Blog Post

The Secret to The Heist’s Success

MacHeist and developer tap tap tap Tuesday released The Heist, an iPhone (a aapl) puzzle app that provides a real-world reward upon completion. The $0.99 app is a huge success so far, topping the U.S. paid charts just 20 hours after its release. So how did the app come about, and why is it doing so well?

I talked to MacHeist Directorate Members and tap tap tap Principals Phill Ryu and John Casasanta to find out more about the idea behind The Heist, and what why it seems to have struck such a positive note with app buyers. Note that MacHeist and tap tap tap, while technically separate entities, share the same founders and most staff. MacHeist is a software bundle deals provider that also happens to develop apps in the process of designing its deals packages.

Beginning in 2006, MacHeist ran series of challenges that consumers could follow in order to gain access to a software bundle deal that offered multiple Mac applications for one low price. In 2009, with MacHeist 3, it brought coder Corwin Derkatch (who was also instrumental in the development of this iOS app) on board to create Flash (s adbe) minigames.

Casasanta came up with the idea of packaging minigames for the iPhone later that year, says Ryu. While the “games looked nice enough,” Ryu wanted to go bigger than simply repackaging what they already had, so he ended up suggesting “a much more involved take that featured a giant looming safe to crack, a prize at the end, and mysterious phone calls from Sophia, to try to port the spirit of MacHeist over [to the iPhone].” The MacHeist team had already invested considerable time and effort into a straightforward port of its flash games (six months worth, according to Ryu), but “everyone was on the same page about taking the time to make something truly cool.”

The result of their efforts is definitely cool, as well as addictive. And I’m not the only one to think so, either. Ryu reports that the app has seen more than 25,000 sales so far in just its first day on the App Store. It’s the single best launch tap tap tap has seen for any of its apps so far. Those players are eager to crack the safe, too. So far, 10 percent of buyers have already beaten the game, which is no small feat, speaking as someone who probably slept less than he should have last night in an effort to claim my prize from The Heist.

The addictive quality of the puzzles found in The Heist is due to a simple formula, according to Casasanta: “take a classic puzzle and throw an interesting twist into it.”

For example, Casasanta points out that the wires puzzles in The Heist “are basically traditional 15-puzzles (8-puzzles for the easy levels),” with the additional element of having to “figure out how the wire segments on the tiles need to be arranged to connect the various circuits.” Same with the stone/sand/glyph puzzles, which borrow elements from Sudoku, but use “sections [that] are much more irregular” than the traditional simple 3×3 grid within a 9×9 larger grid arrangement used in Sudoku puzzles. Also, the Sudoku-style puzzles in The Heist employ “color to add another dimension,” and “various abstract glyphs instead of numbers” to “breathe a bit of new life into a familiar puzzle,” says Casasanta.

Of course, the careful attention paid to the look, feel and sound of each puzzle experience is also a key factor. Casasanta notes the development team tried “very hard to make them look great and also have nice background soundtracks to set just the right mood for the player.”

I also talked to Ryu about the business model behind The Heist. MacHeist charges $0.99 for The Heist in Apple’s App Store, but upon completion of the game, users are rewarded with a code for a $9.99 game called Eets in the Steam marketplace, which sells games for Mac and Windows computers. Ryu and his team negotiated a promotional deal with Klei Entertainment, the studio behind Eets, in which MacHeist pays Klei a licensing fee in exchange for the rights to distribute Steam codes to The Heist players for one year. Klei is looking for a bump in sales thanks to the exposure promotional downloads will provide its game through Steam and other sources as a result of increased download volume.

Finally, I asked Ryu about his plans for the future of The Heist and the potential of the iOS platform. He admitted that there were potentially plans in the works for both the introduction of new content to the existing Heist app, and also plans to expand with additional apps and iPad support, but he wouldn’t make any guarantees about either. Judging by the response so far, I think it’s a safe bet that we’ll see something new and exciting from the MacHeist/tap tap tap team on iOS down the road.

4 Responses to “The Secret to The Heist’s Success”

  1. Jonny

    The Heist isn’t topping the charts because it’s a good app, it’s because it’s launched off the back of MacHeist which is an existing community comprising of 900,000+ mac users, many of whom will have at least one of the iOS devices. MacHeist was always very good at drumming up hype and that’s exactly what they’ve succeeded in doing with this app. I bet most people bought this app out of curiosity as I did. I was personally disappointed at the app, there’s nothing particularly interesting or innovative about it, it’s essentially a bunch of dressed-up puzzles you’ve no doubt already played in some form before. Given the history of MacHeist, I was expecting something more interesting.

    • Taerdin

      I had never heard of MacHeist before and I bought this game mostly motivated by the low price and the fact that there was a prize at the end.

      What I got was a great iOS game that I got more fun out of than most, and the prize ended up being just a bonus. I can’t understand how someone could say that there’s nothing interesting or innovative about it, when this game did something that I completely did not expect, which I hope to see more in future games.

      This game took the medium of the iPhone, and used it in a very obvious yet creative way that I have not yet seen. More people should be using the medium in this way, and I hope that this inspires or leads to more games that do the awesome thing that this did for even better effect.

      I’m intentionally not mentioning the thing that they did, but if you played The Heist you should know. I prefer to not spoil it for people, because I think it’s the best part of the whole app, even though in this game it’s kind of tacked on and not used to too much effect, I still think it makes this game worth playing, and 0.99 is not a price point you can argue with

    • I found it disingenuous that it wasn’t mentioned at all. It doesn’t mean that the game is not good and doesn’t deserve to be at the top of the chart, but the truth is that the major reason it jumped to the top of the chart in just a few hours is the audience they gathered over the years. (which was hard work…)

      Would it have reached the top of the charts without their audience? Honestly, I doubt it: even if the game is very well done, the games are not original enough to please a wide enough audience over time.

      To be clear: the success is not undeserved. But writing a post on the secret of the success without really mentioning the effect of their audience is not serious.

      • You speak of the games not being ‘original enough to please a wide audience’, when I find that usually it’s the unoriginal that pleases the widest audiences.

        People like familiarity, and are afraid of what’s different. Practically every popular thing I can think of draws heavy inspiration from, or perfects some idea which has already been done.

        While true innovation and genius will rarely reach the top of the charts, Call of Duty 9 will be a top seller. Likewise Lady Gaga is nothing more than a Madonna replicant.