With 250 million active users, Facebook is a massive presence on the 'net. Part of what keeps Facebook fresh is the allure of games such as Knighthood, billed as a true MMO for Facebook. Find out more about Hive7, the folks behind Knighthood, below:
WC: Please introduce yourself and tell about your position at Hive7.
Max Skibinsky, founder and CEO of Hive7.
WC: When was Hive7 founded and by how many people?
I started Hive7 in 2005 as typical Silicon Valley startup -- no office, no overhead, lots of overnight coding, and a couple of servers in a bedroom. My first angel investor, Naval Ravikant, was a great source of mentorship and inspiration back then. He was certainly one the first and savviest investors who saw the potential of web gaming long before the rest of the VC industry caught up on the trend.
WC: Was Hive7 specifically created to produce games for social websites such as Facebook and MySpace?
In 2005 my focus was merging the web technologies and virtual worlds. We built the first AJAX-only virtual world and launched it in 2006. After Facebook opened up their platform the advantages of integrating virtual worlds and MMO games with Facebook, community become instantly clear. We jumped right in and never looked back.
WC: On how many social websites do you maintain games?
Facebook, MySpace, Bebo.
WC: How many games has Hive7 developed?
Around a dozen and counting.
WC: What is Hive7's most popular game so far?
Knighthood with over 6 million players.
WC: It has been said that Knighthood is the #1 game on Facebook. Does Facebook verify this statement with statistics shared with Hive7?
We consider Knighthood the #1 MMO game on Facebook. There are plenty of casual "click for reward" games on social networks where gameplay is very lightweight, and they fall far short for the typical MMO gamer. Knighthood has lots of strategic depth, decision making, group play, and all the good stuff we usually associate with a successful MMO.
WC: Please give us a thumbnail sketch of Knighthood. What is the background?
Knighthood is social war game. Every player is medieval lord who maintains a feudal pyramid beneath him. The lord uses his vassals to build up his kingdom, protects it, and invades other kingdoms. The top prize for every lord is capturing other lords' vassals, which make him more powerful. However, these vassals are players just like yourself. They can rebel from your rule, and you can try to bribe them with gold, advice, or even bikini photos in some extreme cases! Social skills are very important, and diplomacy plays an equal role to war gaming.
WC: What makes Knighthood so popular in your opinion?
Knighthood managed to find that optimal balance of the "easy to learn, hard to master" game. The main activity of the game is as simple as moving vassal tokens around different areas. Everybody can easily grasp that. However the constant balance between building, defending, and attacking, while keeping active diplomatic negotiations, create very diverse and non-repetitive experience for players.
WC: How many unique gamers play a Hive7 game each day on average?
Around 100,000 unique players daily.
WC: Do you independently keep track of gaming statistics or are statistics provided by the various social networking sites?
Most social network sites provide good statistics about applications on their platforms. Obviously we do keep lots of internal stats as well.
WC: How many developers are currently on staff at Hive7?
Currently we have 25 developers on staff.
WC: How does designing and developing a game for social networking sites differ from 'traditional' game development?
Completely. In fact during our fundraising process I had special slide for investors underlining the complete difference between legacy game dev model and modern web gaming dev model.
WC: Is it 'easier' to develop games such as Knighthood than it is to develop a traditional computer game? Why or why not?
It's orders of magnitude easier. The slide I mentioned above compared 50-100-person team, 2-3-year timeframe, and million-dollar budgets vs. 5-person teams, 3-months, and tiny budgets. Beside obvious economic advantages, that model allows us to take much more risk on each game we try. When the cost of trying something new and unique is so low, it's much more liberating to have the freedom to experiment, make mistakes, and learn on the fly.
WC: Do any of the Hive7 developers have experience with traditional game development? If so, what games and gaming companies?
For myself, I have been in EA and THQ. We have key people from LucasArts, TableStar Games...it's all over the map.
WC: Do Hive7 games go through 'beta testing'? If so, explain the process.
They do, although process is much less formal. We make game privately playable first to 100-200 people and fix issues they find. Considering the games are simpler to write, there is less codebase complexity and they are much simpler to test and debug as result.
WC: How much player input does Hive7 solicit?
It's practically a non-stop process from the start. Beta testers will tell us something in the first weeks, then the broader community kicks in. There were a couple of instances when I read something on the forum which made perfect sense, it took one line of code to change, and 12 hours later that suggestion was live on our servers. A Web platform allows unprecedented speed of reacting to player feedback. Most of the time it's just about simple web page changes - contrast that with traditional 100Mb client patch download.
WC: What other games does Hive7 have in development at this point?
Right now we have 4 stealth games being developed.
WC: Please add any other information you feel is appropriate.
Players can visit http://www.hive7.com for more information. Thanks for letting us tell the Hive7 story to WarCry readers!