Inside the Games Interviews Paul Thind
The Game Reviews: Okay, could you tell us a little bit about your lineage and how you came to end up where you are now?
Paul Thind: Yeah, sure. Prior to Outspark, I was actually at a company called Sulake. Sulake is a game developer that has created Habbo, which is the largest virtual world for teenagers. Prior to that I was a CEO of a small kind of online record label and music publishing site, PPA Music, and I had various other executive titles at different companies, the longest one being my own — I founded an independent record company and online site in ’93. So, that lasted quite a long time u ntil about 2003, so about ten years. That was more about building communities online for music.
TGR: Okay, very cool. Could you tell us a little bit about what your job is now and what you do with that?
PT: Sure, I just joined Outspark. Outspark is quite a great company with basically a company– I am sorry; you asked what I do….
PT: I am mainly involved with operations of the portal, the Outspark portal. This company has been around for two years now…almost two years. It has about three million members, so it’s pretty new, and I am pretty new to the company. But essentially, I came here to collaborate some of my experiences in developing, growing, and managing virtual worlds from my time at Habbo. With Outspark, I have just been really impressed with what I have seen and accomplished in such a short time. I recognize potential for exponential growth as we continue to kind of leverage the portal that we have through the community, social networking, and obviously game sourcing. So, primarily, we are a game publisher, but we have also allowed the community to kind of come to the site for the games…and stay for the community.
TGR: Okay, for some of our readers who aren’t so familiar with Outspark, could you tell us exactly what it is?
PT: Yeah, sure. Obviously, it is basically a portal that has several online games that can be played for free. So, essentially, we have a bunch of components of the business. One is the games themselves where people can come and sign up for free — sign up one time and then basically play all of the games — and then essentially, while getting through the games, they get to different levels with the community and can begin to purchase additional things if they want too to enhance their gaming experience. That is one part of the business.
PT: Another part is kind of the thing that holds all of these games together, which is the community, a portal where people can come and sign up, create a profile, and talk with like-minded gamers or like-minded people who play these games.
Then there is also the micro transaction business model for the games, where we tailor premium digital content, so we sell all of these items on the front part of the site through a store for virtual goods. And we are also basically a marketer. We have part of the business where we collect a lot of information from the audience. So, we actually have a lot of business intelligence on our users. So that is another part of the business, but obviously as we grow, we can talk about that further, but the dominant part of the business is that we are a game publisher, and we have a number of online games.
TGR: So, a lot of talented people are looking to get into the video game industry and really don’t have any kind of clue how to go about that. What would you suggest to someone who wants to work in this industry and what do you look for when you are hiring in…your division, let’s say?
PT: A number of things, I think that it is pretty neat; the industry is still in its infancy with regards to free games that have a micro transaction model attached. Obviously we have a lot of people who play, who actually play the games and have personas within the games.
I think first, having an interest in gaming is always great. But, also, I always look for someone who has had experiences around, obviously the internet, maybe monetizing different, running other, or working out of different websites or understanding basics of user interaction within the websites. So essentially, that combined with the gamer and someone who understands basically the analytics surrounding web behavior and usage. That is obviously very useful.
Obviously, if you are breaking into an industry from somewhere else, that can be difficult, but if you look at my career, progressing, I came from music, so really it was about building communities, having a common interest ,and building something around that interest. I think that depending on what divisions we are talking about, whether it be game, web design or user interface, I think that all of these things have different skill sets attached to them, and obviously at Outspark we have all different types of personalities and people, depending on what their job function is. For example, with the Business Intelligence Division, you can find very analytical numbers-driven people. And when you have the kind of game masters themselves — which I think this would be more relevant to — who would be people who actually enjoy interacting with communities and enjoy playing games and enjoy socializing virtually with others. So, I think that those are very valuable skills, also.
TGR: Alright, you mentioned that you came from the music industry. How did that dovetail into the video game industry. How did what you learn through that help you with where you are now?
PT: I think gaming is like the one piece of my entertainment repertoire that was missing. I think that the previous company that I was at just kind of gave me a good foundation in regards to running a business, essentially a big part of what I would call “community building,” the gaming landscape changed a lot. Instead of just playing either one- or two- player, we are into massive multiplayer online games, and I think that online gaming, community building — those kind of things — made that. I think bringing over certain artists from small European countries is essentially what I was doing, and that really helped build a brand in the US. Kind of similar to what I had to do with Habbo, which was a small Finnish company that created rather large, obviously teen destinations and math. I think similarly with game sourcing. You never know which one is going to be the breakout title until users start playing it. You start marketing it, then you start collecting just analytics on their behaviour with the game, then kind of refining the game and having features and adding different ways to pay and kind of essentially tailoring the game for your audience.
I think that the experience of…there were a lot of parallels. One was community building, working with different kinds of audiences and really giving them what they wanted, and obviously building out a business. Number Two was, I think, a lot of experience about social networking, virtual goods, which is becoming very prevalent in gaming these days. I think Outspark is kind of the best of all of those worlds. We have a place where communities can really…. Basically people can interact with each other. Users can share each othersÃ¯Â¿Â½ information on what is going on with the game. They can post videos; they can obviously become connected that way. But then they can also actually play these games with each other, and I think that the future of gaming lies in basically friendships that are casual and simple in nature.
You have a core gamer that comes to and decides to play a game and really becomes aggressive and tries to get to the next levels and really wants to…wants that status within the community. Then you have, I think, a part of people that really just wants to hang, and I think that Habbo didn’t really have that, and I think that Outspark really allows that opportunity.
TGR: Actually, that kind of falls into the next question that I was going to ask. In the short period that I have been involved in the industry, I have noticed that sites such as Facebook and gadgets such as the iPhone and other media outlets that weren’t traditionally thought of as “gaming” are starting to adopt more mainstream gaming. What is Outspark going to be doing to help tap into some of those markets and help tap into those types of audiences that are not as traditionally gaming oriented, but are starting to become more involved with the advent of Facebook and the iPhone, things that are starting to attract people who haven’t really been gamers all of their lives, but are just now starting to enjoy them?
PT: Good question. I think that basically building a community around games obviously requires all sorts of different types of things, but I think first and foremost is the kind of games like, if the game is too complicated or too complex or difficult to enter, you know, you are going to turn off the mass market kind of audience that is familiar with these games. But, I think that is one area that Outspark kind of excels in. These are the kinds of games that are coming out and you will see these as we announce more games over the next month or two. These kinds of games are really appealing in that they are easy to download, easy to get into, very easy to progress beyond the first few levels. I think it starts becoming exciting once the user becomes engaged enough, or if he comes back every day or every few days to check out what is going on, and obviously, he will progress through the game.
So, I think that, after seeing right now, if different types of games are out there, especially MMORPG space, things that are easier to access are ones that start getting mass acceptance earlier. I think that half of those have the kind of introductory games, where you can reach out to other portals like Facebook and the iPhone, which still allows users to experience that kind of casual environment before they actually develop more relationships and get turned on to more games through the community, and then eventually progress to maybe even becoming a core gamer.
I think that there is a lot of choice, but there is not one company that ties it all together really well, at least that is what I wasn’t seeing. I thing that Outspark really does that, especially because we really do have the games as well.
TGR: Along the same lines as that last question, what are you going to be doing to keep the core audience involved? Like the people who consider themselves “hardcore” gamers in a sense.
PT: I think it looks like as we grow, community speaks. You have all different types of people in the community, so as far as the core gamer, I think it is just the kind of games that you are offering and the features in that game and different types of levels and degree of difficulty. We have that with the Fiesta game, and with Blackshot, a first-person shooter game, it is also there. I think there are games there that appeal to the core gamer. I think that introducing one or two games that the casual gamer likes doesn’t hurt, because they are learning, more than the core gamer. But I think there is….Outspark actually has started with those types of games, to satisfy core gamers. I think that is going to move into the civilian part of the portal, into the community, showing actually a lot more in our direction to actually capture more of the casual gamer market. I think that we actually have a really good jump on the casual gamer market with a war game right now, and I think it has really created a niche. But I think now it is a good time to expand beyond that.
TGR: I have a quick question before I let you go. I just wanted to know, what is your favorite game of all time? Do you have one?
PT: My favorite game…. I enjoy playing older games, actually. I am dating myself, but I like to play old, very casual games, like the old kind of Namco Bandai that are very easy to play — more like Galaga and that kind of title. So I am a very casual side of gaming. I think that that is kind of a great time to join a company like this that has such great games. I really like playing some of the new ones that we are going to be launching within this year like Project Powder and Blackshot, Project Powder obviously being the great kind of snow boarder game, which is really very exciting. And obviously the Fiesta games are really great. I think that was the peak time for me, it was a great time to join a company that has already established a great audience and have over three million users right now, and also a company that actually can capture the market further by growing into more casual games. That is where my background lies and that makes it a good thing.