Crazy Penguin Catapult exemplifies Digital Chocolate's overall strategy in the mobile space, which Hawkins defines as "originality, quality, ubiquity and file size": "To get viral spread, you have to have something original that has news value to your friends and that will make you look good for sharing it. If it's ubiquitous, you'll share it with all your friends. And small files are more convenient, so you get more traction."
The approach paid off: Even before the iPhone, Digital Chocolate achieved profitability in an environment where other companies were struggling to survive. But when Apple opened its handheld up to third-party developers, Digital Chocolate may have found the perfect home for its bite-sized gameplay.
The Tipping Point
Hawkins was initially hesitant to sell its games on Apple's new platform - despite the official opening of the App Store in July 2008, Digital Chocolate waited until December to bring its first two titles, Crazy Penguin Catapult and Chocolate Shop Frenzy, to the iPhone and iPod Touch. But when Crazy Penguin Catapult became the number-one downloaded app for its first three weeks on the App Store, Hawkins' skepticism vanished. Since then, Digital Chocolate has released a whopping 25 additional games for the iPhone, including another three titles that reached the top of the download charts.
It doesn't end there. Earlier this May, Hawkins announced that Digital Chocolate was responsible for a full two percent of all downloads at the App Store, the highest of any developer on the platform. In fact, searching the letter "D" in the App Store yields "Digital Chocolate" as the top result. In a marketplace where achieving visibility amid a crowd of tens of thousands of other products is one of the main obstacles to profitability, Digital Chocolate's early successes have paved the way for more number-one showings to come.
Despite these accomplishments, however, Hawkins is firmly committed to developing for a variety of platforms, not just the iPhone. In fact, he sees the iPhone's role in mobile gaming as more of a trendsetter than the end-all-be-all platform. "Prior to the iPhone, the public in general did not think that they needed or cared about having a mobile content platform," Hawkins says. "They used to think of their mobile device as a voice phone, but now they all know that they want mobile content and mobile web, and voice may even become secondary. ... Because of Apple, we now have billions of consumers thinking that indeed, they do want and need a mobile content platform."
You read that right: billions. Hawkins' ambitions aren't bound by Apple's paltry 40-million-plus install base. "Apple today has penetrated less than one percent of the total available mobile market," he says. Rather than wait for Apple's growth to expand Digital Chocolate's audience, Hawkins expects other carriers to quickly adopt the App Store's approach. It's already happening to some extent: Google, Palm and BlackBerry have all created similar digital distribution pipelines for their smartphones. But with over 75,000 apps currently available for the iPhone, Apple's competitors have some catching up to do.
In the meantime, Digital Chocolate will continue creating delectable morsels of entertainment for a hungry public. Their next game, which Hawkins says will launch in October, will be "a revelation for CCG fans and Pokémon fans." Comical characters plus collectible cards plus constant connectivity? Sounds like a winning recipe to me.
Jordan Deam is the Features Editor at The Escapist.