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Developing Minds Want to Know: Q&A with Dennis Gustafsson, co-creator of Sprinkle and Granny Smith

by Brad Spirrison

Dennis GustafssonHot on the heels of their successful liquid/physics/puzzler Sprinkle (for Android and iOS), Swedish app developers, Mediocre, recently unleashed Granny Smith on both Android and iOS devices. Granny Smith made it into our weekly Android Games of the Week because it’s a fun, fast-paced platformer with some beautifully-drawn graphics and an addictive quality that keeps you coming back for one more game.

In today’s installment of Developing Minds Want to Know, we talk to Dennis Gustafsson, co-founder of Mediocre GB alongside colleague Henrik Johansson. This two-man crew, along with their contractors, clearly know how to create hit games and Dennis discusses how he became an app developer, how he harnesses innovation, the technical constraints they face and where he expects to the see the mobile industry heading in the future.


Key Company Facts:

Name and Title: Dennis Gustafsson, Co-founder

Company: Mediocre AB

Location: Malmö, Sweden

Size (Revenue and/or Employees): Only the two founders + contractors

Primary Apps/Platforms: Sprinkle and Granny Smith on iOS and Android


APPOLICIOUS: What inspired you to become an app creator?

DENNIS GUSTAFSSON: Henrik Johansson and I used to work on various games back in the early days of home computing (the Commodore Amiga was our platform of choice). At that time publishing was really difficult, and it was impossible to release a game without being dependent on a big publishing corporation. The mobile platform was primarily a vehicle for us to get a game published, but we were also fascinated by the tablet format when it first came out – I don't think we would have started developing Sprinkle if we could only release it for smartphones.

Here’s the official trailer from Medicore for Granny Smith, showing off its great illustration and fun gameplay elements:

APPO: How long have you been developing apps, and what is the most significant difference between now and when you began?

DG: We started working on Sprinkle just two years ago. I have a console/PC game background, so the biggest difference for me is that mobile gaming is now getting broad acceptance across the industry. Some people still roll their eyes when talking about mobile gaming, but for the most part it is now (correctly) accepted as a new paradigm in gaming.

APPO: What apps (outside of those that you develop) inspire you the most and why?

DG: Neither of us actually play a lot of games ourselves nowadays. We get most of our inspiration from old games released in the eighties and early nineties. I think there are a lot of similarities between games now and then. Back then, a lot of people bought home computers and got introduced to gaming that way. Now we see the same pattern with mobile devices. A lot of people who didn't even know they were interested in games have started playing on their phone or tablet. The rise of casual gaming combined with a whole new touch-based interface makes game developers very creative, and we see a lot of innovation compared to just ten years ago.

APPO: Where do you see the most innovation in the app sector?

DG: From a gaming perspective there has naturally been a lot of innovation with touch and tilt controls over the last couple of years. For console games it is more standardized - you have certain expectations of what a button or joystick will do. For mobile games, many still use unique control schemes, and I think that type of freedom is very positive and inspires game designers to be more creative.

APPO: How do you harness that innovation in your own titles?

DG: Both for Sprinkle and Granny Smith, we spent a lot of time on different control schemes, trying at least a dozen models before we found the right ones.

APPO: In such a crowded space, explain how you generate awareness and drive downloads to your applications.

DG: We have been very lucky to get featured by both Apple and Google. Unfortunately, though, app discovery remains a big problem both on iOS and Android. During the initial launch of both titles we have successfully worked with TriplePoint PR to spread the word, but still, many people only discover featured apps and best-selling apps. We also have an in-game notification system to make our fans aware of new releases. The very best marketing you can get is word-of-mouth, and the best way to get that is by making a great app.

APPO: What are the biggest technical constraints that exist today in the app sector?

DG: Android has gotten a lot better recently, and the whole platform is more unified and nicer to developers than just a few years ago. Performance still varies a lot across Android devices. This is slightly problematic for us, since we want to push the limits of the hardware. However, if we push the limits on a high-end model the game will come to a crawl on budget phones, so it's a constant balance between two extremes. This problem is getting more relevant on iOS as well, where we now have a range from the old 3GS up to dual-core iPads.

APPO: How do you (or will you) make money from your application?

DG: Our games are paid apps, so the business model is very straightforward. Plummeting game prices is a big problem in the industry. The competitive market has taught gamers to expect long-lasting, high-quality games with tons of free updates for 99 cents. That's crazy when you think about it – a bottle of water is more expensive. If you get a big hit and make it to the charts you still make a lot of money, but for the vast majority that don't it's almost impossible to recoup the development cost. The freemium model is getting very popular for games, but it only applies to certain types of games and we have no plans going down that road.

APPO: What advice do you have to those working on their first applications?

DG: Our best advice must be to spend that extra time polishing your app – then go back and polish it even more. Don't release it too soon, spend that extra time on the interface and make sure it is responsive at all times, make sure it starts fast and looks pretty. All those little details make the user want come back to it. Also consider marketing at an early stage. The app market is a brutally competitive environment, and there are literally hundreds of apps released every day. It is easy to forget that when browsing the charts.

APPO: Where do you see the app sector one year from now? Five years from now?

DG: In the gaming space I think more console-quality AAA titles will be released for tablets in the next few years. The tablet is a particularly suitable format for gaming, and we have only seen the beginning of this transition. Dedicated gaming consoles will have a hard time keeping up. It's a blessing and a curse – the quality of mobile games will improve, but potentially at the cost of innovation.

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