Empire Avenue

This is the first of a few posts I intend to write about Empire Avenue.

Why not one ? Well,  I have just written a very long post - and to paraphrase Mark Twain - I realized that I did not have the time - right now - to write a short one - and the problem is that there is a lot to say and I don’t want to bore you. So here are some highlights - that I will drill down on in future posts..

Needless to say I have no idea what strategy Dups and the team at Empire Avenue have and are working to but until last week - in my opinion - they had cracked a very big problem.

They had :

  • A game - that was serious - with real world applicability.
  • Integrated the game into many Social Networks.
  • Set it ip so you were allowed to buy and sell stock in people based on their Social Media activity. (Empire Avenue itself was one of the social networks it measured.)
  • Established that there was a big and fascinating future for them in Social Media with Global Reach and first mover advantage.

It wasn’t perfect. It had problems. But it worked.

This week at SXSW they announced massive and radical changes to the application that has resulted in an online ‘uproar’. I understand the comments being made and can see both sides. I totally get why EA might have done the changes - BUT for all the commentary I have read, the big point has become lost. No doubt that ways of engaging on the site are different. It is all a lot harder - and some of that is down to UI design changes - and some down to info that used to be there that is no longer.

But to me the error is the obvious switch to what has been dubbed ‘Expand, Engage and Evaluate’. That is …

  • Expand your networks by buying and selling stock in your fellow gamers through an interface that is decidedly non friendly for transactional use - you would never see such an interface on another stock trading site.
  • Engage with your fellow players in the networks they operate in - EA have built a content integration section that is again lacking any serious UI input and really - why? Are players really going to jump over to EA to engage in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google et al ?
  • Evaluate - ie measure how you are doing with metrics that are generally not very useful, clunky and currently deliver less information than you used to be able to get to in the old model.

Me ? I am sure it will all be fixed - but doesn’t get away from the fact that they are moving more towards a site that is a ‘me too site’. Their focus seems to now be around the Engage part. What is truly peculiar is that they have always had ways to engage with others on the site - in interest tags and communities and comments and buying / selling stock and none of this is part of the engagement.

Communities are hidden away and ‘interests’ remain untapped - though there are very clear ways they could be incorporated into the whole experience. In short they seem to have

  • defined Engagement as what you do on OTHER sites - what a massive loss.
  • put massive time, resources and energy into ‘upgrading’ themselves into another content site.

Meanwhile Klout, PeerIndex and others are attempting to build measures on activities in the social media spaces … and do NOTHING as interesting and deep as EA do. It is a shame - because  it is the tools that will make the difference - not the content - and certainly not content integrators.

But there’s more

  • Social Media is only part of life - there are ways they could have brought real life into how players engage outside of the platform
  • Any of the measurement competitors like Klout can be - are being - gamed - what does a +K mean in terms of what people understand by my knowledge of (say) Social Media if I am running missions to get people to award me +Ks …
  • Connect.Me are attempting to do a good job at establishing Trust Networks - but again - they are being gamed, though seem to be trying to make a better job of avoiding it.
  • Meanwhile EA - the game - is nowhere as easy to game. it reflects whether people are using their $s to buy into you - or not. Again - tonnes of improvements to make this work properly - but not insurmountable.

Which brings me to the final point for now - I wonder how EA collect all this feedback - I have seen great input from people like Chris Voss - and as he has pointed out there are a lot of people on the Avenue that are rooting for the company. But feedback is through a loose collection of Facebook communities into which EA may or may not comment.

When such a space is made - it will be a whole lot easier for all. Until then I am nervous for the future of a what could (still) be a phenomenal company.

So - more to come - this is part one - need to move on to the rest of my day.

March 12, 2012