Developer Workshop: People Operating Technology

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 and Tarver Games.

This week FierceDeveloper profiles People Operating Technology, which released the new game "Death Panel."


Plenty of iPhone applications have provoked controversy--People Operating Technology's new game "Death Panel" may join the list, although the developer hopes to inspire consciousness and elevate discourse instead. "Death Panel" promises a factual, non-partisan and non-political look at the Affordable Health Care for America Act--its quiz-like interface incorporates third-party, government-documented data from sources including WhiteHouse.gov, StateHealthFacts.org, NCHC.org and FactCheck.org as gamers assume the role of their local official, answering questions from constituents on the topic of healthcare reform. "Death Panel" also encourages users to post their scores on Facebook and Twitter to further drive awareness of its hot-button subject matter. Opinion is already sharply divided: As of about 48 hours after the free game's launch last week, App Store users weighed in with 10 ratings--seven awarded the app five stars and three gave it one star, with none of the reviews falling in-between.

"Death Panel" isn't People Operating Technology's first iPhone effort. Founded in the spring of 2009, the firm has since issued almost a dozen apps, including the recent "Wildfire Fighter," a game featuring an authorized cameo appearance by the iconic United States Forest Service mascot Smokey Bear.

FierceDeveloper spoke with People Operating Technology co-founder Jason Petralia about tackling one of the most vital issues of the day via mobile application.


Jason Petralia on People Operating Technology'Jason Petralia on People Operating Technology's origins: The company was founded in April, and it's been a steady, continuous growth ever since. The Web space moves at light speed, but in the mobile space you have to move even more quickly. We've tapped into a lot of categories, and we now have close to a dozen applications in the App Store, which gives you an idea of how busy we've been.

We've focused on the iPhone because of its rich user experience. We felt we would be able to personalize our applications and reach individuals in a unique way. The majority of mobile web usage is on the iPhone--people just don't buy products like this on the Motorola Razr. It all comes down to the hardware--there's no comparison.

On the company's hopes for "Death Panel": Originally we considered looking at the financial crisis, and we were thinking about a game that would poke fun at the situation. But the biggest debate in this country is around healthcare, so it was a no-brainer. We wracked our brains to make something fun while taking on a serious subject, and decided on a trivia game as the best vehicle.

We're trying to inform. The idea is not to push an agenda. "Death Panel" is based entirely on factual information. There are some surprisingly large numbers of dollars being thrown around on both sides of the healthcare debate, and we wanted to bring that information into open. People don't always look into that information, but a game can make it much more palatable.

Anyone with a stake or a vested interest in the healthcare issue is in our target demographic. It's not intended for children, though--it's not particularly fun for kids to learn about healthcare.

On navigating the App Store approval process: We figured we had a 50/50 chance of getting the application approved. We believe it made it through because of its neutrality. We're not attacking anyone in particular. There hasn't been a flood of complaints yet, which is good. We expect both positive and negative reactions. People will either love it or hate it. We hope they love it.

On what's next for People Operating Technology: Any game we work on, we're going to look at social issues and political issues that add value to that game. The financial crisis is something that still calls to me, so we may take a stab at that. We're also releasing some social games.

On advice for aspiring developers: Focus on executing your marketing strategy as much as you do on the development cycle. You're not going to get noticed unless you have something stunningly innovative. Promotion and innovation are the recipe for success. It's work--it's hard work. If you want to be successful, prepare for the hardest work you've done in your life. And the most rewarding.