Calling The Shot

How do you know when you have a game that really IS going to be a hit on the iPhone? In reference to Babe Ruth's famous "Called Shot" in in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, I ponder if I should Call The Shot on a iOS game.

Babe Ruth's Called Shot

Babe Ruth's called shot was the homerun hit by Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, held on October 1, 1932, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. During the at-bat, Ruth made a pointing gesture, which existing film confirms, but the exact nature of his gesture remains ambiguous. Although neither fully confirmed nor refuted, the story goes that Ruth pointed to the center field bleachers during the at-bat. It was allegedly a declaration that he would hit a homerun to this part of the park. On the next pitch, Ruth homered to center field.

In Chris Steven's book 'Appillionaires', which tells the tale of developers who "Struck It Rich on the App Store," he writes this about the development of Angry Birds:

"With our earlier titles, most friends and family members had usually taken a cursory look at the games, and given some generally positive feedback," Mikael (Hed) would explain later. "But with Angry Birds the response was nearly always the same - they took the iPhone, found a quiet nook, and played the game for an hour, before the phone could be pried out of their hands."

Angry Birds was Rovio's 52nd title, their first hit, and arguably the most sucessful game of all time.  I've always taken some comfort in that.  After five years of iOS gaming, initally with web-based apps pre-store, and then with native ones, we've had some successes ... but nothing of the magnificence of an Angry Birds or Draw Something.  With of a third of a century in games behind me, I sure would love to have this happen.  Maybe it's just a matter of try try again?  

Maybe not.  I know of developers who have been at this a long time and they don't have the breakout hit to show for it.  There's nothing new here.  As with Music, Books and Movies ... success eludes most.  There is something to be said for persistence.  Persistence MAY Pay. Stephen King worked as a $6500/year school teacher for years, with some minor writing income, before his novel Carrie hit it big.  I loved reading the story in his book, On Writing:

"Are you sitting down?" Bill asked.

"No" I said. Our phone hung on the kitchen wall, and I was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room.  "Do I need to?"

"You might," he said. "The paperback rights to Carrie went to Signet Books for four hundred thousand dollars."

King spent the next few minutes insisting that Bill repeat the amount, digit by digit, just so he could be sure it was real.  

I have no complaints.  In 1993 I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time (Activision).  After years of trying to launch the Great Adventure Game, I created the game engine and much of the user interface for The Return To Zork.  For its day, this was a major hit.  Almost 20 years later, people come up to me and ask if I "want some rye" (Eddie Dombrower deserves the credit for that line and so much more).  In the last two years we've managed to come up with a million-downloads game (Bocce-Ball), a very nice crossword-like game (Crickler) based on a popular web title and arguably the best executed Poker app.

So, we've been working for some time on a social find-the-word game.  The App Store is full of these games.  The idea behind this one was to create a great social game that differed from the typical "stare at a block of letters for a minute trying to find words."

Word Game

Great team, cool art ... yes but we had that before.  No one tries to put out a so-so game.  Right?

But something happened.  Friends I had who never played games got obsessed with this.  One of them, the woman I've been lucky to share a life with for the last nine years, was not a gamer in any sense.  She played Fruit Ninja for a bit and that's about it.  Not a big fan of games.  Yoga's her thing.

I can't pry her away from this one.  Last night she played me for an hour and then when I was too busy with chores, just started new games, playing the first round over and over again.  Three solid hours.  All the way to midnight.

And this isn't the first time.  Even when the game was far from polished, the same sort of thing happened.  Could not stop playing.  Obsessed.  And not just her.  This game is the sort that I just hand to random people and sit back and enjoy the reaction.  Could this be the home run?

Now the marketing quant in me wants to wait till we get more folks playing it.  Maybe even a release in some limited markets.  All wise and sensible things to do.

But forget that.  I'm pointing to the #1 spot in the app store.  I'm calling the shot.

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