Interview with Charles Ju of PlayMesh

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charles ju imafiaPlayMesh, just cut the red ribbon on iMafia, a social game based on rising from underling to mob boss. What makes the company unique is there are few gaming companies trying to leverage the 'inherent social graph' of the iPhone in their games," according to Charles Ju, at PlayMesh. "We think that games are exponentially more fun when they are played with friends," he said in a recent interview.

1. Why iMafia? Why now?

Ju: I realized the next progression was to bring social gaming to the iPhone. Mobage-Town [Japan's largest social gaming net] shows social gaming works on the mobile phone and Zynga {on Facebook] showed that social gaming works in the United States. I think that in the next 6 months we'll see a flood of like-minded gaming companies.

2. Describe some of its unique features.

Ju: iMafia, our first social game is a free, graphically-enabled asynchronous massively multiplayer online role-playing game. We are using iMafia to showcase the PlayMesh platform of social tools that we want to test, polish, and give away to the gaming community. What we have seen in our journey to develop social games for the iPhone is that there are two major missing components to making social games for the iPhone; a social network infrastructure and a way to monetize because Apple has banned traditional forms of microtransactions. So our future social API will hopefully solve the first problem. We plan to solve the second with a never before seen twist on buying virtual goods.

3. How did you arrive at your pricing model?

Ju: We are free because we believe that players should only pay for what they think is a worthwhile gamer. LIkewise, with our virtual goods system, we will help open up this possibility for all casual game developers.

4. You've said the absence of game with social gaming aspects is peculiar? What do you mean?

Ju: [Most] game developers don't want to waste their time developing random server-side features like leaderboards, challenges, sharing tools, a monetization platform, etc. We went out of our way to develop them because we knew that someone had to make it and give it away before the iPhone gaming community can grow and build cooler and more interconnected games.

5. Social gaming apps that have free SMS text sharing and live chat being intro-ed at such a fast pace that it makes me wonder if that's now the cost of entry into the most-popular game lists. What's your perception?

Ju: Given a premium game that is attached to a social network and one that is not, players are going to opt for the premium game that has connected features so that they can make their gaming experience a collaborative one.

6. Just what is your definition of social gaming? Is that a definition that everyone can agree with or is this a "go against the grain" impression?

Ju: I define social gaming as games that have features that leverage the Internet to connect players with friends and strangers. This can be as simple as a leaderboard that encourages players to continually improve their score to something as complicated as World of Warcraft.

7. Tell me more about the purchasing virtual goods aspect. It's common on desktop games but new on the iPhone. How do the two approaches differ or make them similar?

Ju: Apple has banned traditional micro transactions. That means you cannot pay from virtual goods with PayPal or a mobile payment processing service like Zong. We are the first company to offer a viable solution to this problem through our platform to allow casual games sell virtual goods through selling premium games on commission.

8. Other than mobility, what do you think is the iPhone/touch's best attribute and how do you exploit that in your new app?

Ju: We have exploited the unique screen size and features by providing a fully integrated graphical interface tailored for the iPhone. If you play our game, you will instantly understand what we mean and understand the difference between our implementation as opposed to those on the Web or even others on the iPhone.

9. Market researchers say that in the near future voice recognition will drive app development because of the smartphone's small form factor. Agree or disagree? Are you planning to do anything that plays into that?

Ju: I think the inherent disadvantage to using voice recognition as a core feature in a game is that it is awkward to do it in public for long periods of time and it's tiring to continually talk to a phone. So no, not in the immediate feature, but I would love to be wrong and see some interesting apps that do leverage voice recognition.

10. If you were a rock star, what instrument would you play?

Ju: Violin.

11. What's on your iPhone/touch right now?

Ju: The best part about running a game company is that you are forced to play games and have fun. Aside from games, the most interesting applications...are Shazam, Amazon, Pandora, App Sniper, Urban Spoon, and Flixster.

12. What would you like to see in the SDK next?

Ju: Push updates and access to restricted sections of the API, like the camera. Honestly, I'm very happy with what Apple has given us.

13. With so many free and $0.99 apps in the App Store, have developers lowered the expectation of users? Meaning, these users think $4.99 is a lot to pay for an app, which seems they're out of touch with the reality of development costs and so on.

Ju: I think that iPhone users are still more than willing to pay for quality because quality games are still far and few in between.

14. The big game studios are entering the App Store with feature-rich games produced by large development teams  and even bigger budgets. Their brand enables them to charge more for their apps. How do you plan to compete against that?

Ju: I don't think throwing money at games is going to produce quality. The perfect example is the current number one, Falling Balls. It is 0.1 KB of code and yet everyone loves it. The reason is simple, gameplay is more appealing than flashy graphics, and you cannot throw money at good gameplay and design.

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  • George

    Well, I really enjoy playmesh games but I got banned from the new playmesh forums and e-mailed playmesh a week ago and they still have not answered... what do I do?

  • http://ImafiaIII SergMcgerg

    Stop the hackers and cheaters!!!!
    View my thread Under imafias game discussion thread.
    "imafia revolution" expose cheaters and make this a real and fun game again, a true Playmesh game.
    SrgMcgurg