Why we created Triple Town for Kindle

This week is a big milestone for Spry Fox; we released the first independently-developed game for the Kindle, which we called “Triple Town.” Our playtesters have described Triple Town as, among other things, “the Civilization of Match-3 games”, which is both flattering and terrifying. :-)

Danc has written a nice post about the design philosophy behind the game. If you own a Kindle 2, Kindle DX or Kindle 3 you can purchase Triple Town directly from Amazon.com.

As a supplement to Danc’s post, I thought you might like to know our business rationale for creating Triple Town. It shouldn’t surprise long-time readers of this blog that I’m always on the look-out for platforms in the “uncertain beginnings” phase that may soon enter “early glory”. The Kindle seemed like just such a platform. Let’s break that down:

1. Platform prospects

First and most important question: is there a reason to believe the platform has a good chance of becoming a viable ecosystem for its first wave of game developers? Looking at the Kindle, I saw a platform with a reasonable number of users (Amazon will not release ownership statistics, but I’ve been guessing that there are currently at least 2m+ active content-enabled devices out there, based on publicly available information. I could definitely be wrong about that, but hopefully not by too wide a margin on the downside.)

More importantly, I saw a platform with users who are inclined and encouraged to purchase large quantities of digital content at relatively healthy prices. And given Amazon’s merchandising expertise, I hoped that unlike on so many other platforms (Wiiware springs to mind as a sad example), Kindle games would get plenty of visibility and Kindle developers would have reasonable marketing tools made available to them.

2. Content supply

Secondly: what is the supply of high-quality content likely to look like when the platform first launches? Will it be an overwhelming flood or a small trickle? The latter is what creates a supply-demand imbalance during the “early glory” phase, and which ultimately leads to strong returns for early developers. The Kindle was an interesting case in this regard. While I’d imagine that software developer interest in the Kindle is quite high in general, when I personally asked a large number of my friends in the game industry, “are you planning to develop a game for the Kindle,” the answer was always either “no” or “you can make games for the Kindle?” Furthermore, I didn’t see much Kindle-related news in the game industry press or at game industry conferences. To me, that indicated a potentially-unappreciated market opportunity.

3. Investment threshold

Unfortunately, even when both the conditions above hold true, there is no guarantee that the emerging platform will ultimately prove viable. Any number of issues — ranging from mismanagement of the platform, to unanticipated technology problems, to rotten luck — could cause the ecosystem to be less viable than you might hope. Consequently, the third major condition of a good “uncertain beginnings” investment opportunity is simply: can I dip my toe in the water with a project of relatively small scope? If entering the market requires a huge expense, it probably doesn’t make sense for most independent game developers. But Daniel and I were confident that we could create a great game that we were proud of in a reasonable period of time, with a reasonably small team. And so we did.

Conclusion

Of course, it certainly didn’t hurt that both Spry Fox and Amazon are based in the greater Seattle area. Knowing that I could easily meet the platform managers in person if they were interested in our company or our game was a nice bonus. That said, I wouldn’t call location one of our key investment criteria.

Anyway, long story short, we decided to give the Kindle a shot. I am very grateful to the people at Amazon for their decision to release Triple Town as one of the first games on the Kindle, and look forward to seeing how this grand experiment turns out. :-)

19 Responses to Why we created Triple Town for Kindle

  1. David, fascinated by the game, but seemingly it’s limited to the US only. Any ideas if there are plans to go international any time soon?

  2. Hi David,

    the game looks great! Any chance of a port to Android for those not fortunate enough to have a Kindle (yet)? ;)

    Thanks!

  3. Posting this message from a remote island off the east coast of
    Australia with incredibly spotty Internet access.

    Short answer: we’re limited to the distribution regions supported
    by Amazon. As for an Android port… maybe. :-)

  4. Congrats!

    Give some thought to doing a GDMag post-mortem in a few months.

    Now enjoy both of those blue oceans (real, metaphorical) for a while.

  5. David and Dan–congrats on the release! As soon as I finally get my Kindle, I will definitely check it out. It looks really solid.

  6. Loving that “maybe :-)”.

    Thank you David!

  7. Congrats on getting Triple Town published! Now I have a really good reason to get a Kindle.

  8. Dave! Congrats, man!

  9. Did you join the beta to get the KDK, or is there another in? I’ve been waiting impatiently, myself, and that doesn’t seem to be working.

  10. Yup, we joined the beta. Not sure what the criteria was for letting us in vs. other developers. Amazon hasn’t said much about it.

  11. Our family is enjoying the game! One thing I would like to suggest — it would be nice if you could see what the next tile is going to be, similar to the way Tetris shows you what your next block will be. That would help make it more strategic.

  12. Good suggestion, Will. :-)

  13. Hey David –

    Landed here via a business-strategy nudge from Lostgarden; old college connection of Dan’s. I’m guessing y’all considered the growth rate of the installed base in addition to the factors above (and I’m guessing that growth rate is non-linear, especially given the recent refresh and pricing drop on the Kindle). If you did, what are your expectations along these lines?

    How are sales? The way I see it, you guys are a first mover in a massive, rapidly-growing, untapped market, AND you have a high-quality, low-price product. Perhaps put another way, what, if anything, is stopping Triple Town from becoming a runaway hit? Have you thought about what you’ll do if sales go completely bonkers? In particular, what’s your strategy to avoid SpryFox becoming a Kindle house? Or do you care?

    Overall, great play – if this is the kind of business move we can expect from Spry Fox, I’ll be watching closely.

  14. > I’m guessing y’all considered the growth rate of the installed base… If you did, what are your expectations along these lines?

    My expectation is that as long as Amazon continues to dedicate a disproportionate amount of merchandising to the Kindle, the install base should spike dramatically as soon as the price drops to $99 or less. Of course, the drop to $139 didn’t hurt.

    > what, if anything, is stopping Triple Town from becoming a runaway hit?

    Plenty of things. Amazon needs to keep growing the Kindle’s installed base, which they are clearly committed to doing (but there’s no guarantee they’ll be successful.) Amazon needs to manage the marketplace effectively — it’s worrisome to me that right now 50% of the active content available to consumers is completely free content (and I’m not talking about demos, which I think are a good thing — I’m talking about full, completely free games competing with paid games.)

    Remember Second Life? MySpace? Just because a platform has a promising start does not mean that it will continue to succeed in the years to come.

    > Have you thought about what you’ll do if sales go completely bonkers?

    Celebrate? ;-)

    > In particular, what’s your strategy to avoid SpryFox becoming a Kindle house?

    That would never happen. Even if our Kindle sales go “completely bonkers,” we will continue to invest substantial effort into the Flash gaming market. We are excited about technologies and platforms that enable us to reach hundreds of millions of people (or, for that matter, lucrative niche markets.) Right now, the Web is one of the only platforms (and Flash one of the only technologies) that permit this.

    > if this is the kind of business move we can expect from Spry Fox, I’ll be watching closely.

    I appreciate the kind words. :-)

  15. Very good, a new angle to see the Kindle, creativity and persistence always produce good fruit, let’s see what happens.

  16. …thought I had my Kindle all to myself, avid reader that I am. I downloaded Triple Town and became addicted overnight. My 14 year old son caught me playing and soon took over my Kindle, because; “mom they don’t have this on any other game system!” Now he wants a Kindle for Christmas! I can’t even get him to read a book, but he wants a Kindle for games!

  17. I’m surprised noone has asked this yet : What about an iPhone port? You said in another response that you’re mostly focused on Flash gaming, which I can respect and appreciate. It just seems like with your guys design and implementation skills you could have some runaway hits on the big iPhone market.

  18. Esther: that’s wonderful to hear, thanks. :-)
    Brian: yup, we’re considering other platforms. Steambirds is shipping on iPhone/Android/iPad even as we speak!

  19. Similar to Esther, my wife and daughter (who rarely read) have taken over my Kindle for this game. You guys effectively took my toy away from me, but keep up the good work. :-)

    Now I need to see if you have something equally addictive on PC for the family so that I can get my reader back!

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