Tired of the overly corporate grind working for console developers and ad agencies, Bart Sokolowski and Przemek Bryl decided to spice up their lives by “joining the mobile revolution” and creating the Foodies iPhone game.
The colorfully charming 99-cent Foodies is a casual game inspired by PopCap titles including Bejeweled, Peggle and Plants vs Zombies. It is the first title released by Sokolowski and Bryl’s new company Nano Titans.
In this edition of Game Theory, we get a first hand account of what goes through the minds of a fiercely and proudly independent development company looking to crack through without a publisher, budget, and real office space.
“We want to work with each other over the Internet from any place in the world. The only fixed cost is the cost of our everyday life,” explains Sokolowski, who also discusses Nano Titans scrappy publicity efforts, the challenges of getting games developed outside of the United States onto the Android market (he’s based in Poland), and why nothing in the mobile media space is worth losing any sleep over.
Appolicious: For two guys who boast about having "no budget" and "no office", you created a really fun game for the iPhone. How did you get into the mobile development space and has the response to Foodies matched or exceeded your expectations?
Bart Sokolowski: I had spent my entire professional life working on big PC and game console titles. Having noticed the corporate leanings of video game companies, I started to miss the times when games were created by small groups of people, and the major goal was to deliver unhindered entertainment to the players.
My co-partner Przemek Bryl, an artist, worked in various advertising agencies secretly dreaming about making games. Suddenly (kudos to Apple) we have become the witnesses of a mobile revolution which turned out to be sort of a time loop letting things happen all over again. It would be a sin to miss that train. That’s how Nano Titans were born.
Reception of Foodies definitely has exceeded our expectations. What a nice surprise!
APPO: What is the purpose of Foodies and who is it targeted to?
BS: Our main goal was to complete and release our first project in order to prove to ourselves that we were capable of creating a cool and original game which would become successful in a commercial way. We also wanted to gain experience and feedback which would help us to design better casual games in the future.
The target audience is players looking for games designed originally for iPhone, aiming for something fresh as well as challenges and competition.
BS: Firstly, we have to mention the fact that the game had no promotion whatsoever. We had no connections with media. We simply sent hundreds of emails to mobile-game websites asking for reviews. Only a few have responded.
We are currently working on an iPad version. Afterwards we will release new level packs, and a lite version for the players that would like to try things out before they buy it.
APPO: What other game/app developers serve as your biggest source of inspiration?
BS: PopCap titles serve as the best example of casual games. With Bejeweled, Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies, they proved to be world champions of the genre.
When it comes to game consoles, we are great fans of Nintendo flagships - Mario, Zelda, Yoshi and Donkey Kong. We also draw inspiration from the '80s and '90s classics we were brought up on.
APPO: Nano Titans presumably will want to have a significant budget someday. Aside from the 99-cent download cost, what are you doing to make money at this time and how is the business funded overall?
BS: Paradoxically, we don’t need high budget at all. We are not planning to rent an office or hire employees. We want to work with each other over the Internet from any place in the world. The only fixed cost is the cost of our everyday life.
I have spent the last months living off my savings. Przemek had a full-time job and worked on Foodies in his free-time. Moderate commercial success of the game will allow us to work full time on our own titles over the next six months.
In order to minimize the risk and maximize the income sources we are planning to release our next game also on Mac and PC. We want to test the potential of casual games market on these platforms. The aforementioned PopCap is a great example
APPO: You plan to develop a new title for Android devices. Looking at that platform, what development opportunities and challenges does it provide when compared to iOS?
BS: For the time being, the biggest problem with the Android Market is the lack of possibility for the Polish developers to sell their games.
Unless Google allows it, our games won’t be released on that platform. The next challenge connected with Android is the abundance of hardware and the versions of installed OS. It’s a double-edged sword because people are afraid to buy games that may or may not work on their devices. And they are right because developers are not able to test their apps with every hardware-software combination. Google has made some mistakes during starting the platform and market. Fortunately, they are trying to mend things up. It’s high time.
APPO: What are the biggest marketing challenges and opportunities that exist on both platforms.
BS: As an independent game developer with no publisher, the biggest difficulty was to reach the iPhone owners with the information about a cool new game. There are plenty of great apps in the App Store or Android Market that players didn’t even have a chance to hear of. The only form of promotion that gives you actual possibility of being noticed in the App Store is making it to “New & Noteworthy” featured list. There are, of course, methods like viral marketing, but they usually require serious funding.
When it comes to opportunities, things seem really simple. If you make it through to the surface, there are hundreds of millions of potential customers waiting for your product.
APPO: As an independent game developer, what are the three biggest things about the mobile space that keep you up at night?
BS: There are no such things. The main thing is to sleep well. If we don’t make it with our own games, we can always work on commission, design branded advertising apps or take a regular full-time job. No-one will die, no tragedy will happen, our worlds will not end.
Nevertheless, we are convinced that motivation, determination, hard work and faith in ourselves will sooner or later pay off. We want to create better games and build a Nano Titans portfolio that we will be proud of and that players all over the world will enjoy.
The best days of the mobile market are yet to come, and we would like to be a part of that future.