GDC Online 2011: Chris Ulm: Appy Entertainment, Mobile, and Comic books?

When I was contacted and asked to meet Chris Ulm, I didn’t really know much about Chris or Appy Entertainment. My meeting him at the end of day two of GDC Online 2011 was a bit of a last minute thing.

But I am glad to have met him.

His history is epic, especially for a fan of comics and games. He was the Editor in Chief at Malibu Comics and the Ultraverse. Malibu published the first Image Comics. He was part of the sale of Malibu to Marvel Comics. He’s been in the gaming industry on the console side during the days of PlayStation 2 and Xbox, working for and creating his own development companies.

Now he makes mobile games with Appy Entertainment as CEO, being one of the early developers and publishers with the launch of the App Store. He also admits he rambles, but is honest in his opinions and insights.

Appy Entertainment is primarily an iOS developer and publisher.

If anyone attended GDC Online 2011 and attended Appy Entertainment’s Steven Sargent’s From an iPhone to an Android: Converting FaceFighter!, you might get a sense that Appy Entertainment despises the Android platform.

Chris was quick to admit that the port of FaceFighter onto the Android platform did come with a lot of glitches and problems. Some of these were mistakes made by Appy and others that came with re-developing on a different and unfamiliar platform.

His conclusion with FaceFighter was that they should not have released the full paid version before the Lite version. The company saw a massive amount of piracy for the paid version and he stated that they should have released an ad-supported version of the game rather than a lite and paid.

The iOS version of Facefighter was recently updated and renamed Facefighter Ultimate and retains the freemium model.

That being said, Chris didn’t cross Android off the list of potential platforms to develop for. His opinions of the difficulty on Android go beyond what I thought a developer might consider when developing for the platform, but all his conclusions are sound.

Appy Entertainment is now applying the freemium business model to their games. Their most recent title, Trucks & Skulls Nitro has two versions, but the iPad version contains a track editor. Both versions previously were paid apps on iOS. Chris’ goal of Appy Entertainment was to create “games for everyone.”

In many ways, that is partially the goal of every app developer unless that developer is directing itself toward a very specific market. He also said that Appy Entertainment makes games that they want to play, thankfully creating original content and ideas rather than cloning popular apps.

When I asked Chris about making universal apps, he said that was the direction Appy Entertainment was now heading. When it came to paid apps, the distinction of two SKUs was that the iPad version usually had something extra which denoted the extra cost and separate SKU.

With Appy Entertainment going freemium, having universal apps are a more logical choice. Chris also said that with Appy Entertainment, he did not believe in sequels. Making a brand new product of the same type of content is unnecessary and he felt consistent updates on mobile devices are becoming the new “sequel” system.

At one point, we got into a tangent and started talking about the ease of development on iOS devices because it is a closed system, because the hardware only has a few model choices and of what the future could hold.

Chris saw a unified experience beyond mobile devices for consumers. Everything that Apple is experimenting with now could have a greater impact on the consumer electronic market as a result.

It was an interesting in-depth look at a possible future that could change the electronic landscape. Just imagine everything inter-connected and an all-as-one product.

We also had a discussion about the mass consumer introduction of cloud computing and the effect it could have on mobile gaming, as well as the standard console gaming industry. Chris’ opinion that physical discs are quickly on their way out and digital downloads will soon become the standard was interesting, but not unexpected. When I talked about Blu-ray and current downloadable games, his response was that console gaming was slowly losing its ground in the gaming industry.

I had to ask him about the PlayStation Vita, which included social gaming aspects. He said that the Vita was “too little, too late.” It would be adopted by hardcore gamers, but the mainstream wouldn’t see the point of carrying multiple devices when their phones have quickly replaced handhelds as the major platform on iOS and Android.

He also brought up the example of his own children who originally bought the Nintendo DS that is now collecting dust in lieu of their favored iOS devices.

At the end of our extended talk, Chris showed me concept art for their next iOS title. I can’t say much about the game, but Chris explained that the idea behind it was RPG-lite. From the explanation of the concept art and gameplay mechanics alone, the game should appeal to a wide audience, solidifying Appy Entertainment’s “Games for Everyone” goal.

Appy Entertainment has been a long-term developer for iOS and will continue to support the platform for the long-term. Until Android unifies itself, don’t expect to see too much of Appy Entertainment on the Android Market, although they may make the jump sooner than most people think.

Thank you to Chris Ulm for speaking with me and Luis at Novy PR for setting up the meeting.

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