Developer Workshop: GameHouse

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 and Taptu.

This week FierceDeveloper profiles gaming firm GameHouse.

While the breakout success of titles like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Doodle Jump has established the mobile software segment as a veritable Petri dish for original concepts and fledgling multimedia franchises, licensed properties--once the hallmark of the mobile gaming experience--continue to thrive as well. RealNetworks' GameHouse multi-platform casual gaming unit is responsible for translating to mobile some of Hollywood's most popular and fan-friendly brands, launching iOS titles inspired by primetime hits as wildly diverse as NCIS and South Park. GameHouse's partners also include Summit Entertainment, the motion picture development, financing, production and distribution studio responsible for adapting the insanely popular Twilight novels to film. GameHouse and Summit have released four Twilight games for iOS so far.

GameHouse plans to roll out a series of new iOS titles in 2011, with Bad Air Day (about an elevator bellboy with an inopportune case of gas) and Tiki Towers 2: Monkey Republic (a sequel to the hit puzzle game) expected to reach the App Store this month. FierceDeveloper spoke with GameHouse's director of global marketing for mobile games, David Zemke, about the complexities of adapting franchises to mobile and the fine art of app promotion.

David Zemke  gamehouse realnetworksDavid Zemke on GameHouse's business model: Our goal is to provide unique and fun casual game experiences across all platforms. We're at the point now where people are looking for a shared experience on any game, regardless of its infrastructure--we want to give people a way to connect with their friends, so we're building a social gaming platform called Fusion. We expect to roll that out in the second quarter or the third quarter.

Zemke on adapting licensed IP for mobile: A lot of licensed properties bring with them an experience that's hard to recreate. But that's what people look for--they want what's going on in popular culture. We're always trying to bring something unique to the property, and we're very selective about what we choose to license--you can't always make a great game. You have to ask whether it fits on mobile, and whether it's worth pursuing. Something like Twilight is too big a phenomenon to ignore.

We take licenses on a case-by-case basis. A lot depends on the strength of the property and the audience. Our audience tends to be a little older and spread across demographics--we have a good balance of male users to female users.

We offer our partners a lot of creativity as well as an understanding of the mobile gaming metrics and boundaries. Licensors have specific ideas--we try to show them what it means to bring those ideas to mobile. The demographic of a show like NCIS tends to run slightly older, so we ran some marketing tests and reached out to our fans. We discovered a high index of interest in an NCIS game among fans 25 to 35, which signified we could do this--that's the perfect target to hit. We also reached out to the show's fans on Facebook, and released the game on iPhone and Android and also on feature phones.

Zemke on how smaller developers can more effectively market their apps: If you're challenged by your company's budget and size, the core thing is to know your message--you have to be clear about what differentiates you from the competition. Clarify that as much as possible, in the most specific terms you can.

You need to be selective about how you roll out your title. Spend your budget wisely--a lot of people blow out their budget in one bucket, but you can't spend it all throwing a launch party.

Zemke's advice for aspiring mobile developers: Don't be afraid of good ideas. The best ideas are ones that cause people to be unsure. There are a lot of great ideas waiting to come out, so let's get them out there. That's what makes mobile fun.