trends can seem to come out of nowhere. One minute, a company in
small-town Canada (Kelowna, BC, pop.150,000), releases a product called
Club Penguin. The next minute, their product sells to Disney for hundreds of millions of dollars.
One minute, some garage nerds in England release a free massively
multi-player online game called Runescape. A couple minutes later, they
have 1 million paid subscribers and are generating 1 billion ad impressions a month.
In today's Internet world, where content is perceived as king, it's
easy to chalk that success up to the power of the product itself. While
quality and good technology are obviously factors, an old fashioned
secret has been the key to both products' success: distribution.
Runescape and Club Penguin both used the largely teen gaming portal, Miniclip, and it's 34 million users, to build their huge audiences.
Without Miniclip, it is likely that there is no Club Penguin
phenomenon. The product launched in October 2005 and was able to eke
out a base of about 25,000 users. A few months later, the game was posted on Miniclip and experienced explosive growth. By September, the product had over 2.6 million users. Runescape's user base saw a similar, if slightly less dramatic, increase from a niche game to a multi-million user success.
With a core demographic of 10-24 year olds,
Miniclip has built a portal with the power to instantly launch a youth
brand. What network TV was for The Transformers, so Miniclip has been
for Club Penguin. Great products can travel virally, but the task is a
lot easier if the starting point is 30 million exposures. That's what
scale and distribution can do. After all, retail distribution -- the
most proven way to educate consumers -- has driven Webkinz and the Barbie virtual world (reg. required). Online, Facebook's platform
has set the world abuzz not because of technology, but rather the
possibility of targeted distribution to a huge user base, albeit one
that is only about 60% of Miniclip's.
Miniclip might be the best place to spot the next t(w)een gaming
trend. Billed as the largest privately held entertainment portal in the
world, Miniclip is also one of the most attractive takeover targets
left in all of Internet media.