GameFly is a company that works like Netflix for video games -- you give them a subscription fee every month, and in return, they send you out a video game at a time, which you can send back when you're done to get another. It's a very popular service among gamers, and so the company has had extra cash to explore a few other pastimes lately (including in the game editorial arena with the popular site Shacknews). GameFly's also released an iOS app called GameCenter (no relation to Apple's Game Center service), and that app also has a very strong following, bringing GameFly's news and game information to a very large audience on Apple's iOS platform.
A little while ago, GameFly announced that it would use this expertise with a mobile audience to get into publishing iOS games of its own, and on November 28, the company's first game arrived on the App Store. Writer Rumble is a game that was previously known as Wordfighter, and in that incarnation was actually awarded recognition as a PAX 10 title.
But Garnett Lee (a former 1up and Shacknews editor who is now serving as GameFly's new director of publishing -- "the publishing side of the house is me and me alone," he told TUAW recently) believed the title had more potential than the two developers, Gian Cruz and Kris Zambala, were able to give it on their own. Due to their real-world jobs and other pressures, the two delayed development on the original title, and so when GameFly agreed to support development, the two got a chance to hammer out their game into something better equipped to rise through the App Store's charts.
The end result does look good -- the title is a word game where characters (all based on famous authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Jane Austen) spell words to use fighting game-style attacks, either against other characters or against monsters in an endless mode. The spelling action is fast and furious, and while there are powerups to mix up the battle a little bit (with boosted attacks, special healing or double points), the real innovation here is in the fighting game. Half the time, you'll need to watch what your enemy is sending at you to know how to deal with it. Even for a first-time publisher, GameFly's polish is evident, and the US$0.99 game has more content coming, in the form of other characters, and eventually an online, asynchronous multiplayer mode.
Lee says that GameFly's goal with publishing (at least at first) is more about spotlighting great games and developers rather than trying to grow franchises. "The indie spirit is really alive in mobile development," he says, and GameFly's goal is to find developers who have great games and great talent, and give them the helping hand needed to find an audience on iOS. Lee says "discoverability really is bad on the App Store," and the idea is to use GameFly's reach into the gaming world to get these apps some players.
Lee wants GameFly to start as a sort of "boutique movie studio," releasing only one or two games every few months, and working directly with developers to make those all solid releases. Lee's got lots of experience covering video games, but not so much experience publishing them, and he says that he's learned publishers often have to "make some tough decisions" about game funding and features. But he's up to the task and says GameFly is ready to make a go of releasing these games -- the company has set aside "a very comfortable amount of funding" for the publishing program.
There are a few more titles in the pipeline already, said Lee, so it'll be interesting to see what else "GameFly Games" has decided to put together, and what the reaction to these titles by GameFly's users turns out to be. In the meantime, though, Writer Rumble is the debut title, and it's out on the App Store right now for 99 cents.