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Monday, February 21, 2011

Interview with Mike Amerson of WET Productions "developers of an iPhone game called My Virtual Girlfriend"

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How long have you spent developing My Virtual Girlfriend?
14 months to get to our initial submission, then continued development till now (8 months) which includes 4 updates of the game.
How many people were involved in the development of My Virtual Girlfriend?
Initially, 2. Myself (design, art, production) and my partner (programming, design). But later we enlisted help from a few others. Angelina Amerson (voice-overs, marketing, production), John Hutchinson (animation), Tom Cichosz (music and sound) and Kevin Prangley (loading screen art).

Was it as successful as intended?

Yes, it is now but if you had asked me that six months ago my answer would have been no. Success is subjective and is dependent on your goals. My goals were:
  1. Financial: Make enough money that it allows me to quit my day job as a lead artist for another developer and focus 100% on my own company.
  2. Make a game, get it onto an iPhone.
  3. Make it fun and appealing to the majority who play it.
  4. Start our own original IP.
In the beginning, I missed the mark on both #1 and #3. However, over time I was able to evolve it into hitting the mark on all 4 counts.
On a scale of 1-10, how well did it do?
It’s done pretty good recently. If I were to give it a number, I think about a 7 in relation to where I’d like to see it go.
Did it meet your expectations?
Yes, it met all of my goals and then some. However, it is still evolving. We do regular updates and plans for new features with each update. We gather all user feedback and work on ways to incorporate their suggestions along with our own ideas, further improving the gameplay experience.
Are you currently developing another game?
Yes, were actually juggling a few things. Due to the overwhelming requests we get for a boyfriend version from the female sector,  we are currently working on that now, most of the work on that falls onto my shoulders for the art and design. While I’m busy with that, my partner is continuing to further develop the next iteration of My Virtual Girlfriend as well by looking into face mapping technology. We want to implement a feature where you can take a picture from your camera or from your photo library and adjust it onto your girlfriends face, allowing for further customization. We think this can get really fun and interesting to see some of the choices people will make with that option. From their own real girlfriend to famous and funny celebrities! We are also working on bringing the full and free versions over to the Mac Store. It’s fairly simple to do but requires a little UI redesign.
On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with Apple’s business practices?
A solid 8. I love the whole experience with Apple. They allow for an indie developer to gain a foothold on the market and establish themselves. They’re 30% revenue share is not greedy at all compared to that of traditional video game publishing (console and PC) where they take on average 80%+ of revenues. A couple of things I would like to see is to be a little less conservative on their views for adult apps and games. We walk a fine line with Apple with our game and users would us like to push the naughtiness just a little bit more but we can’t — Our hands our tied. I don’t mean nudity or pornography but just a little more “sexy” wouldn’t hurt, the game is for adults. The other thing I would like to see is to allows apps to be visible beyond the “Top 100″ list of any given category. Why not make it indefinite? so long as the user keeps scrolling through 25 at a time. This would allow for people to see apps and games that are good but don’t make it into the top 100. It’s unfair to a lot of developers. My Virtual Girlfriend is within the top 100 for Entertainment, but at one time it wasn’t and it had no visibility other than people searching for it through the search box on the device.
What are your thoughts on Apple’s subscriptions policy?
I think subscriptions are good for things that offer a scheduled update and are geared to deliver fresh content and/or news. Things such as comics, magazines, newspapers, all make sense for the subscription model. I don’t think many games will take advantage of this unless it’s an MMO. The reason being is because most games don’t have consistent scheduled updates that offer the player a new experience. The key being “consistent” and “scheduled.” If people are to pay a subscription, they expect these things. In the case of an MMO, the dynamic is different. People will pay for a subscription due to the social experience, and the evolving persistent world for which their character resides. A major factor is that players fear losing what they worked so hard to earn. A subscription guarantees extended life to that character.
What are your thoughts on jailbreaking?
A: At the risk of sounding dumb, I will answer this question honestly. To be truthful, I’m really not that familiar with it. I’ve jailbroken my own iPhone 3GS (I use to test with) to see what “jailbreaking” was all about but found nothing too exciting about it. I think I may have missed something. It didn’t do anything differently and I didn’t really know what to do with it after that. A couple weeks later I plugged it in itunes, to sync it and it overwrote my jailbreaking efforts. I think the benefit to jailbreaking for most people, lies in the fact that you can switch carriers. This is not an issue for me because I’m still with AT&T. I know many are dissapointed with AT&T, as a service, but it’s not been that bad in my area, it’s OK. I’ll probably look into switching when my contract expires later this year, just to see if I can get a lower rate.
You’re missing out!
How much does piracy hurt your sales?
Well, It’s difficult to measure because it’s sales I don’t have, and that I may not have ever had. My take on it is this: I’m really not too concerned with piracy. I don’t condone it, but I don’t condemn it either. What we offer on My Virtual Girlfriend for the price is a really good value, and I’m satisfied with that. If I had made a product that cost a lot to make and I had to price it at $40.00 to make up for the loss of the development cost, then I would probably have a different opinion. But on a $.99 app? It’s not that big a deal to me personally.
I’ve seen a few piracy websites offering my game, (mostly Russian). I didn’t write to them to take it down, or threaten them in anyway, instead I simply left some comments in the comments section and thanked them for taking the time to try out my game, if they enjoyed it, tell their friends and or support us by making a purchase, nothing bitter or nasty.
I think it’s probably more work if someone goes through all that trouble and risk to save .99 cents then they probably earned it. I would hope they help to get the word out, but if they don’t find it entertaining, then I wouldn’t want them to spend money on it anyway, that would be a #fail for both parties.
It’s for this reason I have a free version called “My Virtual Girlfriend Lite.” I only want people to make the purchase if they get a kick out of it. It’s also the same reason I offer a money back guarantee. If they are dissatisfied with the experience, and have any trouble to obtain a refund through iTunes, I will buy them another game of equal value or refund their money. It’s my way to guarantee their satisfaction. I don’t think other developers are doing this because they fear that a thousand people are going to write to them at once saying their dissatisfied, just to get an app for free. That’s not the case at all, there are so many free apps out there that people won’t go through all that trouble just to get yours for free. If they did, they must want it REALLY bad and in that case, if they asked, I would’ve just given them a promo code anyway.
What are your thoughts on how developers should deal with piracy?
For the most part, on any low priced app, I think they needn’t be obsessed with trying to stop it, but taking small measures to discourage it doesn’t hurt either. One thing that developers can do is to have regular updates to the game. Doing this makes more work for a hacker to constantly monitor and work to keep up with you. Also, having things like in-app purchases so that maybe the user gets the base version of the game for free but has to purchase things in game to get the full experience. FREEmium games they call it. Although this can be pirated too — I’m certain that it’s much more difficult to assemble all those things separately, especially if the developer combines that with regular updates. They could also just make the game for free and run iAds on it. Since it’s free anyway, it’s less desirable for a hacker to pirate it if the game is free anyway.
Who (in terms of audience) was My Virtual Girlfriend tailored to?
It’s intended for any man, age 17-40. If they have a girlfriend or wife, even better because they can identify with the humor that the game offers. The game is not meant to be serious, so we employ humor through exaggerated female traits. In the game case of My Virtual Girlfriend, the girls can be: selfish, narcissistic, require pampering and attention. We call it a “girlfriend simulator” because it (jokingly) trains a man how to behave with women. It’s meant to be funny, and flirty, but never serious. It’s had a bit of publicity, where people mistake it for a Japanese “love” app/companion. I think that’s ridiculous. It’s catered torwards an American Market. (Gee thanks, from the Canadian editor of How’s My App!) It’s no way a substitute for the real thing. Just a fun game that guys can play and be entertained. I’m married, my wife loves the game, she’s helping me to develop the boyfriend version, which will have a similar game mechanic.
We at How’s My App would like to thank Mike for taking the time to participate in an interview with us. We wish him the best of luck in the future!
Mike Amerson and WET Productions are the developers of an iPhone game called My Virtual Girlfriend. You can buy it on the App Store for only $0.99!


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