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App Store Insider: Pocket God - Past, Present, And Future

June 12, 2009


Pocket God has been one of the most popular "games" at the App Store ever since it was released in January 2009.  The team at Bolt Creative seems to have stumbled upon the ultimate casual gaming experience for the iPhone by combining cute characters, an odd sense of humor, and tons of user interaction.  Being a fan of Pocket God myself, I wanted to see where the idea came from and how the team intends on sustaining their success with the game by taking a little time out of Dave Cazz's life, the lead programmer for Pocket God, with some interview questions.  But first, a little back-story. Pocket God was released in January 2009.  At first, the game allowed you to interact with some pygmies in very simple ways, like picking them up and dropping them into the ocean.  Pocket God was actually quite successful from the beginning with this tiny bit of interaction, but fans wanted more, way more.  Bolt Creative began updating the game weekly with new ways to interact with the island and the pygmies.  As long as Bolt Creative was willing to update, the fans were willing to stick around to see what would happen.  Eventually, the game became an even bigger success, skyrocketing up the App Store paid application charts. Pocket God, at the time of this article, has been updated 17 times with new and intriguing content.  Bolt Creative has created a Pocket God blog, a YouTube channel, and a Twitter feed to help keep fans as informed as possible about upcoming updates.  They also gather as much feedback from their fans as possible through these various means and they also take this feedback to heart, as you will see later on.

Many have questioned if Pocket God is even a game, which is understandable. Technically speaking, when Pocket God was first launched, there was no way you could mistake it for a game.  Now that it has been updated with more items to interact with, achievements, and even an online chat system, Pocket God at least resembles a game.  This is all by design, as the casual experience has run its course and people want more out of this little experiment.  So as long as there are people following and purchasing Pocket God, it should only get better. So where does Bolt Creative go with Pocket God from here?  Dave Cazz, the president and lead programmer at Bolt Creative, was willing to share his take on the success of Pocket God and the company in general. When you initially started developing Pocket God, what were your realistic expectations for it?

Honestly, we originally used Pocket God as an opportunity to build a slightly more complex app than my two previous apps. Both Allan and I are really busy so we knew that if we overshot and picked a concept that would take too long, we would eventually be pulled onto some other client work and lose interest. We came up with a concept that we could finish in a week, that would help us extend our engine and toolset for a “real” game in the future. Honestly, when we found out that we sold 500 in the first day, we were ecstatic.pocketgod_screen9 Personally speaking, why do you think Pocket God has become such a great success?
I think we stumbled into something that a lot of people found appealing, the market for Pocket God is so wide. Hard core gamers hate it, but high school kids with iPod Touches love it, parents love playing it with their kids, and the casual market is eating it up. It’s a great way to show off your new iPhone which gives it a great viral quality. Did you always intend to update the game as often as you have, or did that happen as a result of its success?
We planned on making frequent updates since the start, but it wasn’t until people started criticizing the game early on for not having enough content that we started updating weekly. After that, we said we would update weekly for the next couple updates but then pull back to bi weekly. In the end, it took 16 updates and some delays from Apple for us to finally pull back a little on our update schedule. How many members of your team currently work on Pocket God updates?
We only have 2 people, Allan and I. Originally it took us 2 days per update, but because the codebase is getting increasingly complex, it takes almost the full week per update now.

pocketgod_icon3Do most of your update ideas come from your huge fanbase, or are most of them still your own ideas?

The ideas come from all the above, we are truly inspired by our fans and the ideas that they come up with. Many of our updates have come directly from their feedback and some updates even changed midway because of feedback. A lot of our ideas start as a fan suggestion but then get warped into something horribly wrong (and hopefully funny). Some ideas come from being part of a developer community in the App Store (like the Hi Dracula update).
How do you plan on keeping Pocket God in the top 25 paid applications list considering you are increasing the price?
We actually delayed the price increase, we have been getting feedback from a lot of our fans that they didn’t want to see us raise the price. Our fans give us so much support and the app really means a lot to them. They really want to see us stay in the top 10 (or 25) for a long time to come so they are concerned that a price increase will jeopardize that (they really get bummed when we lose a point in the rankings). I think from that perspective I agree, I would rather have something that is always a staple on the app store that to make a few more bucks in the short term. What do you like most about developing applications for the iPhone/iPod touch?  The least?
I like that we have the ultimate freedom to design whatever we want. We can take risks (our dark sense of humor) that an established company couldn’t. The iPhone is also a really fun device to program for. I think my least favorite thing is the review process. I have to give Apple some credit because they built this from scratch and are constantly trying to improve the way they work with their developers but it’s still not there yet, there are some big issues with giving developers getting enough information about why their apps get rejected and the recent way they dealt with the Nine Inch Nails app was a huge slap in the face to the 1000s of developers that are putting their livelihoods on the line to develop engaging apps for their platform. Trent Reznor doesn’t even make his living from making apps but I know lots of devs that are really putting themselves in a position where they need their app to generate income to survive. When they get a rejection, it delays their income for more than a week and if they don’t know why the app was rejected, there is a really good chance it will get rejected a second or even third time as well. Our new Jackie Button app is on its third resubmission, and we have no idea whether we guessed correctly as to which content we needed to change. thejackiebutton_screenAny other projects or games in the works that you can speak about?
Well, we have the Jackie Button that is in review right now. Hopefully it will be approved early next week. It’s an app that I worked on with Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling who used to be the head writer on the Howard Stern Show. It’s a fun app that contains 68 jokes and Jackie sounds and we hope to add to it every week. Allan and I just sat down to talk about our next app, we are targeting a three month development cycle. Right now we are building the back story and starting to do some game play prototypes. I think it has a lot of potential. We are also always talking about Pocket God II. We probably won’t start it until the original Pocket God has fully run its course and we come up with some new clever way to breathe life back into the concept.
Any words of advice for other iPhone/iPod touch game developers out there?
Don’t get into iPhone development because you just want to make money and other people are finding success on the platform. The market is really hard to read so it’s quite a gamble even if you have the best game design and artists at your disposal. Get into iPhone development because you have something that you need to create for your own satisfaction. Think of it like this, if the app you are building completely bombs, will you still enjoy the process of creating the app and will you be proud of the end result. If you can say yes to this, then your app has a good chance to succeed. If you’re just chasing money, then there are probably easier ways to make it. Now, before you say anything, Dave Cazz is very, very busy with updating the game, so he was unable to get respond to my questions right away.  That explains why there is a bit of a time discrepancy with a couple of the questions. Whether you are a fan of Pocket God or not, you have to respect what Bolt Creative has been able to do.  Pocket God is quickly approaching the 1 million download mark and don't expect it to slow down anytime soon.

Mentioned apps

Pocket God
Pocket God
Bolt Creative
The Jackie Button
The Jackie Button
Bolt Creative

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