Getting Gamers to Spend More Time Online

Hardcore players of World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, Warhammer, and the other big massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) can spend dozens of hours online every week. But they aren’t always “in-world” warring against enemies, winning territory and treasure, or trading weapons and spells. According to studies, serious gamers spent up to one-third of their electronic-gaming time outside their game worlds, often browsing user-created fan sites, blogs, bulletin boards, and wikis.

GuildCafe, a Cambridge startup launched last December, aims to make that out-world time more productive and enjoyable for gamers. “Most of the commercial gaming websites you’ll find out there are like TV Guide applied to gaming—they’re just preview channels” for events coming up in-world, says GuildCafe founder and CEO Jon Radoff. “But we are really interested in extending the whole entertainment experience, and providing a context beyond the game itself where people can meet up,” Radoff told me. The company’s product: a beta website where players can create MySpace-type profiles for their characters, share news and recommendations, and join guilds or clans from specific game-worlds.

This week GuildCafe snagged an undisclosed amount of venture funding from local firm IDG Ventures Boston. The money will allow the five-person company to add several more staff members, who will focus on building new features requested by the site’s 16,000 beta users, Radoff says.

One unique feature of the site will be an area where players can build gaming resumes that will help them score coveted spots in closed beta tests of upcoming games. “Everyone wants to get into a beta, and the morass of people who want to participate is a nightmare for any community manager at any gaming company,” Radoff says. “We’re developing a model where the companies can identify the best players based on what they’ve done in the past. Have they actually submitted bug reports? Have they provided accurate game-play data? The user profiles really become comprehensive resumes of the gamers’ whole online lives.”

The Boston area isn’t exactly a gaming-industry mecca, and I asked Radoff whether it occasionally felt strange to be running a site for hard-core gamers so far away from the industry’s center of gravity in Silicon Valley. His answer: “I think the talent that’s available in the Boston area is second to none. We have the best universities concentrated in a small space. We also have terrific local venture-capital firms who, admittedly, have invested more on a historical basis in enterprise software than in consumer software, but I’m seeing an increasing number of them become interested in consumer media and gaming. And it’s a much smaller community, where you can get to know a lot of people rapidly, whereas on the West Coast you’re lost in the crowd.”

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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