FunOrb targeting "every demographic"

Jagex casual site with you lot in mind.

Jagex has just launched its hardcore-focused website offering Java-based casual games.

Dubbed FunOrb, it has been designed with you lot in mind, apparently. And rather than go for the same demographic as everybody else, it targets a "hard-casual" or "time-pressured" gamer; someone like you who is perhaps enthusiastic about hardcore titles but has no time to invest in them.

"What we're trying to do with FunOrb is provide a far more in-depth gaming experience to appeal to a different demographic than the casual sites that are our there currently," head developer Mark Faulkner told Eurogamer.

"It something that appeals to us, personally, as gamers. And a lot of people we talk to in the industry consider this to be a good solution to the time pressures that most people have in their everyday lives. What we're trying to do is provide a service that ex-gamers - or those without the time to devote to their passion - can go to for the gaming fix they're after."

Membership is handled by monthly subscription (GBP 2 / EUR 2.50), but you can download a large portion of content for free. FunOrb gets around this by using advertising to subsidise its costs.

Jagex is keen to point out that it will all but remove advertisements for paying customers, though, and otherwise handle the adverts subtly and unobtrusively so as not to spoil your enjoyment.

Games range from shooters to puzzle titles, and are apparently as good as the best Java titles on the market - whatever they are. You can give it a look on the official website.

Or you can read on for our chat with Mark Faulkner about FunOrb and why exactly it would appeal to us.

Why do we need another web-based gaming portal?

Mark Faulkner: Most of the web-based gaming portals out there are dealing with purely a casual gamer; providing games we consider to be relatively limited in terms of their gameplay. They get around this by providing you with a lot of games. What we're trying to do with FunOrb is provide a far more in-depth gaming experience to appeal to a different demographic than the casual sites that are our there currently.

What sort of evidence do you have that this will be popular?

Mark Faulkner: It something that appeals to us, personally, as gamers. And a lot of people we talk to in the industry consider this to be a good solution to the time pressures that most people have in their everyday lives. What we're trying to do is provide a service that ex-gamers - or those without the time to devote to their passion - can go to for the gaming fix they're after.

Where's the casual aspect in asking us to sign-up and commit to a service? Could it be seen as a little self-defeating?

Mark Faulkner: The games are designed to be quite in-depth in gameplay, but also the sort of thing you can dip in and out of without being punished unnecessarily. Most of the games lend themselves to five or 10 minute play sessions, but on a regular basis. So if you have spare time on your lunch hour you can dip in and play - and if it's multiplayer then interact with other people online - and then leave it and come back to it the following day, without being penalised for time spent away from it.

You've said you're targeting a "hard-casual" market...

Mark Faulkner: The term I prefer is "time-pressured gamer".

Why are these people going to use what precious time they have to seek out FunOrb rather than fire up something like Call of Duty 4 for 10 or 20 minutes?

Mark Faulkner: Our games will hanker back to a retro-feel that many will be familiar with from their days as a hardcore gamer. They will also always remember their progress, so they will be able to dip in and out of them very quickly.

If they want to jump into Call of Duty 4 then of course they can do that, but it is a fairly in-depth experience, and the best comes out of those games when you're willing to put a bit of time into them. For our games, you're going to get a lot of out of them regardless of how much time you put in.

It's interesting that you mention retro games; this new generation of consoles each has an online service where you can download retro or retro-inspired titles. Do you feel like you're competing with these?

Mark Faulkner: Potentially, yes. It's an area of the marketplace that we think is on the rise. So while we may be seen as a competitor to those services, it's an ever-growing marketplace making more space for more players.

Do you see Nintendo and its "expanding the market" goal as competition?

Mark Faulkner: To a degree. But not really; not a strong competitor. We're not really aiming at the console gaming market. Anybody that can gain access to a PC - be they at school, in a library, in an Internet cafe or at home - will be able to log-in as a FunOrb customer and basically pick up where they left off in whatever game they were playing. It will remember exactly where they got to and they will be able to carry on as if they had never left.

It's a different kind of gaming experience than you would get on a console. The Wii is a social experience with you and your friends in your front room. In FunOrb it's a social experience with you and your friends no matter where they are.

One of the areas the market is growing is reaching out to non-traditional gamers: women, families, etc. How important are they to your seemingly hardcore-focused vision?

Mark Faulkner: We want to make sure anybody will be able to find something they want to play on FunOrb. I should mention that while we are going to be charging a membership fee if you want to join, a lot of the games will have a lot of content that is available for free. If you want to play for free then, quite frankly, you can do.

We want to make sure that there are games out there that will appeal to every demographic. We have very basic puzzle games and interesting arcade games that are fun for a short amount of time. But if they want to spend a lot more time and get more in-depth then they can do.

The idea of FunOrb is something for everyone.

What sort of in-depth games will you offer?

Mark Faulkner: It's games in the ilk of something like X-Com: Enemy Unknown, a fairly in-depth tactical squad-based shooter game. That's the sort of thing we can replicate.

How capable is Java as a platform?

Mark Faulkner: We like to think we're easily able to compete with the best Java games out there. Already. And we aim to improve upon it. Take a look at RuneScape: that is a 3D world with a very high polygon count that exists purely in a browser and is purely written in Java. Visually, we think our games are going to be as appealing as anything out there currently.

Could you offer it on mobile phones at some point?

Mark Faulkner: Well, that's planned for the future. So potentially, yes. The mobile phone market is where I came from. It's a much more complex market because the interface on mobile phones is very basic compared to a PC, and also you tend to find that although Java is usually write once play anywhere, here it is write once customise everywhere. It's a bit more complex than it might first look. But it is certainly something we are thinking about for the future.

What kind of role is advertising going to play in FunOrb? Could you not get rid of it and bump the subscription up a bit?

Mark Faulkner: If you take out a subscription we will limit the amount of advertising you are subjected to substantially: no in-game advertisements and just one advertisement on the homepage. If you are a free user then you will be subjected to adverts because that's how we monetise the product. But we are trying to make it so that our advertising strategy really does not impact on your ability to play the game. For the most part it's limited to banner advertisements on some of the pages. We like to think it's quite subtle. One thing we're very keen on here is making sure that the player gets good value for money and a good service they want to come back to. We don't want to bombard our customers with advertisements because frankly that just turns people off.

What kind of role does in-game advertising have to play nowadays?

Mark Faulkner: I don't think it's a necessary part but I do think it can be a very valuable part. Jagex is an independent developer and publisher, and we're less in need of putting advertisements in our games as an organisation. But for the smaller organisations it really can be a valuable revenue mechanism; basically it can allow that company to exist.

It can't impact the gameplay experience. If you have something that takes away from the reality of the game then you're breaking your product and you're going to lose out, because people will not like it and consider it something they don't want to pay for. If you do it subtly and do it well, and keep it in-line with the reality of the game, then I think it can be very powerful.

How are you going to stop what you offer on FunOrb from getting repetitive and stale?

Mark Faulkner: The plan is for us to offer one new game every two weeks. We've got a very talented team of game developers who are beavering away like crazy to make sure we have a good back-log and selection of games we can put forward into the marketplace once every fortnight. There will be new service elements as well: we have an achievement system that each of the games ties in to. But the key promise we're making to the end-user is a new game every two weeks.

Will you ever get third-parties to help out on the games?

Mark Faulkner: For the most part we're going to do this in-house. We are able to guarantee the level of quality we expect that way.

Are you following a mould, or do you think you're breaking new ground?

Mark Faulkner: It feels to me like this is something new. This is a service that will appeal to a type of gamer no one else in the marketplace is currently trying to address.

How are you going to reach your audience?

Mark Faulkner: That's where marketing comes into it. We'd be fools not to capitalise on our 6 million users in RuneScape.

Also by people telling each other: "have you been on FunOrb? Blimey that game was great. Why don't you come on there and try to beat my score?"

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