EVO Media’s Geoff Nuval Talks About the New DevHub, Adding Fun to Business, and the Future of Gamification

With all the talk about “gamification” of the Web—adding video game mechanics to websites to boost customer engagement, loyalty, and spending—it’s time we spoke in depth with a Seattle company that really has taken the trend to heart.

EVO Media Group, the maker of the DevHub website-building software platform, has been around since late 2007. It released DevHub, aimed at helping bloggers and companies create websites and make money from them, in early 2009, and started turning a small profit itself about a year ago.

In the past week, the company has rolled out a new and improved (gamified) version of DevHub—one that incorporates game mechanics like characters, virtual currency, and a graphical dashboard interface that shows you how your website is doing. So far the overhaul seems to be paying off in terms of traffic and site-building activity. Which goes to show how vital gamification can be to a young business—at least in the short term.

Yesterday I had a chance to connect with EVO Media co-founder and CEO Geoff Nuval. Here are his answers to a series of e-mail questions about everything from the new DevHub to where gamification is headed:

Xconomy: What’s the history of your involvement with the Web gamification trend?

Geoff Nuval: DevHub, the EVO Media Group’s flagship product, is one of the first products on the Internet to completely undergo the full gamification process. Remember, a few months ago it was purely a website builder. Now it is a rewarding, social, fun website-building game with characters called Devatars running the show!

In essence, DevHub is our proof point in the gamification movement that a well thought-out integration of game mechanics and great creative can really increase engagement and virality—within the first 5 days since our gamified launch we’ve already seen a 9x increase in site building activity. That means the average new user now on DevHub is creating a full fledged site! That’s insane when you compare that to the millions of underdeveloped sites and blogs you see on regular site creation systems.

What we’re realizing with our gamble on DevHub paying off is that you can add fun to something serious without losing its effectiveness. This is actually the tagline of the EVO Media Group, “Seriously Fun.” DevHub is only the start of EVO’s contribution to the gamification movement. If you go to our corporate website (www.evomediagroup.com, which itself was built on DevHub in 20 minutes), you’ll find that our overall goal is to bring our knowledge and expertise gained through the gamification of DevHub to other serious systems on the Web, either built internally or via partnerships with already established systems.

The switch to gamification isn’t only something we did for DevHub, we’ve actually applied game mechanics to our own office environment and operations at EVO. Every member in our team has DevHub experience points (xp) assigned to them for things like completing code, squashing bugs, closing deals, and even answering the phone. There is a scoreboard placed right in the center of our office that shows the tally and who’s in the lead (I think I’m in fourth place). Dependent on level, or when we as a team all reach a certain level, we go on company events: we went to see Iron Man and Toy Story 3 as a team last month and we’re going crab fishing this Friday. Employees can also exchange points for prizes, gift cards, and t-shirt schwag. Overall, it really has resulted in a more dedicated, happier team, and it is basically a funner (yes it’s a word) way to do task management.

X: More broadly, where do you think this trend is taking us?

GN: In terms of where gamification is headed, I think you’ll start to see this treatment pop up in more and more systems. Somewhere along the way in the course of human history we created the idea of a “game,” which we separated conceptually from everyday life and work. To this day, the concepts of a game and play are often associated with a diversion from daily life and are usually thought of as unproductive or unprofessional. This gap between play and productivity, however, is rapidly diminishing.

The gamer generation, the people who grew up on Super Mario and Space Invaders, are gradually moving into the driver’s seat in business, commerce, and technology. They better understand the power game mechanics have because they spent hours or days of their lives experiencing it. Concurrent with that, the Internet is enabling more and more actions to be tracked and quantified, which means we are now able to easily assign points, levels, and rewards—the essence of most games. The only question that remains then is, “why not?” Imagine a time when doing your taxes can be fun! EVO hopes to be one of the main players out there helping to gamify the world.

X: Tell me in plain English how the new version of DevHub works, and how it’s different from before.

GN: The former DevHub was just a website builder with monetization modules directly hooked in. While it generated a lot of interest at the start of the site-building process, we found that many of the sites were never fully completed, as it took time and dedication to truly create a full-fledged site that makes money.

In the gamified version of DevHub, we put a lot of thought into addressing this problem. Right off the bat it addresses the issue of user interest by awarding points, coins, and Devatars (our characters in the game) when users complete positive site-building actions. The editor itself also has a Site Guide, which provides you with all the best practices to building an effective site (we update this constantly). The coins you earn can be used in the DevHub marketplace to purchase site upgrades and other goodies while experience points and leveling show you exactly how you are progressing. To really provide users with an easier understanding of what they’re building, each site is actually represented by a building inhabited by various Devatars, and the building grows and becomes more populated depending on how your actual site is doing. In our dashboard, you actually have a graphical view of all these buildings (think SimCity) in your very own “online empire.”

Game elements aside, other parts of DevHub have received major upgrades. Whereas before we had a one-size-fits-all editor, DevHub now actually has four individual game tracks that guide you through building a specific type of site: a blog, a small business site, a site you want to promote affiliate products on, or a social media profile (what we call your WebHub). We also have a number of social features via tight integrations with Facebook and Twitter, allowing you to post to [Facebook] or tweet about what you did at any time in the site building or blogging process.

There are a lot of other cool features coming very soon as well. We’ll be opening up the marketplace to allow designers outside of EVO to put up their templates for sale to other DevHub users. We’ll be providing an API for programmers to create modules of their own and also put it in the marketplace. We’ll allow multiple authoring so that more than one person can contribute to a website and their contributions can be tacked (via points!). I guess I could go on and on about all the new neat features on the gamified DevHub but it’s really something you need to play through to understand the full change in experience.

X: Can you give a quick update on how the company is doing? A year ago, we thought of you as a publishing platform to help people and companies build and manage niche websites. What’s new in terms of your revenues, market, etc.?

GN: In terms of our target market, it is now expanded to covering anyone who needs to build a site on the Internet. We make money from DevHub in two ways: we take a small share from sites that contain our partners’ products and ads on them (the majority goes to the user) and we make money from purchase of DevHub dollars to buy things in the marketplace. This latter monetization stream is actually predicted to be our biggest driver of profit since our marginal cost to a virtual good (special template, premium module) is zero.

We are on the expansion path, however, as we need even more engineering power to help us handle the white label gamification deals we’re closing and we have huge plans to heavily market the DevHub platform to the masses as it is already showing mass appeal. To that, we are actually on the fundraising trail right now to the tune of $2-$3 million.

X: How are you working with Seattle-based BigDoor Media, and others, to bring game mechanics to websites and website-building? Where exactly do you fit in the gamifying spectrum?

GN: BigDoor Media is one of our partners in the gamification industry, and we use their system as our game database (site-building data and monetization data is still kept on our side). When we were in a crunch to launch our gamified version of DevHub on time, we were able to use their database to rapidly structure our game economy, levels, points system, and marketplace. Using their system helped us shave about two months off of our development time and they’ve been awesome to work with!

Given what we’ve been able to create with DevHub using BigDoor’s gaming database, we are also in talks regarding helping BigDoor’s other clients with the analysis and creative work needed to successfully gamify a website or system. I would kind of think of it like BigDoor provides the back-end for gamification while EVO provides the integration, creative, and front-end implementation for the gamification process.

X: How big a market is this really, and what is your biggest challenge going forward? One issue I’m hearing about is that there may not be much consumer cash flowing into these sites.

GN: To the contrary, there is actually a lot of consumer cash going into online gaming—loads actually. I have seen some poorly implemented gamified systems spring up recently, and for those implementations that lack tight viral and micropayment loops, there’s probably very little money in it for them. I’ve also heard other online game systems pull in as much as $20 per average user, so really I think it greatly depends on the quality of implementation.

The success of Zynga is a perfect bellwether of the game storm, but their players are never really creating something of value. Everything they do or purchase remains contained within the confines of their game’s virtual world. What’s novel about DevHub is that by playing a game they end up with an actual website, a property that can be use to inform customers, further your personal online brand, gain a readership base, or generate income. Imagine that, a game that pays you? Because DevHub can provide this connection to real value, our users are more inclined to pay for virtual goods in our marketplace.

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2 responses to “EVO Media’s Geoff Nuval Talks About the New DevHub, Adding Fun to Business, and the Future of Gamification”

  1. Very interesting – and a great idea put into action !

    What wasn’t clear was an answer to the question: Can I use devhub to create a website that itself uses game mechanics? I am thinking of building several gamified web properties – including a gamified Q&A site like stackoverflow …is that possible with devhub?