Interview with Brian Akaka of Appular and Hand of Greed

Mike Schramm
M. Schramm|04.28.10

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Interview with Brian Akaka of Appular and Hand of Greed
Brian Akaka is an old friend of ours here at TUAW -- he is a veteran of Mac gaming, and was a familiar name in our inbox back when he was working at Freeverse and promoting their Mac software and iPhone apps. A little while back, he stepped away from Freeverse to form his own company, Appular, and since then, he's continuing to work with iPhone developers, both marketing and promoting their apps.

Just recently, however, Appular has moved from simply promoting iPhone apps into actually publishing them. Their first title is named Hand of Greed -- it's a game that actually first appeared on the App Store in January, and has now been repackaged and republished by Appular in an effort to give the app some visibility. I got a chance to play the game last week, and then met up and spoke with Akaka this past weekend at the Voices that Matter conference in Seattle. After the link below, find both my impressions of the game, and a quick interview with Appular about why they've decided to not only promote iPhone titles, but publish a few themselves.

Hand of Greed is an interesting title in that there is not really a main character -- on screen, anyway. The main character of the game is you, the player, and the goal is to reach into one of the game's many "trials of greed," and walk away with as many gems as you can grab.

Obviously, you can't steal without there being a risk, and that risk is provided in the form of rotating blades and knives. As you tap your iPhone's screen to try and take the coins and gems that appear on it, if the blades catch your finger, they'll cut away some of your life bar. Lose your whole life bar, and it's game over.

Presentation on the game is excellent -- it moves quickly and smoothly, and I was often impressed at how responsive the game was. All of the blades move in a very convincing and mechanical fashion, and the somewhat gimmicky premise of your actual fingers standing in as the main character pays off well -- the first few times I got "cut," I almost winced in pain. OpenFeint integration, lots of levels, and medals for getting a level perfect or landing a high score means there's lots of replayability as well.

The only drawback is that the game gets hard quickly -- while you might not think there's much challenge in just touching the screen, the blades and their rhythms get tough early on, and the addition of gems that do various things to your abilities (as well as a timer that requires you to move quickly) means that the action gets frantic much earlier than I expected. There are five different worlds of levels to play through, and I was only to make it through most of one just playing casually.

Still, practice makes perfect, and since the game is just 99 cents, it's worth the purchase for just a pick-up-and-play action title that you can load up while waiting for the bus. It'd be nice if the difficulty was portioned out a little more slowly (it seems to me like the developers are probably way better at the game than I am), but the game's simple and addictive enough that I'll keep loading it up to get it right over time.

Here's our interview with Akaka about his company and their first published title:

So tell us the story -- you left Freeverse about a year ago, and formed this company called Appular. What was the reason behind that, and what does Appular do?

Brian Akaka, founder of Appular: The reason that I originally left Freeverse was that I wanted the opportunity to work with independent developers. There are so many great apps being produced, and I felt that a lot of them were falling through the cracks, that they weren't getting enough recognition, or that they weren't getting the visibility that they really deserved. So I wanted the autonomy to go out and reach all of these independent developers. That's how Appular came to be.

What we do is we function as the marketing arm for a developer or a small development company. So that includes PR, viral marketing, direct-to-consumer marketing. It includes advertising campaigns, what types of advertising we feel are most effective. So it covers quite a few different roles. But ultimately the goal is to create visibility for a developer's app.

And you've done well, it's a big company at this point right?

We're still pretty small, we have four people.

Well, four people for just starting out a company in a year is pretty good, right?

Yeah, we plan to be growing very quickly. Dino [Decespedes, Appular CFO] is our latest joiner, from Freeverse, and we're definitely excited about having him on board, and so he's kind of taking over for our newest initiative, which is the publishing. So Dino's functioning as our director of publishing, and this is an evolution of what we've been doing in the past. Again, we're working with developers, we're not doing any development ourselves, but we're looking for developers with really great apps, helping to get the word out. But there's also going to be some efficiencies of scale to getting published, so we can kind of build on our brand name, and kind of share that with these developers.

What does publishing entail, then? What's the difference between publishing and being a client?

The major difference is how the revenue model works. For Appular, as a marketing agency or a PR agency, traditionally we get paid with a flat monthly fee, a retainer fee. But as a publisher, our interests are completely 100% aligned -- it's a revenue share split, and basically when the app sells well, everyone does well. If the app doesn't sell well, everybody does poorly.

So Hand of Greed is the first app you've chosen to do this with. Why did you choose this app?

I think that it really is an exciting app for us because we feel like it's one of those apps that has very addictive game play. There's something very unique about it but at the same time, if it was just put out into the App Store by itself, it wouldn't get the recognition that maybe it deserves. So we feel that it's a great case study for kind of the benefit that we can provide to developers.

So did you have any say in the app's creation, or how much involvement did you have?

Hand of Greed was actually released prior by a company called Brainium Studios. They released the app, and they didn't have much in the way of sales. So we're just releasing the version that they put out, but going forward, we'll be working with them. So that's kind of another difference between the publisher and the agency, is that this is a long-term partnership, as opposed to a one or two month commitment. So we have the timeframes so we can have some influence in the design process and make suggestions that may take time to implement.

And I presume you'll be looking at other apps in the future to do this with, then?

Absolutely. Dino, you want to take a shot at this?

Dino Decespedes: Yeah, I think we're looking for games or apps that have some of the qualities that other successful games or apps have, and maybe all that they're missing is just the visibility part. They already maybe have a concept, maybe they have a finished product, maybe they don't, but things we can identify that are we think are going to be successful, but are missing that one piece, which is the visibility, and some marketing/PR/promotion behind it. Which is a lot of what happened with Hand of Greed -- they were just missing that extra visibility on the store.

BA: The market, as far as publicity and PR and hype around apps, is largely based around who can have the biggest explosions or the nicest 3D graphics, and tends to be focused on kind of technical things that may not necessarily translate to what the consumer is looking for, and for what is really going to be appealing to a large amount of people. And so what we want to do is kind of put a focus on what the consumer is looking for, not necessarily what's the most impressive technical accomplishment.

Cool. Thanks a lot.
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