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Playground Wars – Coming Soon!

We are pleased to present the first gameplay footage from our upcoming iOS, Android and Facebook game Playground Wars!

Playground Wars is a 2D castle defense game with loads of strategy and variety.

* 4 locations, each with night and day settings
* 5 types of weather
* 10 friendly units
* 14 enemy units including really great bosses
* 9 special attacks
* 112 levels
* 450 upgrades.

Playground Wars is also a terrific demonstration of the team we’ve built here at Glowdot over the last few years. We’ve assembled an amazing group of talented coders, game designers, sound designers and musicians, voice actors and artists, and experts in UI. Playground Wars, like all of our games and apps, demonstrates our skill at developing engaging, beautiful software while still staying lean, efficient and cost effective, and ultimately delivering games that are far and away top of class on every platform imaginable.

Playground Wars will be out on iOS, Android and Facebook later this month.

Gamification: the new normal

We’ve posted a few times about several game developments we are currently involved in that are, to put it mildly, extremely exciting. We love projects on the cutting edge, and that edge right now is gamification.  While our projects are still a short ways away from release, we are still talking to clients every day about gamification: what it is, how it works, and how it can empower your campaign or brand.

EngineYard has posted an interesting infographic which lays out some of the more interesting statistics related to gamification. I’ve embedded it at the bottom of this post as well.

Some of the more interesting points:

  • Gamification spending will go from $100m a year to $2.8 billion in just 3-4 more years (that’s a lot of games!)
  • Current “gamifiers” include Ford, Bayer, Mariott and others — companies you would typically not associate with games.
  • Games are being used extremely successfully as employee-facing programs, as well as customer-facing.  Glowdot in particular is working on a couple employee-facing games currently and we are seeing huge benefits in the areas of training, retention and acquisition.
  • Americans still play games mostly on websites and social networks.  (75 million mobile, 191 million social and web).  Glowdot’s game platforms allow us to hit all of those platforms (and more) — iOS, Android, Windows 8 and the web (via Flash) in a single development.  That’s a potential reach of hundreds of millions of users in one streamlined development.
  • Even Al Gore is behind the trend: “Games are the new normal”

Here’s the infographic:


Courtesy of: Engine Yard

Gymboss sound settings

I’ve been noticing a lot of hits to the site lately related to sounds in Gymboss. If you can’t hear the alarms in your Gymboss app, the problem is that your sound effects are muted or set too low. There are several channels that an app can put sounds through on iDevices, and Gymboss does so through the system sounds channel.

Try the following if you can’t hear sounds in the Gymboss app:

  1. Make sure the device isn’t muted. Flip the switch on the side of the device to the position that doesn’t show the little orange bar.
  2. Make sure your volume is all the way up using the volume buttons on the side of the device
  3. Double tap the home button to bring up the task bar. Slide it all the way to the left until you see a volume slider. Turn that slider all the way up.
  4. In the settings app, go to Sounds. Make sure the Ringer and Alerts volume slider is all the way up.

If you happened to come here looking for this info, please leave a comment letting us know if any of these worked for you. Thanks.

Hiding Monsters – An interactive children’s book for iOS

Hiding Monsters is out now in the iOS App Store. It is the follow up to last year’s Hiding Hannah, the highly acclaimed interactive story book for kids.

Hiding Monsters again features artwork by Sesame Workshop artist Melanie McCall and is narrated by Tom Kenny, voice of Spongebob Squarepants.

Hiding Monsters for Android is coming soon.

Get Hiding Monsters for iOS in the App Store

Hiding Monsters release pushed to July 12

Due in part to an issue Apple is currently having with iTunes, the release of Hiding Monsters has been pushed back to July 12.

We will post here again with any news.  Thanks for your patience!

Hiding Monsters release date set

We have scheduled a release date for Hiding Monsters, the follow up to last years extremely well received interactive children’s book Hiding Hannah.

Hiding Monsters is tentatively scheduled for a July 5th release date, and will be available on iOS for iPhone, iPod and iPad, as well as on Google Play for Android, and Amazon Marketplace for Kindle Fire devices.

As with Hiding Monsters, Hiding Hannah is the brainchild of Squeaky Frog, and is narrated by Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob Squarepants.

Who markets the marketers?

A few days ago I had a simple little thought — nothing deep, just a succinct way of explaining something kind of interesting about our industry — and I tweeted it.

This morning it occurred to me that this little idea is more important than I originally thought.

A large percentage of the work we do is developing apps for marketing purposes.  Our goal, always, is not just to create a digital advertisement, but to create something useful, something users love to use, share, and reuse.  We believe this is the most effective way for an app to market something else, because the experience is engaging.  Contrast something like that against a television ad that runs during your bathroom break, or an intrusive web ad that is too busy annoying you to actually convince you to buy anything.

I have long felt that the marriage of marketing and software — notably games — is a great one.  As more and more developers and entrepreneurs realize that the app market is a tough one, less and less people are willing to commit the resources required to bring great products to that market.

Let’s be real here for a moment: games — even the simplest games, even mobile games — take immense resources, both in time and money, to create.  But with a market suffering from depressed pricing (.99 – 30% isn’t enough to make a profit on pencils, let alone software), an insane amount of competition (are we at a million apps on all platforms already?) and an audience that views this software as bite sized, disposable entertainment… well you better have other ideas for generating revenue than simply “ship it and forget it”.

That’s not only not good for developers, its bad for consumers, because a lot of really great apps never get past the idea stage, once the reality of making one’s money back sets in.

Marketing solves this problem.  An app who’s sole purpose is to market something else does not need to worry about generating revenue inside the app store. It just needs to drive awareness of its product.  So the funding is in place to create great mobile experiences — users win, the investors win, and the (many) problems with the app marketplace become irrelevant.  Those great ideas that could have never become reality due to the high resource demand and low odds of profitability can now be made, if the idea can be retooled and repurposed for marketing.  We don’t need to charge $10 (or even $1) for a small game, we don’t need to waste valuable and limited screen space with ads and banners, and we don’t need to bombard users with crazy freemium schemes. We can just create great content and deliver it as close as possible to how it was intended.while driving awareness of a product, brand, film, artist, and so on.

Glowdot is not the first to figure this out, and consequently the majority of the work we’re doing now falls into this model.  But there is still the issue of marketing these apps.  And strangely, its an issue that many clients don’t think about coming in.  Yes, we need to actively market an app to successfully compete with every other app out there, even when your app’s sole purpose is itself marketing.

In a way, this really isn’t that different from any other marketing plan.  If you create a 30 second commercial, you still need to pay for placement, so that people will actually view it.  Simply creating it isn’t enough.  Same goes for radio ads, web ads, or any other form of marketing on earth.  There is the creation cost, and the placement cost.

And so its crucial not to overlook that step.  Newcomers to the app market have, oftentimes, been conditioned to believe that the creation of the software is the sole and total cost, when that is far from the truth.  You still must pay for placement, and in the case of mobile software, that means marketing your marketing app to get it in front of the right eyes.

And even if that sounds bizarre and complicated, don’t worry — it isn’t.  Marketing an app can be surprisingly easy, and we’ve been doing it a long time.

The Avengers and the power of momentum

One of my most recurring themes — the thing I say over and over again in blogs, to clients, and in meetings — is that the software business is just like every other business.

A lot of press is generated when a high school kid in his basement makes a website and sells it for millions.  But in general, the software industry does not work on lucky breaks.  This goes even more for games.  A great game can go completely unnoticed if it has no momentum behind it, and especially if it has no marketing behind it.

So what does this have to do with the Avengers?

You probably heard that The Avengers had a record opening weekend.  That’s especially crazy in light of the fact that the vast majority of people buying tickets that weekend had very little personal history with The Avengers before a couple years ago.  But this film is an example of the exceptional power of momentum.

First, you have a comic book universe with a history reaching back to the early 1960s.  People were reading Avengers comics a full decade before I was even born.  That’s almost 50 years of audience building.

Second, they wisely introduced the characters to the mass audience in their own films (Iron Man 1 & 2, the Hulk, Captain America, Thor).  This is a fantastic example of diversification — if you don’t care for Iron Man or the Hulk, you might like Thor or Captain America.  And if you like one of those characters, you will likely be interested in a film that contains all of them.

Third, they slammed all of those characters into a single film, marketed the hell out of it, and let the momentum do its thing.  It should come as no surprise that the film broke records.

So how does this apply to selling games?  Simple, really.  To borrow an annoying, contemporary meme, if you open a store and only sell one product, you’re gonna have a bad time.

A terrific strategy to employ when selling software is to make sure your products are all cross promoting each other, and the overall brand of your company.  A great game that reaches a few people allows you to build an audience.  It builds awareness of your studio and gives you a group of people to announce your next game to.  People will start watching to see what you do next.

Nintendo is another great example.  They reuse characters all the time.  How many games has Mario been in?  They build loyalty to those characters, spin them off into different game genres, and build on prior successes.  And then they, too, made their own Avengers mash up with Super Smash Bros.

So while you may get lucky and have that overnight success, you would definitely do well to try to build momentum and have a terrific long term strategy.  The game market is crowded as it is, but luckily its crowded with a lot of players without any sort of strategy.

Gamification: leveraging fun

The term “gamification” has been a hot buzzword in the last few months.  Forbes posted a great article about how Marriott, Deloitte, Aetna and the Department of Defense are all leveraging the gaming craze to reach their own goals in recruitment, training and health & wellness.

In fact, Glowdot is now in production on two projects with major corporate clients that fall squarely into this “gamified” category, and have completed a few similar projects in the past.

There are two things to note about this gamification craze: first, that this is relatively new territory, and second, that the gaming craze I mentioned above really isn’t new at all.

Treading new ground

The idea of reaching decidedly non-gamelike goals using gamelike elements (or even full blown games) is really an emerging concept — at least in the way it is being used today.  There have always been marketing and/or cobranded games which served to drive brand awareness.  Think Tapper in the 80s (the Budweiser and A&E root beer version) or early console games like the Dominos Pizza “Avoid the Noid” game, or the 7up “Cool Spot” game.  There are actually countless examples from the 80s and early 90s, but in each case, the goal was brand awareness and brand loyalty.

With the mobile explosion over the last couple years, along with the immense popularity of gaming on platforms like Facebook, games have been used more for marketing a product rather than just as commercials.  In the past few months, we’ve seen games released ahead of major films and TV shows with the purpose of driving ticket sales or acquiring viewers (“Hunger Games” on iOS, for example).  These efforts have met with tremendous success, to the extent that we are now noticing that almost every marketing campaign has some sort of game (or at the very least, app) component to it.  In many cases, the game or app is the centerpiece of the campaign.

It seems natural that the next step would be harnessing the power of games to engage users in new, more “real world” ways.  But this isn’t as easy as it might seem.

Take, for example, a game which aims to teach employees the proper way to file a long report.  This is a firmly un-fun activity.  A game, on its own, is defined by its fun-ness.  These two concepts are in direct opposition to each other.  If you make the game too fun, you risk failing at your goal to train the employee.  If you make the game to training oriented, you risk making a boring game no one wants to play.  You have to strike a balance.

This is in no way an impossible task.  In fact, internally we’ve developed several concepts that we can apply to almost any business purpose.  The key lies in three stages: finding a partner that understands how to make a fun game, finding a partner that understands the needs of business, and then, most importantly, planning, planning, planning.

The real power of using games this way is that games have the ability to hook in a player and keep them engaged.  They can do this like nothing else I can think of.  A great film can engage a viewer for around 2 hours.  A great book can engage a reader for a couple hours a day, over a couple days or weeks.  But a great game can hook a player for months or even years.  Look at simple games like Farmville or Cityville, or more in-depth experiences like World of Warcraft.  If you can engage a person with a compelling experience, you have their attention and focus, and that really is a powerful jumping off point to teaching, training or educating that user.

As hard as it seems?

So is finding this balance really as hard as it seems?  I think for a truly conscientious game developer, this should be a struggle in any game, not just a gamified application.

We have to balance fun with other, non-fun factors in every game.  We have story and atmosphere to deal with.  We have our own training of sorts, in the form of in-game tutorials and instruction.  And most importantly, we have the monetization issue to deal with.  Each of these factors hinders fun to different degrees.

For example, if we want to drive the story forward, we can halt the game and show a cut scene.  This works, and its used often, but the best story driven games figure out how to drive the story through in-game elements, like dialogue, decision trees, and so on.  Atmosphere (sound, art style, mood, etc) also is a critical part of a great, compelling game.  But the best games make the atmosphere part of the story, rather than a distracting afterthought.  See Limbo for a terrific example.

The player needs to be taught how to play the game.  In the old days, this was handled with a printed manual shipped with the game.  Later breaks from the printed manual included video tutorials, static screens explaining the controls and combos.  But in my opinion, the best games teach you how to play the game while you play the game, through, for example, an initial tutorial level that walks you through the controls while giving you a bit of story and gameplay.  The absolute best examples of this do it seamlessly, where you don’t even feel like you’re being taught — the instructions make sense in the context of the game itself.  Imagine a game about a ninja, where the initial level is the ninja receiving training from his master.  Or a war game where the initial tutorial level takes place in a boot camp.  Or a game about flying that begins in a flight school.

And finally the monetization issue is common in game design.  Any time you ask the player to spend money, the game’s fun disappears.  It is always a difficult balance of giving enough for free to make the player happy, while charging enough to pay the development costs.  The best games blend the two seamlessly to the point where players eagerly pay for in-game stuff.  See FarmVille (or anything by Zynga really) for great examples of this.  In fact, Zynga has essentially created a science of determining when and how to ask the user for money in order to receive the least amount of friction.

And that really is the essence of merging two seemingly opposed goals into one product — marrying the two in such a way that it doesn’t seem forced, while not sacrificing either goal.  In the best possible case, the two goals complement each other — the game is fun because you are learning, and you are learning because it is fun.

So in the end, the challenges that pop up in the design of a “business game” are great, but they aren’t unfamiliar to game developers.  It’s simply a matter of applying decades of game evolution to a new concept, and doing so effectively and smoothly to guarantee a great final product.

Glowdot and Dark Shadows

Glowdot is pleased to announce that we have been contracted by Warner Bros. to develop and interactive experience to promote the upcoming Tim Burton film Dark Shadows, coming May 11.

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The Glowdot Dark Shadows app will release for iPhone/iPod Touch in the Apple App Store and the web (Flash with Facebook integration) sometime in early May, 2012.

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