Why It's Great to Be a Mobile Game Dev in NYC

Developer Stories

October 8, 2015


min read

Note: Chartboost will be in NYC on October 27th for our latest Roadshow! Come visit us.?Start spreading the news: Mobile game development is taking off in New York City. Long shunned by traditional mobile gaming powerhouses to the west, the Big Apple is now home to an increasing number of mobile game studios helmed by entrepreneurs with an appetite for risk.I think the best part of the development community here, though, is the bootstrapping culture that's sprung up as a result of there not being tons of larger studios.Part of the reason New York has been looked down on is that its overall gaming outlook is much more Greenwich Village than Wall Street ? focusing on the art before the business. But that?s changing. Thanks, in part, to recent west coast transplants like Christian Calderon, head of marketing for mobile studio Dots, who spends his spare time mentoring young developers on the business of mobile gaming, and Jeb Balise, CEO of Manhattan-based studio PuzzleSocial, a company that is changing the way the world solves crossword puzzles.We caught up with Calderon and Balise to find out how the two are building mobile legacies in the City That Never Sleeps.[caption id="attachment_10477" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Image via Katie Haugland/Flickr

Image via Katie Haugland/Flickr[/caption]

Art meets business

When Calderon moved to New York from San Francisco last year he was blown away by the attendance of local developer events. ?I didn't know that there was such a huge community of indie developers in New York," he says. ?It was insane ? these people were part-time accountants, investment bankers, but they were also just really into video games."Calderon was so inspired by the meet-up he decided to join the board of Playcrafting, the gaming community behind the first event he attended. Now, on top of his day job with Dots, Calderon advises aspiring developers, helping them balance creativity with a business sensibility.?[Playcrafting] encourages bootstrappers to start making games now on their budget and their schedule since today's tools make it really easy to both develop and self-publish,? says Playcrafting CEO and co-founder Dan Butchko of the collaborative culture of the mentorship community Calderon has joined. ?It's an exciting time to be in the game industry in New York. There's a feeling of being on the brink of an explosion of growth in the game space here.?[caption id="attachment_10479" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Image via Playcrafting

Image via Playcrafting[/caption]

Honest, artistic marketing

Through Playcrafting, Calderon hopes to infuse his business chops into the artistic spirit of New York. But he has another testing ground, too: Dots.Calderon has helped the studio grow from just 6 people last year to a team of 30 ? many of whom moved to New York from the west coast or overseas. The company?s growth is largely due to the explosive popularity of its second mobile game, Two Dots, which hit 10 million users within 30 days of launch last May. It's now brought the company up to around 50 million total users and helped garner a subsequent funding round.Calderon explains that the art-inspired nature of Dots' games has helped enormously with organic growth. Still, Dots can?t rely solely on organic user acquisition in order to make money. "It's hard to find those users [that spend]," Calderon says.With some clever marketing, though, Dots has been able to drive awareness to a subset of users that have a propensity to spend. "Marketing comes in almost as a revenue-driver for a freemium business," he says.Guerilla marketing is a large part of the Dots UA equation ? taking to the streets of New York City to help promote its games by running wheatpasting campaigns and painting walls.?We're marketing," he says. ?But we're finding scrappy ways of doing it."[caption id="attachment_10480" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Image via WePlayDots

Image via WePlayDots[/caption]

Old-school craft meets mobile tech

As for Balise?s PuzzleSocial, attention to craft remains the one-game studio?s differentiator. The company puts an enormous amount of care into creating its daily puzzles, which are made by the same people who create the New York Times crosswords. A laser-sharp focus on quality daily content is what keeps its million plus monthly users coming back to Daily Celebrity Crossword, and PuzzleSocial is hoping to keep them on board for years to come."We saw mobile as an opportunity to publish a mass-market casual crossword puzzle that was more fun than everything else that currently exists," says Balise. "To get there, we had to try a lot of things that didn?t work. We take a lot of pride in making a crossword puzzle that you don't need a PhD to solve."The fact that Daily Celebrity Crossword players take an average of 15 minutes out of their day to solve puzzles is impressive, given the sheer volume of media content and distractions that are out there.[caption id="attachment_10478" align="aligncenter" width="900"]

Screenshots via PuzzleSocial

Screenshots via PuzzleSocial[/caption]

Monetizing the casual crossword

Attention to detail isn?t the only thing that pays the bills, though. Daily Celebrity Crossword monetizes in a variety of ways ? through in-app purchases, an offer wall and ads. PuzzleSocial makes most of its money through advertising revenue, says Balise, including the rewarded video ads that he initially doubted.

?It turns out that rewarded video is a very strong product in our app."

?My first thought going into rewarded video was, 'How the heck is that going to work when people are incentivized to go watch a video?'" he says. ?It turns out that rewarded video is a very strong product in our app."Balise is now tapping into PuzzleSocial's NYC-based brand connections for a major update to Daily Celebrity Crossword that will give players the chance to solve sponsored puzzles in exchange for in-app currency. He's not ready to announce the major brands that PuzzleSocial has teamed with, but we'll get to find out soon enough.

The future of mobile gaming in NYC

In general, both Calderon and Balise are bullish about New York City's mobile game-making future. Balise praised the work that Playcrafting (the group that Calderon works with) is doing with young developers, and he's sure that it'll have positive implications long-term. ?They're really starting to nurture the talent," he says. ?I think that's going to pay dividends in three to four years as we see more and more startups in this space."Calderon agrees, sure of New York's continued gaming growth. ?I've been getting hit up by people from other cities ? Austin, Seattle, San Francisco ? asking about what's happening in New York right now," Calderon says. ?Take a look in five years and see where [New York] is. I think people are going to be surprised. I feel it here. I feel it growing."