GDC 2011: The future of Imangi Studios

Mike Schramm
M. Schramm|03.02.11

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GDC 2011: The future of Imangi Studios

The husband and wife team of Keith Shepherd and Natalia Luckyanova make up Imangi Studios, the iPhone developer behind line-drawing hit Harbor Master. We've been following the duo for a while now, and we last talked to them at WWDC, when they were pretty far along in development with a game called Max Adventure, a dual-stick shooter with a plucky kid with a laser gun for a hero.

Max Adventure was released last December (and has since been updated), and Imangi tells me at GDC that the launch went well -- mostly. "It was the best launch we've had on our own," says Shepherd, adding that both the ratings and sales numbers were great after the game released in mid-December. "But then...," says Luckyanova, trailing off. Then, it turns out, came the EA sale, filling the App Store charts with 99-cent sales of premium EA titles, and Imangi's carefully crafted Max Adventure got "crushed" in the Christmas rush.

But the best part of the story is what happened next: a little while after Imangi had a blue Christmas, EA called them. The company liked Imangi's games and wanted to talk about a possible publishing deal.

Nothing has come about (yet), but Shepherd and Luckyanova said they asked EA the same question they ask all potential publishers: What can you do for us? What do you bring to the table? And EA replied, just a short time after rushing the Christmas App Store to the chagrin of independent devs, "Well, have you seen the top 100?"

To be fair, EA didn't say that with malice. Imangi doesn't hold either EA or Apple responsible for getting lost in the Christmas rush. In fact, they hold themselves responsible. "In retrospect," they say, "launching at Christmas was a mistake." Since then, Imangi's gone back to updating both Harbor Master and Max Adventure, and sales have picked back up. The recent update brought some new arenas to play, and fans are asking for "more story levels," says Luckyanova. "They want more, so that's a good sign."

Imangi has a few ideas for other content, including "some neat ideas for challenge levels," though they're not yet sure if they want to do free upgrades, maybe create some paid content packs (Harbor Master sells various maps for in-app purchases) or possibly push for a whole new sequel. Imangi is also working on another new game, though we won't hear more about that for a little while.

I asked if the two-person studio (they also have a designer for hire that they use frequently) is interested in growing, and Shepherd confirmed that they "would like to be a little bit bigger." They're looking to add two or more developers onto the team, both to help out with creating content for already-released titles and to help release Imangi games on other platforms and in other languages. Shepherd says that "what's important to us is not growing too fast." They're happy with what they're doing, and any growth, either in terms of bringing on more employees or even being acquired by a larger company, will be carefully considered going forward.

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