Today we’re interviewing Ryan Kiskis, the director of Product Management at xFire, which is a gaming platform for popular games such as Metin, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and others.
you’re going to love this next disruptive company highlight. today, we’re speaking with Ryan Kiskis of Xfire. Xfire is the de facto standard of online gaming. we’re excited to have ryan on shmula today.
Be sure to read our other interviews in our leadership series.
update: this posting was ready during the week of april 17. but, as of april 24, a huge announcement was made that Xfire will be acquired by viacom for $102 million. congratulations to ryan and the Xfire team.
Tell us a little about yourself, ryan.
I’m currently Director of Product Management & Marketing at Xfire, though everyone at our company wears a lot of different hats. I’ve been with Xfire since about the time we launched the service at the start of 2004, and I’ve done vastly different jobs over that time frame. I’m primarily interested in next-generation web development, what’s currently being called Web 2.0, but I’d like to think we’re always pushing the envelope to the next thing. As a gamer myself, I’m lucky enough to be able to combine that interest with one of the most fun industries around, the videogame space. I came to Xfire immediately after graduating from Stanford’s MBA program, which itself came immediately after graduating from Princeton in aerospace engineering. I’m still shooting for that opportunity to fly in space one day.
What is the business problem or opportunity that xfire addresses?
You can break it down into 2 major aspects, one consumer oriented and one business oriented. The consumer piece of the problem is that the game industry was fundamentally focused on the game title itself as the link between people. Gamers went to play Counter-Strike online, and they generally played against random strangers on the internet. That can be fun, but in general it’s not nearly as satisfying as playing against friends that you’re going to chat with and hang out with over a longer period of time. To use a golf analogy – I like to play Stanford’s golf course, but if all my buddies are heading up to the Presidio, I’d much rather play with them up there.
The business aspect is that gamers are getting older (average age about 28-29 now), richer, and less reachable in traditional advertising channels. The average Xfire user uses our service for over 80 hours a month; I guarantee you they’re not watching TV for that long. They’re also becoming increasingly resistant to traditional marketing messages – you need to engage them, get them to interact with your product or service, not just see a brand message every few minutes. So it’s becoming an increasing challenge to reach gamers, especially for more traditional advertisers.
How does Xfire address the business problem? how is this approach disruptive?
Coming back to the game-centric attitude of the game industry – we basically tried to flip that on its head and refocus the experience on your friends and social network. Xfire is fundamentally about connecting you with your friends to play games, regardless of what specific game they happen to be playing. All of our features – one-click join, in-game chat, voice chat, rich-data profiles, everything – are designed to simplify and enhance a social gaming experience. I think our 4,000,000 users, as well as the success of other gaming social networks such as Xbox Live, have proved the validity of this model. In the PC space we’re still pretty unique in overall feature-set, and our independence from any individual publisher or platform holder has allowed us to innovate in what features we’re offering much faster than we would otherwise be able to.
On the advertising side, we’re offering our advertising partners more innovative, engaging campaigns to reach out to gamers. We’re able to combine a single, powerful ad placement in the client with online events that bring gamers together. Our gamers will be spending hours over the coming weeks – interacting with the games of our publisher partners, interacting with the Axe brand as they create their stories, and interacting with each other in collaboration on movies that will stretch into full-blown epics. We also have done skins of the Xfire client for partners, often associated with a community skin creation contest, as well as sponsored online gaming events with gaming professionals. We’re continully working on ways to combine our traditional advertising placements (web banner ads and our client placement) with these more innovative, engaging events, and we’ve had great success with them to date.
In terms of selection, price, and flexibility, how does Xfire compare to other companies in it’s space?
As I briefly touched on, we’re pretty unique in terms of feature-set for the PC gamer. No one else has our in-game chat technology or our automatic screenshot upload features. Other services provide individual features (voice chat, file downloads, etc), but with those services being their core businesses, they have to charge for them. Xfire is entirely free to our users, with features as robust as many of the comparable pay services. So if you’re a gamer, there’s really no reason to not have Xfire, and I think our growth rate indicates that’s true.
In the advertising space, we are obviously an alternative to traditional placements on the gaming media outlets (IGN, Gamespot, etc), as well as newer channels like in-game advertising or advergaming. However, we really have a sweet-spot in that gamers use our product for significant periods of time each day (unlike gaming media outlets), but they can also easily interact with these innovative marketing campaigns I described earlier (unlike in-game advertising – you can’t even click on an in-game banner, let alone interact). We actually have an interesting document up that we presented to the iMedia conference a few weeks ago, which is a great read for anyone interested in reaching gamers: http://www.xfire.com/cms/imedia.
Anything else you’d like to share?
At this point, I think I’ve covered everything you’d wanted to know and more 😉 If anyone’s got any questions or wants a demo, my Xfire username is Wyndairn.