How to Turn an App Into a Franchise

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Want to build an entertainment franchise? Some game developers are discovering all you really need is an app for that.

It only took Dave Castelnuovo one week to develop Pocket God, a 99-cent iPhone game that lets users pretend to be God and control an island full of little cartoon pygmies. In less than two years since the app was released, it has become one of the most popular items in Apple's Appstore, selling more than 3.2 million copies.

Pocket God is undoubtedly one of the major success stories of the app marketplace, which now includes more than 200,000 apps on the iPhone alone, not including the thousands of apps available on Blackberry and Android phones.

However, earlier this year, Castelnuovo and his company, Bolt Creative, made a bold decision to take their success and expand beyond the mobile market. Later this year, the company is releasing the first comic book in a series based on the Pocket God app. And they may not stop there, either.

"A television show is definitely in the back of our minds," Castelnuovo says. "We have played around with animation in the past. But we can't really talk about it in too much detail now."

As it turns out, Pocket God may not be the only smartphone app to try and build a real world franchise.

Late last month, rumors began to surface that the creators of Angry Birds, another popular game on the iPhone and iPad, is looking to make toys and perhaps a television show of their own based on the game. With two heavyweights of the app world paving the way, more developers may explore the iea of turning their apps into franchises down the road.

We spoke with Castelnuovo about Bolt Creative's plans to move beyond the world of smartphones, whether this is a trend we'll continue to see, and what he did to make Pocket God such a popular app in the first place.

MainStreet: How did the comic book deal come about? Were you actively looking for new media to break into, or did the publisher approach you?

Castelnuovo: We've always had a desire to create a backstory for the characters, and one of the cool things about Pocket God is that what people originally responded to was the design and the humor. That makes it easier for us to branch out into other things because we aren't as constrained by mechanical dynamics. So we can do things like comic books.

The idea for the comic has always been in the background, but it was Ape Entertainment (an independent comic publisher) who approached us. And when they did, it just all seemed to come together.

MS: So what was your business goal for the comic book? And what other media do you hope to branch into next?

Castelnuovo: We looked at the comic book as more of a marketing exercise, as something to build the brand. We never expected to make a ton of money from it. If we pursue other platforms like the Xbox and PS3, it would be more for revenue. And if we went to Facebook, it'd be the same thing.

We've been trying to investigate opportunities and wait for the right partnerships to develop. Our process for growing is basically to try to leverage licensing deals, and wait for the right person to contact us, someone who has a vision that rings true with what we want to have happen. We know that we have a success and longevity with the iPhone, and we don't want to do anything to hurt that. But we are keeping an eye out for lucrative licenses.

MS: There are rumors now that Angry Birds, another popular iPhone game, may be looking to use their success to land a television deal. What effect, if any, do you think this might have on the rest of the smart phone marketplace and are there any other apps you think might follow suit?

Castelnuovo: I think it's great for all app developers if Angry Birds gets a TV or movie deal. I look at the app store in the same light as the early dot-com days. Just like Amazon, eBay and Craigslist, I believe you will see indie apps that will launch into powerhouse franchises in the years to come. Among the current crop of apps, I believe that Pocket God, Doodle Jump, Flight Control, Moron Test and Angry Birds all have the potential to pull it off. These are all apps that not only have a proven longevity to them, but they also have the ability to extend their world onto other platforms. It would be great to see a Moron Test TV game show.

MS: What is it about the Appstore that makes it fertile ground for these sorts of franchising deals?

Castelnuovo: The Appstore is kind of like a big focus group. You see an incredible amount of experimentation and creative vision coming to fruition in the Appstore and naturally it's got to expand beyond that.

MS: Now, taking a step back for a minute, I've read that you used a few tricks early on to propel your game to the top of the most popular list in the Appstore. Can you tell us a little about your strategy in the beginning?

Castelnuovo: Well, when we started out, there weren't as many new releases each day and if you released a new update, it would push your app back up in iTunes. So that was the strategy. We were one of the first to do consistent updates. I made a decision to start updating our app weekly, every single Sunday for 14 consecutive weeks. There were some early criticisms that the updates didn't have enough new content, so we made sure after that to have load our updates with a ton of content to respond to those complaints.

Also, we started changing our icon regularly and created a narrative with our icon to encouraged people to come and check out our app again.

MS: So what's next for you? Do you have any plans to develop a new game or are you just focusing on Pocket God?

Castelnuovo: There are lots of ideas, but right now the plan is to put everything into Pocket God and turn it into a gaming franchise like Sonic or Mario Brothers.

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