3 Questions – 2 Blog Posts: Rajat Paharia, CEO, Bunchball

We’ve been doing tons of research on companies for the next Under The Radar Entertainment and Media conference – we’ve seen a lot of really cool games, avatar builders and virtual worlds. We’ve also gotten the chance to talk to some really interesting founders and CEOs about their companies. When we ask the critical questions like ‘what’s your business model’ we get some good answers, some not-so-good answers, and then we get some like the ones below. Rajat Paharia is the CEO of Bunchball, a casual/social gaming company that’s getting real traction in the field. Rajat knows his stuff, he has a lot of experience with developing an effective business model (through trial-and-error, the best knowledge to have). He’s also got his eye on the competition, knows everyone, and is, in fact, friends with many of them. As Tony Soprano would say “He’s a stand up guy”.

We asked Rajat a few questions and got such (long) good answers that we’re splitting the interview into two posts. Without further ado, meet Rajat. Watch and learn, watch and learn…
1. The casual online gaming industry is filling up with new players. What makes Bunchball unique?

There are several things that make Bunchball unique in the casual online gaming industry. The first is that we’re a service provider – we provide multi-player casual gaming as a hosted service to site owners like Lifetime Television, the Indianapolis Colts, and NBC Sports among others. We don’t have a destination site of our own that we’re trying to drive traffic to like many other game companies.The second is our complete focus on community enhancement with our games. Everything we do is about trying to connect your members to each other in interesting and meaningful ways so that your community can grow larger and stronger. We started this company with the realization that play and socialization were two fundamental facets of human nature, but that something had been lost in the translation to the online world. In the real world when you play games, you play with your friends and family. In the online world that’s really hard to do, and instead you end up playing by yourself or with random strangers most of the time. We wanted to make it easy to “play with your friends” online, so we built a service with that in mind. And we built it as a service because we wanted people to be able to play on the sites where they’re already going and spending time, rather than trying to drive them to a new site.

The third is our extreme flexibility in the ways that we can integrate into a site. Other companies in the industry will provide you with a microsite – “http://games.yoursite.com,” and then ask you to drive traffic there so that they can monetize your audience by selling them downloadable games. We integrate directly into your site, where your users already are. On a dating site or a social networking site you can integrate Bunchball directly into the profile system, so I can click a “Play a Game” link on the page of a friend or someone I want to get to know, and we’re instantly in a game together with real-time chat. On sites without profiles, we can place game lobbies anywhere on your site, so you can place games in context with appropriate content. A great example of this is NBCSports.com, where they’ve been able to place hockey games, golf games and college basketball games in the appropriate sections of their site, rather than all lumped together on a games page somewhere. And integration is a snap, we give site owners a snippet of Javascript code to drop into any page on their site and they’re done.

And finally, our customers really like our ability to quickly re-theme games with their brands and to enlist their users to help “build” games, and not just play them. The Photographic Memory game at LifetimeTV.com is a nice example of this – it’s a simple memory game, but all the photos used in the game are submitted by LifetimeTV.com members. Thousands of photos were submitted in the first week alone, and it’s really fun to play the game and get a look into the lives of the Lifetime audience. The trivia games running at NBCSports.com and Colts.com are another great example, where all the questions for the trivia games are submitted by visitors to the site, who then review each other’s questions as well. The site owners then have a moderation interface where they can approve highly rated questions for inclusion into the actual 2-8 player trivia game. And we can even capture the name of the question submitter and then display it with the question in the game. So now users are constantly creating new content for the game and earning some fame if their questions are used. They feel invested because they’re creating the game, not just playing it.

So as you can imagine, it’s a pretty compelling offering to site owners – branded multi-player games that can be integrated anywhere into their site in minutes. We’re currently the only company offering this solution.

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