Editor's Note: The TrepLabs column puts little-known but notable apps and their makers in the spotlight each week. For more information on how to become a TrepLabs app, go to TrepLabs.com, and to contribute to the discussion surrounding these apps, tweet us @TrepLabs.
Ben Carter, a designer for Vancouver-based Giant Leap Games, has a resume many video-game fanatics would envy.
Based in British Columbia, the 35-year-old Englishman until October 2012 was a technical director for Electronic Arts, working for years on the Redwood City, Calif.-based company’s FIFA soccer video games for PlayStation and Xbox. And despite leaving the gaming biz to work a stint at Tactus Therapy Solutions, a speech therapy app startup, he got back in the game at his earliest opportunity.
When a friend approached Carter in April about improving a trapeze-themed app game, Flying Felix, he jumped at the chance to “polish it off” and joined a new startup called Giant Leap Games.
“Going back to video games. That’s always where my passion is and always where my heart will be,” Carter says. “Lots of people have ideas for games. But actually making them fun and something that someone else wants to play, that’s a real challenge."
Market opportunity: Carter thinks Flying Felix will be popular because similar so-called physics-puzzle games like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope have been all the rage.
“We thought we could give people another option,” Carter said. “It’s a physics game, but with a difference. It’s not crashing into things. It’s not cutting into things.”
The game is about navigating through levels of trapeze, trampolines, cannons and magic doors. “’Everybody likes circus and Cirque du Soleil, feats of daring,” Carter says.
Carter heavily drew on his FIFA experiences when it came to timing and the increasing difficulty of play of the game’s 60 levels, divided into four “tents.” Play takes place with intuitive, one-touch controls.
The app is free for the first tent, 15 levels. A player can then play the rest of the levels for 99 cents.
Challenges: People who've played the game say they like it, but the download numbers could be better. A few thousand people have downloaded Flying Felix on iTunes. As for Google, Carter says it's hard to tell -- especially since tens of thousands of people in China appear to be playing the game without downloading it through the Google Play Store.
“We know that there a significant number of people in China using the game, but we haven’t seen the money,” Carter said.
Besides reducing the chance of scoring sales, the low download numbers further hurt the chance to make useful tweaks to the game because there are not many users to run analytics off of. “It’s hard to know exactly what they want because the downloads have been few,” Carter says. But "how do you get someone to download it in the first place?”
His first thought? Expand beyond YouTube and Twitter, where Giant Leap Games now has a presence. “We don’t have a website or Facebook or something like that. We want to give people a landing place and something for them to find out about us some more,” says Carter.
Strengths: He's also betting that his game-designing know how will eventually pay off.
“I’ve always worked on the game mechanics…What makes a game interesting for people? Why would they want to play it, keep playing it, come back again?” says Carter. "That’s where I think my strengths are for Flying Felix and for hopefully for future games."
Even as he tries to better market Flying Felix, he is working on a second game app that is presently under wraps.
“We want to build a brand. We want Giant Leaps to be known for polished, physics-type, puzzle games,” adds Carter. “It’s all about fun at the end of the day.”