Game Theory: Q&A with Chris Williams of PlayFirst

Jul 16, 2010
Games

Location: San Francisco, CA Notable Apps: Diner Dash ($2.99) – (iPhone & iPod Touch), Cooking Dash ($2.99) – (iPhone & iPod Touch), Diner Dash: Grilling Green ($4.99) (iPad) Platforms: See above.Specialty Genres: Time ManagementCompany Size: 100 people – 8 of whom work on the iPhone & iPad games. Short Description of Company: PlayFirst is a […]

Location: San Francisco, CA

Notable Apps: Diner Dash ($2.99) – (iPhone & iPod Touch), Cooking Dash ($2.99) – (iPhone & iPod Touch), Diner Dash: Grilling Green ($4.99) (iPad)

Platforms: See above.Specialty Genres: Time ManagementCompany Size: 100 people – 8 of whom work on the iPhone & iPad games.

Short Description of Company: PlayFirst is a leader in engaging interactive entertainment. We publish amazing games for all of your favorite platforms: PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Facebook, and consoles. Our portfolio includes global brands such as Diner Dash® Chocolatier® and Dream Chronicles®. For more information, visit www.playfirst.com.

How did you and your firm get into the iPhone game development business?

PlayFirst is dedicated to delivering our delightful games to our fans wherever they want to play. As such, we launched a port of our Mac version of Diner Dash on iPhone way back in September of 2008 when there were only 800 games in the App Store. We initially charged $9.99 for it and it remained a Top 100 Paid Game for 9 months. However, over time higher quality and more native games started to emerge on the platform and it became clear that porting was the wrong long term strategy. We wanted to give our audience an experience that felt right on the device. In the summer of 2009 we launched a custom made version of Cooking Dash for the iPhone & iPod Touch and it became the #2 overall paid application in the App Store. Since then, we have updated it numerous times and it has rarely ever left the Top 100 Paid Games list. Based on the overwhelming success of Cooking Dash we went back and re-launched a whole new version of Diner Dash in February of 2010. Again, the game rose to #2 in the charts and has remained firmly in the Top 100. We have added a new restaurant for In-App Purchase and continue to update and refine the game.

In your opinion, how has the iPhone and Apple’s iTunes App Store changed the gaming industry?

The App Store was a complete game changer because it gave mobile gamers a frictionless and trusted way of purchasing content for their phones. The iPhone itself offered a standard form factor and development environment for developers. All this was in stark contrast to the previous feature phone ecosystem with thousands mobile devices, numerous operating systems, and complex customer billing through the carriers. Essentially, everything became much simpler. The other important distinction is that through the App Store Apple didn’t just bring gaming to the iPhone, they brought it to the iPod Touch which is a much younger consumer. Through that device they are now a serious competitor to the Nintendo DS with the younger generation of gamers.

Describe the differences between developing games for the iPhone and the iPad.

If you adopt the strategy of developing games that are native to the platform, as PlayFIrst has, then the differences are quite significant. Unfortunately a lot of developers have just chosen to make “HD” versions of their iPhone games on the iPad and use higher resolution visuals on top of the same gameplay. In contrast, when PlayFirst created the iPad launch title Diner Dash: Grilling Green we built around the unique capabilities of the device. We added multi-touch support so you could seat and serve at the same time and then created the Touch Cooker 3000 which was a gesture driven mini-game only possible on the iPad. We also added support for both orientations and then added a 2 player same screen collaborative mode. All of this resulted in Diner Dash: Grilling Green being featured by Apple on the front page of the App Store and being one of the top games at launch.

What factors go into how you ultimately price your games?

Because of our high quality games and respected brands PlayFirst can command a premium price point so we price them between $2.99 and $4.99. We are constantly monitoring the App Store to get a sense of competitive pricing and will sometimes to short promotional sales at $0.99 to drive awareness. Our games offer hours and hours of entertainment and our average session length is over 25 minutes so we feel even at $4.99 the consumer is getting great value.

Describe what your dream game for the iPhone would look like.

My dream game for the iPhone would be one where that blends health and exercise with gaming in a way that is social and collaborative. There are lots of calorie counting, run tracking, and fitness apps but I think if you applied a really fun and delightful gaming structure to some of that functionality and created the concepts of teams, points, and used the GPS in an interesting way you could really motivate people to be a lot healthier and they could have a lot of fun doing it.

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