GDC 2011: NimbleBit on Pocket Frogs and Tiny Tower

I’ve been a fan of twin brothers Ian and David Marsh and their iOS games company NimbleBit for quite a while now, so I was glad to finally meet them in person at GDC last week. The brothers Marsh sat down to chat with me about how the company came about, what they thought of the response to Pocket Frogs, and the game they’re working on next.
Before NimbleBit was formed, both brothers worked for a “traditional cell phone game development company,” but when the iPhone arrived, they figured it was a chance to do something for themselves. Ian started on the company first, and David eventually joined him later on. The brothers have learned a lot over their various iOS releases, and one of the biggest lessons so far is that free is almost always the way to go. “A bigger audience is always better no matter what,” I was told. Scoops was one of their first big releases, originally selling for $1 to $2, but when they switched it to free with an in-app purchase, it saw “ten times more downloads than it ever did paid.”
That led NimbleBit to work on Pocket Frogs, which is still one of my favorite games on the App Store, and it’s a great example of how to do in-app purchases right. Pocket Frogs has become one of NimbleBit’s most successful games, and they’re eventually looking at porting it off to Android, possibly allowing users on both platforms to share friends with each other. The brothers say the minigames that have been added to Pocket Frogs since its release haven’t really been as popular as they expected, calling them “too tangential to the idea of what a frog should do.” But the weekly sets (in which you must collect a certain set of frogs every week) feature has been very popular, and NimbleBit has lots of other ideas along that vein, even some for a “potential sequel.”
In the meantime, their newest game will be called Tiny Tower, and I got to mess around with an early version of it. In that upcoming title, you build floors in a tower as you go along, with each floor adding something extra to your building, like a movie theater, various retail stores or residences. You also have tenants that add a little activity to your building, and the tower can get fairly big — I was told it could go as high as 100 floors, though that’s not completely determined yet. It looked like a lot of fun, with a nice pixel art style and the same freemium model that’s been so popular for Pocket Frogs.
Finally, I asked NimbleBit what their plans were for growth in the future, and they said that they “definitely want to stay focused on developing games rather than managing people.” That’s an interesting choice — some iOS companies have found a lot of success by either being bought out or developing into full-fledged game giants, but though the Marsh brothers have “certainly been approached,” they seem happy to just do their thing and make money at it. “This is a lifestyle company for us,” Ian said. “We just want to keep making games every day.”