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NZ's The Blockheads tops 1m downloads

'Chopper' Dave Frampton has another hit on his hands.

His new iPad/iPhone game The Blockheads passed 1 million downloads on Sunday - its third day of release on Apple's App Store.

"Download numbers are doubling every day," the NZ developer told NBR.

Early Monday morning it passed 1.4 million downloads.

"It could push two million today," he says.

The Blockheads is now the number two free app in the US iPhone charts, and has been the number one US iPad app since Saturday.

The world-building game, which features retro-arcade style graphics that are something of a homage to the mega-hit Minecraft, is now the number one iPad app in 15 countries.

From paid ...
With his previous hits, Chopper and Chopper 2, Frampton offered both free and paid versions.

Scenes from The Blockheads which can be played by one or two people (with voice chat). A version supporting three or more players is in the works.

When NBR last checked in 12 months ago, the game had been downloaded more than one million times; 350,000 people had paid for Chopper (sold variously for $US7.99 or $US0.99, depending on promotions) and north of 100,000 had paid $US2.99 to download the premium version of Chopper 2 (Apple takes 30% in its standard App Store split).

The haul was enough for the one-time weather graphics man to buy a house outright, and become a full-time game developer.

This morning, Frampton updated NBR that total Chopper downloads now top three million, with just over one million paid.
 
... to freemium
With the number of free games on the App Store continuing to explode, it's getting harder and harder to sell a game outright.

Moving with the times, Frampton adopted a "freemium" model for The Blockheads.

The app is free, but the impatient can spend between $0.99 and $US24.99 for one of five "time crystal" in-game purchase options that speed their Blockhead's world building.

This time around, Frampton is coy on revealing paid numbers, but The Blockheads has cracked the top 100 on two sites that track the highest-grossing apps (here and here), indicating a healthy number of players are succumbing to the time crystal temptation.

Free advice
Frampton remains a poster child for the App Store's ability to allow a small-time developer from a small country achieve a worldwide hit.

He's still a one-man band in terms of development work, although he credits wife Emma as his "Chief Advisor ... She's come up with a lot of great ideas and solutions when I get stuck basically, as well as looking after our one-year-old a lot so I can get lots of work done." He now also has someone overseeing his games' fast-growing forums.

The Framptons relocated to Hawkes Bay a year ago ("As I work from home, we can live anywhere, so we thought a nicer climate and better surf might be the way to go"). The developer now sports a beard, which NBR understands is quite the fashion (Frampton says it is "lower maintenance").

It seems he's living a modern version of the New Zealand dream. 

Any advice for game developers who want to follow in his footsteps?

"I've had a lot of help from the indie developer community, so a great thing is to get together with other developer whether in person or online. Go to events and conferences just to meet other developers. That way you can build relationships and you can promote each other's apps and help each other get noticed," Frampton says.

"Otherwise, I think the biggest factor is to make something that people like enough to tell others about. Before the release of The Blockheads, I was doing the best I could to make people notice that it was awesome, but very few did in the grand scheme of things. And since then I've done very little in the way of marketing, other than the cross promos. You just need every person to tell two of their friends."

Blockhead inspiration
What gave Frampton the idea for his latest hit?

"Initially The Blockheads was going to be a game about evolution," Frampton says.

"It was actually the game I had always wanted to create, from back when I first started programming 10 years ago. It was going to be sort of a mix between The Sims and Sim Earth.

"But it quickly became clear while I was developing it that it would be better playing with people instead of fish, and it ended up taking quite a different course than I had expected. This is also in part due to my love of Minecraft, which obviously had some influence too."

Android version in the works?
Apple's App Store is huge. The company last week revealed 40 billion apps had been downloaded, 20 billion of them in 2012. 

And along the way $US7 billion has been paid to app developers under the company's 70/30 split.

But Google's Play store for Android is also huge, and growing even faster (it had 25 billion app downloads by the end last year, 15 billion of them in the past 12 months. Many Androids are budget models and/or owned by people on tight data plans who are less likely to download apps; against this, Androids now outnumber iPhones by 2:1.).

So will be see an Android version of The Blockheads? 

Not any time soon.

"Unfortunately I wrote The Blockheads in Objective C using my own custom game engine, so it will be a very difficult port," Frampton says.

"I'd love to release The Blockheads for Android, but it would require a complete re-write. So it's not looking very likely in the near future, but we'll see."

His immediate focus is on creating more content for the iPhone and iPad versions of the game. And that's humming along quite nicely.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz

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Comments and questions

If you want to follow Dave's advice and "get together with other developers whether in person or online..." then check out www.meetup.com/playmaker and www.playmaker.org.nz and www.nzgda.com There's a healthy community of successful game developers in NZ.

This is just great, both as to outcome, and that he is being recognized so readily as a business success, not just as a cool game developer.

He should be getting on with an Android version. If he's got the basis of the game right now for iOS, he just needs to try and work out how to copy it on to an Android port. Then start adding content for both versions.

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