Gabe AlvaroUnited States
Before the holidays, Brad and I finally caught up with Chris Ewington of Codito/Sage Board Games fame to chat about everything they've been up to lately and what is in store for the coming year. While we readied the interview for publishing, Chris also requested that we let everyone know that many of Codito's app's are on sale until January 1st. Now without further ado, here is our interview with Chris from Codito/Sage Board Games.
Brad: What can you tell us about your upcoming releases, specifically what's next and when can we expect them?
Chris: We have a few irons in the fire but most likely what's going to be released next is Le Havre and we're also working on Through the Ages but that's going to be a little bit longer. I have this sinking suspicion that we are going to be living up to our reputation once again and bumping things back a little bit but hopefully not as much this time as we have had to in the past.
Gabe: Well you're not alone.
Chris: Yeah I know especially this time of year right. It's the holidays and I mean for us it was...y'know the Tigris launch was great, it was really good and successful enough that there was a lot more kind of...I don't want to say distraction...but there were... there was more work that kind of came out of that than we were expecting.
Gabe: When you say more work, what do you mean? Leads to new projects?
Chris: Mainly in terms of just promoting Tigris and responding to the initial feedback and of course we kind of...we had had it in the back of our mind that once Tigris came out and we felt pretty comfortable with the Game Center multiplayer in particular, now we have to go back and retrofit some of the other apps. So we're spending some time on the apps and it all eats up time.
Gabe: Was it Codito's intention to have those retrofitted apps happen before the or after the Le Havre release or on parallel schedules?
Chris: I'd say we're working on it in parallel right now so it will be much like everything else, when it's ready it will be ready
Gabe: Do you have a time frame you are hoping for the retrofitted multiplayer for Ra, Tikal and Medici.
Chris: Medici is probably going to be a little longer because that has been sadly neglected for too long and it needs a bit more of an overhaul to bring it up to par with the others
Ra I think is...you know the app itself is reasonably stable so switching the multiplayer hopefully won't take too long. Tikal needs some bug fixing as well, so that's going to be a little longer. All of it is kind of complicated by a couple of things. One is that we are already working on an update for Puerto Rico and we don't have much time until Apple shuts down for the holidays so at least in terms of getting something in...
I'd love to say we're gonna have stuff out before Christmas but I really can't say for sure right now...as soon as possible
Can you tell I'm trying to be a little less promising than we have been in the past?
Gabe: Great. Just in time for my first interview with Codito. Now you won't give out any information.
Chris: No I mean, we still are going to stick to our usual modus operandi of telling information as soon as we have it, we are just going to try and be a little more careful about promising things before we should be.
Gabe: Maybe as a question about Le Havre specifically, I read on your Geeklist that you will be using original art this time around? What does that mean and what the differences as far as your process is concerned?
Chris: Yeah. We've actually got the original print art so most of the same files that were sent to the printer, we're working off of those. It's funny because I think it's saving us some time in some ways but not in other ways because we still have to figure out how to adapt that to fit on the screen and make sure that as we're cutting things down to size that it all still works together. There's the inevitable, things that don't exist in the printed version like UI buttons and things like that so I think it's been kind of an interesting experience and a fun experience just because we're working with the images that you see on the printed board game and I expect there will be some positive response from the fans just based on that, but it hasn't completely negated the need for art work to be done.
Gabe: As I recall Le Havre has a very large foot print as a print board game does it not?
Chris: Yeah, it does but it actually compresses down pretty well too.
Gabe: Yeah there were a lot of little counters as I recall.
Chris: Yeah that's right. And the board itself, while it is expansive, it's one of those boards that like a third of it or more is taken up by places to put the counters when you are not using them. It looks nice because it has all of these French harbor buildings, but in terms of what you actually need for an electronic version you don't need piles of stuff, in fact we want to move away from that.
Gabe: You were talking about original art. For all previous Codito titles, except for Puerto Rico somewhat, you were not using original game art, correct?
Chris: That's right.
Puerto Rico HD game play screenshot
Gabe: I think the majority of the flak you guys take for your graphics, which I have no problems with--I actually enjoy the graphics of Puerto Rico--UI being one thing and graphics another--but it seems to me that a lot of the flak you've taken has been because you are not using the original art, and because you are not using the original art you've kind of got the chips stacked against you for the art that you do come up with I suppose. Would you agree with that?
Chris: Yeah, I think so. It really ties into something I think we kind of had a sense of when we started, but maybe not the full sense, which is that board gamers are a passionate bunch. Just based on the fact, even if only one our games is your favorite game and that's maybe even an unusual case but just for sake of argument, if that was like, if you know Le Havre was the one euro game that you owned and had played all the time, even that kind of a person is still going to be really passionate about it because you can't just sit down and play these things in half an hour.
So that passion of course translates to highs and lows and a very polarized response I think. I wouldn't say we've become immune to it, but we've certainly become used to it and all we can really do is make the best game we can and make the way we think is good and that we enjoy and hope that most people like it. Or course we try and get some feedback, but we have to take some of that with a grain of salt because we know we're going to get the person who says "that's awesome. Don't change a thing." and the person who says "Oh my god, that's terrible, you have to change everything!"
So the decision was, ironically, the number of times that we've had to push release dates back, the decision was largely based on not wanting to have to take the extra time or spend the extra money up front to track down the original artist and get permission and get the files and all that kind of thing. And then the other big piece is just that sometimes anyway the original art actually doesn't lend itself very well to a digital medium. For instance, with Tigris, I like the original printed art, it's great, but the tiles in particular are very detailed which looks awesome on the printed version but if had tried to actually shrink those down, even for the iPad, you would have lost all of that. It would have just looked like a big mess. At the end of the day what it boils down to is we have to make choices and we make the ones that we think are best.
Gabe: In regard to original art, I suppose with some of these games you making your agreements with designers as opposed to publishers?
Chris: Yeah, mostly. There's been a little of both. Obviously Ravensburger is a publisher. It just depends who has the rights. For the most part it's been the designers.
Gabe: When you talk about rights, how do you go about determining who has the rights? Is it always black and white?
Chris: No it's not always black and white. I think it was Tikal actually, we had originally been talking to Jay at Rio Grande and he had said he had the rights to some games...and this was when we were in our start up phase where we were basically trying to get together a list of rights, and there was kind of some confusion back and forth between him and Wolfgang Kramer. Then funnily enough a couple months after that I was talking to Thomas over at Ravensburger and he said "Oh I see that you have Tikal. I'd better check on that because I thought we had the rights for that."
So there was a bit of a lump in the throat moment there. So I guess the short answer is it's not always black and white but it's...one of the great things that we found is the board game community, in terms of the designers and the publishers, is that generally everybody's very positive and friendly and there's much more of an attitude of camaraderie than there is of competition. So it's been pretty easy for us to determine who actually owns the rights, even if we've had to go back and forth between people.
Brad: Do you guys have any plans for expansion on to new platforms, including Android or any other platforms?
Chris: Yeah, so we have the rights already for the three Knizia games, to port them to Android and Mac OS. The underlying graphics engine we're using, cocos2d, they're working on support for Mac OS, and now there's actually a variation that supports Android as well.
So we're looking at that and it's just a matter of kind of fitting that in given the fact that we haven't gotten through our initial list of iOS titles yet.
Gabe: Do you expect that that will slow down progress on the other six apps that are coming up in 2012?
Chris: Certainly it's our intention that it won't slow things down. I actually just had a brief email conversation with Reiner Knizia's personal assistant this week to say it's going to be probably 4-6 months before we get any of those projects close to release. So we're trying to keep our focus on the things we think are going to have the most success and also we have a certain obligation both in terms of the legal but also in terms of good behavior (for lack of a better way of putting it)...we have these licenses for iOS so we need to get through those before and make sure that that's our primary focus.
Gabe: Just a question on "the list" on BGG, I understand that the first two are well under way?
Gabe: And the third one: El Grande?
Chris: Not so much, to give you the candid answer. We were going to, and maybe you are scooping us a little bit here, or maybe you can give us a few weeks. but we are going to currently go through and update release dates again after Christmas, but we've been in touch with the licensors, kind of giving everybody, giving them the scoop before we make any kind of public announcements. El Grande is probably going to be more like a Summer release, so I think you can go ahead and mention that in the write up if you like but we'll also be updating it.
Gabe: So for these other three do you foresee these in 2012?
Chris: Yeah, that's our hope anyway. Thanks to the success of Tigris mainly, and now that we have a sense of how Puerto Rico is doing and those kinds of things, we've been able to hire another developer. so we're hoping that that's going to make everything just that much more feasible. The plan is to get through the list next year. I don't know if we will quite get there but we should be pretty close.
Gabe: Beyond this list, will there be new titles that we haven't yet heard about?
Chris: Nothing that I can announce right now. I can tell you that one of the things we that we are thinking about is we are looking into some original content, original designs in other words...
Gabe: Do you mean a board game app that never existed in print?
Chris: Yeah, or that's possibly in development for print. We, I think I can safely say that both Reiner Knizia and Ravensburger have been talking to us about possible future projects but nothing that's of relevance yet.
Gabe: So essentially "E" first and then maybe print?
Chris: No. The two main possibilities are more licenses from people like Ravensburger or Knizia or possibly other designers for existing board games, but we're also exploring the idea of original content games which may be in the process of becoming printed board games or just sort of maybe a board game concept that hasn't been printed.
Chris: It's all pie in the sky right now.
Brad: We would love to learn more about Codito's back story like how you got started and what the goal of starting Codito was?
Chris: You mean other than world domination?
Gabe: Well yeah besides that.
Chris: I guess the first thing is that I know that there are still some people, including people that we work with directly, who have some confusion still about what's Codito and what's Sage. What it boils down to is Codito is the legal entity, and that will play into the back story which I'll get to in just a minute, and Sage Board Games was more of a concept for having some branding and an umbrella to put all of the board games under it so to speak. Part of that was because Codito had published some iPhone apps and games beforehand
So we wanted to kind of differentiate the board games as being sort of a new venture, but mostly it was just I liked the name and it kind of came to me and I thought it would be appropriate for the branding and differentiation of...of course it kind of backfired a little bit because we kind of realized we kind of still have to have Codito as the legal entity, which means it shows up in the App Store and...so is that clear enough or have I just confused the waters even more?
Brad: I think it's clearer than it was before.
Gabe: So let me get this straight, when it comes to doing a project with somebody like Ravensburger, it's Codito doing the work?
Chris: That's right. All the legal stuff is in the Codito name. Sage board games is essentially just a made up name.
Brad: With that in mind does Codito do other coding or other programming for different uses, different things.
Chris: We are not right now. So I guess we can kind of go into the back story from there...Codito was actually originally my consulting company when I was working as an independent software developer. So I worked on lots of different contracts over the years. That was kind of part of the other reason too, was to be honest, when the whole board game thing started rolling I wasn't sure if I was still going to do other work on the side. So that was kind of another reason for keeping that legal entity separate.
So I had this software consulting company. I was developing software for various clients. At one point, I guess it was early 2009 I really wanted to get into iPhone development so I managed to get a gig doing that, contract doing that, and that came out and the economy had pretty much gone into the tank at that point so I was actually out of work for most of the rest of 2009 and into the beginning of 2010. And so one of the things that I had noodled around with since I had had the iPhone experience and since I've always been a gamer myself and have a history of home projects developing games and things like that. With the iPhone market just kind of sitting there I started noodling around with some apps.
So I'd kind of gotten familiar with the iPhone world and I think had even gone as far as finding some of the tools like cocos2d and some of those kinds of things. So while that was kind of happening and then in January 2010 a couple of things happened: one was, I, for fun basically, started working on an iPhone version of Ra because I had played it over the holidays, had some time, and I was getting back to that fun that I've had over the years of developing some homegrown board game software. At the same time, the iPad was announced at the end of January. I kind of started down this path of making a version of Ra for iPhone. I kind of realized, "well this is dumb I should check and see of anybody is actually done it yet." And that actually led me to a BoardGameGeek posting saying that Reiner Knizia was looking for developers to bring his games to the iPhone.
So between that and the fact that the iPad had just been announced, it kind of was a crystallization moment for me where some of here had been talking about board game platforms, electronic board game platforms, and how there wasn't really anything yet that was widely available and big enough and all those kinds of things. So while the iPhone is cool and there's millions of them out there now but it's still such a small screen, wouldn't it be great if somebody came out with a bigger device and lo and behold here comes Apple to rescue.
The rest is history from there in some ways. Not to gloss over the rest of the details, which I won't, that was was kind of the seed that got everything started, Once we were able to get in touch with Reiner and ...at that point he was still...I guess he didn't really know what we were looking for when we first got in touch with him. So he suggested some his lesser known titles or he had this idea for a straight to electronic design or whatever and I came back to him and said "No, actually what we're thinking about doing is bringing the big games to this new platform, the iPad in particular." So we were able to get the rights for Medici and Ra and Tigris and Euphrates
By this point it was March or April of 2010 I think. Then I basically said to myself, "If we can get these, let's see what else we can get." Quite honestly we went to the top 100 on BoardGameGeek and started going through them. Obviously there were the ones that I was more familiar with than others and thought about which ones might actually work on the iPad and just basically started reaching out to people. I think we hit the perfect moment in some ways or at least a very good moment, where people were just kind of becoming aware of the opportunity that was there. We happened to be first to the gate and say "Hey, we'd like to make an iPad version of your board game. What do you think?"
As always happens with that kind of process, we had lots and lots of rejections or people that weren't interested or people that wanted to develop it in-house and all this kinds of things. Obviously we had enough people that were interested and the rights were available that we managed to build up the pretty impressive list. I am still blown away sometimes when I go to our page on BoardGameGeek and I look at that list and I'm just like "How did we manage to do that?" I mean just getting the rights you know, amassing that list is still something that I appreciate and am thankful for
Gabe: When the whole story is written it will definitely show that Codito was one of the earliest companies to come out with a stable of games that they were working on and I really think it was one of the things that really got...I think you got other people interested after the fact, after you started releasing games and showing people that there's a market here and there's a lot of good quality in these games to be "mining" from I suppose you could say. The thing that strikes me is that in these games we all love there's just so much quality of game play that, some of it may not translate to the iPad, but a lot of it can, and I think you guys definitely seized an early moment. I think you've propelled a lot of other people or at least got people thinking about it early on. There have been some that have come later now, but definitely you guys are one of the "originals" even in this short time frame of the last couple years.
Chris: Yes. I appreciate that. It wasn't what we were trying to do per so, but I'm definitely happy if we've had any kind of influence in that sense. Certainly for us we fully agree with the idea that there's a lot of great games to be made out there. For us I think we kind had a sense early on that getting a list and having a stable was just the right thing to do from a business perspective because ...it proved to be daunting right from the beginning because I think somebody had actually stumbled across the Codito Facebook page and I had been just kind of posting "hey we got the rights to this...and hey we got that rights to that," and that had pretty much only been viewed by friends and family up until that point. I remember that day that somebody from BoardGameGeek had discovered that and announced it, kind of outed us on one of the forums and that's when the ride really started.
But it's been great because that kind of got us some notoriety to start with and in some ways we're only just beginning to really appreciate the benefit that we have from a marketing perspective but also from a technical perspective...we're not just making one game and never touching that code again, we're solving a problem once and then able to bring that solution to bear on all of our titles, whether it's things that have already come out or the next title on the list.
Brad: What is Codito's philosophy or design goal when designing board game apps and what features do you consider essential? I guess those two questions may be closely related.
Chris: In terms of philosophy, kind of the overarching one for us is to have fun, both in terms of having fun ourselves doing the work, but also recognizing the fact that we're talking about games and part of the the whole point is it's entertainment and diversion. It doesn't mean that it doesn't sometimes involve frustration or drama but at the end of the day we want to play these games, whether it's the printed version or the electronic version because it's fun. So that's kind of something that we always try to keep in mind.
In terms of design philosophy I guess I would describe it as, we're trying to be true to the original since we're working on adapting existing and popular board games. I think it's really important for us to honor the originals. Everything kind of has to come from that because that is our source material, and of course our customers are going to be customers because they know the original, but it has to be tempered with recognizing areas where maybe the original doesn't adapt quite as well to the electronic medium or there's room to enhance it with other little features or things. Obviously the biggest one being in the visual department where you can have [for example] Medici with a nice flowing river background that takes the original theme and concept of the board game and brings it to life in a literal way.
So, you're right, that does connect directly to the features question. I think the theme in some ways comes almost before any other feature, aside from the obvious where you have to implement the rules of the board game. I think for us the theme of the original game is probably the most important feature after that because that's really what drew us and what I think draw most of us as board gamers as a a community, the euro games in particular, because they have this great theming and you're not just moving pieces around on a checkers/chess board with no thought about what they represent or any kind of story behind it or anything like that. Whereas you sit down to Puerto Rico, if you're into that kind of thing anyway, you can take yourself right into that theme and it's one of the reasons I think that game and others like it have been so popular. You're not just going through this abstract series of steps, though the games do have that element to them. You're imagining, at least on some level, more than that.
And from there, of course, then you get into the nitty gritty where there's...well, you guys have done a really good job of capturing the list of possible features and trying to figure out which ones are important to the customers...thanks for doing that again by the way. But I guess I would say that the most important thing in terms of technical features is providing as many different modes of play. I think [that] has proven to be a real measure of success for the board game apps in particular because you do have people only want to play online and maybe some people that only want to play against the computer, but I think for the most part the vast majority of people want to be able to go through a tutorial and play against the computer or sit down across the table from somebody and play or play it on the bus on the way to work or play it online against somebody and have that experience...
Gabe: or play it online while they are on the bus ...
Chris: Absolutely. That kind of hits it right on the head, right? There are a limited number of ways of playing but I think it's pretty safe to say that lots of people are interested in at least one of them and usually more.
Brad: Briefly, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges in designing board game apps as compared to a mobile game in general?
Chris: There's challenges in terms of the implementation. There's challenges as far as the business side of things.
Brad: I was thinking in terms of the implementation itself, but it would be interesting to know as far as the business side of things what the challenges are?
Chris: Sure. On the implementation side, I alluded to the fact that a lot of these board games--and what kind of goes hand in hand with that theme I was talking about, which is so great--it a lot of times equates to a lot of pieces, a lot of [screen] real estate. I mean you guys know very well that one of the things we've take some flak for, and also had some praise for thankfully, is how you deal with that issue of, even with the iPad, you've got basically an old school monitor size resolution and how you fit everything on there and balance between having all the information that you need as a player without cluttering the screen. I wouldn't say that we've always necessarily gotten it right, but it's certainly...one of the main challenges.
The other thing that comes up for us a lot, and has also been something we've gotten various kinds of feedback on is definitely the AI, which obviously you don't, when you are designing a printed board game there's basically no need to worry about "well how would a computer play this game?" But as soon as you implement an electronic version...I guess there have been a few examples that didn't have AI in their game...but I think they got pretty soundly lashed for that. It is kind immediate. I guess some people don't see it as a requirement, but for us it's certainly, again going back to that providing as modes of play as possible, having some kind of AI, we think is definitely a requirement and it's a big challenge. The running joke has been that we basically spend as much time working on the AI as you do working on everything else. And obviously we don't have that luxury. Certainly not now that we're trying to get through a list of games in a reasonable time frame.
So that's certainly been one of the challenges we've had to face. We haven't always succeeded. We could talk about examples, but I'd rather not (chuckle). No, seriously, that's a challenge and it's something that we've kind of had to look at as well. We do the best job we can and hopefully we come up with a reasonable opponent or something that at least provides the entertainment value of playing a solo game, And again we pretty much have to leave the challenge of the best AI ever written for Le Havre [for example] as an ongoing project.
I would say that one of the things I was thinking about before talking to you guys, in terms of the challenges, is I would say people's expectations has been one of the biggest challenges in some ways too. Because we knew going into this that our customers are going to be passionate about the board games because that's just the way the community is...and because of the list of games that we have. There are high expectations. We have high expectations for ourselves of course as well. So that's an ongoing challenge as well, to just try and keep improving and try to meet those expectations, which inevitably you're never going to make the game that satisfies everybody's expectations.
So I guess in terms of the business side of things, the board game market is obviously a niche market. There have been some probably obvious examples of board game apps that have kind of broken out, and they're the ones that have pretty much done that in the real world too. You can buy Settlers of Catan at Toys R Us, right? And I would say most of the titles that we have for instance, you'd have to go to your local game store. So we're not talking about as mainstream a product. So there's a certain challenge that of course, where you have to accept the fact that this is not going to be competitive with Angry Birds.
And the other part of that is just the nature of the games. You're not making something for the most part that you can fire up your iPhone and play for 30 seconds and then carry on with whatever you were doing. These are intellectually stimulating strategy games that you may be able to play without thinking too much, but for the most part the enjoyment comes from the fact that you have to think about "what's my choice going to be at this particular moment?"
That also means that the games are not quite as widely appealing. We'd like them to be of course, and that's certainly part of my own personal goal or challenge if you will...is how can we spread these games farther afield than just the people who know the originals? But at the end of the day you have to recognize that your core market is going to be your core market. There isn't going to be a whole lot of access to the wider iPhone market. And that's been another reason why things have probably not come out for us as fast as we would have liked them to, and certainly as fast as the fans would have liked them to because we can't afford to have a big EA-size studio based on the fact that we're self-funded and we're running the company based on the revenues we make off the games.
Gabe: Did you see that Puerto Rico was listed 19th among the top 30 best iPad games on CNET?
Chris: I did. Yeah, that was pretty cool!
Gabe: People said that CNET just threw that list together, but hey it's on CNET and somebody put it together and there you go.
Chris: Like I say, you kind of have to take a lot of that with a grain of salt, but obviously it's nice to see. I'm always thrilled when it has happened, quite a few times quite a few times over that last year when somebody says I heard of this board game, or I never heard of this board game, and got the app and it's great. And now I'm gonna go out and get the printed version and that kind of thing. Or you hear from somebody who really is just kind of new to board games in general and just happened to see one of our games because it was New and Noteworthy or whatever. That's a really gratifying feeling. That was certainly part of the original intent, to reach a wider audience, to bring these games to people that maybe aren't even really board gamers or haven't been until this point.
Brad: We would love to know how you see the future. Not just the future of Codito, but the future of board game apps or even board games in general and how digitization will play into that?
Chris: I certainly don't have a crystal ball and wonder if anybody else does. Being a fan of disclaimers, anything I say is just going to be my opinion but I think we're seeing that there's still quite a bit of room for more of the same basically. In terms of, ourselves included, getting through the list of great games that are out there. Even if you just look at the games that Reiner Knizia has designed, there's like hundreds of them. They're not all necessarily going to be great iPhone games or iPad games, or whatever but there's still a huge well to be drawn from I think. I'm kind of curious, and I don't know if this should be on the record or not, but I'm kind of curious to see if, you know I think it was iPadboardgaming.org that has a list of coming releases kind of thing that they're maintaining. There's some pretty big games in terms of BoardGameGeek rankings. There's some pretty big names coming down the pipe. I'm kind of curious to see if there's gonna be any kind of a saturation next year where you've got the top 25 or the top 100 on the 'Geek are pretty well represented on the App Store. Is that going to stimulate more interest or is it going to peak at some point? I mean I don't have an answer for that. Obviously I hope that it's going to stimulate MORE interest, the more games that are out there. It kind of feels to me, and maybe this is just because we've gotten some of our bigger titles out and we're working on a few more, we're kind of in the middle of that trajectory for ourselves in terms of the original list. Maybe it kind of comes from that. I am curious to see what will happen once more and more of the popular games are out there.
I think there's definitely a movement for ourselves and for other people as well to look for the larger audience. There's been a lot of Android releases and more of those coming out for board games. Obviously we're look at that as well. i think that's a natural progression, though from a business perspective and from a technical perspective it just makes sense that games are going to start coming out for more platforms.
And in terms of board games themselves, people have occasionally said "oh this is going to be the death of the printed board game" or someone will post something and say "well I'm not going to bother spending $50 on a printed board game anymore now that I can get the app." I think that's largely untrue. I think that there will always be a demand for being able to sit down at a table with lots of pieces because there's a different kind of fun to be had from it. It's great to be, like you said Gabe, it's great to be on the bus playing whatever, but I think again given that this a very passionate marketplace, a very passionate bunch of people, or type of board gamers in general, I think I don't see the passion for opening up a box and punching out a bunch of little pieces really going away because, let's face it, there's kind of a "Christmas" kind of feeling, and you know going to a board game convention, or game playing with a bunch of your buddies, I don't see that getting replaced any time soon by the existing electronic devices. And even if Apple came out with a device the size of your table or whatever, or you guys were talking about Apple TV, or whatever, even if that was an actual medium that you could play a board game on, I don't think it's ever going to replace the particular fun of having physical pieces.
But I do think that, like you guys have been saying, the designers and the publishers are definitely...I doubt if there's anybody who's not living in a cave, that's not aware of the electronic market being there. I'm sure it has a lot of appeal for designers in terms of maybe we'll start seeing more games coming out as electronic versions first to kind of test the waters or simultaneous releases or near simultaneous releases. I think that's all just going to be a natural progression of what's available because at the end of the day, as a designer, you are going to want to get your game out to as many people as you can, however you can.
I don't think either form is going to replace the other because there's just pros and cons and there's a significant cost involved with both routes so from that kind of perspective I don't see printed board games going away. I'm sure there's going to be lots more electronic versions. Hopefully it's all the best titles and on down the list.
Brad: I think we totally agree with you. Our position is not that these physical board games would ever go away. It is our preferred way to play, but I think you hit some good points that they fill a niche and allow people to play in more situations and more often.
Chris: Yeah, exactly.
Gabe: I like to compare it to vinyl records. Vinyl records didn't die. But with board games it's even more compelling because you don't need power. All you need is yourself and some friends, the game, a flat surface and some light and you're off! Brad and I both agree that we love to be sitting a table playing print board games with our families or friends, playing for hours on end, just having a good time. We get more of that now when we're alone as well, lying in bed, or riding on the bus...we don't have to only play board games when we can get enough people around the table. Those occasions are sadly more and more rare these days, but it (print board gaming) is not going to die.
Chris: Yeah, I think that goes back to that whole concept of it's fun, it's entertainment. So there's lots of different ways that you can have that entertainment experience...as a species we like to have some fun in our schedule...
Gabe: In every possible waking moment!
Chris: Yeah for some people, absolutely. Any way that you can get it, whatever is your cup of tea. And that's really the funnest part of it all, that is now you've got more choices. If you've got a bunch of people together and you can sit down and play the printed version, then you can. If that same group of people is there and "Oh hey we forgot to bring Puerto Rico," then "hey I've got my iPad. We can play on that!" Or now everybody's gone home and I haven't gotten my fix yet...or the two liters of Coke is keeping me up so I can keep going right?
Gabe: Or the wife wants me home now...well then I can play again when I get home.
Chris: Yeah. It's all good.
[We broke here for a moment as Chris wanted to hear about how we got started and we told him our story. Then we brought things back around to Codito and the future of flat touch screen video board games.]
Chris: Ideally we want to be around well into the future. That by necessity is going to mean exploring other market places and other devices. There's no sign of the iOS dominance waning yet, but it's bound to happen or at least other competitors are bound to catch up to some extent or at some point, right? Obviously we are not married to iOS either.
Gabe: Do you see the App Store itself as a challenge for your business?
Chris: What do you mean?
Gabe: It's really hard to discover good stuff in the App Store, don't you think?
Chris: Yeah. It's interesting because I think what we've basically learned, and I guess there's still a lot of people out there that see it as a way to make millions fast or whatever but [to] anybody that's really aware of what's going on it's just another market place. It has a lot of great things about it. There is a lot overhead in terms of getting into the market. As soon as you've got an app approved and released it is widely viewable and all that kind of stuff, but yeah in terms of actually getting traction and getting sales and downloads, it really boils down to being much like any other marketplace where you have to generate that interest somehow yourself.
It kind of bothers me that we, along with every other developer in the App Store, have been contacted by these operations that want to promote your app and they promise they'll get you to the top 25 and all that kind of stuff. That to me just says it is a big business and big marketplace but you have to put in the effort to actually get the visibility. We obviously have be very grateful. Part of the idea from the beginning was using Board Game Geek. Again, it's this community that's just there already and so, for the longest time, that was our only marketing channel other than whatever happen magically via the App Store. So I don't know if I'd say it's a challenge per se, but it's certainly not the silver bullet that some people still mistakenly think it is sometimes.
Gabe: You mean for making millions?
Chris: Yeah, exactly.
Gabe: I'll presume that Codito has not yet made millions...
Chris: You may presume correctly.
Gabe: But are you making a living?
Chris: Yeah. We're still very small and that helps a lot, but yeah we're making a living. I think hopefully we are going to improve in that regard now that we're moving into a phase where we're putting out some of the bigger titles. But it was also kind of part of our "plan", if you will...you can never be assured things are going to work out the way you want them to. So first starting with Medici, there was some strategy in involved there in that it was a simpler game, we thought we could get it out faster, but it also wasn't like Puerto Rico, which is like PUERTO RICO! Say no more. We didn't want to be launching our first game as being as one of the biggest titles because we knew inevitably there were going to be, and of course there were, little technical glitches. We were learning how to do things. So the short answer is yes we are making a living and I hope anyway that things are going to keep getting better for us because we are talking about bigger titles like Le Havre and Through the Ages.
Gabe: And El Grande was #5 for a long time in past years.
Chris: Yeah. It was really nice to see, and obviously we were happy with, Tigris and Euphrates and it was great to see the response to that...and kind of agree with us in that we feel like we've come to the, if not the complete pinnacle of our art, we've definitely continued to raise the bar for ourselves. We certainly hope that we'll continue to do that. The combination of having reached the quality level where we're close to where we want to be and with bigger titles coming up, the theory is that should equate to more financial success as well.
Gabe: Congratulations on the T & E launch by the way.
Chris: Thank you! I'm really happy with it. You're never done though, right? That's kind of the thing with software development in general. You are never done so there's always going to be more stuff to do, but yeah it was great.
Gabe: I think a lot of users forget that this [iOS board game apps] is still in it's infancy in a lot of ways. We haven't yet seen the best we are going to see from just about anybody.
Chris: For sure. For us and just from the technical perspective, the end of last year beginning of this year was was crazy because there was new iPhone and new iPad and new version of the operating system and when even the device that your app is running on haven't actually stabilized yet, and probably never will, there's just this built in need for refinement and staying on top of that.
I guess this maybe goes back to challenges that we were talking about earlier. Probably, in a lot of ways, the biggest challenge for us is just being small and not having enough time, having to make the choices of "ok well, what can we actually do and still move things forward?" because there are lot of things we could get bogged down in and not get around to doing what we really want to do which is keep bringing more games out and get through our list.
Gabe: This has been great. Thank you for your time.
Chris: Yeah. Thank you guys too. I'm sorry it's been overdue for a while but we'll definitely do it again.