Interview: Duleepa Wijayawardhana and Ric Williams on GamrRank. “We do want that Respect button going all over the world”


Today sees the launch of GamrRank’s open beta. A service that connects together Steam with your console profiles, Twitter and Facebook accounts, game forum accounts, and from there determines your gamer presence, GamrRank’s hoping to become a social platform integrated into games across the world, from the smallest indie title up to the biggest of AAA releases.
We spoke with two of its creators, CEO Duleepa “Dups” Wijayawardhana and COO Ric Williams, about how GamrRank works, where it’s headed, and how they got kids to jump off the tallest tower they could find.

PCGamesN: How did GamrRank begin?

Duleepa “Dups” Wijayawardhana, CEO of Empire Avenue Inc.: Three of us started the company, Empire Avenue Inc., and what we were trying to do was we were looking at the value of a person online and how that could be quantified. And, of course, coming from games backgrounds, we immediately decided to make a game out of it, so we created, which is essentially a social media game where you buy and sell shares in individuals based on their social media value. It’s a virtual currency game.

Ric came on board around about that time.

We were going through Empire Avenue and we were looking at it and we were going “Wouldn’t it be really great to take this technology and put it down something that we’re truly passionate about?” And we’re really passionate about games. Ric can speak to himself, Ric worked at Bioware and all other sorts of places in the games industry. And we said “Hey, wouldn’t it be great fun if we put it down to games and what we’re going to do is talk about Play, Say, and Respect”. It’s all about your reputation in gaming.

That became the basis for GamrRank. Which is a ranking system based on your play, your say, and your respect, and it all stems from that basic premise. For games, it’s never been done before: combining the social aspect of who you are in game communities [with how you play games themselves].

GamrRank awards you a belt based on a combination of your achievements earned in games, your social media presence, and your level of respect.

It’s not just about Facebook and Twitter, we talk about games at the Bioware Social Network, for example. You know, forums, World of Warcraft forums. These are all places you show your advocacy, if you will, for the brands of the games that you love. So we wanted to bring all that together.

PCGN: Are you able to differentiate from someone talking in the off-topic areas of the World of Warcraft forums from someone who helps new players by answering their questions?

DW: We can try to do as much as we can; ultimately, technology cannot read your mind or cannot understand as much of the slang in different parts of the world as we would like it to – it’s getting better all the time, that’s the caveat.

I’m going to say that, everything that you talk about we have to tie it to the game as much as possible, like if you go out on Twitter and you tweet about one of the games you’re playing we match it to your game. So it doesn’t add to your rank until it matches a game that you’re playing.

In terms of someone being helpful: that is where we employ the crowdsourced version. The best option for us is for someone to come by and say “You know what, Julian was so helpful on the forums, I’m going to give you some respect. I’m going to give you a +R on something.”

PCGN: So, someone needs to come from the World of Warcraft forums to your site to give you respect?

DW: Yeah, and we do want this to be distributed, we do want that Respect button going all over the world just like Facebook Like but it’s about games.

PCGN: How do you source this information? Is it all publicly available?

DW: Yeah, well, we use public api that are available, along with you signing and giving us access to the api for you. We’re very careful about privacy, so there’s no issues there. Because we’ve been working in this space for about two or three years we really understand what we’re doing in this space so we’re able to go in very quickly and bring it all together.

PCGN: What about the medals and the challenges that you can set your friends?

Ric Williams, COO of Empire Avenue Inc.: So, video challenges are where you can set a challenge for a friend to go and do something fun in a game.

One of our community guys set a challenge: “Build a tower to the highest point in Minecraft and jump to the lowest point and survive” and there’s been like three or four videos up there showing kids jumping off the highest point in games, jumping into caverns and blocks of water, which is pretty cool.

And, then, medals are something that we released about a week and a half ago, which is basically we combined achievements within either the same game or from different games from around the gaming universe. So, for example, with Hitman: Absolution coming out tomorrow, Square Enix, or anyone, may want to produce a medal which says “You’ve played Blood Money and Contracts and therefore you can unlock a 47 medal”.

Up until tomorrow medals were produced by us at GamrRanks. But, tomorrow, we’re opening up that service to everyone. People will be able to produce medals from across games for their friends.

Moving through the ranks awards you abilities like being able to create more medals freely for your friends.

We’re also unlocking our partners site. A partner can be anyone who’s a developer or a publisher, [they] can come in and create medals for their community for doing things within games socially. So you can say “Hey, play Hitman: Absolution within the first week of release and also talk about it through Twitter and we’ll unlock a medal for you with a reward”. So you can actually reward gamers for playing your games and having fun with your games online.

We can also do it for preorders, so an indie developer could create a preorder with a beta unlock on Steam and have that unlock a medal and the person receives a t-shirt, as an example.

PCGN: What are the limits of what I can access for creating a medal? Could you use someone’s k/d ratio, for instance?

RW: For tomorrow’s release, it will just be the games that you can play on the platform and the achievements within it. Then in the future, depending on the popularity and the requests from the community, we’ll be releasing different aspects from the game, depending on what we can receive from the game.

So, if there’s an api for a game like League of Legends with k/d ratio, as an example, we can have medals placed on that as well.

DW: We have the capability and the technology for games to integrate a very simple api to connect back to us, to give us more data that can be used for medals and things of that nature.

For the developers and for the partners there are other sorts of medals than playing the game and unlocking the achievement; because of the data streams that we’re getting back, we can actually create unique medals that would help, certainly, indie developers, for example, to say something like “Go play X, Y, and Z” is one aspect of it but let’s say my game hasn’t been released yet; “Go tweet X, Y, and Z” or “Show me something on Youtube”, or whatever the case may be, anything that we can measure, and that unlocks a medal that then you can reward for.

PCGN: Is this going to continue to be a free service for gamers?

DW: The user-generated stuff, the ones that anyone can create, that is absolutely free. You can go create a medal for your friends and combine the games and achievements that you really want to see what happens. The ones that are free, you’ve got a three day expiry on them but you can create another one right afterwards; they have to be unique in the system at the time that they’re running; and, depending on your rank, you may be able to create more or less medals.

For the partner site it’s going to be a very low price, we’re going for $5 a medal, maybe if you want to add more stuff onto it it’ll go as high as $10.

PCGN: And is this the only source of funding? I saw the Amazon Affiliates label, is that going to be a key source of income?

DW: I have to be honest with you: so, for us it’s a process of iterative design, so we threw that up there to see how people click on the page. that’ll probably change over the next little while but it’s not a big money maker for us. Not at the start anyway. We do want to find out innovative ways to make money that’s all about rewarding the gamer.

To put it very bluntly, we haven’t explored all the ways that we can make money. We believe that as the service grows we can come up with new ways. The service itself will be free forever.

PCGN: Who are you aiming this service at on the partner side?

RW: We’ve had some initial discussions with EA and also Square Enix and we’ll continue to do so over the next couple of months. At the moment we’re just building up features and getting people in, so those discussions are ongoing. I’d really love to talk to as many indie guys as we can, to help them out, because that’s where the games industry’s at, and try and increase their capabilities to exposing their great games to others.

I think that one of the great things about the industry right now is that anyone can get in and make a game but it’s very hard to find great content and we’d like to help those developers get their games out there so that more people can play them.

PCGN: You’ve been in closed beta for a short while now, what sort of things have you seen?

RW: A couple of really interesting things, we’ve got a feature on the site that shows what games people are excited about. So before games launch, we track the social media of the members – just to see what games are exciting people – and Halo 4 was off the charts versus Call of Duty. That really surprised me. I just assumed that Call of Duty was going to be number one but I think Halo had done a really good job of driving PR and marketing.

The sharing of video challenges, just over the last week, there’s been lots of wacky things happening in Team Fortress 2 and Minecraft. Team Fortress 2 is one of our most popular games, there are nearly 6,000 people who play it on the site, and just the amount of video coming out of Team Fortress and the fantastic kills; I set my tag to show me multiplayer kills. And there’s [this kill where] this missile that comes out of nowhere and blows this guy out of the sky, it’s incredible.

DW: I think when we started this we were testing out a theory that we didn’t know whether gamers, hardcore gamers, I mean, we all know about the social gaming phenomenon, but we didn’t know whether the core gamer was social. I think one of the things we’ve come to the absolute conclusion of is that no, in fact, the core gamer wants to be social, and video is one fantastic way to do that. If you give them the ability to be social they will be social.

PCGN: Thank you for your time.