Appmodo Interviews Bolt Creative, Developers of Pocket God

By on Jun 17, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Bolt Creative, Developers of Pocket GodWhen it comes to application development, originality, and the dominating force needed to conquer the App Store, Bolt Creative has their bases covered. Their extremely popular iPhone application called Pocket God has made it to the number 1 spot several times in the App Store, earning the company much respect in the application development industry.

We sat down with Dave Castelnuovo, Founder of Bolt Creative, to discuss the success of their company, influences among the gaming industry, frustrations they have endured along the way, and what’s in store for the future.

Company Name: Bolt Creative
Name: Dave Castelnuovo
Title: Founder
Company URL: www.boltcreative.com

Q: How do you think the iPhone has revolutionized the mobile phone industry?

Well, Apple is a very unique company. They are best at product design and have managed to create this following where people are extremely loyal to their brand. If Apple came out with a toaster, we would be talking about how the iToaster revolutionized the home appliance industry. All the way from the packaging, to the actual device, to the community of Apple users, the iPhone experience is just satisfying. Other devices may have one or two things going for them, but only the iPhone has the complete package.

Q: How do you think the iPhone has revolutionized the portable gaming industry with contenders such as Sony and Nintendo?

Nintendo revolutionized the gaming industry with the Wii, they found a way to exploit the much bigger casual games market by finding ways to engage people that would not normally buy a video game console. At the end of the day though, Wii users still have to buy a game console which is a barrier of entry. I think Apple took a backdoor approach by marketing their device as a cell phone that is also a great portable music player and then once all the non gamers purchased it, started pushing the iPhone’s gaming capabilities which are on par with a Nintendo DS or PSP.

Q: What separates your company from your competitors with mobile phone applications?

It’s easy to say this considering we have a successful game in the App Store but I think we allow ourselves to take risks and we don’t try to outthink the market. It’s easy to become obsessed with what you think will do well as opposed to just doing something that is fun to develop. If you look at the other big app store successes (flight control in particular), you will see that a lot of these games were built without a lot of expectations. I think this translates into a more honest experience that other people can connect with.

Q: What is your company background, size (employees, developers, etc), and company inspirations?

Bolt Creative used to be a Flash Development company located in San Francisco, we grew to 10 employees at one point but I chose to downsize and become virtual because management doesn’t feel rewarding to me. Currently, our team is just Allan Dye and myself. Our goal is to keep things small and keep our expenses low so we don’t feel the pressure to have to make big release after big release.

My hero is Robert Rodriguez, I am really inspired when I see “Shot, Chopped, and Scored by Robert Rodriguez” at the beginning of his movies. My goal is to take the same approach to game development and leverage efficiencies because we don’t have to manage a large team.

Q: Do you outsource any projects or development, if so, how much?

We hardly outsource, Allan handles all art and music, I handle all programming. We do outsource PR to a company called TriplePoint and we paid $150 for the pygmy voice work, but other than that, it’s all us.

Q: Advancements in graphics and animations in the mobile phone industry have astronomically grown within the past couple of years. How much time does your company devote to graphical, animation, and sound production for mobile applications? Are there areas that you focus on?

Lol, we devote every waking moment to the development of our games which includes working on graphical, animation, and sound production. We usually figure out what we want to accomplish in the next week and backtrack from there to determine what is doable within that time frame. As far as what we focus on, we do a good job of prioritizing and feeling out the areas that will give us the biggest bang for the buck. We don’t waste time polishing buttons or little elements that most people would hardly notice. It’s ok if individual elements are 80% as long as the overall experience is enjoyable.

Q: How many applications has your company planned, developed, or created at any given time?

We are very good at multitasking. When I was primarily doing flash consulting, I would regularly juggle 7 projects at once. Even during Pocket God, during the first 14 episodes, we both had full time flash contracts that we were pursuing. Currently, we have a second game that we are developing and I have the Jackie Button that I am continuing to support.

Q: What do you think of the iPhone Operating System in comparison to other mobile platforms? Are Apple’s competitors finally producing a comparable product or has the iPhone already monopolized the niche market?

From a technical perspective, I think Apple’s competitors have built some really good devices, but like I said before, I don’t think they can compete with the whole package. Apple has such a loyal fan base that includes a huge portion of the development community and these developers will continue to create innovative applications for the iPhone. I think other devices may attract developers looking to make a quick buck by being a big fish in a small pond but they won’t attract developers that just want to do something cool on their favorite platform.

Q: Is your company currently developing for other mobile platforms, if so, which ones and why?

Internally, we are focused on the iPhone. However, we are looking for partners that can port and distribute Pocket God to other mobile devices and platforms.

Q: Marketing an application can be a very difficult task. With so many applications being developed and released on a daily basis, capturing user attention in an App Store is challenging. What have you found to be an effective way to market your products to users?

There are some basic ways of marketing your app: Forums, blogs, reviews, youtube, twitter, etc. but I don’t think there is one magic way to effectively market your app. A lot depends on your product and whether people connect with it. If you have something that people really like, then it’s just a matter of finding a way to be as noticeable as possible.

Q: Following the response above, what do you think of the store review process? Is it helping or hurting your business? What are some recommendations in order to speed up this process?

Well, I can’t really say that the review process has hurt our business because we are enjoying some good success, but I do notice downward trends in our sales when we get held up in the review process by something that wasn’t clearly communicated to us. I can only imagine that other teams are suffering quite a bit when they are rejected with no clear instructions on what needs to be changed for their game to pass review.

I do think Apple is doing everything they can to improve the app review process. It’s mind boggling how many apps are being submitted to the app store each day and on top of that, the number of updates getting submitted for apps that have already been released. Apple has quite a challenge just to keep up with this demand and on top of that, the challenge of being able to manage consistency in the review process.

That said, I think there are a few things that I would like to see.

When an app gets rejected, they need to tell the developer why it was rejected and point out the areas of the app that need to be changed. Apple doesn’t need to suggest how it’s changed, just give the developer a list of the content and/or functionality that is not complying with Apples standards.

Documentation and examples of how an app can be rejected during the review process. We have been rejected in the past because the word contest appeared in our product description. This seems completely arbitrary considering the word was in our product page for 6 previous updates. Apple needs to have specific cases like this documented for developers. Most developers are not interested in getting one over on Apple, we just want to know how to make our app acceptable so we can get through the review process in the quickest way possible.

We need a ticketing system where developers can see their place in the queue. Last week the review process has come to a standstill. Our app has been in the review queue for over two weeks and other developers that I spoke to have been in the queue even longer. Somehow though, Tap Tap Revenge has been able to get through the review process in a single day. There needs to be more transparency for developers so they can estimate how long their app will take when the review team gets bogged down.

Don’t play favorites. Approving an app in 1 day when other apps have been waiting for 2 and a half weeks and allowing Trent Reznor to violate the objectionable content standards after throwing a baby temper tantrum just gets developers discouraged with the platform. We all love developing for the iPhone platform, but please don’t take advantage of all the developers that are putting their heart and soul into developing new and interesting apps.

Q: What are your thoughts on the App Store user reviews and the ability to monitor them?

I don’t have an issue with the App Store user reviews, of course, there are those users who like to grief developers by purposely adding really negative reviews but I don’t think it has a lot of effect on the actual sales of the app. One thing I have noticed, people use the review mechanism as sort of a community tool where they ask for help with features or give other users support. I think it would be great if Apple took this one step further and expanded the user review mechanism into more of a community tool where users could list their favorite apps and developers could have a way to respond to users who ask questions.

Q: What is your favorite application?

This is a hard one because I have so many. I really like Mecho Wars but it’s way too short. It would be great if he created more levels.

Q: What is your most popular application? Have you received any awards or achievements for that application?

Pocket God is our most popular app. We just got nominated for the Meffies, a large mobile group in Europe.

Thank you Dave Castelnuovo and Bolt Creative for your time!

Please post your comments, tips, and your own reviews below in the comments area!

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  • Wow that is a fantastic interview, Jason. It is great to read about one of the most popular apps in the App Store, and some of the challenges they face. Hope to see more interviews like this from big app developers. This is an awesome addition to Appmodo!

  • Mike

    Hey, nice post, really well written. You should post more about this.

  • Magman

    That is great that bolt is workin hard. Go dave! Wooooh!! (and allan!!!) : )

  • Nice great job Dave all you guys should be following him on Twitter, this Dude is cool, he even replies to you which I think is great becuase it makes you think your special, I wish all game Devs were like him.

  • Guile

    Great interview!