Napster creator building 'Twitter for gamers'

Mention Shawn Fanning, and most people picture a teenager at Northeastern University in Boston cooking up Napster, the file-sharing website that triggered a financial tsunami in the music industry. Fanning, now 28, has moved on. His third company, Rupture, is related to one of his passions: gaming. Fanning shared his thoughts on games and music with Alex Pham.

Q: What is Rupture?

A: It's Twitter for gamers. Our focus is to build a platform to automatically track your game accomplishments on all the different platforms, including consoles and PCs. But being able to track what your friends are playing is the beginning. It's also the social interactions between gamers. We're trying to create a framework around these interactions, like a metagame.

Q: Sounds like what several sites are attempting to do, including How is Rupture going to be different?

A: It's definitely a space that's heating up. We feel we have a unique and compelling approach. The key challenge is creating engagement. News feeds of what your friends are doing are interesting. But most of the time, it's just overwhelming. We need to make sure that the service we're building is focused on maximising engagement. Just aggregating game data is not enough to create an engaging social experience.

Q: What about pulling in user-generated content like Machinima, where players stitch together an original movie using game-play footage?

A: Machinima focuses on entertainment. There's tons of other content out there, too. Game guides that have tips and tricks on playing a game can provide value. There are YouTube videos that help players go through levels in games. And getting credit for producing the stuff is very interesting.

Q: Do you use Facebook?

A: We're on just about all the big social networks.

Q: How many Facebook "friends" do you have?

A: Let me check. I have 1603 friends. That's the problem with Facebook. The nature of a friend on Facebook is dubious at best.

Q: Since Napster came out in 1999, the music industry has undergone a seismic shift. How do you think that industry is doing now?

A: I definitely think it's in rough shape. The margins for digital music are awful for everyone other than the record companies. Ultimately, the industry doesn't look at technology as an opportunity. One of my biggest personal disappointments is that the ability for people to discover interesting and obscure talent has faded. That was one of the reasons I made Napster.

Q: Do you think the same thing will happen to the game industry?

A: No. Where the music business saw technology as a threat, the gaming industry embraces it. From a business model, I think games are moving towards a subscription model or a service-based model where it's less about the up-front purchase than about the monthly fees or the microtransactions people make to buy virtual goods. The gaming industry has handled the transition to online a lot more gracefully than the music industry.

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