Interview with Frederic Descamps (Xfire)

Some of you may have seen a recent article on CNN: Is Xfire the next MySpace? It inspired me to run a few questions past Frederic Descamps, Xfire’s Sr. Director of Marketing and Biz Dev. Enjoy!

Has Xfire performed any studies that quantify the effectiveness of advertising via the client? What sort of return on investment can an advertiser expect from a standard banner placement?

The banner ad located at the top of the Xfire client application is indeed one of the most popular locations for advertisers. One of the reasons is that Xfire users spend on average 90 hours a month using the Xfire client, as opposed to just a few minutes a month on average on any given leading gaming news site. Our client application ad is also static, non intrusive, and is the only ad displayed in the Xfire client application — giving it great impact.

Xfire is the only marketing platform in the world to offer targeted and behavioral advertising by demographic information, geographical location, actual games played, files downloaded, and more. Our targeted advertising allows for very precise and therefore efficient marketing, which in turn means higher ROI: if you want to run different ads respectively for WoW, CS: Source or RTS gamers, you can; if you want to run different ads whether people have downloaded a trailer or played the demo of a game, you can!

Also, a good measure of the effectiveness of Xfire as an ideal marketing platform are the recurring campaigns we have organized for companies such as 2K Games, Activision, Blizzard, Electronic Arts, JoWood, Mythic, NCSoft, Sony, Ubisoft, Chrysler, Creative Labs, Intel, Microsoft, Pepsi, Fox Studios, Pepsi, Unilever, Universal Studios, the US Army, the US Navy, Vivendi Universal Games, and more.

What other ad mechanisms does Xfire offer?

Xfire has the capability to offer integrated interactive marketing campaigns that combine elements such as targeted advertising, live online gaming events, live chats, branded Xfire skins, videos and files distribution, contest, giveaways, newsletter, surveys, etc. The combination of these marketing vehicles makes for very rich and compelling campaigns.

For instance, Xfire is the largest organizer of live online gaming events in the world today. Over the last two years, over 120,000 gamers have participated in the various gaming events we have organized for Belkin, Creative Labs, Electronic Arts, Fox Studios, Gillette, Logitech, Pepsi, Schick, Taco Bell, and Ubicom.

Our events reach over 5M gamers at a cost of about $50,000-$100,000, or about 1 to 2 cents per gamer reached. Our next event is sponsored by Gillette on March 26th, and will feature top US pro-gaming teams such as the world champions Team 3D.

We also recently organized the biggest machinima contest ever with Blizzard. Top machinima makers from all over the world submitted World of Warcraft movies for a chance win over $10,000.

Our newsletter goes out twice a month to over 1.5M gamers who have opted-in. It doesn’t contain any advertising, just editorial items related to the activities we organize on Xfire, such as gaming events, live chats, and files.

We make all these marketing vehicles available to our clients for very efficient and original marketing campaigns that reach the ‘golden demographics’ of gamers, i.e. males 14-34.

Since Xfire does not display ads during gameplay, how often are your ads actually being seen?

Users are in-game about 35% of the time that they are running Xfire. The most popular feature in Xfire is simply looking at what games your friends are playing at any time — even if you are not in a game yourself!

While they are in-game, players can still use Xfire through the Xfire in-game chat client, which is a first-of-its-kind technology we developed. Like the Xfire client, the chat windows are ‘skinnable’, which means advertisers can still have a presence in a game if they want.

What will Xfire do if AIM or Yahoo Messenger (etc) begin to offer competitive functionality for gamers?

We are the fastest growing online gaming community and tool in the world today. Two years after the launch of Xfire, nobody has launched any application with even the basic features we originally launched with. And contrary to traditional IM applications, Xfire doesn’t crash games or negatively impact game performance.

How did you decide to turn Xfire into a community portal, not just a chat client? What have been the primary drivers behind the growth of the portal?

Xfire was a community from the very first day. One of the main ideas behind Xfire is the fact that it allows people to play games with their friends more easily. Xfire turned on its head the traditional paradigm of online gaming (which was server-based and for FPS only) by introducing social networking to gaming. So Xfire is primarily a friendship-based community, and our users are currently creating 2M additional friendships among one another every month.

Our community tools and activities all stem from the fact that we are all passionate gamers at Xfire. The P2P file distribution system exists because we consume a lot of gaming files ourselves and we don’t want our gaming impeded by those downloads. (The Xfire file distribution system has stop-and-go capabilities and pauses downloads by default while you are playing a game). Our auto-patching system was created because patching games is not easy. Our gaming events derive from our continued support for e-sports. Our passion for games lead to the live dev chats we recently organized with Activision, Cryptic Studios, Ctrl+Alt+Del, EA, Firaxis, Lionhead, Lucas Arts VUG and more.

What do you hope Xfire (the service, and the community) will look like in three years?

More users, more great activities for the community, more cool features to simplify gaming across different platforms! We have several very interesting things in preparation so stay tuned!

Have all game companies been happy to accommodate Xfire, or have any tried to impede compatibility with their games?

Leading developers and publishers are asking to bundle Xfire with their games. For instance, Xfire was recently bundled with Civilization IV, Empire at War, Empire Earth II: The Art of Supremacy, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, RF Online, Serious Sam 2 and more.

These companies want to offer their users the features Xfire has, and they have seen the impact of word of mouth buzz generated by our community when we add support for their games. All of a sudden, Xfire users see their friends and their friends of friends playing this new game. For Civilization IV for instance, there was an exponential curve showing more Xfire users willing to buy the game after viewing the friends of friends feature, compared to an expected flat line.

Another funny anecdote was the Solitaire craze in our community a few weeks ago when users found out that we had added support for the game. Solitaire became (for a few days) one of our top ten most-played games. :-)

Re: Civilization IV — can you describe the purchase-generating behavior in more detail?

Unfortunately, due to a confidentiality agreement with the client, I can’t give you all the details. However, I am talking about a significant impact on the number of copies of the game bought by Xfire users, due to the fact that we supported it; i.e., our users saw other users playing it in the weeks after it was released.

How would you compare Xfire’s value proposition to advertisers to, say, IGN’s?

We are quite different. For one, we are the only company that offers targeted and behavioral advertising based on actual game data, files downloaded, etc. It means everything we do is trackable and measurable. Second, we are not just a site, but a very active gaming tool and community, and we have the capability to talk to gamers using multiple unique vehicles (ads, newsletter, events, forums, files, etc.) And we support all genres of games, not just FPS games.

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