Sarah Thomson says her relationship with Apple’s App Store has certainly had its ups and downs. Born in Toronto, the 36-year-old North Vancouver resident is the director of business development for IUGO Mobile Entertainment.
IUGO has released 15 titles for the iPhone, of which the most popular is Implode. In April, when the iPad came out in the U.S., the independent mobile-game studio was ready with four iPad-optimized titles—Cliffed XL, Escape: Norm’s World XL, Implode XL, and Zombie Attack: Second Wave XL. According to Thomson, the free and paid versions of its games in the App Store have been downloaded a total of about 3.5 million times.
Thomson joined IUGO in 2007, after founding Tattoodles, a tattoo community site, in 2001 with her husband. She is scheduled to speak about mobile games at the Casual Connect Seattle conference, which will take place from July 20 to 22.
The Georgia Straight reached Thomson by phone at the IUGO office in Yaletown.
What do you do at IUGO?
I’m the director of business development. That’s my official title. But, being a small company, I wear many hats. So, I do everything from business development to all of the marketing, the promotions, media relations, public relations. I also have a hand in product development, merchandising, just sort of day-to-day company direction, spokesperson—so kind of a bunch of stuff.
How are your iPad games different than the iPhone versions?
Well, we actually really wanted to take advantage of the fact that the iPad is quite different, particularly with the obvious things, like the form factor and the multi-touch. So, we really exploited that and actually built in some really cool, specialized features just for the iPad.
So, Zombie Attack, Cliffed, and Escape, we have multiplayer modes on the same device. So, you can have two people play. A couple of them have co-op modes, where you’re actually playing together. There’s also two games that have head-to-head mode, where you’re playing competitively. So, that’s sort of the biggest thing that we added in.
With Implode, we actually added in a level editor, so users could create their own levels—custom levels. They could actually post that in the cloud and share that with all iDevice users. So, even if you had an iPhone, you could pull down a level—and play it—that another user had created. So, that was pretty cool. Then we just pumped up the graphics, made it look really pretty—really took advantage of the bigger screen.
What have been the major challenges your company has faced in the dealing with Apple’s App Store?
Well, we’ve had a range of really good things and not-so-good things happen. I think probably most developers can share a similar experience. We actually have a really close relationship with Apple. We work with them quite a bit. They use our games for marketing purposes. On demo devices, they feature our games—things like that.
But, on the flip side of that, we’ve had issues with some of our games sitting in the review queue for a while, and just the lack of communication can be frustrating sometimes. But that’s, I think, just the nature of Apple. Yeah, other than that, actually, I think more good things have happened than bad things to us with Apple.
Why was Daisy Mae’s Alien Buffet pulled from the App Store back in February?
That’s a great question. I wish I knew. We were never told—so back to that lack-of-communication thing. They suddenly pulled it. My guess is that they were in that frenzy of culling the App Store for the sexy content, and Daisy Mae was just an innocent bystander and got pulled by maybe an overzealous reviewer in the review department.
I actually wrote in a letter of complaint. Then, the next day, magically she reappeared. So, she was only actually off the store for not even three days—about two days. So, it was brief.
Did that help Daisy Mae’s sales?
Briefly. I think, after it went back up, we actually saw a bit of a surge for a couple days. Then it levelled off.
What are your thoughts on why some of your iPhone games have been successful and others haven’t?
You know, I think it’s a combination. I think, first and foremost, we nail the user experience. We nail the quality, and that’s something that we never compromise on. So, we really have positioned ourselves as a premium indie developer. I think that combined with Apple’s support initially—Apple being able to feature our content and bring us that exposure—because otherwise it’s virtually impossible, considering we’re working with unknown IP. That’s definitely a big challenge. It becomes more of a challenge as each day passes, especially with the amount of content that’s on the App Store.
I think that, because of all that great exposure and the kudos that followed with users and critics really backing our content, we actually really have a loyal following for IUGO content. We’ve actually been able to build the brand as a whole. That’s allowed us to really carve out a nice, little niche on the App Store and has allowed us to be one of the few sort of mid-size companies that have done well on the App Store.
What’s next for the company?
We have a pretty big project underway. We’re definitely wanting to move full-fledged into the social-gaming space. I think you’re going to see a lot of socially driven apps come out from IUGO over the next year or so. So, we’re very excited to sort of push the envelope on that.
We think there’s lots of room to do cool stuff, and it’s just so inherent to mobile gaming. The phone is a social device, and why wouldn’t you want to tie your gaming into that? So, I think we’ve got lots of really cool ideas with that. I think we’re just going to continue to pump out our own really great IP, as well as working with outside partners on projects as well. So, we’ll have that balance.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.