We recently ran into Barry Dorf, Senior Director of Third Party for DeNA, previously ngmoco:). Dorf mentioned that we just might be surprised what we saw in the App Store this week. And surprised we are indeed. The ngmoco:) classic iOS game Topple 2 is getting re-released!
You may or may not remember ngmoco:), so a little history first. ngmoco:) was the first game development studio set up purely for iOS game development. Heavily funded by the iFund, and founded by industry veteran Neil Young, ngmoco:) was a studio created before its time. Unfortunately, its games were critical successes, but relative sales failures. This was when the market was considerably smaller and focused only on paid games. ngmoco:) tried to make the switch to free to play games with Rolando 2–the first game to take advantage of in-app purchases on iOS. But that was not enough to make the ngmoco:) model a success. In came DeNA from Japan, looking for a US foothold. ngmoco:) was the perfect fit and was absorbed into the company. Initially ngmoco:)/DeNA US released a few games that did well, but not amazing. These were great games, now pulled from the App Store like GodFinger, We Rule, etc. Those have all been archived. Recently the majority of the games released by DeNA in the US have been English versions of games popular in Japan. Rage of Bahamut is an example of an extremely successful import. In my opinion, these are less interesting games, but obviously money makers.
Topple 2 is the now-classic block stacking game first released by ngmoco:) way back in what could be considered the golden age of iOS gaming. All of the early games from ngmoco:) were interesting, designed well, unique, and all sported a very touch-centric control scheme. But these early games are, if nothing else, a huge part of the short history of gaming on iOS. So it’s great to think for a moment that those classics may be updated and re-released for modern iOS devices and playable by the now 400+ million iOS gamers. An iPad version of Star Defense or Rolando would also be amazing.
We spoke with Barry Dorf about the updated classics.
148Apps: So, Topple 2 is coming back?! That’s fantastic. What lead to it being revived from the archive?
Barry Dorf: At DeNA we always strive to delight consumers. We saw an opportunity to bring back Topple 2 from the archives and provide fans a fun gameplay experience while also introducing new players to the game.
148Apps: ngmoco:) has some fantastic games in the portfolio. Some of the first big iOS games from 2009-10. I would even argue that the ngmoco:) games were ahead of their time and that could be why they didn’t make amazing amounts of money. We’d love to see more of them come back, updated for the new screen sizes and for the iPad. Any chance we’ll see Star Defense, Rolando, Dropship or any of the other classics too?
Barry: How come you didn’t mention MazeFinger and Dr. Awesome?
DeNA’s portfolio of games is pretty amazing. We’re going to wait and see how Topple 2 does before we consider reviving more titles. We encourage everyone to download Topple 2 and give us a reason to revisit bringing back other games.
So there you have it, the classics may live on. Hopefully we will all enjoy this updated game from the early days of iOS gaming. Let us know–do you think it was a game before its time, or does it seem dated now? What other ngmoco:) classics would you like to see come back?
Take a look at this video of the original Topple 2 trailer. We’ll let you know when Topple 2 hits the App Store; it could be as early as today.
Rolando signifies a different time in the App Store. Back when the first 2 Rolando games came out, the App Store was still a tremendously young and unproven gaming platform, and the first Rolando game was a testament to how the platform could truly stand out for gaming, combining tilt controls and touch screen controls for a unique experience. The sequel, released 7 months later, brought more Rolandos, new gameplay elements, a new level progression mechanic, and just more of the same great elements that made the first Rolando so wonderful. But ever since then, things have changed. Publisher ngmoco:) has moved away from the traditional app distribution model and into freemium apps. The apps haven’t been updated since the fall of 2009, so you would be forgiven for thinking that they were lost to history, interesting games that would be mentioned by longtime hardcore iOS gamers only.
Then, all of a sudden, developer Handcircus Games shocked the iOS world by releasing updates for both Rolando and Rolando 2. The key feature of these updates is support for the Retina Display of the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G. These games looked gorgeous back in the day on the old 480×320 screens of the old iPhones and iPod touches, but now the game really gets to shine on the higher-resolution Retina Display devices. The apps now require iOS 4 to play, but they do not appear to support multitasking or fast-app switching. 2 other minor fixes have been introduced in the updates as well: Plus+ registration is now optional and a save corruption bug has been fixed in both Rolando games.
These games were great back in the days when Retina Displays were just wild ideas, when AT&T was the only carrier we could ever hope to get an iPhone on, and well before technology like the Unreal Engine could even be fathomed running on an iOS device – heck, this was even back when the OS was still called the iPhone OS. These games still shine to this day, especially as they’re still like little else on the App Store, and they’re now on sale for $0.99. Especially as they now have been modernized for the latest iPhones and iPod touches, there’s little reason to not check these games out now, not just as history lessons for iOS gaming, but as great games that look and play as great as ever.
We have known for a long time that the iPhone was far beyond just just a viable gaming platform, it was the future. One of the biggest examples of that to date has gone down this morning, with Ngmocoannouncing their purchase by Japanese gaming company DeNA for a staggering 400 million dollars.
Ngmoco, best known for their early successes like the critically acclaimed Rolando, has recently embraced the social gaming space, releasing games such as their “We” series including We Rule, We City and We Farm. While these were viewed as a departure from some of their back catalog, they were more appealing to an organization like DeNA, which has made their fortune developing social games focused on a Japanese market.
Though DeNA does very little business in the west, the New York Times reports that the company managed to rake in $640 million in 2009 alone and are (without this recent acquisition considered in the equation) on pace to earn a projected $1.5 billion in 2014. Their big hit, Mobage Town, is a traditional social networking structure that earns most of its income from clothing and accessory purchases for in-game avatars. Plus, as a point of comparison, it is also reported that compared to Facebook’s 500 million user accounts, DeNA paltry 20.5 million accounts record an amazing 25-to-1 return on income per user.
It is being reported by Mobile-ent.biz that plans are in place for DeNA to integrate Mobage Town into Ngmoco’s Plus+ community, to further expand the reach of their empire into the mobile space. This now pits the companies head to head with US-based Zynga and their numerous Facebook and recently expanded portable social gaming presence.
Once again speaking with the New York Times, CEO of DeNA, Tomoko Namba was quoted as saying:
“We’re only active in the Japanese market, and we haven’t figured out how to cover the Western market. We want to enable developers to go cross-device, and to go cross-border. And we need this to happen quickly, in about the next one or two years.”
If expansions into western markets is the aim of this acquisition, this may be a great chance to finally see that be successful to its full potential. Plus, when you consider that Ngmoco’s Plus+ platform recently expanded to the Android as well, DeNA is now primed to be accessible on virtually every modern handset available in North America. Now the question remains what will be left of Ngmoco after this take-over is complete? We just hope that they will be able to keep making the games that we have grown to know and love.
Most importantly, this monumental purchase validates the assertion that there is quite a bit of money to be made in the iOS development world. We are no longer the minor leagues of game development, because with money like that being thrown around, soon everyone is going to want a piece of the action.
With the announcement last week that Apple would allow In-App Purchasing (IAP) for free apps, we wondered what will really change in the App Store. Obviously right now this is a theoretical exercise as, so far, very little has changed. We’ve seen a couple apps that were previously paid switch to free, and at least one high profile app released as free with IAP.
We talked to a few users and a few developers to get their take on what this could mean for the future of the iPhone App Store.
This new app type, free but with In-App Purchasing has quickly been nicknamed free+. There are some really great things about it, and some really bad things about it. Let’s break this down into what’s good and what’s bad for developers and consumers.
Good for Developers
There are lots of really good things to like about this decision for developers and they are almost uniformly happy with the decision. We asked Kyu Lee of Gamevil for his thoughts, “In-app purchasing for free apps is a huge step for Apple, and it really shows how much they are willing to adjust to the developers/publishers needs. Apple was first to adopt in-app purchases, and now first to adopt in-app purchases for free games. We strongly believe the next steps would be introducing microtransactions that are lower than 99c or the ability to use an intermediate currency within the game. We believe that Apple should provide as many options available to the developer/publisher as possible as long as it enhances the customer’s experience, and we’re very excited about what the tracks they’ve been following so far.”
For some types of apps it makes the developers job a lot easier and potentially more profitable. Then there’s the added bonus of making piracy much harder with apps that include in-app purchasing.
More Income Options
With in-app purchasing there are many more income possibilities for developers. Not only can they sell expansions to their app from within the app, but they can also sell subscriptions, upgrades, and virtual goods (think MMO apps). Doing in-app purchasing allows for the impulse buy. For example, the recently detailed Eliminate from ngmoco:) will feature a certain amount of time you can play per day while advancing your stats. If you are really getting into the game and you run out of time you are pretty likely to drop a buck and buy more time. Maybe just once, maybe a few times. Depends on how compelling the app is. Think of this as the candy racks at the grocery store checkout. You are standing there looking at it, a certain number of people will decide to buy.
In addition to more options, income opportunity is spread out for a much longer time. The way it is now most apps that make it to the top 100 do so quickly, then fall off quickly. This little spike represents a very high percentage of their sales. Sales after that are usually tied to an upgrade, press, or other such promotion. IAP allows for longer term income opportunities for developers as they can add content to the app and charge for it over a longer period of time. In addition, you can continue to get money from the dedicated users more than just once like most current apps. Continue reading Thoughts on In-App-Purchasing For Free Apps »
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Posted July 4th, 2009 by Will Our Rating: :: THE BEST
Rolando 2 manages to surpass even its legendary predecessor with more exciting graphics and an added element of pizzaz that was lacking in the first. $9.99 is a small price to pay for a game of this caliber.
Yesterday we reported on a plan by ngmoco:) to remove Rolando from the iTunes App Store once Rolando 2 had been released. Today, I spoke today with Clive Downie, VP of Marketing from ngmoco:) and we’ve got some good news for Rolando fans.
After reading our article and others relating to the proposed plan to pull Rolando from the iTunes App Store and the response from consumers, ngmoco:) have decided to rescind the plan to remove Rolando. Rolondo will remain on the iTunes App Store and Topple, the original, will be coming back as well.
To understand why this all happened and why the plan was hatched in the first place, it’s important to understand the climate that publishers on the iTunes App Store are currently working in.
The App Store is a whole new environment in which to run a software business. Apple has full reigns over what’s allowed and how you can operate. That’s great for Apple, their app store, and their devices. But it’s non-standard in the software world and not so great for publishers. It’s particularly difficult considering that Apple does not publish full guidelines on what is and isn’t allowed and has even been known to change it’s mind without telling anyone.
Then there is the sheer volume of new apps launched every day in the app store. Currently the app store is averaging over 300 new apps in the store every single day. That’s more new titles per day than most platforms see in a year. Just a staggering number.
At this point, the app store is less than a year old and has had over 57,000 apps approved. Some of the standard practices of marketing software just don’t apply to a volatile and chaotic market such as this. Trying new things, finding what works amid the chaos is the key. That’s what ngmoco:) is doing.
For ngmoco:) the question was become how do they best launch a sequel in the iTunes App Store. There’s very little history on how to do that. One method they wanted to test was to remove the prequel to see what impact that would have on the launch of Rolando 2. What happens if you launch an episodic title into the app store without the predecessor there. It was learning they thought was worth doing.
That was the plan, until they started hearing from consumers. Consumers didn’t like the idea of it. It can be a big concern to a user who has purchased a copy protected digital file when they discover they may not be able to download it again if something happens to their copy. Since all that was really purchased was a bunch of bits, if it’s no longer available, it can seem to the consumer like you’ve lost your purchase.
What the consumers said was the they didn’t care about the test, they want their Rolando and Topple to remain safe. That’s what ngmoco:) have decided to do.
So due to the consumer feedback, Rolando will stay in the store and we will see Topple return soon as well. Since Apple provides no way for customers of the apps, people who have already paid for the app, to get it any other way than for the app to be live in the store, this is what’s required.
I think we can call that a lesson learned. But maybe not the lesson they were looking for.
Mr. Downie made it clear that ngmoco:) will continue to test the market, figure out ways to best navigate the turbulent seas of the app store. In addition, they will continue to innovate, as they remain laser focused on developing the best games for the iPhone OS platform.
As a closing thought, Mr. Downie wanted to remind us all that after the dust has settled over this Rolando issue to remember that Rolando 2 is coming out really soon and it looks fantastic. He’s right about that — we got a chance to see it recently in it’s nearly complete form. It’s looking very impressive.
When we asked if the release date was still July 1st, his response was “let’s hope so.”
When the release date of Rolando 2 was announced, ngmoco:) also indicated that Rolando, the original, was going to be pulled from the app store when the sequel goes live. It’s an odd move, very smart, and yet wrong at the same time.
I recently asked Neil Young, CEO of ngmoco:), why the original Topple was no longer in the App Store, his comment was “We pulled it, trying something.” Short response and at the time I didn’t think much of it. I assumed they were planning on trying some new marketing technique with it. Turns out they were testing a fundamental business idea in preparation for the Rolando 2 release. Something new, something that really may change the way we think of games in the app store. Apps aren’t forever anymore.
According to our App Store database, Rolando was released originally on December 8, 2008. That effectively puts the lifespan of the original Rolando at 7 months. Is that really all the life Rolando has left in it? I doubt it. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be pulled from the app store when Rolando 2 is released.
While Rolando is their product and they have the absolute right to do with it what they choose, pulling it just doesn’t feel right. Something about the spirit seems wrong. They aren’t doing anything odd with the price to rise up the charts and increase the price to ride the higher exposure as many high profile developers have been doing lately. But they are sacrificing a product and it’s customers for increased expose for the next episode. Maybe I’m just being too sentimental, but I want to see the game stick around.
Back to the original test that ngmoco:) did, removing Topple from the app store. I’m not sure that it relates directly, removing Topple, a free app, to see what it does to sales of Topple 2 at $0.99. But there is something obvious to it. By removing Topple, they see if that increases sales of Topple 2, the more recent game.
By removing Rolando when the sequel comes out, they don’t lose any sales to the original, cheaper version. When users search for Rolando, they will get just 1 result, and 1 price. That makes sense as a certain percentage people would probably choose the cheaper one, and it removes any confusion of their marketing message for the new game.
What doesn’t make sense is why remove one of the best games on the App Store? Rolando may not have been a runaway commercial success, but it is a great game, very well reviewed, and still has some life in it. You know, what about the long tail? What about all those articles that point to Rolando on the app store. They won’t point to Rolando 2 automatically — you’ll just get the error on the app store that the app is not available.
This decision is also bad for people who have purchased the original Rolando. The app store is a digital delivery system. The only way to get Rolando is to download it from iTunes either on the desktop or on the device. If you don’t have a backup, and you lose it, you’ll never get it back if it’s no longer in the store. In addition, there have been weekly updates for a while from Rolando, building up to the release of Rolando 2. If you haven’t updated in a while, and you wait until July 1, you’ll never see those updates.
And what about the people that try Rolando 2 and want more? They know it’s a sequel, why can’t they get the original. Perhaps the original Rolando levels will be available as in-app purchases in Rolando 2.
It seems as though ngmoco:) is willing to live with a little bit of bad customer experience to try to increase the sales of a new game. Not a great thing, but considering the constraints of the App Store and the very limited ways that developers can operate, it might be the best decision. If nothing else, you have to hand it to them for trying something different and thinking about how to best build a business in the maddening chaos known as the iTunes App Store. It will be interesting to see if other publishers follow suit and do the same. Let’s hope not.
I hope we’ll see Rolando and Topple back in the store, re-released as classic versions maybe, at some point in the future. For now, I think I’ll make sure I have the latest version, do a back-up, and play a little Classic Rolando while I wait for Rolando 2.
The Rolando 2 website continues to reveal more information about the game as we get closer and closer to the launch of the title (Considering the game hasn’t been released yet or given an official release date, it’s safe to assume that each day that passes is at least one day closer to the launch of the game.) Since we last had a chance to take a look at ngmoco’s Rolando 2 website, five of the locked Rolando’s down bottom have been revealed and as of today a teaser trailer for the game has gone live (You can watch the trailer below!) Continue reading Rolando 2 Teaser Trailer »
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Posted December 18th, 2008 by Jeff Scott Our Rating: :: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
One of the most hotly anticipated games for the iPhone, and likely the last big release of the year is finally here. Rolando the rolling ball platform game has finally hit the App Store virtual shelves. It's about time.
ngmoco has confirmed that Rolando will be released this Thursday of this week, on December 18th. To celebrate the week of the release of Rolando they have put all of their previously released games on sale. They have reduced the prices by $1 across the board.