Posts Tagged ‘ipad’

It’s been very clear over the last six months that the direction Textfyre needs to go is mobile. Desktop products are extremely difficult to sell without physical media and selling physical media requires a marketing budget, a luxury we don’t have.

Our plan to sell directly to the education market has been moved to a back burner, if not entirely removed from the plan. Selling directly to schools or school systems is nearly impossible without the right connections. With those connections,  it’s still a nightmare. I’d been warned by other people that trying to sell to schools is impossible. I guess they were right. The closest I came to tapping that market was a connection with Follett Library Resources, the people that offer a search engine of product to schools. The lead dried up almost immediately.

To move to a more generalized publishing market, I’ve directed everyone developing content for Textfyre that the restrictions are mostly off. There’s no need to direct our stories at middle-school students. I’ve asked them to simply develop great stories that can be appreciated by any reader.

We’ve made a splash in online sales and those will continue. With more marketing, we can reach more customers, but that still will take more time (and money). But I have other opportunities coming up that may move online sales to a back-burner as well.

The mobile market is composed of phones like the iPhone, Droid, and any other phone that has some way of publishing an application. We’ve been working on an iPhone application for a while now. We haven’t looked at the Android platform, but are likely to in the future. The iPad is obviously very interesting and the iPhone code that Andrew has been developing can target it as well as the iPhone (as well as being a desktop OS X application).

The problem with the iPhone and iPad is that there are so many applications available that it’s extremely difficult to get noticed and to be able to price your application above $.99. Some people may think it’s a good idea to sell IF at $.99, but I’m not one of them. That would be an unsustainable price point, at least for initial sales.

I’ve also been talking to Microsoft about partnering for the new Windows Phone 7 launch coming this fall. In fact, they called me and they have a strong case. With assistance, I could easily port our Silverlight implementation of our games to the WP7 platform. The UI would take some work and we’d have to run through very rigorous testing, but we’re automatically closer to publishing to the WP7 marketplace than any other.

The last mobile device, the Amazon Kindle, is probably the sweet-spot and I am now talking to the Kindle team about publishing Textfyre games to the device. They opened up a Kindle Development Kit awhile back and although we haven’t gotten into the beta program, I have been able to get Amazon’s attention and we’re discussing the technical details. I should know more in the next week or two.

Of course working with Microsoft or Amazon might require contractual obligations that limit our publishing capabilities (they may expect exclusivity in exchange for support). It’s a business afterall and if I can land a partnership that enables us to build the business, then that’s the direction we need to go.

No decisions have been made, but the fork in the road is coming quickly. I’ll know more about Microsoft and Amazon soon. I already know where our iPhone/iPad strategy is as well as online and physical media sales. I also know that we’re done focusing on schools and students, for now.

Once I know where we stand with Microsoft and Amazon and with the iPad development, it will be time to choose a way forward, rewrite the business plan, and Textfyre will shift into an entirely new business model.

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So I’m looking at being a part of the launch of the new Windows Phone 7 and have a dilemma. Andrew is nearing completion of the iPhone/iPad/iPod, and Mac OSX framework for FyreVM games. I’m working on the Silverlight code for Windows Phone 7 games. I think it’s going to be a tie as to when we get the code done.

So then I have to decide how I want to market the new platforms and whether I simply fire off versions for every platform. Do I market just the mobile apps? Do I do just iPad? Do I do just Microsoft or just Apple?

These are the questions I’m pondering every day now.

So while I’m porting Shadow to Windows Phone 7, I started realizing where Microsoft is going with all of their platforms. They want to make it so that if you play a game, you can stop and restart on another device.

So the scenario is…start a game on your new Windows Phone 7 device on the train. At some point you decide to save and quit. When you get home, you fire up the Xbox and load up the same game and continue playing. But wait, your friend Joe calls and wants you to come over. So you head over to Joe’s and pull up the same game on his PC, right where you left off.

Since we’ve been talking about user interfaces lately, this brings up a completely different problem. What will the three different devices/platforms looks like and how will they work? It’s obvious that the WP7 device will have a minimalistic user interface and touch controls. The Xbox might have a keyboard, but it would also have to support users without one and just the standard controllers. The PC user would be running something closer to what we would consider a traditional user interface.

All of this can be done in Silverlight using the various SDK’s and common data file formats, which we already have with FyreVM and Quetzal save files.

I’ve always thought one of the flaws of the iPhone (and now iPad) model was that you couldn’t buy an app and play it on your computer. Why not? What’s preventing Apple from creating an SDK that shares the same code base, but allows the developer to choose different devices to target? Seems like a no-brainer to me. Unless you don’t care about your desktop business anymore and you’re solely focused on mobile devices. That would seem to be the direction Apple is headed.

It will be interesting to see how this dynamic impacts the market when WP7 is launched and the marketing of Microsoft platform neutral gaming comes into play.

In any case, Textfyre is likely to pursue this model. I think telling people they can play our games on their new Windows Phone 7 device, a PC, or an Xbox, is going to be a nice draw.

We’re in our third year at Textfyre and nearing the completion of our third game, Empath’s Gift. Empath is now in a state where the game can be played through to several of its conclusions. There’s a bit more paint to dry before it goes into beta-testing, but that should happen in the next few weeks. I can’t offer a firm release date yet, but it’s looking like sometime in late June, early July.

Meanwhile, our fourth series is beginning its design phase and we have a series and episode title. The series, designed and written by Sarah Morayati (Broken Legs), will be called Anna Chronicle. The first episode in this historical fiction adventure is Poets in Peril. It’s great to see the fourth series underway.

You may have noticed that Sarah is doing both the game design and the writing. In this case, She’s very passionate about the subject matter and knows it well. She’s also planning to use internal resources for puzzles and interactivity, but the project is hers to manage. The programming will still be done separately. The designers and writers (except for Gentry) all seem to love not having to do any programming.

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In other news…

The Apple platform versions of FyreVM (now an open source project on sourceforge.net) are cruising along. I look forward to announcing the first releases of Textfyre games on the iPhone and iPad.

In lieu of a professional user experience consultant, I am adopting some of my own ideas into a Windows version of Shadow in the Cathedral and then having those ideas ported to the demonstration Silverlight version that can be played online. Some of the ideas include hyperlinked exits, a “Try This” context menu, and voice over help. When ready, we will share the new ideas with everyone.

Andrew Pontious started working on an Apple implementation of FyreVM and he’s moving his work from a private source control repository to the new SourceForge.Net FyreVM repository soon. This will also be released under the MIT license, which means anyone can use it for personal or commercial purposes.

The harder part is the user interface. Andrew will likely have a very basic UI implemented for testing FyreVM, but it will be up to the community to help bring about something more visually appealing and usable.

I’ve found a user experience consultant to work with the community, but the quote is rougly $4,000. This would include 5 weeks of iterative user experience work. Andrew is partially committed to helping out with mocks and Chris Cavanagh, a Silverlight developer, is also open to doing mocks.

The result of this work wouldn’t be the actual UI. It would be the general look and feel. We’d have to then work with someone with graphic arts experience to take the usability designs and make them pretty as well as having a programmer implement any of the active components of the experience (rollovers, transitional animations, etc).

I’m committed to finding a way to fund this effort. I’ve started a Kickstarter campaign, but haven’t launched it yet. I want to put a video together that tries to explain to potential contributors how important this is to the IF community.

Remember, the user experience isn’t just about Apple products. The results could be implemented in Parchment, on Windows, in Silverlight…or in any other interpreter.

Our secret programmer is hard at work on the new iPhone, iPad, OSX implementation for delivering our games on those platforms. Code is getting checked in and we’re seeing real progress there. Hopefully, when the iPad starts shipping, we’ll be able to be one of the first full-screen applications in the app store. Or one of the thousands.

We’re also awaiting word on access to the Kindle SDK and as soon as we get access, we’ll find another volunteer to help port our games to that platform. It may not be the perfect fit because of the way the screen works, so there may be a few rounds of testing before we get to something workable.

The Empath’s Gift is in alpha-testing (Paul and Chris are doing this work) and I’m hoping to see a second round of that soon.

I have a request. Graeme Jefferis is still working on the Inform 7 programming when he has time, but I feel the need to add a second person. If you have strong Inform 7 programming skills and want to help Textfyre succeed, please drop me an e-mail. I have to say that the pay is all back-ended. This means we can agree on a rate, but I can’t make payments until we see significant units sold (1000 or more per game) or until we find funding. This is the life of a start-up. There are no guarantees and the work you do has to really come from the excitement of seeing Textfyre do good works.

As mentioned before, I will be at PAX East in Boston in late March from Friday through Sunday (and possibly through Tuesday). If you want to meet-up, let me know.