Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile focuses on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offers their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better. Check out our previous workshops on Shazam, InfoMedia, Viigo, Meet Now Live, Shortcovers, Pint Sized Mobile, Geodelic, Spark of Blue Software, Tarver Games, People Operating Technology, Booyah, Bolt Creative, Thwapr, Monkeyland Industries, Rocket Racing League, Vlingo, Advanced Mobile Protection, PapayaMobile, Taptu, GameHouse, Avatron, aisle411 and Crowdstory.
This week FierceDeveloper profiles mobile entertainment provider Outfit7.
They say that cats have nine lives. Outfit7's Talking Tom Cat is on its second, but so far, so good. Introduced in mid-2010, Talking Tom Cat--an interactive virtual pet app enabling users to record and share feline-themed storytelling videos via YouTube, Facebook, email and MMS--has emerged as a pop culture phenomenon, generating 55 million downloads across the iOS and Android platforms and even scoring a cameo on the hit ABC sitcom Modern Family. The sequel, Talking Tom Cat 2, premiered in late May, introducing a new 3D version of the titular tabby as well as new features and antics; downloads topped 1.8 million within the first 48 hours.
Talking Tom Cat is the flagship title in Palo Alto, Calif.-based Outfit7's Talking Friends applications portfolio, which now includes Talking Ben the Dog, Talking Santa and Talking Gina the Giraffe--all characters come to life when poked and prodded on touchscreen-enabled devices, repeating everything the user says. The Talking Friends apps now exceed 100 million downloads in all, with users sharing over 400,000 videos each month. FierceDeveloper spoke to Outfit7 CEO Andrej Nabergoj about the success of the Talking Tom Cat franchise, the pressure to create a hit sequel and the importance of making emotional connections.
Andrej Nabergoj on Outfit7's origins: We've been around for less than a year. We launched our first app in July 2010. The company was founded by seven engineers who previously worked on search engine technologies, and the vision behind Outfit7 was to take what we learned about performance and algorithms and make something more entertaining and fun. We didn't want to do just a game--we wanted to do something that creates a sincere emotional connection with users. That's typically possible when you have something users can relate to, like a character--it's hard to emotionally connect to a game, no matter how immersive it may be.
So we went online and browsed a number of different 3D model marketplaces and bought the Tom character for $60.00. After searching thousands of characters, we knew it would click--we loved the style of the artist, although we did not know who he was at the time because he posted all of his designs anonymously. We also bought two other characters from him: Talking Ben and Talking Santa. We later went on a journey to find this guy, and even connected with secret service agents in Russia to help. We learned he was a 3D artist in the Ukraine working on movies, and he designed characters part-time. We bought the rights to all of his characters--his name is Andrey Kravchenko, and he's now working full-time for us.
We now have more than 100 million downloads--we know about developing characters from scratch, from concept art to development to story. We learned that people make an emotional investment when you ask them to tell their story. We've tried to make the experience as magical as possible, but it's really about your story and what you want to share. We like to think we're empowering people to become storytellers.
Talking Tom 1
Nabergoj on the success of the Talking Tom Cat franchise: We offer a rare combination of fundamental mechanics--you're using voice to experience something, without pushing any buttons. It's the most simple UI you can imagine in a space where the UI is becoming more complex. You run the app and you are there--once you see Tom's reaction, you're engaged. And when you record a story, we ask you to share it. The whole experience is designed to focus on engagement first, and everything else unfolds from there. Users peel back the layers over time.
Talking Tom Cat is inherently viral---you share it with your friends, your partner or your schoolmate. It's inherently social. We didn't do any marketing at all--we launched the app at a time when the App Store was not very crowded, and people found it.
Nabergoj on the challenges of creating Talking Tom Cat 2: During the first stage of the company, we experimented with different things. Now we understand what it takes to create iconic characters. We want to focus on key characters--we want to create tentpole characters and build a lot of stuff around them.
Our goal with Talking Tom Cat 2 was to rethink and re-imagine the most popular cat in the world. We think of characters from the ground up, starting with their personality. Now we're getting their quality to a whole new level in terms of 3D rendering. The initial Tom just doesn't compare.
We knew we would do it right. We did a lot of testing and prototyping, and we took a lot of time--we went through many, many iterations. When we got it right, we knew it was going to be big. With Tom 2, the market is now much bigger than it was a year ago, so we knew it was going to grow fast. We did a much better job than Tom 1. We have a small but loyal core of users that still love the original Tom--we're still going to work on him, too, but it's more a comfort app now. Tom 2 is our Tom.
The series features many characters.
Nabergoj on what's next for Outfit7: Next month, we're going to introduce another character, and we're going to create a lot of stuff around him. We like to think of this like what's Disney's done--we have a chance to create iconic characters that you and your kids are going to grow up with.
Nabergoj's best advice for aspiring mobile developers: Spend a lot of time understanding what your application is all about. What are you designing an app for? It's not a browser or a computer--it's a mobile device that fits into your pocket. Lots of developers make the mistake of taking an existing concept and adapting it into mobile, and they don't provide the user with what they expect.
Bestselling apps in this space provide something with a high fun factor or utility factor--they engage the user. The mobile device is many things at the same time. It's anything you want it to be.