Outspark is a global community. Outspark offers free online MMORPG games and multiplayer games. I emailed with Susan Choe, CEO and founder of Outspark.
YOUNG MONEY: Tell me a bit about yourself. Has gaming always been a passion for you? Is it actually playing the games that you love or creating a community—or both?
SUSAN CHOE: I gamed a lot as a kid and then re-discovered the fun of gaming via multi-player online games like Kart Rider while doing due diligence for games to license for Yahoo’s International team. I don’t really like playing the same game against AI vs. others…the thrill of unexpected gameplay against another player every time in addition to the community that builds around the game is like having a virtual playground at my fingertips. That’s what I really enjoy!
YM: Tell me about Outspark. What made you decide to do another online gaming website? Did you think the web was flooded with gaming site already? What makes your site standout?
SC: There were a lot of gaming sites but they were primarily simple, single player, chess or poker type flash games versus the World of Warcraft core games that require weeks of ramp up time to enjoy the game.
Clearly there was a gap between casual and core games that the rapidly growing base of online entertainment seekers needed. The Outspark virtual playground closes that gap, while also combining community portal features to help bring some of the communal experience within the game out to the web. In simple terms – think of it as Facebook meets EA’s POGO. And it seems we’ve given online entertainment seekers what they’ve been looking for as our user base has grown to nearly 4 million just a little more than a year after launching. With the addition of new games and portal features in 2009 our user base is expected to triple in size.
YM: If Outspark doesn’t use the subscription model, how do you make money?
SC: Our casual games are online so we can make free gameplay available to all and still offer gamers the choice to pay for elements of expanded gameplay and/or personalization that they want to pay for. This is like iTunes for games…rather than buy the packaged game at once, you get to play for free and buy what you want. The premium digital items we sell are for in-game use and vary anywhere from costumes and jewelry for in-game avatars to beauty salon coupons and even event packages like our Wedding and Divorce Packages.
Allowing gamers to play for free and pay for what they want seems to be a key factor for those seeking online entertainment these days. I think this is because as casual gamers are starting to lose jobs and cut costs in the real world, they are still looking for the most cost effective ways to find online entertainment in the virtual world. Outspark lets them enjoy the best of both worlds.
YM: With the popularity of sites such as facebook, etc we’ve seen an integration of social elements into all kinds of sites. How important is the social element in gaming sites? How important is it in Outspark?
SC: Online gamers are inherently social. It’s almost as if they come to play the games, but really to meet friends. Several Outspark users have even tied the knot virtually using our Wedding Package – one of our best selling premium digital items.
Just as social interaction is inherent in our daily lives and communities, social interactions among online gamers is very important and organic. This is why giving our users a playground where they can do more than just play games is essential. The social portal we’ve created gives our users the tools they need to interact, tell stories, create and share content as well as build friendships.
YM: Tell me about data mining. What have you done differently? How have you made this work?
SC: Data mining is important in any online business, especially if you’re a start-up; it enables you to make smart investments regarding where to draw users from, what those users might pay for, at what price and for how long. We are like the Proctor & Gamble product team with every game, but what sets us apart is we’re able to conduct real time data analysis and product management in house. Sometimes this can be carried out week-to-week or even day-to-day allowing us to evolve with our users demands in real time. I wrote a data-mining program into the plan when the idea of Outspark was still on paper and I think it has played a huge role in our success.
YM: What is the most successful game on Outspark and why?
SC: All of our games are very successful. We think the appeal of our diverse game genres resonates the most with our growing user base of nearly 4 million registered users. Right now our gamers can join up to five games of all different genres from vibrant fantasy role playing games and adventurous quest seeking titles to first person shooter and action sports games.
We are continuously creating relationships with developers across the globe to seek out new titles that will further round out and expand the collection of causal games Outspark features. I think the next games you’ll see added to the site will probably fall into the arcade, music and puzzle categories.
YM: How do you market? Social networking? Word of mouth?
SC: We apply all methods of marketing from viral marketing and advertising to grass roots campaigns, which rely heavily on word of mouth. We also work with more than 300 business partners to drive appropriate audiences for each game at different times of a game’s lifecycle.
YM: Have you found that gaming is still a “man’s industry?” Have you had any problems being a woman in the gaming world? Has it made a difference at all?
SC: Initially I did have some interesting reactions, but given my team’s portal and game publishing experience, and now results, top tier game developers and publishing companies are coming from the US, Canada, France, Germany, Korea, China, and more each week to partner with us. In the end, people seem to care most about performance and fairness of the publisher rather than gender.
YM: How did you get funding for Outspark? Do you have any advice about this? Especially in a down market (like the one we’re in now)?
SC: In the beginning, I began the business in my house, using my own money – needless to say I learned a lot. Funding happened when I met investors at DCM and Altos who shared my belief in the premium online casual games model that relies heavily on in-game sales of virtual goods. I was able to prove that a similar business model had already seen success in Asia and that with Outspark I was going to evolve and adapt the model to fit the Western market.
Ultimately, I think Angel investors like myself are rallying to fund developers of good content that can drive market growth within a single publishing portal.
YM: Has the recession affected your business? If yes, then how so? Any advice on how to deal with this?
SC: The recession has not affected our business – at least not in a negative way. We are growing in users and revenues and it’s due to our team’s innovative ways of product management – from selecting the best games and offering the right premium digital items to analyzing user data correctly. This is part of our strength; even in a down market Outspark has been able to facilitate growth.
YM: What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs?
SC: Be clear in what you’re trying to do and be realistic with timing and costs. Remain laser focused through all the ups and downs. Also, not everyone is right for a start-up. They may be great, smart people but sometimes, a new, fast moving industry might not be the right environment. In the end, be fair to both parties and act before the experience affects overall morale of the team.
YM: What are your plans for the future?
SC: To continue growing in both users and revenue so that Outspark becomes the definitive Social Gaming Entertainment Experience. I also want to help game developers become as successful as possible by offering them access to our community of paying gamers. I stress “paying” because game developers need more than dreams to fund their work. In addition to the virtual playground Outspark has become, we also want to be THE engine for the many developers coming to us from around the world interested in meeting that middle genre of games between Poker and World of Warcraft.
YM: Tell me anything you would like my readers to know about you and/or Outspark
SC: Outspark is leading the way in a new category of entertainment where social networking and online gaming collide, providing a new source of entertainment for everyone. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Facebook combined with an online game publisher, it’s already happened and I invite you to experience the new source of entertainment at Outspark.com, where people come for the games and stay for the community.