Interview: Video Chat In Social Games? Rounds Explains

Gamasutra spoke with Gadi Srebnik of video chat service Rounds to discuss how to the service aims to integrate web cam chatting in browser-based games, and goal to offer synchronous gameplay on social platforms.
The social networking chat service Rounds aims to improve player-to-player interaction in social games by providing web cam chatting alongside a host of titles of Facebook and other similar platforms. Using the Rounds API, developers can implement video chat features with a number of optional visual effects, and they can sync player actions and mouse movements on a single screen, showing each player what others are doing. Players effectively share the game screen, where each user has full control over what happens on screen. In addition to working with games, the Rounds service also supports activities like browsing YouTube or Facebook with a partner. A number of social and casual games exist for the Rounds service, including Battleship, Chess, Foosball, and Truth or Dare. Gamasutra spoke with Rounds' vice president of research and development, Gadi Srebnik, to discuss how to implement the service into social games, the company's strategy for viral expansion, and how live video chat affects the way users play social games. How easily can developers integrate Rounds into their games? Gadi Srebnik: Using our API, developers can interact with Rounds' system using very simple and straightforward commands. The API enables developers to communicate with the social aspects of our platform such as friend lists, and user data, and will enable multi-user real-time messaging functionality. Basically, a very simple game or activity can be transferred to work with Rounds' API within minutes. If a new game is developed, it all depends on the complexity of the game. How demanding is it from a performance perspective? GK: Messages are optimized for performance for about 10 message bulks per second, which keeps the full experience stable and ensures low-cost performance. What about in terms of browser resolution issues -- fitting both the game and the video chat on the screen? GK: The platform offers a 4:3 canvas of 640x480, for the activities and we resize the game according to the user's needs and the platform he uses, whether it be Facebook, Chrome Extension, or the upcoming mobile and tablets applications, all while keeping the proportions. What's your licensing model? Is it free to implement? If not, how does that work? GK: It's totally free to implement the game, but we do have a process of filtering the games and activities submitted, and we encourage developers to create high-quality and stable games. Currently we don't charge users for the use of the activities, but we're planning to allow developers to charge for the installations of their games, and we also permit adding advertising inside the activity, and all royalties go to the developer. What's Rounds' revenue model? GK: As mentioned previously, we currently don't charge users for the use of the application. With that said, users are purchasing activities and games with in-site coins that are earned by doing viral actions in the application, such as inviting their friends, posting snapshots to a wall, etcetera. In the future, users will also be able to purchase coins with real currency and then buy activities, games, and new features with these coins. We're also working on a few advertising deals for companies to buy branded gifts and skins inside the application. Have you worked directly with gaming partners to integrate or do you leave it up to developers to adopt? GK: Most of the developers that are working with us are in constant correspondence with us. We have a dedicated developer to answer all their questions and we help with any issue or problem they might have with our API. And as mentioned earlier, we also filter the games and activities submitted, so we always contact the developers personally. If the developer so inclines, we can also host the games on our servers but it's definitely up to the developer to decide. Do you have any specific integrated features that are gaming-friendly or gaming market-targeted? GK: Some of our very cool features include the synchronization of events between the users, where the game is displayed the same on both ends and both users see exactly the same thing. There is also the two-mouse approach where the opponent's mouse is visible all the time and the chat partner can see what he's pointing at and what he's doing. Also, developers have access to the users' data and friend lists and can even start effects and change the application skin on command -- so, for example, in a racing game the developer can decide that if the car crashes, the user's webcam stream will start the fire effect, or if it falls to a river it will start the water effect. If the game takes place in Europe, to continue with the same example, the background skin can be automatically changed to a European landscape. These features create a rich and full environment for both users and developers. It sounds more like you’re looking for games to plug into your chat service than to offer a chat service that existing games can implement. True? GK: Not necessarily. Of course, it's easier to implement existing games, as you don't have to develop it from scratch, but we know that games and activities that are developed specifically for our platform will be much more engaging and fun for our users. Our platform gives many tools and various extras for developers and we think we offer a great thrill for every developer, but we are aware of the difficulties and welcome both kind of games -- new and existing, tailor-made or imported. What’s the process of working with you to get a game integrated with Rounds -- are there approvals or anything like that? GK: Yes, we approve every game that is added to our platform and we work very quickly and respond to developers usually within 24 hours of their submission. If the game doesn't fit our criteria, we try to work with the developers and to direct them to what we think will be more welcoming and engaging to our users, as after all, we know our users best. We don't judge based on design or game mechanics, but we do not condone games that misuse our users' data and privacy and of course, we don't allow anything that's intended only for mature audiences. Other games that won't be approved are buggy games and those who aren't using any of our platform's capabilities. The process of approving games is done solely to keep the platform clean and maintain high standards so we can offer developers high exposure and for their game. How do users discover Rounds -- via the games or via the desire for chat? GK: Well, both. We have users who mostly play and we have users who mostly chat. The "Random Rounds" feature is geared more to the chatting aspect, but the one on one video chats are mostly focused on the games and activities that we offer. The application has been really viral since its launch and most of the users are coming from Facebook -- either through the snapshots that our users publish, friend invitations, or when users exchanging links on their friends' walls. Do you see games as “something to do while chatting” or as a main attraction to Rounds? GK: The games and social activities are our main purpose and definitely the main attraction point to Rounds. Video chatting isn't something new and there are a few other options for people who want to chat. We give them something much more engaging, much more fun and much more social -- the ability to share and do stuff together with their friends in real-time. We give them a way to spend quality time together, to interact like they do in real life and enjoy meaningful conversations. This is the bottom line and this is what we do -- create meaningful conversations.

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