We recently had the chance to ask Ben Gottlieb of Stand Alone some questions about Crosswords, their first game for Apple’s iPhone. The game has been out for some time now and Ben Gottlieb is very happy with the success of their title and the response they received from the community. Ben Gottlieb also talked about their plans for the future.
iPwnGames: Why did you decide to release a demo-version of Crosswords a few days after the release of the full game?
Ben Gottlieb: We had always intended to release a demo in conjunction with the main release. Apple’s rules regarding demo versions are a little unclear, so it took a while to navigate their system (we had to tone down the ‘demo’ aspect and talk up the ‘light’ features). We think everyone benefits with the try-before-you-buy approach. Users are more confident that the product will do what they want, and don’t feel trapped by a purchase. We do 30-day demos on all our Palm software. Hopefully Apple will provide a solution to this in the future.
iPwnGames: Do you have more info on how Crosswords is doing so far?
Ben Gottlieb: We don’t release sales numbers, but we did very well last month. I expect a sharp drop-off this month, as there was a lot of pent-up demand before the release of the AppStore.
iPwnGames: Crosswords is off course a game that appeals both casual and hardcore gamers. Are you going to make games just for the hardcore gamer in the future?
Ben Gottlieb: We’re going to wait and see how the game situation on the AppStore shakes out. We don’t want to wade into a crowded market unless we’re sure we can provide a clearly superior product.
iPwnGames: Crosswords is off course a pretty expensive game, but is it possible that there will be a pricedrop in the future?
Ben Gottlieb: We wrestled with the price before release. As you know there was no guidance given by Apple with respect to price points; we looked at the product and felt it was worth $10. On Palm, we sell a less feature-rich product for twice the price, and it’s not viewed as an expensive product. Obviously there’s a degree of comparison pricing that’s going on, but we’re very leery of a ‘race to the bottom’ with prices. If all developers cut their prices, soon no one will be making enough money to continue development.
iPwnGames: How was the feedback of the community and how have they helped you improving Crosswords?
Ben Gottlieb: We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback, some positive, some negative, from the community. Certain areas where we hadn’t focused in the initial release became, in retrospect, more important, and so we went back and honed them in follow-on releases. For example, in our testing, we didn’t optimize typing performance, since no one is going to be speed-typing into a crossword puzzle. However, what we didn’t take into account was that slow typing, while not hindering game play, made the entire application feel sluggish. In version 1.1, we completely rewrote our rendering engine, and saw large performance gains there. That optimization was all prompted by our users.
iPwnGames: How are you planning to use the accelerometer of the iPhone in the future?
Ben Gottlieb: I think the accelerometer is a good tool for certain applications (some types of games, auto-performance, that sort of thing.) However, we didn’t see a reason to add support to it in the current version. In the next update, however, we do use it (just a little) to determine which way the user is tilting their device, so we can re-position controls more effectively and give a slightly more comfortable interface. We have a couple of ideas for potential games that involve the accelerometer, but there are both sensitivity and battery-life issues to consider.
iPwnGames: Are you planning to do more classic games for the iPhone in the future or are you thinking about something totally new for the iPhone?
Ben Gottlieb: We’re working on a non-game productivity application for iPhone right now. We love games, but also wanted to broaden our range a bit. We hope to announce it in the next few weeks. The Classic game market for iPhone (Solitaire, Sudoku, etc) seems a bit crowded, but as it calms down, we’ll take another look.
iPwnGames: Will the iPhone change mobile gaming forever?
Ben Gottlieb: I think it will. Before, if you wanted a mobile gaming platform, you had to get a dedicated device, or your options were rather limited. With the iPhone, it’s possible to bring an extremely powerful gaming device with you, without adding an additional item to your pocket. I have a PSP and a Nintendo DS, and while they’re great gaming platforms, I have to actively remember to bring them with me. My phone is always with me, so there are many more opportunities for gaming.
iPwnGames: And now, back to Palm or are you going to stay on the iPhone for a while?
Ben Gottlieb: Unfortunately, the Palm market has been in a downward slide for the last year or so. However, even if it weren’t, iPhone is just too much fun! We’ll be around for a long time on this platform
iPwnGames: Thank you Ben Gottlieb for letting us ask you some questions and we’re looking forward to your future iPhone projects!