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Ask HN: Help us create a startup in the gaming space
29 points by d4ft on June 5, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments
Hi all-

Recently, a fellow HN'r and I got it in our heads to build a startup in the gaming space. We have bounced around ideas and are really not happy with what our less-than-creative minds have come up with. As a community that can solve even mysterious medical problems (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1399450), we thought that you all could certainly provide some good insight into what is missing/needs fixing in the gaming community. In any case, some things we have considered:

1) Social network for gamers 2) Groupon like site for gamers 3) Deals for gamers based on playing habits 4) Meetup for gamers

Anyway, would love some input. Fire Away!

An idea I've been sitting on for awhile is social networking intended for the fabricated and fractured identities of online gamers, with or without divulging the player's true identity.

A social network of this kind would be a natural place to for organized playing groups (clans, guilds, etc.) to form, organize, recruit, schedule and so on. Individuals and groups alike could display their "home" or favorite servers/shards/whatever, affiliations, and so on.

There'd have to be some thought put into the mechanics of managing profiles, as a single player may wish to have several character profiles on the system without publicly linking them (FPS vs. MMO handles), and some games may not have proxy character identities but refer directly to the player instead (Plants vs. Zombies and other casual games).

I think there have been some moves in this general direction by gaming sites that have some kind of community aspect, but nothing that really came close to this more specific concept of users managing a collection of their virtual identities which each may have their own separate network of associated teammates or friends.

This is definitely needed. If it comes down to it, I may have to write it myself. I know what I want and I'd be the first person to use it.

I've ran some numbers of this and the biggest problem is gamers won't pay for anything, they hate ads and they don't click through. So when evaluating this versus other opportunities it loses out because there are still plenty of other better options. All that being said there is a need and after you have a loyal user base there is always a way to monetize it (right!?).

I've seen a number of these sorts of sites come and go over the years. Even a few facebook apps. No one has come close to nailing it. It seems that founders are not gamers; they miss the boat and make it too social network like. And if they are gamers, they never seem to push the site out of it's alpha phase.

Solving my own need is definitely the inspiration, though honestly I don't game much anymore (certainly not as much as I used to!)

The younger net-native generation is no doubt resistant to paying for a service of this kind. The obvious strategies for making (paid) membership attractive would be discount on games and gear and access to anything exclusive and/or pre-release (beta codes, demos, strategy guides). Making that happen has its own set of challenges, of course...

Wasn't this exactly what Rupture tried to do?

Looks similar. I'd never heard of Rupture before but it's funny to see that Fanning had a similar notion. Not something I'd have expected.

Make a game out of doing real world stuff. Ie- I get points for running a 5k, points for skydiving,etc. Now people can cheat, but if you added in proofs like pictures/getting your friends to endorse that you did it, that would be cool.

I worked on a project where this was the aim last summer. The other founder left to return to med school. He was previously a burned out game programmer and gamer. It ends up med school is lower stress and easier than founding a startup or being a game programmer...

There are a few really interesting things that came out of the project. First off, getting people to participate is hard. Without friends or others publicly participating it is less fun and becomes a list of achievements / resume / bragsheet / etc. No one wants to have the fewest achievements. Verifying or other similar proof is difficult. There are plenty of technical solutions but balancing them is key. I ran through a lot of combination and there is a fine line between the verifying processing being clumsy/difficult and being trivially hackable. There have been a lot of unsuccessful attempts in this seemingly obvious space[1,2].

I have continued thinking about this and would love to be involved in creating such an application. Currently I'm bootstrapping which doesn't match up well with this sort of project so it was shelved.

I think a successful real life achievement app is likely to start out with a small team including design and marketing. So it's unlikely to be bootstrapped, at least by me. But, never say never. Something simple may very well be better than the bloat that is out there. Anything that relies on facebook or iphone won't be the overall winner. It needs to be broader than that. There just aren't enough people comfortable with facebook or using their iphone. Since a successful implementation of the idea involves the network effect the winner will need to be ubiquitous. I guess that is just another way of saying it'll likely be a webapp first then a mobile app and facebook app second.

Some interesting related attempts:

[1] Life Points http://apps.facebook.com/getlifepoints/

[2] Booyah http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/93475-Booyah-Bring... who knows what happened to it ... but it is now "MyTown!" http://www.booyah.com/

EDIT: syntax... owned by markup.

For Schell, this, or some version of it, is the future (the future as such, not just of gaming). His talk was all over the place a while back, including here (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1142424), so you may well have seen it already, but video and transcript here: http://www.realtimetranscription.com/showcase/DICE2010/Jesse...

I love this talk. Also as a sidenote, whenever I watch it, I am reminded, surprisingly, of Mitch Hedburg.

If you love this talk, you should read "Shaping Things" by Bruce Sterling. Non-affiliate link: http://www.amazon.com/Shaping-Things-Mediaworks-Pamphlets-St...

It talks about the history of objects, the future that Schell talks about, and then what's next after that... 'biots.'


Is this kind of like what scvngr is doing?

Yeah it's a subset of what he is talking about.

scvngr.com is just the sort of platform that could enable a real life achievement app.

I don't think that real life achievements necessarily imply location. For instance, an achievement where you "Watched every episode of Friends" is interesting and something people may enjoy finding out about you... but it didn't happen in a single location. Or necessarily a single time.

But that is my take on it. I may be wrong. scvngr.com definitely do it right and it's more interesting to me than foursquare. scvngr.com is ideal for city councils, the smithsonian and universities to create great user experiences in certain locations but focuses too much on location. In my opinion there is room for an even broader application.

like 43things only with proof + making it a game. that's pretty sweet actually

This reminds me of a ted talk on games. There is an anti-game sentiment amongst most founders, but in the end it's the future. Game designers have figured out how to leverage and motivate more than all the academics or bosses combined.

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world


You may be interested in the commentary about this movement here: http://www.raphkoster.com/2010/06/03/what-ux-can-and-cannot-...

I largely agree with the overall, albeit crotchety, sentiment: "Just pay them". That said, http://fold.it is ingenious.

beautiful, thanks!

I've built startups in the gaming space for the past ten years. Some are successful (esports.com was sold back in the 90's), some mediocre (gameriot.com reached over 1 million uniques for a few months), and some failures (I won't bore you with these but they never got off the ground).

I don't recommend doing the gaming thing. It's a very competitive space with very little actual 'dollars' on the advertising side. Gaming was the 'in' thing for 2009, and the people who sold ads against it still floundered.

With that out of the way, here's my two cents: 1) Gamers don't like to pay for anything. Period. They have a very high piracy rate.

2) PC gamers should be your target. Console gamers rarely do significant 'gaming' stuff on their PC. (I know this is a generalization but I strongly believe it) The exception are transactional sites (see point 4)

3) I would strongly suggest that you avoid a 'social network for gamers' at all costs. I've built a few of these and they all fail miserably. The only marginally successful ones are XFire and Raptr. Rupture never really launched but was purchased for 10m so I guess you could call it a success?

4) Tying into game API's is ridiculously hard because you have to get every 'publisher' on board. The 'Developer' of the game always wants to do cool stuff with their games, but the publisher controls the budget for external integration and API's and what not.

5) Cheat Codes is the one area that hasn't been done to death that I see some potential in. Sites like Cheatcodes.com and MyCheats are not very social, built on old technology, and are RIDICULOUSLY profitable.

6) If you build ANYTHING for PC, make sure it is focused around World of Warcraft. It's the cash cow and nothing else compares.

7) Gamers don't like to leave their houses. I know that this 'myth' has been debunked countless time but the fact is, it's very hard to get someone to go somewhere else to play a game with their friend. Just hit them on their console or computer.

8) The one idea that I've had floating around is a 'lifestream' type site for gaming. I envisioned it as a low tech solution like 'upload your kill shot, brag about it' or something like that. People just take a pic w/ their iphone, you check the timestamp against their Xbox gamer tag to see who they were playing against, then you tag the photo w/ their names. Could work w/ video too. Console gamers don't really have much that ties them to their PC, so the iPhone (or any mobile device) is one of the few ways to get them while they're playing.

Sorry for the stream of consciousness. I'm a bit jaded from being in the gaming space for so long. Recently started something focusing on another industry (hair salons, oddly enough) and it's very gratifying.

One thing I would add to this (especially the gamers don't pay for stuff outside of games and their hardware) is that gamers don't have a lot of pain points that can be served by a scrappy startup.

They have communities (NeoGAF, Something Awful, Quarter to Nine, Penny Arcade) where they connect with like-minded people. There are usually so few in most towns that its easy to find local gamers if you want to (hobby stores, mostly) but usually gamers don't. Most of their gaming friends are online, and don't need a face-to-face.

What gamers want is new, shiny, and strongly entwined to the walled gardens being run by the console manufacturers. Unfortunately, those walls means the only people able to innovate effectively in the space are those very same console manufacturers.

If something cool was to come from doing a startup for gamers, it would need to lean heavily on APIs from other games, and having recently studied this (to be presented at [1]), while there are some read-only services, there's certainly not enough out there to start doing anything interesting with. I am not even sure that the data you could get from them would necessarily be of value. Gamers are interested in their data, but there's not a lot you can tangibly create from that data, unlike say being a poster printing company that uses the Flickr API. And if they don't click through ads, what are they going to buy?

I guess I'm a big naysayer as well, but I just don't see the obvious pain points that a startup could serve gamers. My gut feeling is there's lower hanging fruit in the web app sea.

[1] http://fdg2010.org/Main.html

Copy yahoo games (I hate java) using HTML5/canvas/svg

Start easy with tic-tac-toe, checkers, backgammon then chess.

Add card games, solitaire, spades, canasta, etc

Then, when the site matures, introduce games like farmville, mafia wars, etc.

Emphasis in visuals, stunning 3D views, etc.

Focus also in the social aspect, lobbies, chat rooms, rankings, tournaments.

I created such a site here: http://gamingpeak.com/

The trouble is, most people are perfectly happy with Pogo/Yahoo/MSN game sites. They don't want to move.

Isn't this space really crowded already, though? Especially if you consider flash games? Is your thinking that with HTML5 you can get onto platforms where flash won't work such as the iPhone?

I reckon if you could fashion a site quickly enough that would work on the iPhone and iPad, you would have a winner.

There's a large swathe of the population for whom http://www.pogo.com is the beginning and the end for games, and I would be the intersection between them and the iPad is going to get bigger and bigger.

Here, one of my never ending projects:


* sorry, no IE

I am running (4) at http://NearbyGamers.com now. I lovingly call it an 'anti-social network' because the entire goal of the site is to get visitors off the site and gaming with each other in person. There are a couple dozen other sites in this niche but NG is (AFAIK) the largest and most active.

I've seen (1) but didn't bother keeping a link because, well, I don't see that gamers actually have a lot in common and care to socialize based on games. Video games are so common that I don't see them as more than a granfalloon. Could easily be wrong here. (2) Dunno if you can do it without geography in your favor like Groupon, but good luck. (3) I think all of the stories of the business of video games in the last year or two (Zynga, EA charging used gamers, DLC, unlock codes, virtual goods) have been about businesses finding new ways to charge more based on playing habits, not less. That's why all the fuss about virtual currencies, you can get near-perfect segmentation.

Some questions - are you capable game developers? Or more a social app developer. Aka more 'Real Racing' (native OpenGL 3d iPhone racer) or Farmville (scripting)? Not sure if I should post my mmo idea(s) or my casual game ideas.

Edit: sorry reread post - so no games, right?

Yeah, we're not so much game developers but instead more web developers. That being said we are certainly open to all ideas. So anything that comes to mind is certainly worth a post.

That's cool, understood.

One idea i've been thinking about is an html5 game of M.U.L.E - a classic 4-player 8-bit game. After seeing the html5 versions of asteroids and 3d tetris (torus), seems like taking it to the next level with lobbies and online match-making (Aka backend web support) would make this kind of game possible now.

I think anything you're doing with community is going to be a massive, up hill battle because it's a hugely saturated space where you're competing with a huge range of people that will be hard to beat ... old and established networks like weblogs inc and gawker, communities, and social platforms like Sony's and Microsoft's.

Anything to do with deals is going to be too niche I think ... how often do people buy new games? When I only need to visit your site every other month it's far too easy for someone I visit every day to replace you.

Meetups I think is also going to be a tough battle, there's already (I believe) huge lan party organizations.

What does your specific interests in gaming come from?

Put 3d games in the clouds. Let me play them fullscreen through Chrome from anywhere.

Or let me play Dwarf Fortress in the cloud so that I will actually be able to play the new version at a reasonable speed.

Haha. I love the inevitable mention of dwarf fortress in any gaming post. It's like Godwin's law for games:

"As an online discussion about gaming grows longer, the probability of mentioning Dwarf Fortress approaches 1"

And while you're at it, multiplayer Dwarf Fortress sounds like an opportunity if you don't mind staying in a niche. The author of DF says he has no interest himself in implementing multiplayer support.

Beyond 4sq, MyTown, etc, check out what did scvngr did. Might give you some ideas.

I blogged about this a while ago; basically i think the social space will be huge. There is a lot of gaming happening around facebook at the monent and I think there is space to disconnect it from there. Something that has logins from Twitter and fb and anywhere else and the Brings you into the games. Money ideas might be in micro payments (yeh I know; but they have to work sometime!) or even better in selling the metrics/ game recomendations (e.g. Did you know your friend X is also playing Y?)

You could also join an existing start up. =) I'd be interested in talking with you guys if you want. I don't see any contact info in your profile, so send me an email at jeff at starsonata dot com.

Which gaming community are you talking about? Competitive, league-based FPS gamers? Highly socially integrated guild-based MMO players? Casual bejeweled junkies? Pen-and-paper tabletop RPGers?

I think we are open to everything and anything under the gaming label. As huge gamers ourselves, we have done quite a bit of playing in many (if not all) of these scenarios.

Is there a good HN- or Digg-style gaming news site out there? Besides the big blogs like Kotaku and Gamesradar and stuff, I mean.

There's a bunch of subreddits with ranging popularity ... gaming is the big, generalized one.

n4g.com is the biggest social new site I know of for Games.

A system for virtual items. Create new types of items; give them to other people. Items can also be prizes for beating games.

Have you heard of http://www.platogo.com/ ?

Wish I had seen this 21 hours ago.

I currently work in the game industry, previously worked in the game industry, and have worked for non-industry consultancies that are trying to break into the industry.

First, if you're not a gamer yourself, you're not going to get much traction. You'll be able to check reasonable boxes of features, and no-one will ever use them, and you won't understand why. The domain knowledge is cliquish and subtle and if you don't actually play games (a lot), there's no way to acquire it.

Your first idea is a great example of this, and it's the first one most people hit on, because there aren't a lot of web-based communities for gamers like there are for other markets. This is because the community is in the individual games and on the individual consoles. A consultancy I worked for made this same mistake, actively pitching companies by saying "we can help build community around your games" and being thrown out of offices for their ignorance. This is also why you can't make a social network that effectively ties together PC, PS3 and Xbox360 gamers: the console manufacturers and publishers don't want you to. Rupture might have gotten close, but then EA bought them, and then shut them down.

2, 3) Groupon for gamers doesn't make sense on the consoles, because you'll need to get MS/Sony/Nintendo buy-in, and Steam already runs sales on the PC, and there are already the indie game bundles that they organize themselves... there's no pain point there.

In fact, someone else mentioned this already: gamers don't have a lot of pain points that a startup can address. There's a big one in the MMO space: I get an MMO and it's awesome and I tell my friends, but by the time they pay for a subscription, the server I'm on is full and they are all on some other server, so I have to re-roll and start again. There's no good way to get everyone "on the same page" quickly and easily... and there's no way for you to do it as an outsider. That's functionality that really has to be provided by the MMO developers and supported by the publisher.

4) There is one LAN gaming center in Austin, TX left. It's dying from utter lack of interest. Gamers don't need to meet in real life. That's the whole point of networked consoles and PCs.

Security is some place you might be able to break in: a universal PC gaming security dongle. WoW already offers an RSA keyfob-style authenticator. Steam is basically online DRM like Ubisoft was doing, except the value proposition is enough to make gamers not care. Give publishers your dongle for free. Give it away to gamers. Charge the publishers and studios a retainer for integration and on-going support and servers for storing data.

Steam will be your biggest competitor in this, because along with DRM, they also offer cloud data storage across Mac and PC (and expectedly Linux).

All the other tech, like MMO servers and graphics engines, many game companies still believe they know best and would rather build themselves (NIH is strong in the industry).

After thinking about this a little more, it's not strictly true that all the other tech would be avoided because of NIH.

The game industry is always several years behind research in some levels, most notably around content creation. A modern, triple-A title has hundreds of artists laboring for years on all of the art for a game. All the tools to export art from Max or Maya or Z-brush or Modo or whatever are custom, and buggy, and one-offs, because every engine (except for Unity, apparently) has their own custom import format instead of using a standard like COLLADA and then baking out the models into a packaging format afterwards.

Just like CGI helped George Lucas eliminate actors, if you can build something that eliminates the need for more artists, you'll be able to sell that.

Things like procedural content generation: even open-source game engine tech like OGRE supports integration with systems like Speedtree, which is a specialized procedural foliage generator, because when you're making an outdoor scene, making trees and bushes and grasses by hand takes a lot of a real person's time: http://www.speedtree.com/

The latest version of UnrealEngine3 supports procedural building generation: you tell it how buildings are made and all of the art assets that make up corners and sides and windows and walls and such, and it'll generate a building out of all the component art, but you still have to build the component art: http://udn.epicgames.com/Three/ProceduralBuildings.html (Also, this is stuff that was in SIGGRAPH papers a decade ago.)

Procedural texture generate for art is also still really in its infancy as far as adoption goes. Besides what was done in Spore, I only know of one tools company that does it: http://www.allegorithmic.com/

Animating characters is expensive. A lot of it's motion captured, which is expensive, and requires a lot of refinement by character animators, and a lot of it's still done by hand. Creating characters and all the outfits they wear all the time is such a chore. I once wanted to use real-time game engines and real-time motion capture to put on theatre productions. If you could get the capture equipment good enough for that, and inexpensive enough to use for children's theatre, that would be a hardware win, but you shouldn't even have to do that.

This is all something that I believe could be done procedurally.

I mean, people all have a certain set of proportions, right? With a fractal variety of differences. Generate bodies and then apply procedural stylistic changes. Let artists define their character style and algorithmically riff off that. Then do the same for clothing and outfit models and textures. Content creation for games should be picking characters out of a line-up and tweaking them by turning knobs and dials, not modeling by hand. Same for monsters and other enemies. There are thousands of years of fashion design that could be boiled down to algorithms and procedural generation.

I believe you could do the same for gameplay. Some Doom map generators were excellent. Gameplay has gotten different and more complex, but so has our understand of what's fun. Generate plausibly fun maps as starting points for content generation based on the gameplay story.

All of this is several steps beyond where any game company thinks, because the development model doesn't support ongoing, repeat development. If you're an engine company like Emergent, who makes the Gamebryo tech, you'll sell to one company, and at some point early on they'll stop taking your updates because they've forked something and don't have time to re-integrate it, and then you'll never hear from them again because their game didn't sell well enough to sustain the studio.

Plus, some of what I'm talking about isn't supported by research yet. There's no minimum viable product that you could build in a Y Combinator three-month timeframe. This is like Masters in graphics thesis-type stuff. :/

(That doesn't change the fact that it's what the industry needs, of course.)

I'd love to have a site where I could create a profile and specify all the board/card games, pen-and-paper RPG's, and video/computer games I like to play, and my geographic location, and then find other folks with matching game/location interests, and have them find me, contact each other, etc. If this already exists, nevermind, unless there's an opportunity to do it better.

I run this site at http://NearbyGamers.com


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