WES 2009: BlackBerry Game Developers Q&A

BlackBerry Game Developers Q&A
By Kevin Michaluk on 6 May 2009 12:05 pm EDT
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Mike Barnes (NickelBuddy), Sylvain Dufour (Mobigloo), Keith Pichelman (Concrete Software)

The best thing about attending an event like WES is that it gives you the opportunity to talk to people in the business face to face and learn more about what's going on in the world of BlackBerry. That said, I was stoked to sit down in the hotel lounge Sunday night and ask three of the top game developers for BlackBerry some questions on behalf of CrackBerry Nation. If you've ever bought a game for your BlackBerry, the odds are pretty good one of the guys pictured above was behind it... think Nintaii, Air Traffic Control, Pirates!, Aces Texas Hold'em, MarbleTrap and Wordcaster to name just a few.

This is one of those articles you definitely need to read - we talk about app pricing, challenges in developing for BlackBerry, get a glimpse of what's coming down the pipe and more. I hope you enjoy this BlackBerry Game Developer Q&A... it was fun putting this together. And big thanks to Mike, Sylvain and Keith for participating!


BlackBerry Game Developers Q & A

The Developers:

Sylvain Dufour, CEO Mobigloo
Website: http://www.mobigloo.com | Buy Mobigloo Games >>
Top titles: Air Traffic Control, Nintaii, Next Dual Pack, Storm Level Pro

Keith Pichelman, CEO, Concrete Software, Inc.
Website: http://www.concretesoftware.co | Buy Concrete Software Games >>
Top titles: Sid Meier's Civilization, Pirates!, Railroad Tycoon, PBA Bowling, People Mobile, Aces brand games (Texas Hold'em, Blackjack, etc.)

Mike Barnes, CEO, Nickel Buddy, LLC
Website: http://www.nickelbuddy.com | Buy Nickel Buddy Games >>
Top Titles: Solitaire Buddy Gold, Marble Trap, Wordcaster, Coin Flip

Some Quick Questions

Q. How long have you been developing for BlackBerry? Do you develop for other platforms too or only BlackBerry?
Sylvain: We have been developing for BlackBerry since late 2005. We develop for Windows Mobile devices but also for iPhone and Android via partnerships with ConcreteSoftware.
Keith: We've developed for BlackBerry since 2004. We also develop for J2ME devices, Windows Mobile, Android, and iPhone.
Mike: Nickel Buddy was started in 2003 to develop applications for J2ME devices. We have since migrated to BlackBerry Smartphones and now focus exclusively on that platform.

Q. How long have you been developing games just for BlackBerry?
Sylvain: Our game Next was released in January 2006 and won the 1st prize in the game developer contest organized by RIM.
Keith: Since 2004, our first BlackBerry title was Aces Texas Hold'em which has won a number of awards and still is a top selling game for us today - though it has been updated many times.
Mike: Back in 2005 I was killing time before a flight in a Starbucks and the guy next to me started chatting about his BlackBerry. He loved it for email, and he said the device would be perfect if only he could play a few games on it. I agreed, and we came out with some of the first BlackBerry games a few months later.

Q. What are your favorite titles that you have developed?
Sylvain: Would have to be Air Traffic Control
Keith: Sid Meier's Civilization was really fun to play with since I remember playing the PC version, PBA Bowling was also fun because the PBA was a great group to work with and it was fun to see our commercials go live on ESPN.
Mike: I love Marble Trap. It's a perfect puzzle game when you just have a few idle minutes and it gives you a quick burst of satisfaction when you solve each level. My kids love it too; they are always stealing my Curve to play when I'm not looking.

Q. What's your favorite BlackBerry device model to develop for?
Sylvain: BlackBerry Storm because it allows the creation of innovative games by using the touch screen.
Keith: Whichever device is selling the best!
Mike: The Storm has to be my favorite. The combination of touchscreen and accelerometer opens up a whole new world of game possibilities.


Some BIG Questions...

Q. What draws you to develop for the BlackBerry platform?
Keith: It really helps that RIM owns the devices and the OS, it keeps the devices from getting too fragmented from a programming aspect. BlackBerry smartphones have always had nice large screen sizes as well, which make applications easier to use.

Q. How long does it take to develop some of your titles?
Sylvain: It varies depending on the complexity of the game. For example, it took a couple of months to come up with 100 levels for Nintaii. Overall, the RIM SDK provides some easy tools and solid foundations for smooth development.

Q. What are challenges do you face?
Keith: The biggest challenge for us is developing for all the different BlackBerry smartphones while keeping the end consumer in mind. We've worked very hard to support as many devices as possible with the least number of installs. We don't want customers to have to know whether they have an 8900 or 8350i, we want them to be able to just know they have a BlackBerry device and want one of our applications. The flip side to this is that we also have to be prepared for new devices with new screen sizes and able to quickly support the new devices for all of our titles.

Q. How come prices for BlackBerry apps are sometimes higher than their iPhone App Store counterparts?
Sylvain: Prices for applications and especially games came down dramatically during the last couple of years. If you look back at 2006, the average price for a BlackBerry consumer application was $22.64 (source: Handango yardstick). Most of the new games are now released around $5. So we are going in the right direction but still have a long way to go to match iPhone pricing. The main reason today is volume. It is not unusual to see a great iPhone game sell over 10,000 copies each day. The reason is that each and every single iPhone, iTouch user has the app store installed on their device. Because users consume applications almost on a daily basis, Apple charge their credit card at the end of the week resulting in overall charges of a few bucks (a few games at 99 cents). BlackBerry is quite new to the consumer market. The mobile CrackBerry App Store and the RIM App Word are the first real steps in this market. It might take another year but prices will eventually match the other platforms.

Q. What would you like to see to happen, from RIM or elsewhere, to help you in this space?
Mike: The BlackBerry as a development platform was obviously not designed with gaming in mind. Now, the device is growing more powerful, but it still lacks OpenGL support and the ability to play more than one sound at the same time. I would love to see new and more powerful API's to allow us bring the best gaming content to BlackBerry.

Q. What are you currently working on? Any secrets you can share with CrackBerry Nation?
Mike: We've been working very hard on a tower defense game called "Field Towers". This style of game has been hugely popular on other platforms and we're excited to finally bring it to the BlackBerry.
Sylvain: The next app is coming in less than 2 weeks and interacts with your built in camera...

Thanks for the time guys!!! Now get back to work. We need some more games to play! :) 

Topics: Interviews

Reader comments

WES 2009: BlackBerry Game Developers Q&A

15 Comments

Can't play more than one sound at the same time...
Interesting. Had no idea that was the case or that it was an issue for game development. All though now that they mention it, it does make sense.

There have been other handheld systems that have had this problem. Although those systems are quite a bit older (i.e. Nintendo's Gameboy, was this way all the way through GBA.) In order to get past this issue, developers implemented software mixers. I know that in my school, UAT (shameless plug), when we were using the GBA dev kit we had to do the same, otherwise you would end up with problems with your project. More than likely this is an issue with the Blackberry OS rather than the hardware. Hopefully RIM will address this in later versions of the OS.

Please give us some nice online games...
I thought Blackberry online functions would be able to support a good online game...
I would love to be able to play online games on my Blackberry(sorry no texas hold'em connected.... )

What about UNO online? WORMS online? Scrable online? even batleship online? ... There are so many simple games out there that would be great on a mobile phone with online support...

If anyone knows any good online game apart from Texas Hold'em connected, please let me know... (Ive tried some of the web based game such as 'Cellufun'from app world, but it is too slow :( ... )

I'd love to see online games as well, a Worms or Leiro type game or maybe a BOMBERMAN GAME. Online pool, tanks, etc.

It would be great to be able to enter a chat room with people and join a game that way.

I've been wishing someone would develop a tower defense game, those are so addicting and dish out hours of entertainment!

I would love to see a good racing game that uses the accelerometer to steer. If there is one already please point me there :)

Man I should have went. I was contemplating going but I decided not to at the last minute. Would have cool to have met up with all the developers in the blackberry world.

I'm sure people there would've known you too since you're so popular in these forums. Always next year though! Keep up the good work.

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