24 July 2009

Game Over: MySpace Seeks Salvation in… Gaming?

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Longtime MySpace User…

What lies in store for MySpace?

What lies in store for MySpace?

MySpace is losing it. And I’m not talking about its members defecting to Facebook.

Last year, the once mighty, world dominating social network that had crushed its predecessor Friendster suddenly found itself splattered on Facebook’s windshield. At first, MySpace responded by copying Facebook features, but copying a competitor is not a long-term success strategy. In fact, it just gives the competition credibility.

So MySpace gave up the fight and is fully rebooting by going after a niche market…

Now I completely endorse focusing. If you can’t appeal to everyone, focus on one core segment and fulfill all their needs. Your company may no longer be as big as it once was, but you’ll inspire greater loyalty. Plus, a tighter market focus helps attract advertisers looking to target that particular segment.

Niche marketing, after all, is how MySpace blew the doors off Friendster.

Early on, MySpace recruited independent musicians, which was brilliant, since many pop artists are cult brands who command a devout, fanatical following. Sure enough, music fans glommed onto MySpace, which rapidly grew around this lifestyle — a far better attraction than just “making friends.” Because of the indie music focus, MySpace also didn’t have the junior high stigma of Friendster; indeed, many Friendster users quickly “graduated” to MySpace.

Then greed set in.

As it grew to millions of users, MySpace lost its music focus, and tried to be everything to everyone. This attracted hordes of new users, but the site lost its cool, particularly as the spammers and predators moved in. At the same time, MySpace allowed other upstart startups, such as imeem and Pandora, to encroach upon its music territory.

Then MySpace lost its lead in the social networking world, and despite efforts to become more user friendly, the exodus accelerated. So MySpace’s parent company, News Corp, decided to do a full wipe and system reinstall. They replaced MySpace’s executive leadership (including the founder), laid off a third of the workers, even dropped the insipid motto “a place for friends” from the logo.

So the big question we armchair analysts are asking is, where will MySpace go from here? Will it return to its musical past? That would make sense. Even though MySpace Music doesn’t enjoy the buzz of Pandora, it’s still a hit with music fans, with traffic increasing over 1000% in the past year. Pearl Jam premiered its latest single there and hit 100,000 plays in just hours. With an undivided focus on music, MySpace could dominate the sector.

But that’s not exactly what MySpace has in mind.

Game On?

According to Reuters (7/23/9), News Corp digital head Jonathan Miller has the cure for all that’s ailing the site: “MySpace is and will be more in the future a gaming platform, a space for people to meet and play games.”

Games? Did he just say games?

“You must focus, and in our case we are focusing on music, games, video, things like that.”

Oh, games and music. And video. And things like that. You know, something for everyone. I guess MySpace has a different definition of “focus” than most people.

But, really, why games?

Miller says, “None of the traditional media conglomerates are also significant video game players, so to speak, and I think that that’s the missing piece of the equation, particularly when you see how much time is spent playing games online.”

Missing? Uh, well, there’s Sony. That’s a traditional media conglomerate and a major electronics brand, and I think Sony does games — you know, something called the PlayStation.

Oh, and there’s Disney, which also has online gaming. Last I checked, Disney is a traditional media conglomerate.

And while Apple and Microsoft are not “traditional media conglomerates,” they’ve got some gaming going on. Make that a lot of gaming. In addition, there’s this little site called Facebook that also has a fair number of games.

So, uh, gaming is not exactly unexplored territory here. In fact, the one traditional media conglomerate that hasn’t really done much in terms of gaming is… News Corp.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with venturing into a crowded space if you’ve got an original idea and the financial muscle to back it up. iTunes wasn’t the first online music store. And we’ve discussed the succession of social networks here. There’s also a chance that MySpace could become The Best Online Gaming Platform Ever.

However, when you’re talking News Corp and Rupert Murdoch’s master plan to crush the rebel alliance and conquer the universe, gaming just doesn’t seem to be the most natural alternative.

What I Would Do If I Were Rupert (bwahahahaaa)…

Consider this: News Corp owns the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, the two largest media bastions for right wingers in the country. So my suggestions?

1. Spin off MySpace Music as its own purely music-focused site. To bolster its command of the market, MySpace should also acquire imeem, which is trying everything to make a buck. That would win the favor of the record companies who blew money invested in imeem as an alternative to iTunes. MySpace Music would then become the ultimate online destination for music fans.

Megyn Kelly: Reason to watch Fox News (volume off, of course).

Megyn Kelly: Reason to watch Fox News (volume off, of course).

2. Use the MySpace platform to create a conservative social network. In other words, do to Facebook what Fox News did to CNN (you know CNN, the former news site that tried to be all things to all people before devolving into a 24-hour tabloid). Call this new socnet something like “Stage Right,” and fiercely enforce ideological purity by charging a membership fee and making new members swear on a Bill O’Reilly book. WSJ subscribers would get elite status,  fancier profiles, and access to VIP parties, all of which would promote newspaper subscriptions. All the Fox News hosts and anchors would have profiles, and the ones who look like supermodels would share extra photos and videos with their “friends.”

Politics inspires as much passion as music, yet there’s no major socnet that caters to one side or the other. (Forget the tiny, under-publicized Ning-based sites.) Murdoch could use Stage Right to promote his shows and publications, while selling ads to the likes of Halliburton, the Republican National Committee, and airlines that fly to Argentina. Such an integration of News Corp brands seems more logical than some foray into a saturated market where the company has no experience or properties.

And when you’ve got hot reporter babes, who needs video games?

Update 7/30/9: And you thought I was just joking around: according to TechCrunch, the WSJ is going to launch a LinkedIn rival called WSJ Connect. Interesting note in this report: the WSJ already has a community section that is essentially a “ghost town.” Gee, you’d think they’d know a little something about business over on Wall Street…

Update 11/17/9: You know that bit where I suggested that MySpace buy imeem? Well, who knew that Rupert Murdoch reads my blog, ’cause that’s exactly what’s happening: “Confirmed: MySpace Looking to Buy Imeem” (Peter Kafka’s MediaMemo).

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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