I am a fan of Hothead Games' Kickin' Momma, a colorful, Peggle-style title that appeared on the App Store a couple months back. Just recently, that game disappeared from the store, and in its place now is a new title called Gem King. It's free to download and employes a freemium, in-app purchase system. A few of the comments on that game accuse Hothead of some questionable business practices in making the apparent switch to the new title, so TUAW spoke with Hothead's Oliver Birch and Joel DeYoung to figure out exactly what happened.
In short, Kickin' Momma, while a good game ("Our highest rated game yet," they told me), didn't do as well as expected. "To be honest with you, it just didn't achieve nearly the downloads that we were hoping it would. We had a plan to add new content, new levels," said DeYoung, "but it wasn't enough downloads to really justify making that new content."
Hothead liked the game a lot, however, so they came up with a solution to get more people playing it. "We figured the best way to do it is to just take it free." The team already had an update planned out for iOS 5, and there were some bugs and inconsistencies in the gameplay they wanted to fix, so they decided to "reboot and reimagine" Kickin' Momma, and then release it as a free title.
Perhaps the biggest and most obvious change in the game is that Momma is now a dude, a King nonetheless. Hothead said that they originally just went nuts with Momma's collectible accessories, which got them into trouble. "When we were coming up with ideas of the little dress up things," DeYoung said, "it was like well, she kicks her babies so she's going to need boots, and then it kind of went on from there." The first unlockable in Kickin Momma was a moustache, which led to confusion about just what Momma was.
So in Gem King, the character is obviously male, and obviously a king, which opens him up to even more personalization. Did Hothead purposely choose a male character because they thought that would get more downloads? "I don't think we thought of that as a factor, necessarily," said DeYoung. The decision was more based on what's clear and fun than actual gender preferences. "There were suggestions about a backstory, maybe she got a sex change or something, but we didn't take it that far. Of course it's not meant to be taken so seriously."
In the iTunes reviews for Gem King, some players are complaining about Hothead putting Gem King up at a higher price, and then dropping it to free to try and get on price charts. DeYoung confirmed that yes it did launch at a price higher than free, but he said that the company wasn't doing anything but standard price testing on the App Store. "It gives us a lot of interesting data about price sensitivity and that sort of thing, and that's something you see fairly typically on the store." From the beginning, however, Gem King was set up to be free. "The intention was let's reboot or reimagine Kickin' Momma as a free game. And that's what we did. It was free within 12 hours or something very quickly after that. A few people, I think, jumped on, and jumped to some conclusions."
At any rate, Gem King is now free on the App Store, and it offers the gameplay and levels of Kickin' Momma, along with a freemium design and the new features of iOS 5. If you already have Kickin' Momma installed, you can keep it and it will still work, but of course any updates will go out to (the free to download, of course) new version.