It was just a little while ago we were hailing the mobile game Angry Birds as the Next Big Entertainment Franchise, given the frenzy of interest in playing the addictive iPhone game. But the mantle is being passed to ZeptoLabs’ Cut the Rope, a clever new physics-based puzzle game that has replaced Angry Birds on the top of the App Store charts — the game got to 1 million downloads within 10 days on Oct. 14, a record for a paid iOS app.
I recently caught up with Semyon Voinov, creative director for Moscow-based ZeptoLab, a small team of five developers with plenty of mobile experience. Voinov said he was floored by the response to Cut the Rope, which launched earlier this month and within 48 hours zoomed to No. 1 in the U.S. and several other countries. An iPhone version sells for 99 cents while an iPad version goes for $1.99.
Voinov said the company is planning to release an Android version next, although ZeptoLabs has so far only done some early research into such a project. “That’s definitely the question we get most,” Voinov said. “Android will be our next big milestone.” More immediately, the company plans on fixing bugs, adding new levels and addressing consumer requests for additional Cut the Rope features, such as support for the iPhone 4’s retina display.
ZeptoLab’s success highlights the incredible momentum behind mobile gaming, which is heating up the mergers and acquisition markets. ZeptoLab’s UK-based publisher Chillingo was just acquired by Electronic Arts on Wednesday for a rumored $20 million, and last week, Japanese social gaming platform DeNA bought mobile game maker Ngmoco for $400 million. Voinov said the moves reflect how big mobile games have become and he said the EA acquisition may convince ZeptoLab to stay with Chillingo because of the added visibility the EA pairing might provide for future games.
Voinov said the idea for Cut the Rope came from the development of a previous title called Parachute Ninja, which originally had a rope-swinging mechanism that was later dropped because it was too complicated. The team recycled the rope-physics engine and took inspiration from others physics-based games like Angry Birds (7 million paid downloads to date) and Ragdoll Blaster. They ended up creating a game around a baby monster called Om Nom that needs to be fed by cutting ropes that suspend candy over the animal. “After Angry Birds, we understood having cute characters was a factor for their success,” said Voinov. “Feeding a character that acts and looks like a baby, it feeds our parental instinct.”
It’s unclear if ZeptoLab will pursue some of the Hollywood deals that Rovio is seeking for its Angry Birds title, but the company said it is considering selling OmNom dolls. Voinov said ZeptoLab is also very interested in considering a freemium model for upcoming games. He said the mobile developer world has changed rapidly since the advent of the iPhone and the App Store, by creating a level playing field that allows a small team like ZeptoLab to succeed.
While Voinov won’t discuss revenue, he said the game has paid off its development costs. “With traditional mobile games you have to negotiate with the operators to get on the deck and you have to localize it and port it to many devices, hundreds of them,” Voinov said. “Creating a mobile game and getting some money out of it is much more complicated than with the iPhone.”
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