Young game developer proves the potential of the App Store

Jan 18, 2011
Tech

Here’s why I love mobile gaming right now: Bubble Ball. Not Bubble Ball specifically, although the free physics puzzler isn’t bad — more like what Bubble Ball represents, and that’s an underdog story in which a 14-year-old kid takes the App Store by storm. Robert Nay lives in Spanish Forks, Utah, and created Bubble Ball […]

Here’s why I love mobile gaming right now: Bubble Ball.

Not Bubble Ball specifically, although the free physics puzzler isn’t bad — more like what Bubble Ball represents, and that’s an underdog story in which a 14-year-old kid takes the App Store by storm.

Robert Nay lives in Spanish Forks, Utah, and created Bubble Ball after checking out a book from the local library. He found a free physics engine online and built a simple game that includes 21 levels, touchscreen controls, and an easy premise — create a path to get a ball from one side of the screen to the other.

Bubble Ball isn’t the most original game, or the best physics puzzler on the market. It’s not super-polished or vibrant. But it is free, and it is competent, fun and somewhat challenging, and that was enough to push it to 2 million downloads in just the first two weeks of its existence. It also allowed it to topple the long-standing App Store champion, Angry Birds Free, from the top of the “Free Apps” column.

Nay didn’t charge anything for his game, which is probably why it had so many downloads. But he also created a fairly well-made game, especially for his first attempt, being 14, and having concerns like regular life and school to distract him. He wasn’t some game-building programmer with a salary and an office; he was an inventive kid with a library card.

The App Store, for all its overcrowding and game-clones, does offer one big positive force in the industry of gaming: a level playing field. Anybody can make a game, and if it’s got something to offer, people will download it. As one news cast pointed out, Nay would have earned $2 million if he’d charged only a buck for Bubble Ball. Then again, maybe the game wouldn’t have done as well with a different price tag.

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Either way, Robert Nay and Bubble Ball have bested Rovio Mobile and Angry Birds, and no game and no developer is infallible when it comes to the iPhone.

And that means the traditional big players — Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Capcom, Namco and others — aren’t the only ones who can compete, or the only ones who can make a great game. And smaller developers, as small as one kid and a library card, have a fair shot to make great, innovative games, or find a niche that resonates with players.

For my money, there’s not a sharper cutting edge in gaming right now than what’s going on in the App Store. A low cost of entry and the potential for high returns make it a great place for developers to stretch their legs and make great new stuff. Best of all — we get to play it.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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