Industry Perspectives: Q&A With Raptr Founder Dennis Fong

Social gaming platform Raptr launched to the public just two weeks ago. Inside Social Games recently sat down with Dennis Fong, the founder of Raptr, to learn more about the platform, its capabilities, and where it’s going from here.

Thanks for your time Dennis. We’ve been following Raptr’s release, but for those readers that may not have heard about all the awesome new features of Raptr, how would you describe it to them?

Thanks for the kind words! ☺ I honestly think your review was really comprehensive, but I’ll try to summarize what we do for those who missed it. At a high level, we’re trying to make gaming more social. Playing with friends, tracking how they’re doing in their games, and using the knowledge of the games you and your friends are playing to determine what games you might like to play are all part of that.

Some people have called Raptr a “Facebook for Gamers”. While we love Facebook and are flattered to be compared to such a great site, we are also proud of our other features created specifically for people who play games. For example, we have a companion client app for your PC or Mac that automatically keeps your profile updated with your gaming activity (similar to what Last.fm’s software does for music).

In a nutshell, Raptr enables you to:

(a) Know when your friends are playing – Between Raptr and the Raptr client, we’ve created a service that automatically knows if you’re playing a game across nearly every gaming platform. Our goal is to make the experience seamless, which means we use a combination of the detection capabilities of our desktop client and the data we’re pulling from existing services such as Steam, Xfire, Xbox Live, etc., to figure out when you’re actually playing in real-time.

We also built integration into services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Friendfeed (with more to come) to automatically update your status on those sites. We did this so your friends don’t even need to be on Raptr to see that you’re playing a game.

(b) Share your achievements and activity automatically – We found that gaming is a lot more fun and social when you can see how your friends are doing in their games. So we built technologies that enable us to automatically pull events happening in games and publish them on your feed, such as a friend creating a new creature in Spore, unlocking an achievement on Xbox Live, playing a new Flash game for the first time, completing a difficult song on Expert in Guitar Hero, or leveling up their character in World of Warcraft. These events are automatically shared with friends and the end result is that we can expand even single player game experiences into multi player like social experiences.

(c) Discover new games you might like – We’ve tried to make people’s lives easier by making intelligent recommendations to them for what games to try next. Our recommendations are based on what you and your friends actually own and play, so the more you play, the better the recommendations will be.

A lot of thought has gone into the development of Raptr in order to make it a powerful game-centric social network: there are cross-platform friend lists, game updates, and even some news feed features. Of all these features, what do you expect to be the highlight of this network?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I think the cross-platform friend list will probably be the most compelling, not only for the people who play games on multiple platforms, but also for players who play games on platforms like the Mac, Flash, and browser-based games, where no friend tracking service currently exists.

I’d like to hear more about the cross-platform capabilities and limitations. While Microsoft has provided you with access to the back end of Xbox Live, other major console developers, such as Sony, have yet to implement an accessible API. This obviously limits the number of games you can track on the PS3. What are some of the ways you are planning to circumvent this issue? Can we expect to see a larger number of Nintendo and Sony supported games in the near future?

Sony has shown itself to be quite progressive already with the announcements they’ve made about their online plans, so we’re quite hopeful that they will make some of that data available. At the same time, we are talking directly to game developers to have our APIs integrated with their games, which allows us to track presence regardless of whether the platform itself is open or not.

We will also be opening up our APIs to the public shortly, which will enable any developer who wants to tap into the Raptr platform to broadcast their game’s “presence” (when a user is playing a game) and surface their achievements onto our activity feed. We’ve built our technologies in a way that enables us to work with practically any data that a platform/publisher/developer makes available on the web.

Whether it’s Sony, Nintendo or even independent game developers, we’re exploring solutions for all of these in order to be as inclusive as possible.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but while Raptr networks gamers across multiple platforms, the primary network is still only PC or Mac. A lot of the time we see players switch games with friends directly via Xbox Live, and not so much using their PC, thus taking Raptr out of the loop in that regard. Is there a possibility of seeing Raptr adapted as a 3rd party program for the various consoles online services (i.e. Wii Online or Xbox Live)? Or even working directly with the developers directly to integrate it into their systems?

That’s correct, but at the same time there can be the case where two of your friends start playing in Xbox Live and then you see that in your activity feeds and decide to join them. Our goal is to notify you that your friend is playing a game, regardless of the platform they’re on. We’re not trying to replace Xbox Live, Xfire, Steam, or any of the other platforms out there – we see ourselves as complementary to them. We’d love to have Raptr adopted as a 3rd party program for the various console platforms, but we also recognize that we’re still pretty early in our lifecycle and have a lot of work to do before something like that is realistic.

You have described Raptr as a “social platform for people who like to play and discover games.” These people include both “casual” and “hardcore” players. As we know, satisfying both demographics is one of the biggest challenges of any developer.  What have you done in order to cater to each of them, or are you primarily targeted to hard core players?

We believe that the nature of Raptr actually helps shield some of the friction sometimes caused by trying to meld “casual” and “hardcore” players together. As a social network, you’re typically surrounded by your friend, which means you’re more likely to share similar gaming tastes. We’re also seeing people that consider themselves as “hardcore” players sometimes dabble in “casual” Flash games, too. We actually avoid either term because we feel people fall into a spectrum rather than cleanly into either bucket. Games like Guitar Hero and platforms like the Nintendo Wii have shown that there are games which span this spectrum.

Another interesting feature is the recommending of similar games. Considering the automatic updates feature, let’s say I playBioshock on my PC and get a recommendation for Call of Duty 4 (for the sake of argument, let’s assume both are compatible with Raptr). Since updates are available through Raptr, will you pish demos too?

Yes, we already host thousands of demos on Raptr that are free to download. We will actually automatically push a recommended demo down to your PC if our recommendation engine thinks that it is a game that you’ll want to try, e.g. you own Call of Duty 1, 2, and 3 and 10 friends downloaded the CoD4 demo.

Obviously, many players can’t very well download updates or demos for non-PC or Mac games. Can they still receive recommendations for them? Do you foresee other means of delivering recommendations?

We absolutely do recommend games to you even if they cannot be downloaded. Our recommendations can also be cross-platform. For example, if we notice you play a lot of Puzzle games on the Mac, we may recommend a puzzle game on the 360 (assuming you own a 360).

– What are the next steps for Raptr?

We’re just getting started so there’s a lot of work ahead of us. We’re working feverishly to add more and better support for other platforms and games. We don’t support many games on the PS3 and Wii right now, and we’d like to change that. We also think there’s a huge opportunity to work with more Flash game developers and Flash Game sites. We will be releasing a developer API to enable others to integrate directly with our platform. We’re pretty excited about that and welcome anyone who wants to be an early partner of ours or to be notified of its release to email us at bizdev@raptr.com.

Thanks very much for taking the time to speak with us. Can everyone sign up now?

It’s free and completely open at this time, so just come to http://raptr.com and sign up!