DesignFeature

Miniclip: how we built

Miniclip is one of the web’s largest online gaming sites with 30 million users a month. Founder Robert Small tells us what it’s like to build a site where 98 per cent of users are on broadband

.net: What is Miniclip and how did the site come about?
RS: The company was set up in 2001 when my business partner and I had the idea of creating a high quality online entertainment brand that would rival what companies like MTV, Disney, Warner Bros had created offline. We knew that as people’s lives got busier, and broadband penetration increased, people would expect easily accessible bit-sized entertainment on demand.

Initially, we developed topical games and animations, normally based on political figures such as George Bush and Tony Blair. Games like Bush Shoot- Out, Dancing Bush and Bush Aerobics had hundreds of millions of gameplays and helped to publicise the Miniclip brand globally. As we started to attract a larger and more diverse audience, we added more games to broaden the appeal of the site.

Another early strategy was to provide other webmasters with a suite of high-quality games that they could use on their own websites. This was a successful strategy, as our games are syndicated on more websites than any other.

Miniclip genres
Miniclip enables access to dozens of genres. Here, the 3D page mimics the look of the homepage, yet presents information only on 3D games

.net: What have you added to it recently and why?
RS: Miniclip started as an online gaming website, and as our audience grew globally, and with more than 98 per cent of our users on broadband, we were able to plug in other entertainment channels, including a new cartoon channel. Our new channels have been popular with our existing gamers. We’ve been very encouraged by the initial traffic numbers they’ve generated thus far. We’ve also released other language versions of our website, including Italian, Portuguese, Korean and Chinese, to complement the Spanish, French and German versions we offered with the 2006 site relaunch.

.net: Who are your users?
RS: Our core demographic are young people between 13 and 18, though our broad range of games means we have users of all ages, from 13 to 80. We find that our puzzle and learning games attract a slightly older audience than the action and adventure games. Our audience is chatty, regularly recommending games to friends at school or college, and using IM, SMS, email and blogs. This has helped us grow our user base organically and with no advertising costs.

.net: What influenced the design?
RS: We relaunched our newly designed website in July 2006. This was built from the ground up with a focus on making it easier to navigate and more intuitive to use. A lot of the updates came from user suggestions, whose requests were incorporated into the new site. The main features of the new site include Game Search, a favourite games list, recently played games, more detailed support and FAQs, RSS feeds and optional full games/section lists on every page.

As our users wanted to recommend games to their friends, we added three different methods of sharing games: via email, with IM, and a copy/paste feature for blogs and websites.

Another factor that influenced the redesign was that we wanted to offer an enhanced environment for advertisers. We developed a new, innovative range of advertising formats, including rich media overlays, pre-roll video, homepage takeovers and our unique ‘Advergame’ buzz campaigns.

Miniclip game
Once visitors have found what they're looking for, Miniclip will display the game in its own window. A short description can be seen below the game display

.net: What tools were used to create it and how were they applied?
RS: The new website has our own custom-made CMS. PHP enables us to easily move content around the site, add new games and optimise performance. The vast majority of our games and animation content is made with Flash and Shockwave.

.net: What was the design process you went through?
RS: Our aim with the redesign was to improve the user’s experience and help them locate what they wanted as fast as possible. The first stage of the design process involved establishing exactly what content we wanted to incorporate into the new site. Once we had this, we consulted users to find out what features and enhancements they wanted. At this stage, we also spoke to advertisers to establish what types of advertising formats they most wanted.

Various visual concepts were sketched up and discussed. And new features and routes of navigation were drawn up, which were then consolidated into a single design. We also ran usability tests on the design, which was modified and optimised before a final layout was decided on. The final stage of this process was to build and code the templates and feed them into our CMS, which was then propagated with all the games.

.net: The online hosted content marketplace is crowded. How will Miniclip cope in the future?
RS: We have some cutting-edge projects in the pipeline that we expect to continue the massive growth we’ve enjoyed over the last five years. Miniclip is unique among online content providers in the sense that our content is interactive and exciting vs passive types of old-style content, such as video or news. Also, 50 percent of users in the US are still on slow connections and not able to access our website. As broadband connections are rolled out across America and other countries, it will dramatically increase our user base.

.net: What’s your favourite game on the site?
RS: Commando. It’s a retro-style shoot-‘em-up themed around World War II. I also like the Pirat
es of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest game, which was created to coincide with the official release of the film on DVD.

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