There are plenty of iOS developers working on games in their spare time, but few have had the same journey as Salt Lake City-based SixHourSoft.
A two-man company founded by Raytheon engineers Jason Taylor and Karl Zeibig, the pair still develops apps in their spare time. After using their 2010 Christmas vacation to develop a game called Breakout Mania, the company transitioned from making games inspired by Atari to having Atari publish their games as the official version.
Inside Mobile apps recently connected with Jason Taylor, one of SixHourSoft’s co-founders, and ask him what it was like to work with Atari.
Inside Mobile Apps: Why did you want to start making mobile apps?
Jason Taylor, co-founder, SixHourSoft: Well, it’s funny. Me and Karl [Karl Zeibig, SixHourSoft’s other co-founder] are actually in the security business. Almost exactly three years ago, I was reading an article on some guy working at Sun Microsystems had written a game called iShoot and made like, a million dollars and quit his job. We’d already worked on a couple of dummy games in Java and we though “we could do that.”
IMA: Why did you choose to develop games inspired by Atari’s classic titles?
Taylor: We all remember playing Space Invaders. I couldn’t have been very old — maybe eight or something, but my uncle got an Atari and we played Space Invaders for weeks. It’s just a good, classic genre of game — you’re in a space ship and you’re shooting aliens. I remember playing Super Breakout a ton and Arkanoid at the arcade. I’ve always just enjoyed those kinds of games.
IMA: Your most successful games before you worked with Atari were your Breakout-inspired Breakout Mania games for the iPhone and iPad. How did those games do?
Taylor: The iPad version, which was only out for a month, maybe had not quite a million downloads, but it was close. They were free downloads though, not paid. Everyone likes free right? It’s crazy what getting featured and getting on one of those top lists does. I don’t know for sure how many downloads [the iPhone version] had, but I think it was about the same, but it was over six months.
IMA: How did you start working with Atari?
Taylor: It was interesting! We released the iPad [version of Breakout Mania], and it was doing awesome. We were jumping for joy. And then we got an email from Apple saying there was a potential trademark issue [and] we should contact Atari. We were like “Crap! That’s not good”, but we talked to a few people and most of the advice we got was that we should work with [Atari].
We connected with Maria [Pacheco, Atari’s vice president of mobile games] and we were still a little apprehensive. Atari sounded like some huge thing to us, some corporate monstrosity. But believe it or not, it wasn’t that way. Right away, we got a call from Maria and we talked to them about working together and producing an official Breakout-branded version, which was just huge. To have the Atari name behind it with the trademark Breakout was awesome. We had taken [Breakout Mania] off the App Store when we got the letter and so we decided let’s re-work it, and re-launch it as the official Atari version.
IMA: What’s working with Atari been like?
Taylor: It took a little while to work out all the contract details and we’d never done anything like that before so it’s been a huge learning experience. Originally we were kind of worried because we’d never done this before or worked with a publisher.
From our point of view it was hopefully going to be a win-win situation. It’s so hard to get noticed [in the App Store], but with a name like Atari, people will know right away. The same with Breakout. That was a huge prospect from our point of view. People were going to see and play [our game].
IMA: Are you making more money now that you’re working with Atari?
Taylor: I don’t know yet. We get a shared percentage of the game’s revenue, but it’s only been a month. I’m assuming it’s going to be more.
IMA: Was the plan always to do a paid version of Breakout Boost, or was that decided afterwards?
Taylor: It wasn’t always the plan, but the main thing is that you want to reach an audience that you can get some revenue from.
I think that there’s almost two different audiences on the App Store. The majority of people surf the free apps and will download them, and if they really like it, they’ll buy it. But, you also have an audience of people who look mostly at the paid apps, because they have a feeling that the only the paid ones are the good ones.
Sometimes that’s true, but it means those people don’t look at the free ones very often. I’ve read studies where app developers have released a free version of an app with in-app purchases and a paid one and they don’t detract from each other because they’re different audiences. After Christmas Atari said “why don’t you make a paid one, with some new levels?” We thought it was a great idea.
IMA: Do you have any plans to keep working with Atari?
Taylor: No plans at the moment, but obviously we think its a logical succession. We do plan to keep supporting Breakout, adding new level packs and content into the future, but hopefully it could lead to more. That’s another reason we thought it would be smart to work with Atari. They have tons of games that could be remade.
IMA: Are you going to keep developing games on your own?
Taylor: Sure. We have some ideas, but we’ve been working so much on Breakout for the past while that we haven’t had time… We have a few ideas for games we’d want to make ourselves, but we also have some ideas for some ones that may be better done with Atari. I’d like to do both. Diversity is good.
IMA: Even though you’re coming to game development later in your career, you’ve been successful. How do you feel about that?
Taylor: It’s nice. The whole mobile platform has given a someone who’s not a full-fledged developer with 50 employees the ability to create apps. A normal person can develop something and put it in the store. Before, that would be almost impossible. It’s exciting and fun to not need a full game studio to be able to produce something.