The iPhone App Store turned indie coders into celebrities overnight, but has it changed them?
Mobile gaming’s no longer a new phenomenon: it's the now the norm. The touchscreen in your pocket’s the first port of call now for consoles’ mascots like Sonic and Solid Snake.
The software it runs has got Sony and Microsoft running scared, and the teams behind the biggest mobile games have become stars themselves. Were they one hit wonders though, or are they here to stay? We take a look at what the people who made your favourite smartphone games did next.
Of all the mobile gaming sensations, Angry Birds is the biggest, by a very, very long way. The story is one of incredible rags to riches: after making scores of games for phones, the small Finnish team at Rovio struck gold off the back of a single drawing of a cheesed off bird. The games in the series have been downloaded more than a billion times, and ported to every platform possible, even built into TVs. Rovio’s expanded from a few dozen to more than 450 employees, with offices on three continents - and last year, it reportedly turned down a buyout offer of $2.2 billion (£1.4bn). Not bad for a simple game with levels that take mere seconds to complete.
Rovio’s follow up games - puzzlers Amazing Alex and Bad Piggies - haven’t matched Angry Birds’ success, but the company’s no longer just a game developer: it’s an entertainment powerhouse. It’s a licensing machine: you can now get everything from Angry Birds stuffed toys to board games and pyjamas. There’s a movie on the way, there’s even a theme park. The company wants to be the next Disney, and with hits like Angry Birds Star Wars under its belt, it’s not that much of a stretch to see it happening.
Cut The Rope
Rovio was already an established business when it released Angry Birds: by contrast, ZeptoLab was still a three man team when it released its adorable puzzler on iPhone. The concept was simple - cut the right ropes at the right time to get the candy to the Om Nom - but the presentation so charming it was an instant smash, shoving Angry Birds off the top of the chart.
The creators - Russian twins Semyon and Efim Voinov - have made millions from the game, and spent the last two years coming up with sequels and extra levels for it on iPhone and Android, as well as another cute puzzler, Pudding Monster. Though they’ve kept things small, they’re taking the same route as Rovio, licensing out Om Nom for merchandise and even a TV series - you can see the pilot below.
Rovio and ZeptoLab got in early, but by 2012 the App Store had become so crowded that it was hard to get noticed. After a long string of unsuccessful Facebook and mobile games, New York start-up Omgpop was on its last legs. Staff were laid off.
Then they released Draw Something. The pictionary-for-your-phone game took off like wildfire: people couldn’t get enough of drawing daft doodles, even paying for extra colours and words. Within weeks, FarmVille maker Zynga snapped the team up for $170million (£109m) - but not before CEO Dan Porter rehired everyone he laid off in time for he payout.
Since the summer of Draw Something, the game’s not fared too well: five million stopped playing in the month after Zynga’s purchase. Omgpop’s still going strong though, as the new Zynga New York, and Porter’s overseeing it: in December, it released the Friend Game, a new Facebook app that literally turns your social network into a game.
Few small game makers can scrabble to the top of the download charts these days, but the husband and wife team at Imangi Studios have managed it not once, but twice. After small hits like Harbor Master, the pair hit the big time with last year’s Temple Run, an Indiana Jones-style dash with simple touchscreen controls. It’s been downloaded more than 170 million times, and even had a Disney spin-off, tying in with the launch of Pixar’s Brave.
Despite the success, they’re still keeping it small and humble: they’re still flying solo as an indie, and just last month, they released Temple Run 2. If they’re not already, you can bet the gaming giants will be sniffing around with a cheque book soon.
Doodle Jump was the original bedroom coder success story on the App Store: the addictive platformer made use of tech you couldn’t find in any other games machine at the time - the iPhone’s clever accelerometer - to shoot straight to the top of the paid app charts, where it stayed. For years.
The Pusenjak brothers, the pair behind the game, have seen their game downloaded millions of times, but they’ve kept a low profile, only releasing a Christmas-themed sequel. Late last year though the duo got their act together, announcing plans to bring out Doodle Jump merchandise, toys, and even arcade video game. From bedroom to boardroom and back to the arcade - who saw that one coming?