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Interviewer: Hi, welcome to the show. How about you introduce yourself?
Jamie: OK. My name’s Jamie Hall. I’m the CTO and co-founder of MocoSpace. MocoSpace is one of the leading mobile social networks in the U. S. We’ve got 50 million members that are on our site, and really we’re focused on the mobile Web.
So, our users primarily use our social network from the browsers that they have in their mobile phones which can be anything from what we call high end Smart Phones like iPhone, Android devices to what we call feature phones, which are kind of older, less capable phones. Oh, go ahead.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah. What I was going to say is, you mentioned that people have access to your service through a browser. Do you guys have an app for Android or iPhone, or is it just mainly through the browser?
Jamie: We do have apps for Android and iPhone, but the vast majority of our users and our real kind of strength is around the mobile Web.
Interviewer: What would you say is different than about these mobile social networks versus the traditional Web-based social networks? Do you notice any differences, or it just the same activity?
Jamie: Well, for us specifically, I think there’s a real difference from kind of the Facebook model. I think we’re a lot more akin to kind of what MySpace used to be, which is a lot more of an open social network where people come to have fun and share content and meet new friends versus a Facebook kind of model where people are connecting with friends that they have in their real world.
There are a lot of, like on the online world, there are a lot of different flavors and varieties of mobile social networks. There are networks that are like Foursquare or Gowalla which are very oriented around, also, closed circles of existing friends and baking and location elements and check-ins. And then, there’s a whole kind of spectrum of mobile social networking.
Interviewer: Yeah. And what’s the trade-off? Since you guys are focused on the browser experience, the mobile browser experience, what’s the trade-off of using that versus having a downloadable app? Whereas an app, I think, probably allows better access to the phone’s camera, GPS location and stuff like that.
Jamie: Right. Well, so I guess one of the real values of building a social network, at least, the kind of social network that we’re building, is having a large audience, right, so the network effect of having people using the service. We, from day one, decided we wanted to cast as large a net as possible. So, whether your friends or the people that you wanted to meet were on an iPhone or a seven year old Motorola Razor phone, it shouldn’t make a difference.
Interviewer: Since it is mobile, what’s the audience? What’s the target audience, or is there anything interesting about the demographic of the people using the service?
Jamie: Yeah. So, our demographic tends to skew kind of a little bit younger. So, people in their late teens through about 30 is kind of our sweet spot. What’s interesting is it’s a lot of people that, unlike me, probably unlike you and a lot of the listeners aren’t in front of a computer all day. So, people that may have a PC at home that they share with siblings or the rest of their family but not necessarily working, kind of all day in front of a computer.
So, they come to MocoSpace because we give them a really rich social networking experience on their phone. Today you can get, obviously, Facebook. You can get MySpace and others. Definitely, you can get the apps, and you can access them over the mobile Web, but I think the real difference is that we provide a very rich experience.
So, things like music and games, which are very corative, MySpace and Facebook on the Web. Obviously, they don’t have any of that on their mobile experience, and for us we actually do, and it’s a very core part of the experience on Mocospace.
Interviewer: Yeah. Let’s talk about the music and games integration with their service. I guess, how exactly is it integrated with your service, and how are your users using the music and games on your service?
Jamie: Music, we’ve had on the site for quite a while, and we do a couple of different things there. We have relationships with a number of established artists that will set up a presence and a profile and upload content to MocoSpace in order to reach our audience. Sometime, we’ll get tracks and things like that leaked in advance of an album that’s coming out.
And then, we always have thousands and thousands of, what we call Moco-artists which are independent artists or deejays that create their own music that try to really just use MocoSpace as a way of reaching their fan base.
And then with games, games is actually a newer initiative for us. We’re just now in the process of launching our game platform which is an open social based platform for developers to actually create games on top of our platform, using APIs and hooks that we give them to tie into our user base and our social graph and viral hooks and things like our virtual currency system.
Interviewer: Yeah. So, let’s talk about these games some more. When you talk about a platform, would a developer just come in and say develop, would it be a Flash game or would it be like a PHP text-based game? What types of games are you envisioning on this service?
Jamie: So, the game platform, we’re specifically targeting HTML 5 capable, what we call Web kit browser based phones, which would be iPhone, Android and a little bit of Palm Free and the new Blackberry 6 OS which is just coming out now, which supports Web kit. So, these are HTML 5 capable devices where you can do really a lot to create a very compelling game experience on it.
So, we’ve limited the platform to support those users because that’s clearly where the market’s moving, and it’s clearly a platform where you can create really compelling content in games.
Interviewer: Do you have any stats on, say, what percentage of your user base does have those type of browsers or technology on the phone?
Jamie: Yeah. So, roughly speaking, 25 percent of the U. S. market that has Smart Phones, and that’s in line with what we see on the site. So, it’s got 25 percent, and it’s growing obviously very, very quickly. I expect within 6 to 12 months that could just about double.
Interviewer: For game developers, what’s the benefit of using your service or going, say, developing games for your platform versus just developing their own separate app for Android or for iPhone?
Jamie: Well, I think it’s obviously a totally different model and skill set for developing a game based on mobile Web technology versus a downloadable app. I think the real problem with the iPhone app store and the Android app store also to a certain extent is one of discoverability.
There’s hundreds of thousands of iPhone apps, and it’s very, very difficult to reach an audience as one of hundreds of thousands, even with a great game. Kind of like the Facebook platform, I think what we offer, which is unique to mobile, which is if you build a really good game and you can hook it into our social graph, into our users and use the viral hooks that we give you for helping spread awareness of the game. You can really reach a large audience if you have a good game.
Interviewer: You mentioned the virtual currency model. Is there a fee for developers that want to, say, make a game for your platform?
Jamie: That’s a good question. We have, I guess, a system that would be very familiar to people working on the Facebook platform. So, Facebook has their credit system. We have what we call Moco Gold, and we provide a very easy way with our SDK to kind of drop in integration with widgets that we provide, pre-made widgets that we provide for tapping into our Moco Gold system.
And so, the revenue share there, honestly, I think at this point in the cycle where we are, we’re not looking to take anything from game developers. So the revenue is going to be passed through to the game developers, basically, after our cost of processing the payments, whatever they might be. It’s just going to be passed on directly to the developers, and at some point later I would think it would evolve into something like a model something like Facebook.
Interviewer: How long has this platform been out for? Are there already so many games out there that the opportunity for, say, new developers is going to be more challenging, or is it something relatively new and there’s open opportunity?
Jamie: Yeah. I know, it’s very new. Really, we just launched it officially last week. So, we have two games that we developed internally on the platform, and those are out on the site now. But we haven’t yet launched any third party partners yet. Oh, go ahead.
Interviewer: No. Finish up what you were going to say
Jamie: We’re just now talking to partners and kind of getting our initial launch partners on board.
Interviewer: When you said those two games, can you talk about what those two games are, and how you leveraged the platform to make them?
Jamie: Yep. So, one is just kind of a simple Hang Man style game, and the other is actually a much more interesting kind of social game that’s modeled on the Facebook Mob Wars type game where we call it Street Wars where you’re basically forming a mob with your friends and playing for missions and very similar type game dynamic.
Interviewer: You said that the audience for your service trends younger. Are they even interested in using virtual currency or purchasing games or purchasing items online, or is that something that’s maybe not as prevalent as with Facebook where it’s an older demographic. And it’s kind of a casual gaming audience who moved over from some of those casual gaming portals to Facebook.
Jamie: Right. That’s a good question. We didn’t really know what to expect, but after having launched our first social game, the Street Wars game, we’ve seen actually really great uptake and then specifically around what you’re asking about what we call the premium conversion which are those users who are willing and able to pay for buying virtual goods and extra levels and stuff inside the games.
The benchmarks that we’ve seen from the online world and Facebook, from guys like Zynga and other big leaders there, it’s kind of between 2 and 4 percent. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing in the mobile. We’re quite happy with that. I think there are a lot of reasons why, with direct billing integration, with carriers that we have and things like that, why paying onto your phone is quite a bit easier than paying online using a credit card or PayPal or whatever.
Interviewer: Yeah. One of the concerns is that with mobile, these carriers, I don’t know if that’s changed, but they take a significant amount of transactions. Are most of the purchases that people are making through your service, are they using a credit card, or are they going directly through their carrier or through their phone billing to do it?
The reason I ask is because that huge cut that also affects the revenue potential of, say, a game developer that wants to use the service.
Jamie: Right. So, we have a number of different payment options, and it depends where you are geographically, what carrier you’re on. I think what you’re referring really mostly affects premium SMS billing. Premium SMS billing, typically the carriers will take roughly a 50 percent cut which is, obviously, huge.
Jamie: Actually, we’re fortunate enough to have direct billing relationships with a number of carriers where the revenue share is actually quite a bit more favorable for us. So, that’s something we’ve baked into the platform where game developers can leverage the relationships that we have to get much better revenue shares than they might otherwise if they were only using premium SMS.
Interviewer: You mentioned that you used open social. One of the concerns is that you look at the Facebook platform that’s constantly being updated, upgraded. Open social isn’t as prominent. It doesn’t have that leadership position. Do you see any concerns with moving forward, just being based on the open social platform?
Jamie: Yeah. When we made that decision, I think it was mostly based on the fact that obviously there are a huge number of developers that are familiar with the Facebook platform. I think also with the open social which has really being adopted worldwide by just about everybody, obviously, aside from Facebook’s online space and hi5 and Friendster and LinkedIn and Ning in the U. S. And the leading social networks in Japan and elsewhere in the world have adopted open social.
We just felt it was a more stable kind of standard where Facebook, as they did five or six months ago, scrapped their old platform and rolled out a completely new one. They can do whatever they want whenever they want, and we just wanted something that felt a little bit more stable and mature and had a road map and something that wasn’t going to be a moving target for us.
Interviewer: Moving forward, where do you see social gaming on the phone going? Do you see it as something that is going to be a browser experience, or do you see it moving towards an app experience? Where do you see these players going, or they going to stay on these normal social networks or moving their gaming experience to the mobile network? Any insights that you can share on that would be great.
Jamie: We’re absolutely believers in the mobile Web. I think we’re just starting to see now with a real penetration of HTML 5 capable devices some real interest on the part of both Web developers and mobile app developers in the mobile Web. Because you can really create some incredibly compelling games, especially when you’re talking about social games rather than like RPG style games.
You can just reach a much broader audience and, like I said, when you’re able to tap into a community using some viral hooks from a platform like ours or Facebook or whoever, if you have a good game you really have a chance of getting it in front of a real audience instead of just buried at the bottom of a list of 50,000 games on an app store.
Interviewer: Do you see yourself or your service, do you think it’s going to definitely be still mobile or browser based, or do you see any kind of potential leap onto a type of app format? The reason I ask is because as, say, game developers developing on your platform, having access to photos or GPS and all those other things might add to the game play.
Jamie: Right. The platform that we’re targeting or the devices that we’re targeting are all HTML 5 capable. They have Geo location, API, offline storage support. We have pretty advanced capabilities for creating pretty sophisticated games. One direction that I think is potentially interesting and which has taken off in a very big way in Japan and has been very big for a number of years, is mobile Flash.
So, there are a number of mobile social networks there and in South Korea also that are based really around mobile Flash. Here, unfortunately, while we have support on the Android platform now for Flash, it’s iPhone and the whole Apple thing that’s keeping that from taking off. I’d love to see Apple open up to Flash and see that happen, but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.
Interviewer: You mentioned Japanese mobile social networks. Do you see then the Western countries trending towards what’s already happened in Japan, or have you noticed any differences between Western social network that you guys are running versus the Japanese mobile social network?
Jamie: That’s a good question. In Japan there are three guys that are more or less neck and neck in terms of the size of their audience. One has really started out as a mobile gaming social network or a mobile gaming focused social network. And really just less than a year ago, opened up a platform for third party developers.
So, it was really initially all games that they kind of sourced and built themselves. But since they opened up their platform about a year ago, they now have over 500 games from third parties, and it’s accelerated their growth quite tremendously.
I think there’s a lot to learn from the Japanese and the overseas markets, but there are also a lot of good reasons why the success that they have there, the models for success don’t translate exactly one for one for what’s going to be a successful model here.
Interviewer: Can you talk about any of the specific differences of what you’ve seen and what’s different working on your service versus what’s worked on Japanese mobile social networks?
Jamie: Well, it’s still, obviously, it’s still very early days for us, but I know that one of the largest and most successful and earliest games that was a really big hit on Mobage-town which is the largest game focused on mobile social network in Japan, is actually remarkably similar to Zynga’s Mob Wars. But it’s actually based on being a thief and having missions based around being a mobster but a very similar game dynamic.
There’s a whole range of games, kind of similar to what you see on Facebook where you’ve got virtual pets, and really a lot of different games. A lot of them are avatar based and actually two of the three leading mobile social networks there are avatar based. That’s a little different than what you have in the U. S. obviously where the big guy, Facebook, is not avatar based.
Interviewer: When you say avatar based, do you mean more of like you have a fantasy personality, or are you talking about just having your own little avatar that you dress up?
Jamie: I guess it’s a little bit of both where on Mobage-town and the other social network, Gree, that they have where you have an avatar, and I guess it’s not totally fantasy but there’s some elements of fantasy. I guess, it’s more like the model that we have where people that come to social networks both with existing friends that they have and also to make new friends. It’s much different than the Facebook model.
Interviewer: As these mobile social networks take off in the West, do you feel it’s just going to be the same types of games that already worked on Facebook, or are there going to be opportunities for new types of game play or game design? Have you seen that happen with the Japanese social networks that you guys are familiar with, or is it pretty much the same games, Mafia type games, whatever else worked on Facebook?
Jamie: You know, that’s a good question. And that’s also a question that kind of… I’ve been doing mobile games development for really about 10 years now, and that was always the question. There were always the leaders that you saw that were Pacman and Tetris and the kind of games that came over from the console space, kind of dumbed down for it or from arcade games.
But there were definitely games that came along that were exclusive to mobile. Obviously, the big example now is Angry Birds which was built and now ported over to Android. So, I think there’s a lot of room for that. Specifically in Japan, I don’t really know, but the games that I’m aware of that are big are more along the Facebook model.
But I think actually the games probably that we know from Facebook that are popular probably actually came after all of these games were big and popular in Japan. So, I think we actually or the developers that originally developed the…
Interviewer: OK, great. So where can developers find out more information about potentially developing a game for your platform?
Jamie: Anybody that’s interested, I would encourage you to visit our website which is changing to JJmobile.com.
Interviewer: How do you spell that exactly?
Jamie: It’s just the letters J and J mobile.com or email me which is just Jamie, J-A-M-I-E, at Corp.mocospace.com. We have a developer portal. Right now it’s not totally open, so you have to request access, and we’ll open up an account for you. And then you’ll have access to our SDK and some code samples and our forums. Now, we can get you started.
Interviewer: Yeah. And is there going to be a time when it is going to be free, like, open? Can you talk about the approval process, the update process? Is it something where if folks release a game on your network or on your service, they can easily update their game? Or are they going to have to submit them for request, kind of like the Apple iPhone store?
Jamie: Right now we’re kind of keeping a little bit of control over the initial launch partners just because it’s the initial launch, but our hope is to, within the next few months, to open it up to everybody.
Interviewer: OK. Great. Thank you very much for your time.
Jamie. Yeah. Thank you.
Interviewer: Take care. Bye.