Confessions of an iPhone Game Maker

Joel Rosenberg isn't exactly a household name, but if you goof around on your iPhone, you've probably downloaded his addictive puzzle game, Blocked. The increasingly brain-busting block-shifter sells for $0.99. Have you ever wondered what goes into making, marketing, and selling an iPhone app? Rosenberg, a Web developer for the Sacramento Press and coder by night, took the hot seat to answer a few questions.

Blocked on iPhone
PC World: Let's get the big question out of the way. Will you be able to retire based off the success of your first game?

Joel Rosenberg: Although I really enjoyed developing and selling my first iPhone game, I'm happy where I am right now.

Success on the App Store

PCW: Let's talk about some of the success you've had with the game since it launched.

JR: Blocked hit the App Store in early September 2008. I had a modest amount of downloads at first. And then, right after Christmas, sales jumped. I'm not sure what led to Blocked's being chosen as a staff favorite, but I know that once I started actively promoting it through advertising, Web forums, YouTube, and Twitter, I saw an increase in activity.

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Watchmen Hype Overload: Is It Worth It?

updated 3/11/2009 with thoughts on Watchmen: Justice is Coming

Who watches the Watchmen? Everyone, apparently. You can't help it--the multimedia circus is in full swing. There are video podcasts, downloadable videos, DVDs, iPhone apps, games, the movie itself (of course), and reprints of the graphic novel that started it all.

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Bejeweling for Dollars

Samantha Christian trains hard, 8 to 10 hours some days, honing her craft. She plays Bejeweled 2. As a result, she's bagged almost $400,000 in the past three years. I've heard of hyperactive twitch freaks competing for big money prizes on the pro gaming circuit for big money--but turning casual gaming into cash?

Starting March 2nd, kicks off its 2009 WorldWide Web Games (W3Games) championship series, and Christian, aka GamerGoddess, is one of the elite gamers hoping to walk away with a big piece of the $500,000 prize pool. Broken out into several tournament brackets, players square off in a number of games--Solitaire Rush, Wheel of Fortune, Bejeweled 2, and Big Money--with the 32 top scorers earning top coin. Sounds simple enough, right?

Friends Training Friends

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4 Signs That Retail Games Are Dying

"Die, GameStop, Die!" You won't see game developers saying that for publication--but they're all thinking it. Trust me. Get a few drinks in them (as I did this week at the DICE summit), and they'll vent about how the game retail giant is old news. But on the record, never is heard a disparaging word.

Two-wheeling with Grand Theft Auto IV.
This very easily could have been some tirade about the evils of second-hand games and how the resale market bleeds money from the game development community. After all, a retail chain that makes millions by selling used games and doesn't pay a dime in royalties to the game makers on those sales is slowly killing some game makers. It almost was that rant, but in chatting with developers and executives at the summit, I got to thinking. Between the recession and advances in digital distribution, 2009 will be the year that everything changes. Let me count the ways...

•1. Indie games will become a lot more sophisticated.

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Games Are Not Art, Are They?

Games are not art -- they're better. It just depends on whom you ask.

There's this on-again, off-again argument within the intelligentsia as to whether games should be placed on the same pedestal as books, movies, music, and paintings. But even the newest of the accepted fine arts, movies, have had at least a century to develop.

Conventional videogames--and I'm taking Pong, the equivalent of cave drawings, as my starting point here--commenced less than 40 years ago. In that time, games have mimicked movies, electronically emulated books, and tried their hand at playing on some emotional heartstrings. The big difference is that most conventional art forms are passive and two-dimensional experiences: You sit in front of and soak in whatever the artist presents you with. Videogames attempt to create an interactive experience that puts the viewer/ player in control of the palette.

Selling Games Short

JC: I think I'm pretty stupid to start a company. I left a lead designer job at Maxis working on Spore to found ThatGameCompany. I was trying to find someplace that was doing what I wanted to do. Nobody was.

PCW: What was missing?

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Play Games With Your Resume

"Organized and led my 50-member guild through three successful back-to-back Nexus runs." You don't see that written on anyone's résumé, but apparently some folks do list the level and class of their World of Warcraft characters. This might seem a little far-fetched, but associate professor--and director of MIT's Education Arcade Program--Eric Klopfer says that a number of recent studies have examined what practical skills a person can pick up by playing electronic games. Can you legitimately learn something from WoW besides efficient techniques for slinging fireballs at foes?

Klopfer points to Constance Steinkeuhler's work at UW Wisconsin. She is "showing that people are developing and applying all kinds of useful skills in World of Warcraft--data collection and analysis, collaboration, planning, resource management and even team management." Remove the "WoW" identification from the place of employment, and all of these accomplishments look fantastic on a résumé.

"It's just too bad that gaming still has this stigma attached to it in the modern workplace," says Ethan Mollick. A researcher at MIT's Sloan School of Management and coauthor of Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business, Mollick believes that many employers view video games as some scarlet "S" for slackery. After all, Gears of War 2 is no replacement for vocational training unless you happen to own a chainsaw. There is evidence that task-specific educational and corporate training games can vastly improve real world performance (Mollick points to a study concluding that executives were at least 25 percent more effective months after playing Virtual Leader -- a game about virtual meetings. yay.), research into the effectiveness of mainstream games is still in its infancy.

"A Team Player"

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2--or just about any other team-based first-person shooter--provides excellent team-building exercise, too. Think of it as the digitized version a white-collar corporate retreat with paintballing coworkers. Hey, there's a reason that the military experiments with using FPS games to train soldiers. Experts agree that all team-based games help foster small-group dynamics--provided that everyone wants to work together. You'll still need to weed out any griefers you find along the way. A who? Griefers live to cheese other people off and get their own teammates killed. In World of Warcraft, the best-known example is Leeroy Jenkins. It's hilarious to watch--though not so much if you're the victim.

More than dealing with occasional haters, you're navigating through seas of people--some mature, some not. I've played team-based shooting games in which I voluntarily muted my teammates. Because who needs to hear people cursing like Tourette's patients on speed and failing to work together? But once you have a cohesive crew that takes it as seriously (or jokingly) as you do, you'll learn how to rely on your teammates and back them up when needed.

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