Mainstream Shift to the iPhone Continues with Portable Zoo

Letter BugAlmost everyone has felt the effects of the down economy as companies cut costs or even file for bankruptcy. Despite this trend, however, the social, casual, and mobile gaming markets have continued to grow.

That growth has been especially fast on the iPhone, where new companies have emerged to build gaming products for the surging platform. Portable Zoo, started by EA veteran Don Traeger, is one such start-up.

Traeger worked at EA Sports back in the 1980s. After his time there, he moved on to start Locomotive Games in the late 1990s, which was eventually purchased by THQ. He worked on games such as Jet Moto 3, Jungle Strike, Road Rash, MX 2003, and MX Superfly. As the economy worsened back in November, THQ cut the studio. As a result, Traeger and four other Locomotive employees were forced to make a change.

So why did Traeger leave the traditional gaming environment in favor of the iPhone platform? “The economy is just a convenient excuse for the disruption,” Traeger told Dean Takahasi. “The business has changed drastically toward platforms like the iPhone.”

Other industry vets have chosen this road as well. Eric Huynh, Vivendi Games’ CTO at VG Mobile, joined SGN as its new CTO and VP of Engineering.  SGN also hired EA’s Eric Lindstrom as its Chief Creative Officer. Brandon Barber, formerly the senior director of global marketing at EA, recently joined social developer Zynga as its VP of marketing.

Thus far, Traegar has self-funded Portable Zoo. He hopes the company will grow quickly and efficiently over the course of 2009 up to 35 employees, as he tries to attain outside financing.

Portable Zoo already has two iPhone titles already under its belt – a word game dubbed “Letter Bug” and “Quick Turn.” Each had a fast turnaround time (one month for Letter Bug), and many expect the company to enjoy fast growth as a result.

In fact, according to Portable Zoo, new 3D titles are already on the way. They will eventually be available on both the iPhone and other portable devices.