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In-Depth: How OpenFeint Aims To Become A 'Modern-Day Social Network'

OpenFeint's Ethan Fasset and founder Jason Citron discuss plans to become a "modern day social network" for mobile devices, adding features to attract social and free-to-play app developers.
When OpenFeint launched its online mobile games service in 2009, it included basic social features such as achievements, friend lists, and leaderboards. Today, OpenFeint hopes to expand its platform to become a more fully-featured social network for mobile gaming. To help bring about this change, the company hired former Playdom executive producer Ethan Fasset as the new senior VP of product, to help the company expand its platform and support free-to-play social games. In a recent interview with Gamasutra, Fasset explained the benefits of a game-focused social network. Major social networks like Facebook only view games as a small part of their service, he said, and thus don't give games and their developers the support they need. "There's this model of social networks that has been established by Facebook, primarily, and game design [on these platforms] has evolved around that. But what's interesting about Facebook is that it's really not a gaming network. In fact, it's a general-purpose social network," he said. "If you look back at early 2010, they had to very quickly clamp down on a lot of practices, where things that gamers were interested in were not necessarily things that the general population were interested in," he pointed out, referring to a number of restrictive changes in Facebook's notification policy that limited app virality. With OpenFeint, however, Fasset says these kinds of issues won't be a problem: "We will have a social network structure that's modeled similar to Facebook, but we'll be able to tune and optimize it more around the needs and interests of gamers." The company took its first steps toward implementing this social infrastructure earlier this year with its "Game Feed," a scrolling ticker at the bottom of OpenFeint-enabled games that offers players information on what their friends are playing, what achievements they've earned, and more. In addition to the Game Feed, Fassett said that OpenFeint aims to attract free-to-play social app developers to the platform by introducing tools and features that will allow them to "transition their game designs, and all the mechanics that they're familiar with" from Facebook to OpenFeint. He specifically pointed out that the service will support social network features such as wall posts, gifting, and more. Fasset was unable to provide much more detail regarding the specific features to be added to the service, but OpenFeint founder Jason Citron added that the company hopes to make its service more like a PC-based social network than something like the console-based Xbox Live. Citron noted that in its original form, OpenFeint was much more limited, and didn't provide players with the social tools they needed to connect with friends. "It was not a very rich, vibrant social experience," Citron said. "You'd land there, and you kind of have to go and look for the forums, then go and add some of your friends to compete with them, much like Xbox Live." "The big shift that we're doing is we're making it much more rich and vibrant right when you walk in the door, so that people who like playing free-to-play games get that familiar experience that we've been talking about. It really feels like more like a modern-day social network as opposed to like Xbox Live, which is more like a gaming community." He continued, "The long-term vision for OpenFeint is to be the world's gaming social network on mobile devices. Smartphones and tablets are going to be in every corner of the world in the next five to ten years, and gaming is the killer app on these things … And we are just really excited to build the right type of tools and technology and platforms that allow the developers to build those kind of experiences for people." Earlier this year, OpenFeint was acquired by Japanese mobile social gaming network Gree, though the two companies have thus far remained separate entities, allowing them to create "tailored products for specific markets."

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