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“Understand and hear your users.” with Derrick Morton

Understand and hear your users. At FlowPlay, we engage directly with our players to understand what’s working, what’s not and what they want from the game. I play in the game regularly and talk to people, as do many of my employees, from the exec leadership team to customer service. We host focus groups when […]

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Understand and hear your users. At FlowPlay, we engage directly with our players to understand what’s working, what’s not and what they want from the game. I play in the game regularly and talk to people, as do many of my employees, from the exec leadership team to customer service. We host focus groups when we’re launching new games and functionality and we survey the community before making significant changes. Game companies are nothing without their players, so it’s critical to engage them and listen to feedback.

As a part of our series about what’s around the corner for the toy, game, and video game industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derrick Morton, co-founder and CEO of FlowPlay.

Derrick has been an entrepreneur, leader and innovator in the digital entertainment industry for more than 20 years. At the helm of FlowPlay for the last decade, he has established the company as the creator of the industry’s most powerful immersive gaming platform. He has identified new opportunities in untapped markets and spearheaded the development of more than 200 digital entertainment projects.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

Istarted in the “entertainment” business as a musician for a punk rock band. I was also getting asked to do film projects, which allowed me to exercise my creative side and develop an interest and skillset in technology. I fell in love with the two combined elements in the early 1990s and soon after started pursuing an MBA at UCLA to become a more well-rounded leader. From there I began working in creative and content executive roles at online game companies, including RealNetworks, which is where I met my FlowPlay co-founder Doug Pearson. Eventually in 2006 we decided to start our own company together.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In a previous job, I had worked for a CEO who gave ridiculous speeches to the company. He had a writer who would create flowery, meaningless speeches that everyone would make fun of right after the meeting. One time, he told us we needed to stop doing things that aren’t working and keep doing things that are working and to try some new things. It was a joke. I learned that metaphoric speeches are not what people need. Employees want transparency, facts and true, relatable words from their CEO.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Michael Schutzler, who is currently the CEO at the Washington Technology Industry Association has been a huge influence throughout my career. He was my boss at RealNetworks, and the first person to teach me how to meditate. When I told him I wanted to start my own company, he didn’t laugh. He said it was a great idea. He helped Doug and I get the company going and still serves as a member of our board. He’s my executive coach and we continue to work together in various capacities.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Philanthropy is integral to the company culture at FlowPlay, and for me personally.Over the last several years, our company has supported organizations and causes locally, nationally and internationally, including relief for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the Butterfly Project, Homes for our Troops, GirlStart and most recently the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. We’ve also maintained a deep, yearslong partnership with the American Cancer Society since 2016. Through numerous in-game fundraising campaigns FlowPlay has raised and gifted more than $400,000 to charity to-date. In early 2020, I also accepted the position of board Chair for the Washington chapter of the American Cancer Society CEOs Against Cancer organization.

Ok fantastic. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell us about the technological innovations in gaming that you are working on?

In the first quarter of 2020, games as a social activity went mainstream, with people around the world turning to video games to combat isolation amid coronavirus lockdowns. Video game spending during that time hit a record high of $10.86 billion. Our company and products were uniquely suited for this environment, as our games Vegas World and Casino World are designed to foster community among players and provide an engaging place for people to socialize online. We also recently expanded on this movement with the launch of Live Game Night, which provides invite-only social gaming with live video chat. The first title in the Live Game Night collection, Live Poker Night, allows up to five of a host’s friends and family to play together in a real, face-to-face virtual poker matchup.

How do you think this might disrupt the status quo?

Today, the term “social games” is a misnomer. Games dubbed as social are not truly social, but simply enabled via social media platforms. People are looking for real connection, and from a games perspective, the next iteration will beincreasing and continued growth of a new category of “connected games.” In this category, games are designed around establishing a deep sense of community, via virtual, in-game interactions between real people. Connected games are inherently social by design. As this category evolves, connected games will build upon the current interactive elements in games, with live video, streaming content and other multimedia mechanics.

You, of course, know that games and toys are not simply entertainment, but they can be used for important purposes. What is the “purpose” or mission behind your company? How do you think you are helping people or society?

Online games are so much more than entertainment. They provide a sense of belonging for people who are lonely, or feel they don’t quite fit in. They are an escape from today’s uncertain times, a means for keeping in touch with old friends and a place to create new ones. Our games platform has the technological capabilities to give people back some of their favorite social experiences. Our belief is that by enabling true connections and launching new “connected games,” we’re helping people have fun, nurture friendships and find an outlet from boredom, isolation and stress.

I’m very interested in the interface between games and education. How do you think more people (parents, teachers etc.) or institutions (work, school etc.) can leverage toys or gamification to enhance education?

The biggest thing that makes gamification work is constant and consistent rewards. When used in an educational setting, it’s important to avoid identifying winners and losers, which is obviously discouraging to the “losers.” That’s the last thing you want in an educational setting. Instead, gamified education platforms should offer badges, trophies and other rewards players can keep, to remind them they are doing well.

How would you define a “successful” game or toy? Can you share an example of a game or toy that you hold up as an aspiration?

I think World of Warcraft is the most successful game ever. It’s been around for almost 20 years and there are people who have been playing that entire time. The game has built this amazing community of loyal players who are there because they love the game, but also because of their attachment to the other players they meet there. A vibrant player community is the single most effective way for a game to maintain the kind of longevity World of Warcraft has had, and is one of the key reasons why the game has been so successful.

What are the “5 Things You Need to Know To Create a Successful Game” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Understand and hear your users. At FlowPlay, we engage directly with our players to understand what’s working, what’s not and what they want from the game. I play in the game regularly and talk to people, as do many of my employees, from the exec leadership team to customer service. We host focus groups when we’re launching new games and functionality and we survey the community before making significant changes. Game companies are nothing without their players, so it’s critical to engage them and listen to feedback.
  2. Build in benefits for being social. Community is the heart of most games today, and truly the only way to maintain a loyal, long-term player base. You want your community to develop organically, but incentivizing social activity with in-game perks or rewards will help spur engagement.
  3. Provide meaningful experiences. A recent study showed that 79 percent of American consumers believe that companies should care about the issues that are most important to them. This is a huge opportunity for game companies to do good in the world and in the process, build goodwill with their customer base. At FlowPlay, we do this through in-game fundraisers for causes that our employees and players care about. Our community has raised more than $400,000 for charities to-date.
  4. Beware of app store gotchas. The app store ecosystem has become a significant barrier for many small and mid-sized game developers. Apple and Google both take a 30 percent cut of revenues from every game downloaded from their marketplaces. After advertising and other operating costs, that leaves little profit for the developer. Ongoing changes at Apple and Google are having additional impacts on developers, including new restrictions in advertising practices and red tape for approval to gain entry into the app stores. Any game company that wants to “make it” needs to account for these costs and obstacles in their business plan, and consider alternatives to launching on mobile through Apple and Google alone.
  5. Know when to start over. It’s usually pretty clear early on whether a game is going to resonate with users. Like many developers, we use the D1 benchmark, which measures the percentage of users that play the game and come back to play it again the next day. That number must be at least 25 percent, or else the game is not likely to make it. You can optimize to some extent, but it’s never going to be 50 percent better. If that’s the case with a newly launched game, developers need to be willing to let it go and get to work on a new idea.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

For everyone to lift each other up and give generously. Those of us with privilege need to pay it forward to those who are marginalized in some way. Anyone with the means to give generously should do so, consistently and with grace. Every single company should have a philanthropic giving program that aligns with the values and priorities of its employees.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Just one word: empathy. I strive to treat my employees like I always wanted to be treated as an employee. The core of my leadership style is to put myself in the shoes of the people I meet along the way in their careers.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Our company is on Twitter @flowplay, and Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/FlowPlay and https://www.facebook.com/OfficialLiveGameNight

I’m on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/derrickm/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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