Developer Workshop: Spark of Blue Software

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 and Geodelic.

This week FierceDeveloper profiles Spark of Blue Software, which offers the KISS Virtual Concert Lighter for the iPhone and other licensed applications.

Given that cameraphones long ago replaced Bic lighters as the concertgoer's accessory of choice, it was probably inevitable that someone would combine the two, and in mid-June developer Spark of Blue Software launched the KISS Virtual Concert Lighter, a licensed iPhone application created in anticipation of the perennially popular shock-rockers' upcoming tour. The fully customizable KISS lighter app boasts 24 official lighter cases, a scrolling text marquee, a flame that sways in relation to the user's hand movements, sound effects and a special "concert mode" complete with blazing flame and power chord. Spark of Blue followed the KISS application with a series of additional lighter apps spotlighting artists ranging from rapper Lil' Wayne to hair-metal icons Def Leppard, all officially licensed via the firm's agreement with live events giant Live Nation.

Spark of Blue is led by CEO Vincent Bitetti, who in 1991 formed Sound Source Interactive, a licensed entertainment software developer that created screen savers, interactive storybooks and related products based on franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars and The Terminator. After Japanese electronics giant TDK acquired Sound Source in 2000, Bitetti was installed at the helm of its TDK Mediactive videogame unit, where he spearheaded development of games based on the feature films Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean. Bitetti also ran videogame distributor Crave Entertainment and record label Shelter from the Storm before launching Spark of Blue in June 2005. He spoke to FierceDeveloper about lessons learned in the console gaming world, working with licensed properties and the iPhone.

Vincent Bitetti Vincent Bitetti on Spark of Blue's origins: I've always published and developed licensed content--in 1990, I went to Paramount Pictures with a mockup box of Star Trek soundclips, which we later sold on floppy disks for $59.99. Wow--has the world changed a lot since then. Later on I was CEO of a videogame console company owned by TDK Corporation. I ran their videogame division here in the U.S., and brought them Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean and lots of other fanboy stuff.

Even then I had a very intense interest in mobile--we did a Corvette 50th anniversary racing game for TDK, and we signed an exclusive deal with Sprint. We didn't have the bandwidth to get it to work on multiple handsets, so it was only on seven or eight of their phones--still, it made half a million dollars, and this was back in the 2002-03 time frame.

Our model is based in a traditional publishing model--just without brick-and-mortar sales. It is an entertainment software model that encompasses more than games. Mobile is a very different world than console gaming--in mobile, most people are focused on one product, one great idea, and they focus on that idea forever. We're looking for the opposite. It's a very console-oriented mentality.

On developing for the iPhone: We offer entertainment on the go--we call it bite-sized entertainment for a hungry world. We specialize in short, snackable pieces of entertainment. Console guys think in terms of the installed base of hardware--until there are at least 20 million pieces of hardware that will play your product, it's not worth getting into the market. We're focused on the iPhone because it has such a large installed base--there are millions of people to purchase and play our products.

We look at the App Store like it's a giant brick-and-mortar store--the difference is that the aisles are miles long. But we're still sending people to buy our product. In the App Store, people can bump into our applications by doing a search--if you search the App Store for ZZ Top, you only come up with our lighter product.

On working with licensed properties: After we create a design, we send it to Live Nation, who sends it to the artist's management. The management shares it with band, and the band signs off on it--either yes or no, or yes with some tweaks. We just did a lighter app for The Who--they wanted to change four images, and sent us four new images to use. It gets tweaked until they're happy. Making a licensed videogame that takes a year to make is a lot different than making a virtual lighter that takes a month.

The opportunities are incredible in terms of built-in marketability. If people do a search on Kings of Leon, they're going to find our app. Working with licenses means you spend a lot less money on marketing--especially when you're selling products at 99 cents, you don't have much left to spend on marketing. Once Apple takes its share, the licensor takes their share and the developer takes their share, there's not much left over.

On advice for aspiring developers: My advice is to focus on the iPhone--it has a large installed product base, and an app store that's already deployed. If you're competent and have a good idea, [Apple will] approve it--that is the best way to get into the marketplace, instead of trying to create products for multiple handsets.

Focus on something you're passionate about, and keep your price in a realistic range. Do the math--look at the marketplace. Not all products have to be 99 cents, but it's a good number to start with--free is here to stay, so be cognizant if that.

Why are you doing this? Is it a business? Is it a hobby? It comes down to those questions--if it's a hobby, price it right and make it the best app you can. If it's a business, add other platforms as you go along--but start with the iPhone.