The folks at HipSoft, makers of Flip Words 1 and 2 and a variety of other best-selling and fun casual games, were one of the first video game developers to jump ship to the casual games space back in 2002 and they have not looked back since. We spoke with Brian Goble at HipSoft to learn about what makes HipSoft tick as well as what new tricks they have up their sleeve.
What is the story behind the name HipSoft?
We started by setting some guidelines for our company name. We wanted it to be short, not necessarily tied to gaming, and most importantly, the .com domain name had to be available (the trickiest part). One day I spent about an hour typing in name ideas and checking to see if the domain was available. I was on a "soft" kick...trying just about anything that ended with "soft": topsoft, lopsoft, mopsoft, hopsoft, hipsoft... and hipsoft.com was available and I really liked the way it sounded. My partners agreed and the rest was history... except for the major "Hipsoft vs HipSoft" debate over whether or not to capitalize the 'S' in the middle.
HipSoft is unique in that (a) you were originally company founders and video game developers at Monolith Productions (b) you jumped on the casual game development bandwagon before there was a bandwagon, back in 2002. What made you decide to start creating casual games?
Being founders of Monolith was a great experience, but as the company grew bigger in the late 90's, our jobs were not nearly as fun as when Monolith was small. Game projects took years to complete and we spent most of our time dealing with personnel and management issues instead of getting down and dirty with game development. Around this time, Monolith had been doing some work with RealNetworks as they were developing the first version of RealArcade--and I was involved in that project. After RealArcade launched, and they migrated towards these new "casual" games, I saw the potential to start a new company that could remain small and and have fun making games again.
As mentioned, you have created both video and casual games. How is game development different for video and casual games? What are the rewards and challengers of creating casual instead of video games?
Developing casual games is really about focusing on the fun...and the games are small enough that's it's actually possible to keep that focus. When developing large-scale video games, it's very hard to focus only on the fun when you also have to focus on the latest technology, keeping publishers happy, developing new tools or even just getting a meeting with the whole 30+ person team scheduled.
For me, creating a game that your own mother gets addicted to is incredibly rewarding (my mom has played Flip Words almost every night for three years!) Many of our customers also tell us when they like our games and it's just a great feeling knowing you've made something that provides fun for a bunch of people. I don't make the games for myself, I make them for other people to enjoy (and yes, hopefully purchase) ...and it's really rewarding when we achieve that goal.
How has the casual games industry changed from the time you started developing til now? (e.g. production values, types of features, etc)?
It's getting bigger from every angle... more developers, more games, more distribution sites, bigger budgets and more customers trying and buying casual games. Also, casual games have been around long enough that we now see a lot of sequels. I think this is great for casual gamers because the developer gets a chance to take a successful game and further improve, refine and expand the original game mechanics.
Flip Words is your most popular game and one of the most successful casual word games of all time. Can you provide insight in how you created Flip Words?
During our first year in business, we had been wanting to do a word game for a while and I had some rough ideas for a premise--but, we hadn't put our finger on the core concept. We talked about ideas on a monthly basis for about nine months while developing our first batch of games. I had been focused on words beginning with a certain letter because I had always enjoyed the "Scategories" board game. One day, our artist, Garrett Price, brought up Hangman and then I countered with "Wheel of Fortune" and everything suddenly clicked into place. We had the whole game designed on the white board in about 15 minutes and the first version was developed in only 6 weeks!
You just released Flip Words 2. The most unique thing about Flip Words 2 is the unique multiplayer experience. What is unique about the multiplayer? Why did you do multiplayer in this way?
When designing the multiplayer mode for Flip Words 2, we had a few goals: 1) We didn't want to require any type of login system to play, 2) We wanted the match-making to be simple and instant, 3) We didn't want users to have to wait for another user to join before they could start playing, and 4) The back-end server architecture needed to multi-redundant without any single points of failure.
We set these goals so that first-time multiplayer users would have a painless experience, with as few hurdles as possible, to play. And, we wanted the multiplayer mode to be portal-friendly.
I believe we met these goals and even exceed them in a few areas. Although a login system is not used, we do allow users to access their lifetime stats on multiple machines (for people that play both at home and work, for example). We also have a simple method for allowing friends to be matched up together by specifying what we call a "game code".
For me, the best part about the experience is that you can join a game with a single click and if you happen to be the only person in the game (each game can have up to 4 players), you don't have to wait for another person to join before you can start playing.
One of the unique aspects about the gameplay in the multiplayer mode is that it's cooperative but includes a bit of competition as well. Players work together to solve a common phrase. However, after the phrase has been solved, awards are given to the player who found the biggest word, obtained the most points, revealed the most phrase letters, or found the most words. By going this route, we avoided a situation where there was only 1 winner but 3 losers. Yet, players can still go for bragging rights for the different types of awards if they wish (for some reason, the "Biggest Word" award seems to be the most coveted).
Casual games are not just played on the PC. What do you think about other platforms for casual games such as Xbox Live Arcade, Nintendo DS & Wii, and Mobile? What do you think is the ultimate way to play casual games?
For me, casual gaming is already relatively ultimate for two reasons: 1) I can download new games not only on my PC, but on my console and cell phone and 2) I can play anywhere... in my office at home or work, in my living room or waiting in the doctor's office with my cell phone. With two little kids, I don't have hours to play games...I have minutes... and 10 minutes of pinball on my cell phone is still a lot of fun for me.
Can you give us hints on upcoming HipSoft games or features you plan to launch in the future?
Our downloadable and user-submitted content system has been a big hit with our games that feature it (Flip Words, Puzzle Express, Ocean Express, Trivia Machine and Jig Words). For example, we still receive thousands of Flip Words phrases every day! I'll I can say right now is that we have big plans to take this system to the next level with an upcoming game.
Any closing words for your fans out there?
We love hearing from those that play our games, so don't be shy. You can reach us anytime at our website at http://www.hipsoft.com. Thanks for reading!