With ten updates in ten weeks it's no secret that Pocket God has earned a fair share of the App Store gold rush, dominating as the number one Top Paid App for what will be the third consecutive week come March 22nd. The dynamic duo at Bolt Creative, responsible for conjuring up Pocket God are not newcomers to gaming, in fact Bolt Creative has been doing Flash contracting since 1999. Allen Dye, the design half of the duo is an award winning animator while Dave Castelnuovo, has logged in 15 years of experience as a programmer.
The concept behind Pocket God is intoxicating as you take on the role of an all-powerful god ruling over a miniature tribe of endearing pygmies living their island lives under your command. Add new islanders at will, then flick them off into a volcano, feed them to a shark, fry them with hot lava or make them all do the Macarena for your own pleasure. That's just for starters.
I was blown away to learn that Pocket God, currently averaging 12,000 to 15,000 downloads a day, only took the Bolt Creative team about a week to complete and release into the App Store, making a risky choice to debut their game with an extremely bare feature set.
"We felt really guilty releasing our app for $.99 because people said there really wasn't enough there," Dave Castelnuovo told me during a short phone interview, "Now people are saying the exact opposite."
Since its launch, Pocket God ($.99) has benefited from strategic weekly updates, aimed at continually enhancing the little island mini-game with a fresh user experience. The update pay off has been enormous. The 11th update called "A Mighty Wind", has just been released. It's based around inflicting hurricane force winds upon the islanders. A typical update takes about two full days to complete.
"Wednesday we start running ideas around then on Saturday I'll hit it hard all day and go super late," Castelnuovo explained, " Then we get it to our beta testers, do any adjustments and submit it for App store approval by Sunday night. Tuesday is our day to rest."
That update comes right on the heels of a recent vampire feature added to the game as an homage to the epic iDracula shooter game bumped by Pocket God from the number one spot weeks back. It took 18,000 downloads in one day in order for iDracula to be unseated as the top dog (or Werewolf).
I asked Dave what advice he could offer other iPhone developers trying to capture their own chunk of the App Store gold rush.
"A lot of people are trying to jump on the money train, trying to second guess what people want," Castelnuovo said, "Do an idea because you love it and the energy will come through."
That advice comes from a team that still maintain a full 40 hour a week work load as flash contractors, creating a game they deliberately chose not to spend three months working on in fear that projects for their regular clients would suffer as a result.
"Every idea is like a lottery ticket, some really good ideas don't catch on while some other ideas do, like "Yo Momma", which was number one for awhile," said Castelnuovo, "We know how to make sure it's high quality and prioritize what's important, making it fun is critical."
Pocket God has spawned a massive community of followers that faithfully input new ideas for the game and participate on Tuesday nights with Castelnuovo in a real-time forum he hosts on TouchArcade.com. The session allows Castelnuovo to do, "a big talk through about development for the current update" with users. The episode "Jump The Shark" and the Episode 11 "A Mighty Wind", were concepts inspired by the game's user community, a strategy I found to be among the more brilliant ideas Bolt Creative has built out.
"Our strategy all along was to blatantly ask for reviews and input so users could feel a part of it. We have over 11,000 reviews on the App Store," Castelnuovo said, "The shark was a huge one the community wanted and the hurricane too. The next update we haven't announced yet, but it's community driven. It will be a nice update not a mean one and it's the closest we've gotten yet to making Pocket God a mini-game."
"We'll eventually ad stats for the pygmy abuse and the ability to name your pygmies. You kill 'em but then you can resurrect them."
I had to ask Dave how his overnight success with Pocket God has changed his daily lifestyle. He admitted that he was already doing pretty well as a flash contractor prior to developing games for iPhone. Though he candidly chose to reveal what most developers would want to remain a deep dark secret;
"I now check the iTunes Top 10 ranking every 5 minutes to see if we are still holding on. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before sleep." said Castelnuovo.
I just checked iTunes myself Dave, Pocket God is holding strong at number one, but CBS Sports NCAA has come out of nowhere to grab the number two position. With March Madness on fire, they may be a real threat. But their ranking has an obvious expiration date, Pocket God... not so much.