Developer Workshop: Booyah

Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile focuses on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offers their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better. Check out our previous workshops on Shazam, InfoMedia, Viigo, Meet Now Live, Shortcovers, Pint Sized Mobile, Geodelic, Spark of Blue Software, Tarver Games and People Operating Technology.

This week FierceDeveloper profiles Booyah and its MyTown application for the iPhone.

Booyah attracted attention months before releasing its first mobile application: In spring 2009, the firm landed $4.5 million in Series A funding via Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers' iFund, the $100 million investment initiative created to support ideas and products for the iPhone and iPod touch platform. KPCB's instincts proved correct when Booyah launched its first iPhone title MyTown in December--the location-based social gaming application already boasts more than 500,000 users playing the game an average of more than 30 minutes a day, reaching number seven on the App Store's top free apps list.

Developed around real-world shops, clubs and other local businesses, MyTown enables users to visit their favorite destinations to unlock rewards and earn virtual currency to "purchase" those same establishments. As other players frequent a location, its value increases--players can also use power-ups to unlock additional locations for sale. As of mid-January, the game spans more than 32 million check-ins from 2.2 million unique locations; the updated MyTown 2.0, issued last week, adds 60 new hours of gameplay, 20 additional levels, a deeper market economy and even real-life deals and discounts from participating retailers and restaurants.

Booyah CEO Keith Lee, chief creative officer Brian Morrisroe and chief technology officer Sam Christiansen first teamed at videogame publisher Blizzard Entertainment, where Lee served as lead producer on Diablo III--to date, the series has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. Lee spoke with FierceDeveloper about migrating to mobile, playing in the real world and the importance of originality.



keith lee BooyahKeith Lee on the shift to mobile gaming: We started developing MyTown a year and a half ago. We spent 10-plus years in the videogame industry, where every game uses the same mechanics--we wanted to take our experiences in that space and apply what we learned to a new audience and new market with new technologies. We wanted to do something no one had ever done before. We're not a company to clone or copy or other people--we want to be the leader in a very new market.

We said "Hey, let's come out with a cool concept and prove it out on one platform, then consider other platforms." We saw smartphones were growing a lot with the advent of cameras and GPS, so that made it great timing--we knew mobile was a growing platform we could try out. Even better, we saw mobile as a way to motivate gamers not to spend hundreds of hours going after a fantasy sword, but to get them out into the real world. We want to engage users more and more every day. That's where the value comes from.

On the concept behind MyTown: We wanted to focus on real tie-ins with the real world--we wanted something that felt substantial. We felt like the idea of going to places would continue to grow, that it's something that would be paved by other applications and companies--we asked ourselves "What can we do to create a higher-level objective beyond checking into a place and seeing where your friends are?" The idea of buying and owning properties resonated with the people we spoke to. We realized that people have a strong affinity to the places they frequent, like bars, theaters and coffee shops. We wanted to emphasize that--being a fan of a particular place is a form of self-expression.

The game is very simple--you check in, buy and sell locations. You earn rent, and as other players check in, the value of that property continues to appreciate. We're also adding other social layers and virtual goods. We even work with actual local businesses to offer rewards. Everything we add makes it more fun, so that you consistently want to go back. Retention on mobile tends to be a lot shorter because you only have a few seconds to play it, so the product has to be super-engaging--high-frequency, without long session times.

On standing out in the App Store: The big thing is that we didn't clone a game or make a copy. We wanted to make an innovative product unique to the iPhone. Apple is always looking for innovative products, and they featured us on the App Store homepage for two weeks. That helped us seed and build a first foundation of users. After that, we did a lot of viral marketing--we launched a Twitter campaign and contests. Word of mouth took over once we had a critical mass.

We also spent a lot of time doing in-app advertising and working with app recommendation services, like Chomp--those guys are like Yelp for iPhone apps, and we worked with them to get more visibility. We tried a lot of different things, and they all added up together.

On advice for aspiring developers: It's important to carefully coordinate everything you do--the number one goal for your app is to get visibility, so you need to think strategically. Focus on getting your advertising, press and reviews to all land in a four- to five-day span. If everything is spread over two or three weeks, you don't get that sustained frequency of downloads--you don't get that lift you need to chart. Because once you hit the charts, the app takes care of itself.