Posted by Tom Foremski - October 13, 2010
Jerry Kaplan is a serial entrepreneur know for Onsale.com, Go Pen Computers, Egghead.com and his book, Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure.
His latest venture, Winster.com was started by his wife in 2004. It's a social gaming site with an interesting twist - the games are non-competitive and designed to be minimally interesting. Yet they have attracted millions of players because they help build enduring online friendships.
The players are mostly older, single women that are largely home bound because of various circumstances and thus unable to easily build or maintain friendships. They form groups that play Winster games, and as they play they build their friendships.
The games are designed in such a way that each player relies on the other players to help them succeed in the game. Competitive play gets you nowhere.
It's counter-intuitive that such games would gain such a large following. More than two million people have played on WInster and many spend several hours a day playing with their friends.
I recently spoke with Jerry Kaplan and here are some notes from our conversation:
- The players are mostly older women who are widowed or have physical impairments that make it difficult for them to get out of their homes. The games rely on sharing and cooperation - competitive play is not possible because you need the other players. If players do engage in competitive play they tend not to be asked back by the group.
- An example of one of games is a variation on poker where players contribute to each other's hands so that they have the best hand.
- We only have ten games and the design of the games is deliberately simple and fairly monotonous. Groups tend to stick with the same game each time they play.
- Our most popular game is based on a slot machine, our least popular game is a form of Sudoku, it forces people to think which cuts down on conversation.
- As people play there is a chat screen and as they play they create very supportive relationships. They chat about their families, their illnesses, etc.
- I've had many emails from users thanking us for helping them make friends. One lady said she hadn't had a visitor in over a year, and that just the other day one of the women she met online spent the day with her. Others have said that Winster has literally saved their lives. It's hard to explain how emotionally attached people become to their groups.
- We became profitable in the fourth quarter of last year. We raised $3m earlier this year. Our revenue comes from subscriptions and virtual goods.
- Users are incentivized to recommend their friends but it's not easy to use viral means of promotion because users have a limited social circle.