Last month we were invited to tour the office of Aurora Feint Inc, developer of the recently released Android version of Open Feint. While there, we were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity of conducting a pair of one-hour interviews with some of the top men that work there so we could ask them questions about their software as well as more general questions about developing for the platform.
What follows below is the first part of the series with Jason Citron (Founder and CEO) and Eros Resmini (VP Marketing & Developer Relations). All week, we’ll be sharing portions of the talk with Jason and Eros.
This interview has been altered from the original recording for the purpose of readability.
Read the other parts here:
How did Aurora Feint become Open Feint?
We had this crazy idea for a World of Warcraft in my pocket for iPhone, started building it and launched version one which was called Aurora Feint. It was kind of like Puzzle Quest, but Tetris Attack instead of Bejeweled with friend leaderboards. It had a little bit of Open Feint in this Puzzle Game. Then we launched this sequel which was more of this asynchronous MMO where you could battle against other people’s ghosts, it had chat rooms, profiles, all this rich stuff that you see in social games but it was very much not a Farmville game, it was more of a game. The multiplayer experience feels like you’re playing against someone but you’re actually playing against a recording of their session that they made a few weeks ago, so it gives you the feeling of playing a real time versus mode, but you’re actually not playing against a person but they recorded a ghost a few weeks ago and uploaded it. That game didn’t sell as well as we hoped so we were like “What do we do?” We were four people at the time and we had this idea, we all were gamers and at this point there was no Xbox live on iPhone yet and at this point, this was almost two years ago (2008), so Android wasn’t really on the market and we said “Hey, why don’t we take all this technology from inside Aurora Feint, open it up and give it to all these people, leaderboards, chat rooms, achievements, all this stuff”. So we called it Open Feint. It was actually announced before I started building it. We managed to convince Tech Crunch to run the article and we had three hundred sign-ups in just two days. So the rest of the team was working on an update to Aurora Feint 2 while I handcuffed myself to a desk and forty five days later we launched Open Feint with thirty five games. Pocket God was our main launch title and that was pretty cool that they got on board and now we have three thousand games and thirty eight million people and we’re on iPad, iPhone and Android.
Can you show us what features are available on the iPhone that will be ported to Android?
(We were shown one of Aurora’s favorite games, Jet Car Stunts, created by a pair of guys in New Zealand, running on an iPhone and the Open Feint features that are tied into the game.)
After completing a race you can pick a friend and send them a notification with a challenge to beat the posted score. Looking down a friends list some users had green icons next to them indicating there was an available replay, clicking on this icon almost instantly started playing their replay so you can see how they achieved their score. You can interrupt the ghost at any time and race against the ghost which is represented as a wireframe, on beating that ghost you can send a message back to that player with a new challenge. There’s also a location icon where you can view a list of players in the local area that have opted in the location sharing.
We also have forums and chat rooms, we have real time chat you can go in and talk to people and then we have forums that the developers can set up and moderate them and appoint moderators. You can add forum threads to your inbox so if anything changes in them you’ll get like a special ping and you can get those in any game. So if you’re in like Robot Unicorn attack and something changes in Jet Car Stunts forum you’ll know. We’ve been thinking about building an Android widget and notification would likely be a part of that widget as opt in as the last thing we want to do is nuke the battery and be in a subway and have it download your friend list.
We also have a place you can go to interact with the developers so you can mark the game as a favorite and explain why and then if your friends see the game they’ll see that you reviewed the game. So we have almost this little mini social app store where you can go and find games that your friends have and see what they’ve been playing. If your friends have “favorites” or have written reviews, you can see what they said so it’s kind of like a fancier version of the marketplace. You can go into a profile from here and compare achievement points side by side with a friend. Developers can also set up their own icons for achievements. Then we have messaging that works just like text messaging so if they’re online they’ll get a little ping just like if you’re on Xbox and they’ll get a message or if they’re offline they’ll get a message as soon as they come on.
The really cool thing we have on the iPhone that we have, that isn’t coming to Android just quite yet because there aren’t enough games, but we’re doing this thing called free game of the day where we work with our developers to take one game and make it free and we promote it in our Open Feint app.
We also have a network safe card, think of like your PlayStation memory card but living in the cloud. Developers can write a save to it so if you switch phones it can download your save game again. We’ve also got this turn-based multiplayer system so if developers want to make a game where it’s a multiplayer game but it’s turned based they can do It. The two types of games you can make with that are a Puzzle Quest multiplayer kind of thing where I take a turn, you take a turn and we go back and forth, all the way to a game like Words With Friends, like Scrabble where I take a turn and you get a notification or a text message that it’s your turn and then you take your turn when you get a chance, then when you’re done I’ll get a text message telling me that it’s my turn. So we have tech that lets a developer build games like that as well. That’s available today. It’s a free part of our system, obviously you have to be a more sophisticated developer to use and build a game like that, but it’s available. All this stuff is free to developers as well as being Open Source. You can download the SDK from our website and get a bucket load of code but it’s all ready to compile so if you want to change something or it’s 3 AM in the morning and there happens to be a bug that we don’t know about and you found it and it’s in your way you can get in there and do whatever you need to do to keep working.
How does the free App a day work for developers that are used to getting paid for their game?
It doesn’t work quite as well on Android, but on iPhone you can change your price whenever you want to. So what developers say is, I’ve either got an old title that isn’t doing too well or a new title that I just want to get installs on, I want to maybe use an old title to introduce a new title and just basically drive up installs. What we can do with free game of the day is basically say that we’ll get you a ton of eyeballs, some of the glory stories we’ve had have been 1.6 million downloads in a single day with this program, so it drives a lot of adoption for the developers, the players are excited because they get really good content. We’re judicious about who gets into the program. Then on the back- end when they turn it back to paid, that virality that happens because there’s all this playing happening with that new free title generally lifts sales for them, so they see a benefit from it and obviously because they’re connected to something like Open Feint I can see what my friends are playing. If those friends are downloading those free games, again it moves that virality needle for them. We’ve seen some really good successes on the iOS side. The problem from what I understand on Android is you can’t easily toggle your pay to free so the model we’ve come up with on iOS doesn’t quite translate yet but we’re in the background trying to come up with something that’s cool like that, because I think players would love it especially on Android where I think they’re still getting used to paying for high quality content and then the developers who are trying to figure out a cool way to make money on this platform will have yet another promotional mechanism, so I hope it gets there soon and we’re talking to Google on this.
That’s the end of part one, stay tuned for the second part where we talk a little more about Aurora’s business model and how they actually make money.