Meet the Makers: Charles Hudson and Mike Jimenez of Bionic Panda Games

by Brad Spirrison

Charles Hudson (left), Mike Jimenez (right)Bionic Panda Games founders Charles Hudson and Mike Jimenez worked together at social gaming company Serious Business, which was acquired last year by Zynga. In this week’s Meet the Makers the two explain why they went all-in on Android with their first release Aqua Pets.

“Schizophrenia is one of the leading causes of death among start-ups,” explained Jimenez, who also pointed to Android’s Live Wallpaper technology and personalization features as reasons why their company embraced the platform.

AndroidApps.com: Bionic Panda Games just released its first title, Aqua Pets. What should players expect when they download the app?

Mike Jimenez: Aqua Pets is more like a toy than it is a game. It adds some light-hearted fun to your most important accessory - your mobile phone. It turns your phone into a customizable aquarium that grows the more you interact with it. It's currently categorized as a "casual game" but if the Android marketplace had a "toy" category we'd so be there.

AA: What was your motivation in launching your first app on Android? What advantages does this platform bring you?

MJ: Aside from the attractive business-level characteristics of the platform, we felt that Android gives us interesting technology to help differentiate our products. Above all, the Live Wallpaper technology of Android 2.1 was perfect for the type of experiences we wanted to create.

Charles Hudson: In addition, we both have been Android users for some time and were frustrated that nobody was building the kinds of games and entertainment experiences we wanted. We wanted to build the kinds of toys and entertainment experiences we thought would delight and engage Android users and there are a lot of things in Android that allow us to do that. Specifically, we like the fact that Android is open and gives us access to a lot of user information on the device that we can use to make more interesting, personalized experiences. The latest generation of Android phones have loads of memory, fast processors, GPS capabilities, and the ability to run lots of interesting things such as live wallpapers. We have some plans to utilize all of these capabilities in some pretty interesting ways.

AA: Do you plan to expand into iOS or other platforms?

MJ: Not immediately. Schizophrenia is one of the leading causes of death among start-ups. Since we like to take full advantage of the platform when we design our toys, moving them over to another platform is more than just a "porting" effort. However, once we reach significant scale it may be interesting to see what we can do outside of Android.

CH: One other thing we've learned is that by focusing exclusively on Android, we're able to take advantage of all of the cool platform features that are Android only. If you're working on cross-platform or multi-platform games, there can be a tendency to focus on the least common denominator across platforms to make sure the game works everywhere. This can lead to games that don't really shine on any platform and only feel good enough when you put them in the hands of users. We think there are a lot of really interesting things you can do that only work on Android and it's our intention to utilize those features to make great products for users. Given the growth rate of Android handsets in the market and the continuing maturity of the OS, we think we can build a great company without the need to migrate to iOS.

AA: With minimal marketing, Aqua Pets is getting considerable traction and is well received by users. How are consumers finding your game?

MJ: There's evidence that we've made some strides with the elementary school kids. A 10-year-old has written me recently saying that she loves the game and that she wishes she could be the one running Bionic Panda Games. Is that the thought process of kids these days? At that age I was more worried about making it home in time to watch the next episode of the Transformers cartoon.

CH: To date, we've really been taking a modest approach to marketing. Our launch strategy was to upload our game to the Android Market and see how much organic discovery we could get with that approach. So far, that has been working pretty well for us. Mike and I also spent almost two years working on Facebook games, so we're also beginning to integrate some social mechanics into our games. We just added in a new feature that allows users to share pictures of their tanks with their friends on Facebook and that's showing really good uptick among our users.

AA: As a Venture Partner with San Francisco-based SoftTech VC, what inspired you to get into the mobile gaming space in general and this company in particular?

CH: Mike and I worked together at Serious Business, a social games company that was acquired by Zynga in February of last year. After the acquisition, I knew that I wanted to do a start-up and I knew that I wanted to work with Mike. I have long been intrigued by mobile and when I really believe that there is a great opportunity to combine what we learned from building games on top of Facebook with the emerging wold of mobile games. I believe there is a huge opportunity on these mobile platforms and that a number of really enduring companies are going to be created - success is going to require blending a bunch of different skill sets and we're assembling those individuals at Bionic Panda Games.

On the investing side, I have known my partner at SoftTech, Jeff Clavier, for almost a decade and I have longer term plans to return to the world of venture capital investing once my startup career is over. Jeff and I spent a lot of time talking about how a model where I am a General Partner at SoftTech and the CEO of Bionic Panda Games might work. I talked to Mike and Jeff both about how I would be able to both invest for SoftTech and work with Mike on Bionic Panda Games and I think we have a model that works for the three of us. Being able to sit on both the investor side and the entrepreneur side of the table has been really fun and interesting. I think the synergy makes me better at both jobs.

AA: Three years ago, this market opportunity did not exist for entrepreneurs like yourselves. Is it possible to anticipate what the landscape will look like one year from now? Three years from now?

MJ: I'm not sure what the short/near-term landscape would look like. Ultimately, I see a world where most of our every day use-cases (payment, physical access, entertainment, etc.) are addressed in some form or another by these little pocket computers we today call phones.

CH: One of the great things about mobile entertainment, and games specifically, is that the business models that work today allow small groups of individuals to bootstrap their way to profitable and in some cases large businesses. The costs for getting started are so low - this is still a fairly new development in the world of tech entrepreneurship.

In most other segments of games, we have seen a common pattern. There's a burst of activity with the launch of a new platform, leaders emerge, and those leaders then begin to consolidate some of the most promising teams on these new platforms. I believe we are still in the early days of this discovery period but that we will move into a period where there are some leaders with the financial resources and know how to begin consolidating the space. When that happens and who does the consolidating is hard to know.

Finally, I think people are underestimating how rapidly Android is evolving. Many of the challenges on the platform are being addressed and we see it becoming an even more interesting platform more quickly than many others might predict. The issues around payment, fragmentation, and distribution will get fixed in short order.