Barn Buddy developer TheBroth has had a long, healthy life on Facebook without raising funding or advertising on the platform, CEO Markus Weichselbaum tells us. With the release of Planet Domo and the developer looking at getting into paid mobile games, however, he says it may be time “if you allow me the pun, to harvest our investments.”
Weichselbaum is founder and CEO of TheBroth, which began as a community website based out of Perth, Australia in 2005. The company had some success with early apps on Facebook, including the 2007 jigsaw simulation game PuzzleBee. In 2008, TheBroth relocated to San Francisco and began steady releases of one major game per year to Facebook and eventually other social networks like hi5 and international social networks in Europe. This year, the developer worked with licensee Big Tent Entertainment to produce a social game based on Japanese TV mascot, Domo, which debuted on Facebook late last month with strong early growth.
“[Big Tent] heard through the grapevine that we were good with localization and multiplatform [releases] and they figured well, that’s the right kind of company to approach,” Weichselbaum tells ISG. “And we liked Domo. He doesn’t have a particular facial expression. He can be happy or angry and you wouldn’t know the difference. So you can project a lot onto Domo. If you make your own Domo, it’s really an expression of self. That makes him really ideal for a game because he’s so malleable and so accessible.”
Accessibility is a key component of TheBroth games. Having its roots in the early days of Facebook games gave the developer incentive to keep gameplay design simple and immediately available after only a few minutes of tutorial. Even today, the Barn Buddy tutorial is only six screens long and the Planet Domo tutorial is considerably shorter than other mission-based adventure games of comparable complexity.
The only downside to this quick-play approach is that TheBroth has sometimes had to sacrifice presentation. Particularly with its early games like Kickmania, the art style and presentation date the game in a way that could turn off a social gamer new to the space and therefore more accustomed to higher art quality. Weichselbaum says that TheBroth would like to go back to Kickmania and some of its older titles to bring them up to speed; but right now, its focusing its resources elsewhere.
“We’re a small company, we don’t have all the resources to do what we want to do right now,” he says. He explains that with Kickmania, TheBroth originally wanted to do a “female” version of the game because the premise of “kicking someone’s ass” was just too male-oriented to achieve mass appeal. That never came about, though, and now TheBroth is instead looking at bringing the game to mobile.
“Kickmania is my favorite and one of the most promising of gameplay types out there combining social aspects and casual gameplay,” Weichselbaum says. “The whole look of it is sort of 2008, so there’s a lot of work to bring this one into modern times. We feel this is going to be ideal for mobile.”
Right now, Weichselbaum TheBroth has a few free apps available on mobile devices, but he wouldn’t say what they were or where we could find them. TheBroth is still experimenting with game types and techniques for releasing games to mobile. Some of their older Facebook properties would actually be better suited to tablets and iPads, he says.
“We think that our games are less suited to smaller screens, but would have a fantastic place on tablets,” Weichselbaum says. The key concern, he explains, is finding games that are action-based, preferably grounded in physics as opposed to mission-based social games like Barn Buddy and Planet Domo. In the case of smartphones and feature phones, the game needs to use the core features of the platform in a way that jibes with gameplay. For exmaple, Weichselbaum says, TheBroth’s Hoop Fever Live would be the perfect candidate for iOS and Android because all players need to do is drag a finger to plan the trajectory for a basketball — and that’s it.
“For mobile, you want something something you can do on the bus,” he says. “You can just take it out and throw some more angry birds at some pigs. It makes sense — a short interaction you can go back to whenever you want. This is an action game you can play for 30 seconds and it’ll be really fun.”
Another game type TheBroth wants to revisit for mobile is jigsaw puzzles. The developer has proprietary technology that supports an actual puzzle simulation where players either need to drag pieces in order to rotate them or can toggle an auto-rotate mode that activates when the player selects a puzzle piece. This technology is currently in use within PuzzleBee and forms a Planet Domo mini-game; Weichselbaum could easily see it as a standalone jigsaw title for iPad or tablet — but not for smartphone.
“Your finger is obscuring the puzzle pieces,” he complains. “I haven’t seen a single good jigsaw puzzle on the iPhone for example. Not because people can’t program well but because the device just doesn’t lend itself. For iPad, we can’t wait to release [a jigsaw puzzle] game. It’s a no brainer.”
As ambitious as TheBorth is to get into mobile, however, there is still the need to balance the limited resources the developer has. Whenever TheBroth has worked on releasing a new game, its existing games has lost traffic as the developer cuts back on content releases. With Barn Buddy, the game first lost a significant chunk of daily active users as TheBroth worked with publisher Peak Games to release the Turkish language version of the game, Komşu Çiftlik, and then DAU took another huge hit while TheBroth scaled back content again ahead of Planet Domo’s release (pictured here).
Going forward, TheBroth has new content releases planned for both Barn Buddy and Planet Domo in the form of a competitive community event for the former and new gameplay features and levels for the latter. Mobile development and international releases are progressing at a rate that pleases Weichselbaum, though he admits that scaling would be easier with funding.
“The time may come this year where it may make sense to raise significant funding to accelerate and utilize our ability that we have because are multiplatform and multi-language,” he says. “[Scale] requires man power, it requires funding, it requires an advertising budget. Without funding, we can’t really do that as well as the big guys. But for right now, we’re quite happy to do our thing and grow organically.”