Massively talks with Raptr's Dennis Fong

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Massively talks with Raptr's Dennis Fong
Raptr is a pretty ambitious project, even if you think about what has been accomplished so far. Essentially, the service is connecting all of your gaming-related services under one profile, one messenger, and one new iPhone app. Think of it as your Trillian messenger for gamers. I have a short history with Raptr but never really warmed up to it until recently. I wanted a service that would allow all of my friends, across all of the different networks that I visit, to see what and how much I am playing.

Now that I have made a newer profile and have really started adding a few friends, I am sort of shocked at it's usefullness. Not only does it let me sign in to most of the major messaging services, game networks and social services like Facebook, but it allows me to see what my friends are doing as well, in some very specific ways.

I was excited to get a chance to talk to Raptr CEO Dennis Fong and was impressed by how such an ambitious idea has now turned into a real, working application.

The main goal of Raptr is to "make it easy to play games and chat with your friends," according to Fong, and to try to do that across every major gaming platform. "It's to gather all of your friends from all your previous gaming services" and to collect them on one buddy list. With the ability to add Facebook chat, AIM and other popular and common IM services, you can cover your non-gamer friends and family as well.

Adding and tracking your friends becomes almost a game in itself, and the information you gather is pretty outrageous. Not only can you see the game they are playing, but also what level they might be in, or what team they are playing in Madden. It will tell you the score, or what dungeon they might be facing. Then you can send them a message that will pop-up in game, unobtrusively on top of their client. By drawing the message on top of the game itself, it does away with the need for alt-tabbing to answer back.

"Let's not forget the importance of bragging rights. The ability to achieve great things, and to show those things off, is what makes some of us gamers."

For myself, Raptr seems to solve many of the issues I have with communication across many different games and platforms. Not only do I play way too many games (I've already added over 100 games to my Raptr list, and I've barely even started), but I maintain friendships across all those platforms. If some of my friends are going to be late to a Rise and Shiny gaming night, for example, they can simply let me know by sending me a message. Or, if they are away from a PC, they can use the newly released iPhone app (your "buddy list on the go") to message me from the office. I downloaded the app on my iPhone, and a few seconds after signing in I was messaging a buddy while he was playing Runes of Magic. It worked, and it is completely free. I even loaded it onto my iPad, and despite the blown-up size of the app (due to iPad's larger screen), I was still able to use it just as easily. It's not an instant-messenger in the classic sense, but it gives you access to mail, profile and gaming information features. Version two of the iPhone app will be released within a few weeks.

According to Dennis, the goal to make "gaming with your friends a lot less painful" is paramount. Connecting to other players is what makes this hobby and living so wonderful, and it's nice to have a tool that makes those connections quicker and more convenient.

Let's not forget the importance of bragging rights. The ability to achieve great things, and to show those things off, is what makes some of us gamers. If you want, Raptr will automatically collect all of your Xbox Live achievements and PlayStation trophies for all of the world to see. Or, in my case, Raptr shows off my lack of substantial achievements with embarrassing clarity. Oh well, we can't all rule every kingdom! All of these achievements, trophies and game data are visible on your free profile which acts as a social network of its own kind. I browsed for certain games, found the game pages, read a couple reviews from different members, and even made a friend out of one of them.

How does Raptr do it? Well, they literally track tens of thousands of games, and do it in the way you would expect: they pre-order the game, buy it off the shelf, download it, or are sent a press copy ahead of time. Adding a game "takes literally 10 minutes or so, maybe less", and an entire team is set up just for that task. I told Dennis that I might stump him with some of my game choices, but he challenged me to send them in. As I looked through my game list and could not find some of my titles (Istaria, for example), I simply opened my profile and filled out the feedback form that pops out of the side of the browser. I made sure to send in the full title of the game and a website where it can be found. "We track over thirty-thousand games, a lot of obscure and Flash games." Dennis told me. Still, I want to feed the team any games that it misses.

What a database Raptr must have, too! The team is "now adding over half a million new users a month, or 15 to 20 thousand a day sometimes." That's right, half a million a month. However, all that data are not just sitting there collecting virtual dust. Raptr submits the statistics, for absolutely no charge, to websites like Gamespot and Gamepro. The sites use the information to show what's hot and what's not, and to chart trends. According to Dennis, "this a way to give back to the industry."

And give he has. All of the Raptr services are free, so go check them out if you are interested. Add me here, and feel free to make fun of my Xbox achievements on display. Not all of us can game like Dennis.
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