Interview With ClipWire Games CEO Ritesh Khanna

ClipWire Games is announcing their newest social gaming title, Haven, and I had the chance to sit down with their CEO, Ritesh Khanna, to discuss the title and the social games market in general. We discuss the status of Mafia Wars-style games, the importance of using metrics to guide your games and virality. Read below for the interview and brief discussion of Haven.

Haven is a strategy RPG set in a medieval atmosphere that utilizes the well known Mafia Wars model and improves on it by ensuring that quests are story based, and that you don’t repeat quests. There is a larger sense of the world, the characters and forward movement than is typically seen in other strategy RPGs, and the character art and names are enticing. The game is still in BETA, but give it a shot here.

We sat down to talk with Clipwire’s CEO, Ritesh Khanna, about his company and this game.

Can you tell us about Clipwire Games? How long have you been in the social games space, and what are your plans?

We’re a newer social game company, which was founded at the beginning of 2009, so it’s been just over a year. In that time we’ve made several games, but have focused on our two main properties, an RPG called Nitrous Racing and an aquarium simulator, Fish Life; both which have grown to over a million users.

Prior to Clipwire I served another social games company for approximately 9 months, and before that I had founded another company called Odd Thought, Inc. Odd Thought was among the very first game companies of this type, started back in 2003.

In that time, I’ve become extremely familiar with browser based RPGs, and the team at Clipwire is tailored for this type of game design, moving forward we want to take these games to the next level. This includes higher quality interfaces, graphics and richer social mechanics.

I see that Haven has a game RPG model that is similar to other quest based games on Facebook like Mafia Wars. What sets it apart from that?

Games like Mafia Wars and others are really great, a lot of the features these games have are proven to be fun for the end user, and we want to retain all that. There are a few things we want to do differently with Haven. One thing we do in Nitrous Racing is that our quests are generally not repeatable; you never do the same quest twice. Instead, the quests are a story that slowly unravels as your progress in the game, and we’re constantly adding more story lines for users, this is something we will be adding to Haven.

We also want to make our social mechanics more genuine, in the sense that friends will actually want to be a part of the experience. This is in contrast to what many games today do, which is insist you involve your friends in order to get quick bonuses, or access to otherwise locked or unavailable goods and features.

When we worked together earlier, you really focused deeply on using metrics to define your iterations. Do you still use that methodology, and what have you learned after doing this for a few years?

Absolutely! Almost everything we do is inspired by what our users ask us for; watching metrics is the simplest way to listen to our users. It’s critical to the success of any game in this space to bucket test everything you can; you will often be surprised how a minor tweak can have a massive impact, positive or negative.

The biggest lesson I learned is that the numbers don’t lie, don’t try to convince yourself the number are wrong to justify something you may have spent a lot of time and effort on. If the numbers are telling you something isn’t working, then it probably isn’t.

Any surprising metrics or statistics you’ve seen during your time with social games?

The revenue related metrics are the ones that continue to surprise me the most, and as a result I watch the most. Sometimes we put something out there that we think is going to sell extremely well and doesn’t perform, other times what seems to be a simple virtual good is a huge success.
What is the biggest challenge to entering the Facebook Games space at this time?

Right now, I’d have to say with all the changes that have recently taken place on the Facebook platform, combined with the upcoming changes, the playbook for how to be viral isn’t up to date. The biggest challenge for entering is learning how to be successful and viral on the new Facebook.

You have 500,000 users on your MySpace game, Nitrous Racing. How do you feel about the MySpace games space?

My space is a great company to work with, and Nitrous Racing has performed very well on their platform. However, they are in a bit of a rough patch, but have proven they are keen on getting back on the right path.

If MySpace granted me one wish today, without a doubt I would ask for fresh, new channels to get our games out to their users. Their users want to play games but there is an issue of discoverability and saturation of the viral channels made available to us.

Do you leverage advertising and banner networks to gain installs? How do you feel about networks like AdParlor and Offerpal?

Generally speaking most of our growth has been organic. I like to give every opportunity to purchase traffic a try, but it can often be unpredictable in-terms of quality. Buying installs works best for companies that have several games, ultimately, traffic is purchased into your network, the bigger the network, the better the value.

We recently wrote that social games are still in their infancy, and if you compared it to console gaming, we are still pre-Nintendo, in the Atari days. Where do you think we are?