Interview: Dan Porter on OMGPOP’s Move Onto Facebook

When we recently reviewed Cupcake Corner, a new restaurant sim, we noted that developer OMGPOP planned to use the title as a learning experience for Facebook. For years, Omgpop has operated games on its own teen-oriented, Flash-heavy desination site, but Facebook is a very different market.

Following the review, we got CEO Dan Porter on the phone to ask a few more questions about Omgpop’s next moves on Facebook:

Inside Social Games: Omgpop’s site caters to teens, while you’ve said you plan to target an older female demographic on Facebook. Why not stick with teens?

Dan Porter: I would say that it’s less that we’re not sticking with that audience, and more that just we’re an interesting game company that controls the majority of its distribution. Other people out there either run a portal with other people’s games, or put their games elsewhere. So we’ve had this steady focus on building games for our own site. But at the end of the day we have ambitions to get bigger, and now we can support that.

The second interesting thing is having a direct relationship with four million users, which allows you to have significant impact on off-network virality. We can seed with them first and it gives us a little boost, and some [demographic] balance.

ISG: Your games on Omgpop at least tend to be for synchronous play. Why switch so completely to the typical asynchronous Facebook style?

DP: For us, using proven asynchronous game mechanics and a cooking restaurant theme was a no brainer. I think if you look at the game in 6 to 12 months, you’ll see a lot of really cool and interesting things in there. You’d be crazy to take all those risks right out of the box, because if you’re not successful you would have invested a huge amount of time with no reward. I think you need to get the audience doing something they’re comfortable doing and that they understand, then when you have them you can start to do a lot of other interesting things.

Down the road, the new features will leverage multiplayer. There are a lot of people taking ideas from other people, so if I made a huge bet I wouldn’t be able to expand it quickly enough [to compete]. But if I slip something in… we’ll definitely focus on the slow growth, pushing new stuff in and seeing how people respond.

ISG: You’re also putting games on smaller social platforms like IMVU and myYearbook. How is that different from Facebook?

DP: In terms of how big a game could be, there’s no doubt that anything we do on Facebook has the potential to be much bigger, because it has so many more people. But the flip side of that is that if I’m on Facebook, it has to be viral, I have to spend money to promote it. On another site I can say, I’m only giving you this game if you promote it, and if there are no competitors to it. The challenge on Facebook is the arbitrage, where you never know if you’re throwing money away.

ISG: Besides gradually adding new features to your games, what’s your strategy for Facebook?

DP: When we built Cupcake Corner, we really focused on building a re-skinnable game engine that could support a variety of genres and themes, and then did a ton of testing with our users to see the themes that work with them. It took us 4 to6 months to build that until it was rock solid, and now that it is, we can look for other opportunities around the engine, and put more interesting things into the game to see how they affect monetization and retention.

ISG: Returning to my earlier questions about teens, would they make a good game-playing audience on Facebook? Are they a good audience on Omgpop?

DP: On a straight out monetization and payment basis, no, because a lot of them don’t have credit cards. Some 28 year old woman can pay in five seconds with a credit card. But number one is, it’s not like we were necessarily going after teenagers, we just made our product and teenagers were who liked it. You embrace people who like what you do.

There are 50 million kids in our demo in the US alone. But there’s no doubt that for the teenagers [on Omgpop] we rely on advertising as much as payments to monetize them. The benefit of that is that we have a very tight demographic slice, so you can go to advertisers like MTV. So we have 100 million pageviews because of the lobby mechanic in multiplayer, and it’s still a good opportunity.

ISG: Would that work on Facebook?

DP: No. Two reasons. One is that it’s much more international. The other is that you don’t generate pageviews in the same way — you’re always looking at the same static page.

ISG: Would you move any of your arcade-style games to Facebook? Would they work there?

DP: Certainly asynchronous single-player games that are more level-based have a slightly stronger path to monetization, but I also think that Facebook seems like they’re in a position where they’ve embraced gaming, they have great people working on the gaming side, and they’re certainly interested in having not just one genre of games, so we’ve definitely been interested in that.

What I won’t do is and I’m not interested is like a Mindspark portal within a portal business. You’re just AddictingGames on Facebook then. The only company that pulls that off a little bit is Wooga.