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App Store Insiders: Jason Citron, Founder of OpenFeint, Hammer & Chisel

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 11th, 2013

Jason Citron is, without a doubt, a visionary when it comes to the App Store. His first game, along with then business partner Danielle Cassley, Aurora Feint launched with the App Store on July 10, 2008. It was, at the time, a quite ambitious game with graphics and compelling gameplay that outclassed many of the so-called larger games released at the time. Aurora Feint was the first review we posted here on 148Apps, and an early consumer favorite, reaching over one million users in the first nine months.

Aurora Feint integrated game-wide top player lists and some social interaction, also unseen at the time. Other developers were clamoring for those social gaming network features included in the game, simple as they were initially. That led to the launch of OpenFeint in early 2009. During it's three year run under Jason Citron, OpenFeint reached a total of 120 million players through integration with 7,000 games. OpenFeint was sold to Japan-based mobile gaming giant GREE in 2011 for $104 million. Jason left the company shortly after that. GREE closed down OpenFeint in 2012 when the company changed direction.

Jason Citron has taken all of his experience and his wish of creating a core gaming audience on the iPad and recently founded his next company Hammer & Chisel. Developing a MOBA type game, Fates Forever for the iPad is their first announced game.

Let's talk a bit to Jason about his experience in these past five years with the App Store.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed your professional life?

Jason Citron, Founder of Open Feint, Hammer & Chisel: Entirely! The year before the App Store was a really pivotal year in my life. I had quit the console games industry to attempt to start my own company. This was the time of "Web 2.0" sites. Facebook had just opened up their application platform. So I was working on these various website ideas that had elements of games in them. Fortunately, they weren't doing so well and I switched to building an iPhone game. That project shipped and eventually morphed into OpenFeint, which was a success beyond my wildest dreams. Having the opportunity to build and run a company that employed 100 people and had such a big market footprint was incredibly humbling and educational. I compare the experience to a trial by fire Business School. Now, I'm taking all those learnings and applying them to start Hammer & Chisel, my new gaming company.

They say that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I suppose I was prepared to start a company and the App Store turned out to be the perfect opportunity. Lucky :-)

148Apps: You were first on the App Store with the original Aurora Feint. What was it like developing for the App Store back then?

Jason Citron: I actually started developing for iPhone before the official SDK was even announced. It was using this unofficial iPhone OS programming toolchain. I worked on some prototypes for a couple of months. One was a multiplayer fighting game that used the wolverine character sprite from Marvel Vs. Capcom! When Apple released the real SDK I had this hunch that the App Store would be like a new console launch: the few games "on the shelf" on day 1 would get a ton of customers. So I got a bit more serious and teamed up with my cofounder to start on Aurora Feint. We ended up building that game in just under 3 months. It involved a lot of all nighters, sleeping in the corners of the office, and general insanity. We submitted to Apple the day before the App Store opened and got approved as one of 400 launch apps.

I actually have a distinct memory of waking up the morning the App Store opened. At 10am it was supposed to "turn on" so people could start downloading apps. I had our database open and kept hitting refresh to see if any players had launched the game. I was expected to get like 100 users in the first week. We ended up with something like 1,000 in the first hour. It was shocking. So began the crazy ride of the App Store.

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence your path five years ago, what would you say?

Jason Citron: Honestly, the whole last five years was so rewarding for me that I don't think I would change anything. But, I suppose if I had to pick something, I think we should have made Aurora Feint use a respectful free to play monetization scheme. We had priced the first game at free and got a LOT of players. The second one we priced at $7.99 hoping to "upsell" people. We found out that first Christmas that $0.99 was the most successful price point for paid games. That failure led us to quickly pivot the company to the OpenFeint idea.

Like I said, not sure I would really change anything :-) 

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of apps published by
you, that has surprised you most?

Jason Citron: I expected very different kinds of applications to be popular on the iPhone, as opposed to say the PC Web. It turns out that almost every successful iPhone App has been a reinterpretation or straight up clone of a PC product but with a modern twist. For example, instagram is really just "flickr on the iPhone." The popular F2P sim games are all mostly the same as the Facebook games that came before them. Etc. This isn't to be disrespectful to any of those apps. Many of them are awesome. But I was surprised at this. I've since long changed my opinion on what that means for starting new businesses on new platforms.

148Apps: Any predictions on what the App Store will be like five years from now?

Jason Citron: Ahh predictions. Five years is a long time. Honestly I have no idea. If I had to wager a guess, not much will change. There will be many more customers. The economy will be bigger. There will be new waves of apps that have come and gone. Tablets will be much more significant then they are now. You'll have human beings who literally don't know what corded phone is. Who've never used a normal PC. Their expectations of what apps do for them will most certainly be different. 

These days we tend to overestimate how much technology will change in 3 years but underestimate how much it will change in 10. Five years is comfortably in the middle.

Thanks very much to Jason Citron for his time.

This Week at 148Apps: November 19-23

Posted by Chris Kirby on November 26th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

This week at 148Apps.com, we turkey trotted our way into Thanksgiving and the holiday season with a tremendous list of apps for sale, courtesy of site founder Jeff Scott: "Black Friday is the biggest sale day of the year for the big box stores. And the same is true for the App Store. But the good thing about the App Store is there’s virtually 0% chance of getting trampled while trying to get that $39 laptop everyone is racing for.

This week and into Monday we’ll likely see hundreds of iOS games and apps on sale at some really great prices. We’ll be updating this post frequently through Monday with the best of the sale apps and games."

Want to know more? Read our full Price Drop list at 148Apps.

The holiday spirit continued at GiggleApps.com, with Amy Solomon's review of Wombi Toys: "Wombi Toys – a toy workshop for kids is a new interactive app that my son is really enjoying.

My son always get so much out of immersive role-playing apps, be it mini-games or more open-ended adventures which allow my son to cook for animals, plant a garden, pretend to be a doctor, fix a car or play tea party.

For those parents who know exactly the genre of app I am talking about, it is worth getting to know Wombi, a Swedish developer with a wonderful sense of style.

They have developed a series of really fun jigsaw puzzles of different themes and other apps that I have also enjoyed, so I was super-excited for the release of Wombi Toys – a toy workshop for kids which allows children to play toy-themed mini-games, building or fixing a very nice variety of toys such as wind-up car, painting alphabet blocks or using a hand pump to inflate a ball as each of these games are cute and fun, tactile as well as intuitive."

Get your child into the toy workshop and read Amy's full review at GiggleApps.

Finally, AndroidRundown.com writer Carter Dotson shared some unfortunate news: One of the biggest names of the early days of touchscreen mobile gaming is about to finally fade away: parent company GREE is shutting down OpenFeint, effective in December.

OpenFeint may not be as fondly remembered on Android as it is on iOS. It was the first real service to provide leaderboards and achievements, a much-desired feature. However, the platform failed to expand upon that core functionality once Game Center kicked in and became ubiquitous; while features like cloud saves were implemented by OpenFeint (and seen in games like INC which provided cross-platform saves) they never took off with developers or the public. However, the service was still purchased by GREE, and has been languishing recently as it transitions in to the GREE Platform."

Read Carter's full report on AndroidRundown.

And, as the tryptophan kicks in, we bid you a fond adieu this week. But make sure you keep track of all the latest sales, contests, reviews and news items by following us on Twitter and Facebook. See you next week. Gobble gobble.

This Week at 148Apps: April 30-May 4

Posted by Chris Kirby on May 6th, 2012

Bienvenidos! This week at 148Apps.com we started our Cinco de Mayo celebrations early with a special "Favorite Four" apps review from Kevin Stout. Along with several foodie apps, Stout writes, "It can’t hurt to brush up on the history of Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo: The Battle of Puebla provides users with a detailed video on both the Battle of Puebla, the military victory that led to the traditional celebration on May 5th, and the history of the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The videos include accompanying text for users impatient users that want to read ahead. The app also includes two games, a quiz and a paint game, that can be unlocked for an in-app purchase of $0.99. But the app is free and so are both videos."

Read about all of Kevin's picks at 148Apps.com.

Amy Solomon, over at GiggleApps, writes in her review of Bean Bag Kids Present Pinocchio that, "This app, as the name implies, is a retelling of the classic story of Pinocchio, about a puppet carved from wood by a lonely wood carver who wishes that one day this puppet could become a real boy. Here each actor is played by a bean bag dressed in costume as this application is styled as a live performance that one is watching, complete with red velvet curtain and other theatre details. The adaptation of this story is very nicely done, including the use of excellent narration, as is the choice to underline the text as the words are being spoken – a very nice touch that will aid young readers in following along as these words are being read."

Read all of Amy's review at GiggleApps.com.

Finally, 148Apps.biz site founder Jeff Scott writes about the latest project from OpenFeint founder Jason Citron, saying, "Jason Citron, founder of Aurora Feint / Open Feint, which sold to Japan based social games company GREE recently for $104M, just announced his new mobile games-based startup, Phoenix Guild.

Phoenix Guild will be focused on creating multiplayer games in a post-PC world. Think MMOs on your iPhone and iPad. He plans on focusing on games that would appeal to core gamers. Sounds like just what we need in a world that has nearly reached the saturation point with variations on Farmville."

Read more about Phoenix Guild on 148Apps.biz.

The week may have ended, but there's more content to come from 148Apps. Just follow us on Twitter or Like us on Facebook to keep track of the latest news, reviews and contests. Until next week, keep your Avengers assembling!

Naoki Aoyagi Named CEO of OpenFeint

Posted by Rob LeFebvre on September 14th, 2011

In a surprise (to us) news release today, OpenFeint announced that Naoki Aoyagi has been named as CEO of the company. Mr. Aoyagi comes from parent company GREE, where he has worked since 2006. The press release points to nearly ten years of experience in financial operations and management in the tech sector.

“In just over 24 months, OpenFeint has grown to over 120 million users across 7,000 games. I thank Jason for his leadership growing the company and wish him well in his new adventures,” said Naoki Aoyagi, CEO of OpenFeint. “I’m excited to lead OpenFeint through its next phase of growth.”

In comments contained in the email accompanying the press release, OpenFeint mentioned that co-founder Jason Citron would be stepping down from his current role as CEO to pursue other interests, though no mention was made concerning whether he might be retained as a consultant. The email also said that current OpenFeint executives are currently unavailable to speak to the press at this time. No mention was made of an interim period, either, a typical step in transitioning between CEOs at many companies.

OpenFeint, part of GREE, Inc, reports over 120 million registered users playing 7,000 games across mobile platforms like iOS and Android. The companies plan to announce new integration plans within the next few weeks.

Waterslide 2 Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Danyel Rios on August 15th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: SPLASHY
Have some slick summer fun will while watersliding in urban landscapes, picking up pearls and avoiding obstacles.
Read The Full Review »

Hospital Havoc 2 Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Danyel Rios on August 15th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: SANATORIUM PANDEMONIUM
Fast-paced, quirky, whacked out and fun; control freaks and chaos lovers alike will find something to love in this role playing trip to the ER.
Read The Full Review »

Grinder Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Danyel Rios on July 26th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: ENDLESS CHALLENGE
A never ending challenge in hand/eye coordination. Grinder is unlike any dual stick game out there.
Read The Full Review »

Sonic Races Onto OpenFeint This Summer

Posted by Blake Grundman on June 6th, 2011

Other than major console mascots like Master Chief and Mario, there are few animated characters that hold quite as much weight and blindly ravenous fan support as Sonic the Hedgehog.  Though we are long past the days of Sega Genesis and Dreamcast, the blue tinted blur still maintains the love and affection of the masses in the industry, so it is big news when they announce that not only is Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing coming to the iOS, but they are partnering with OpenFeint to make it all possible.

But why would Sega shun the world of GameCenter, when it is the most readily available among the iOS consumer base, you ask?  The answer is simple: Cross Platform Connectivity.

"Cross platform mobile social gaming is a major goal of SEGA and we believe Sonic will continue to entertain and inspire consumers while on the go.  OpenFeint offers a great platform to launch games on, whether it be through access to their enormous player community or the use of great cross-promotional features like developer announcements." -- Haruki Satomi, Vice President of Digital Business at SEGA.

What this means is that not only will the multiplayer of Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing be a parallel of its console counterparts, but it will also allow you to play against audiences on competing platforms, like possibly Android.  While we have no official confirmation of that, the comment above would certainly lead one to believe it to be true.

From a developer's perspective however, this would be a godsend, because not only would cross-platform play increase the player base immensely, but it will also allow changes to be made at the server level for portions of the multiplayer, without forcing the users to download an update to the actual client game.  This will be a big step forward that could lead to a greatly improved user experience.

Stay tuned, because we will have more hands-on impressions of the game while we troll the show floor at E3, next week.

Glo Flo Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Jennifer Allen on May 10th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: SIMPLE BUT FUN
Glo Flo is a puzzle game based all around guiding glow-worms to each other
Read The Full Review »

This Week at 148Apps: April 18-22

Posted by Kyle Flanigan on April 25th, 2011

This week, April 17-24, Japanese company GREE announced a $104 million acquisition of OpenFeint, the social gaming network that operates similarly to Apple Game Center. For consumers, this meanss "faster SDK updates, awesome new products, and network improvements" (official press release). 148Apps Founder Jeff Scott comments "this acquisition seems to be a win for both parties and will allow OpenFeint to continue to do the great work that they do while letting GREE better benefit from that."

In other news, Final Fantasy users can rejoice with gladness, for the third instalment of the popular game is now available to download natively on the iPad. "The iPad version of the game features improved 3D visuals and the touch screen controls have been adjusted specifically for the iPad" writes Phillip Levin. "Today, many consider Final Fantasy III to be one of the greatest RPGs of all time." Follow the link below to get stuck in.

You Don't Know Jack picked up the latest Editor's Choice badge at 148Apps. The comical application that tests how smart you really are, by asking you inquisitive questions designed to question what you've perhaps always thought to be true. "Simply put, You Don’t Know Jack is the kind of experience that not only stretches the mind with challenge, but inversely massages it with humor to ease the blow of defeat" writes Blake Grundman. "Buy it for that know-it-all in your life, because sometimes it is just too much fun to see a person put in their place. Rest assured that it will be fun for all parties involved."

You may remember in last week's column that I mentioned Tweetbot, the new and exciting application designed to challenge the official Twitter app. Since then, Jeff Scott has taken it for an in-depth test drive and is suitably impressed. "Tweetbot does everything you’d expect a Twitter client to do ... [and] has a few great unique features aimed mainly at saving you some time [like new gestures]." Although it isn't perfect, with some animation lag and lack of response at times, Jeff has "been using Tweetbot exclusively on [his] iPhone for almost a week now. Now this review is done, [he] will stick with it."

Episode 81 of The Portable Podcast is available to download, featuring guests Dave Castelnuovo from Bolt Creative. Host Carter Dotson and Dave discuss the mobile industry and the questionable freemium price model that some developers have scrapped in favour of traditional pricing models.

That's all for this week! 148Apps wishes you a happy spring holiday of your choosing, and we encourage you to check back frequently for the latest reviews and news when it comes to iOS and your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. See you soon!

MotoTrialz Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Carter Dotson on March 30th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: TRY IT OUT
MotoTrialz puts you on a motorbike, trying to race through 27 obstacle-filled levels.
Read The Full Review »

OpenFeint Launches Game Channel, Features Group Sales

Posted by Brad Hilderbrand on December 17th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

OpenFeint has just announced its newest iOS venture, Game Channel. The new service promises to offer lots of great features, including a free game of the day spotlight that will help users discover great free apps they might have otherwise missed. The main draw of Game Channel though is going to be Fire Sale, a new service which is taking the Groupon model of group sales and bringing it to iOS.

According to OpenFeint, Fire Sale will present a premium app that is going on sale every week. Much like Groupon, users who are interested in buying the game at a discounted price can vote, and when enough votes are reached the price will drop. Fire Sale will then send out a push notification to everyone who voted on the app, letting them know the title is available at a discount. The first game going on sale is Jaws from Bytemark Games, and users can start voting on the title on December 17 at 12:01 am PST.

“We have a motivated community that has proven time and again that they’ll come back for great deals. This happens every day with Free Game of the Day,” says Jason Citron, CEO of OpenFeint. “Fire Sale is a truly social, community-based promotion, that is a perfect way for game developers to get their games downloaded.”

So how well will this new feature go over? That largely depends on the quality of apps offered and how deep the discounts go. For instance, Jaws is currently available for $2.99 and will drop to $0.99, is that good enough for consumers? Of course, the price can't go much lower than that so the quality of the game will likely play a major factor in many potential buyers' decisions.

We'll also have to keep an eye out on which publishers opt to support the program, as that will be a big determining factor. If OpenFeint can convince major players like Chillingo/EA, Namco and Gameloft to come aboard then things should go very well, but if the big companies decide to sit this one out then the appeal of Fire Sale may be quite limited. In any case, it will be very interesting to see if this group sale model can catch on for iOS. Could it be possible that we're witnessing a revolution in digital distribution?

Push Panic Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on November 23rd, 2010
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: ADDICTIVE
Push Panic offers frantic, match three style fun that's worth losing sleep over
Read The Full Review »

The Portable Podcast, Episode 50: An Interview with OpenFeint's Jason Citron About The Future of OpenFeint

Posted by Carter Dotson on September 15th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

On This Episode:

OpenFeint currently stands at a crossroads - with Apple taking on OpenFeint in the metagaming space on iOS, they find themselves trying to remain relevant in the long-term. And as of today, it appears as if OpenFeint is looking beyond iOS for the future of their products. Today, OpenFeint is announcing that they are launching their service and Feint Spotlight app for the Android Marketplace, along with launch month titles such as Fruit Ninja from Halfbrick, MiniSquadron from MrFungFung, Flick Kick Football from PikPok, and Mega Jump from Get Set Games.

The CEO of OpenFeint, Jason Citron, was kind enough to sit down and speak with me about this announcement and what OpenFeint is doing in the future on iOS. According to Jason, OpenFeint's goal is to unify the various platforms - for people to be able to play games with their friends on other phones, to bridge the gap between the various hardware that people have. As well as their future on Android, OpenFeint is launching tools for developers to let their OpenFeint scoring and achievement systems work with Game Center easily while still taking advantage of OpenFeint features that Game Center does not provide, such as replays, asynchronous multiplayer services, and the upcoming voice chat feature PlayTime, launching with OpenFeint 3.0.

Jason Citron spoke at length with me on the new episode of The Portable Podcast to discuss what they're doing on Android, the challenges that Android's various devices bring, and the perception of the Android market versus the reality of the situation. On the iOS side, we talk about how Game Center and OpenFeint can coexist (including Jason recommending that developers take advantage of Game Center), and how iOS fits in the future of OpenFeint.

Who Are We:

  • Host: Carter Dotson
  • Guest: Jason Citron, OpenFeint

  • Music:

  • "Beatnes7 (Theme to The Portable Podcast)" by The Eternal - Download on iTunes here:

  • "Nanocarp" by The Eternal

  • How to Listen:

  • Click Here to Subscribe in iTunes:
  • Click Here to Subscribe via RSS.

  • Listen on WRGT Radio every Friday at 4pm Central
  • Listen Here: [powerpress]

  • Apps Mentioned on This Episode:

    OpenFeint Now Available on Android - Cross Platform Competition Coming Soon!

    Posted by Jeff Scott on September 15th, 2010

    OpenFeint announced today that their social gaming network SDK has been released for Android developers. They have also announced some heavy hitting iPhone games that have been ported to Android and will be out this month. In addition, they will be working with game developers to help promote the best games that utilize their SDK both to consumers and to carriers.

    OpenFeint is the leader in social gaming networks for the iOS platform with over 28 million users. They hope to bring this kind of success to the Android platform by releasing their SDK at the same time as a slew of iOS games that support OpenFeint are ported over. Time will tell if it will take off on Android like it has on iOS, but the launch is really strong.

    Read the full article over at network site AndroidRundown »