatically so they can also benefit for this new channel, the social web.