In the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, it’s not easy to get your hands on a pinball machine. Nor is it possible to get an Apple-approved iPhone, although you can get “jailbroken” phones, which run software that allows them to be used on any wireless network. That’s why the achievement of Sergey Volskiy (pictured top) is all the more impressive.
His iPhone game company, Gameprom, has created hit pinball games (including Pinball HD) on the iPhone and iPad that have collectively been downloaded more than 5 million times. Most of the downloads were free, but the paid numbers have been healthy.
The 10-member team that 28-year-old Volskiy and his partner, 33-year-old Phillipp Pogosov lead was able to create their hit game without ever having played pinball on a real machine. They learned how to play and capture the excitement of playing by watching YouTube videos.
How’s that for globalization? It’s certainly a reminder that Silicon Valley doesn’t have an exclusive on talent, and that successful entrepreneurs can emerge anywhere, as described in New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s best-selling book, The World is Flat. Kyiv is such a hotbet for game talent that it’s the host to the Casual Connect Kyiv conference — which draws more than 3,000 attendees — every October.
Gameprom has been making video games since 2004. They had released 20 games that were well-known in the Russian market, mostly for Java-based feature phones. In 2008, the company switched to making iPhone games. They taught themselves how to make games using the OpenGL ES standard for graphics.
They chose to do pinball spontaneously. They concentrated on making the best 3D graphics engine, or the software that makes images appear on the display, that they could. They focused on making the game simple to play and very realistic. You can control the screen and flippers with the iPhone’s touchscreen and accelerometer.
They called it Wild West Pinball, and it launched about a year ago. At first, it was slow to take off. They pitched it to European bloggers and game reviewers. Still, it didn’t go anywhere. Then they made it free for a month and it finally took off. Now there is both a free version and a paid version.
It hit No. 1 in Apple’s App Store in the U.S. and other countries as well. About 70 percent of the users are in the U.S. There was lots of competition in the pinball app space, but the beauty of the graphics in Gameprom’s game stood out. The company quickly churned out other games. Full told, it has released six games with different pinball themes. It took its Pinball for the Mac and adapted it to make Pinball HD for the iPad. On its launch day, the title hit No. 1 in the paid apps chart for the U.S. Now the company is working on new pinball theme games with Sony Music. And Pinball HD is still in the top 100 charts.
Gameprom has won a number of contests, including the first-ever Ukraine iApp Contest organized by Sasha Supra-Zhenko (pictured, right) and Philippe Jeudy. Gameprom beat out 40 entrants; runner-ups included Gun Disassembly 3D (where you can watch a gun being disassembled) by Viacheslav Klimov, and The Hermitage Museum tour on the iPad by Basil Mironenko. The company was also nominated for Apple’s own app design awards. Supra-Zhenko and Jeudy brought Volskiy to Silicon Valley for a tour as part of his prize for winning the contest.
Supra-Zhenko said she is talking with the Ukrainian government to organize a cooperative agreement with U.S. accelerators such as the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. More than 20 foreign entities have agreements with Plug and Play. Now that he has visited the U.S., Volskiy says he wants to open an office in Silicon Valley and possibly raise a round of funding as well. The company will likely make Android games and other platforms too.