Interview with Ayogo Games' CEO Michael Fergusson

ayogo200Ayogo Games are an independent social games shop from Vancouver, Canada. They’ve worked on some high profile titles like Mob Wars, and have some interesting insights into the social games community. I sat down with CEO Michael Fergusson to discuss the social games environment, monetization and the Vancouver social gaming scene.

ST: For those who haven’t heard of Ayogo, please give us a short introduction to your services?

MF: Ayogo develops casual social games that are distributed on social networks (like Facebook) and smartphones (like iPhone). We collaborate with content creators and rights holders to create games that will open new sources of revenue around their content. We’ve collaborated with a wide variety of organizations from Electronic Arts to Harvard Medical School, but our sweet spot is in the entertainment space: Video Games, TV and Movies.

ST: What got you into Facebook and iPhone application development?

MF: The opportunity to be part of the creation of something brand new. New business models, new technologies, new game genres. As an entrepreneur, what you want is to be there at the beginning, helping define what’s next.

ST: Have you had success with monetization of applications on either platform?

MF: Yes – we’ve had very good ARPU on both Facebook and iPhone for our games. Some of our games are not explicitly about monetization, but about incenting different types of behavior on the part of our players, and we’ve had good success in those games as well.

ST: How important is virtual currency in your games?

MF: Crucial, although it’s not always obvious to the player. We construct our games as economies, using the forces of supply and demand to drive activity.

ST: What has been your biggest success so far?

MF: We’ve had several projects that have done great things. Our work for EA has got the most favorable reviews from players, which is always very satisfying, and was great in terms of ROI. We did a project for a client in the film industry early in 2009 which added hundreds of thousands of users in a very short time, and generated millions of “incentivised actions”. Of course, we think the best is yet to come – we have some projects in the hopper right now which we’re very excited about.

ST: What has been the biggest surprise?

MF: How rapidly the casual game space is evolving. The confluence of so many different factors, social, technical and otherwise in such a short time. As a market matures, you expect it to slow down…

ST: Ayogo.com states that you help brands bring “fun” to their applications ? Is your model to develop applications for brands or do you have your own projects?

MF: Both, really. Our partners gain the benefit of our experimentation with our own projects. We’re willing to take greater technical and gameplay risks in our experimental projects than our partners are, typically. Some proof that a particular innovation works goes a long way to convincing them to include it in the projects we work on together.

ST: How did the company get started?

MF: My partner, Paul Prescod, and I were fascinated by the collision of social networking and micropayment-based games. We started working on our business plan in early 2008, and launched the company at the beginning of 2009. We’ve been very fortunate to attract some very senior partners into the business since then – the timing just worked out well. Dave Orchard, we snagged from BEA – he spent the last decade crafting the main web services standards we use every day; Dave Bezahler had been the owner of the key game and consumer brand accounts at WPP/Blast Radius. So our little startup started life with some real firepower. It helped that we worked out of the office next door to SuperRewards for the first six months, too. That was a very useful experience.

ST: Are there other social gaming companies in Vancouver? Do you interact with them?

MF: Sure – there are lots of cool companies doing great things. DimeRocker, PugPharm, Compass Engine, plus a lot of great work being done in the mobile space. Wavefront Accelerator has some great services that are keeping Vancouver at the cutting edge. It’s a lot of fun to be part of such a vibrant community.

ST: You write a lot about game design. Please give us some examples of games on Facebook that have engaging, innovative game designs.

Need For Speed -Nitro’s (ours) opponent selection that identifies friends and potential opponents for you
Backstage (Scractchnwin) has a great prize tree

ST: What is your relationship with BaddaMedia?

MF: Speaking of partners that have high-quality content. We’re collaborating with BaddaMedia to adapt their casino-based games to social networks.

Read more about Ayogo Games here.