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Deal Radar 2010: Bolt Creative, San Francisco, California

Posted on Monday, Feb 15th 2010

Bolt Creative is a small game developer and publisher for the iPhone platform that recently made headlines when its game Pocket God was voted Best App Ever in a contest run by Jeff Scott, whose blog monitors 140,000 apps.

The San Francisco-based company was founded in 2001 by Dave Castelnuovo, who dropped out of the University of Southern California’s aerospace engineering program in his senior year and starting working in the game industry. He had started four companies before Bolt Creative, with varying degrees of success. Bolt Creative was started out of Castelnuovo’s desire to create a lifestyle business where he could work with a virtual team from his home and have a chance to explore his creativity. The other member of the core team is Allan Dye, who used to be an animator for Cisco. Castelnuovo handles programming and the business side, and Dye design and marketing. They have a partner, Jean Matthews, who handles business development and licensing opportunities. Bolt began publishing games for the iPhone and iPod Touch in October 2008.

The company’s three products are Pocket God, FWARP!, and Slinky Ink, each available for 99 cents on the iPhone or iPod Touch. Bonus packs, also 99 cents, are available for users to customize Pocket God. A new app called I’m a PC will be available soon. There is also Wheel of Fortune Online, developed by Bolt and published by Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The company’s most popular app is Pocket God, which was released in January 2009 and, according to MobileBeat, was number 1 on the App Store bestseller list in March of last year. It is opened between 150,000 and 200,000 times a day. Sixty percent of Pocket God downloads are to the iPod Touch, not the iPhone, which is a higher percentage than for most games on the platform.

Castelnuovo says that the company was profitable early on because of its very low overhead. Pocket God was the first paid iPhone app to pass 2 million in sales, and on Christmas Day 2009 the game sold over 52,000 units. The company has also sold 130,000 of the in-app skin bonus packages.

Castelnuovo pointed out that entertainment is a tough field to guarantee success in. He and Dye chose to create a lot of “sprint” projects that would get them to market quickly and give a quick sense of product appeal before committing to full support to any one idea. Initial feedback from users that the game was not worth its price came as a surprise to Castelnuovo and Dye, who pushed to deliver as much value as they could by making changes based on this feedback and releasing new updates every week for 14 weeks, with the goal of keeping Bolt Creative and its game at the top of customers’ minds and creating a story that quickly spread to new customers. There are still bi-weekly updates, all of which are free.

Bolt calculates its TAM through total number of iPhone and iPod Touches that have been sold, which Steve Jobs said at the iPad launch was 75 million.Castelnuovo says that the audience for Pocket God is fairly broad, and the game has gained the most traction among males aged 13 to 21. The company’s iPhone business model is to offer an app at a price that makes it an impulse buy and accent the revenue from units sold with in-app purchases. It may move to a higher price than 99 cents for its second app because users are starting to accept higher prices for quality apps. Licensing opportunities represent the second part of the business model. For Castelnuovo, the benefit of this model is that it allows Bolt Creative to make an app on the iPhone, partner with an expert publisher on a different platform (e.g. DSi, Wii, PSP) and participate in its success without having to grow the core team beyond where it is now.

Anyone that makes games or apps on the iPhone is a competitor, which is of course a big field. Bolt Creative’s strategy to stand out is through the number of updates provided and through using its community to drive viral sales of  the Pocket God app. For example, Bolt makes its messages to players personal so that fans get to know the developers as people and, the team hopes, feel that they have a vested interest in the success of Bolt Creative’s products.

In terms of the future competitive landscape for the iPhone platform and Bolt Creative’s growth strategy, Castelnuovo thinks that Bolt Creative is in a fortunate position in that Pocket God is not about a single game genre or functionality. He believes that the appeal of the app is character- and humor-based, which means that the team can easily translate the Pocket God experience to different types of games or even different mediums (comics, cartoons, etc). In fact, Bolt Creative recently sold the rights to a comic book based on Pocket God to Ape Entertainment. Fans have created Pocket God stuffed animals, YouTube videos, and cartoons, and so forth. Castelnuovo believes that with the right partner, Bolt Creative can expand the Pocket God universe in all sorts of ways. One such possibility may be licensing the game to the Android platform.

The company is 100% bootstrapped and has no plans to raise any funding. It also does not have an exit strategy at this time, since Castelnuovo’s goal is to create a long-term business model where he and his team can participate in the financial success of the company at any stage. Smart fellows, it seems, who have figured out the joys of a built-to-enjoy business model!

Recommended Readings
Secret Recipe for an iPhone App
Deal Radar 2010: PressOK Entertainment
Deal Radar 2009: Zynga

This segment is a part in the series : Deal Radar 2010

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