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Playforge made enough money from a single iPhone game, Zombie Farm, to support a 25-person company. Now the developer has launched its next game, Zombie Life, and it has another hit on its hands. Call it the domestication of the zombie, a big trend in pop culture.
Zombie games are a dime a dozen these days. But Playforge struck a chord when it launched Zombie Farm with cute zombies about 18 months ago. Since that time, the game has consistently stayed on the top free app charts and generated more than 20 million downloads. That’s a pretty big hit, allowing the company to generate revenues from sales of virtual goods as well as ad revenues.
Vince McDonnell, chief executive of Playforge in San Mateo, Calif., said in an interview that the first game was a hit because it resonated with people who were accustomed to zombies as scary characters. As with the PopCap game Plants vs Zombies, turning the zombies into cute and lovable characters was a change of pace. Sometimes that kind of novelty is all it takes to create a big hit.
“We’re humanizing the zombies,” McDonnell said.
Playforge took those cute characters and mashed it up with a farm game, sort of like Zynga’s FarmVille. Likewise, Zombie Life is a simulation of life, akin to EA’s The Sims game series.
The new game was released late Thursday night and has been climbing the charts of the top free games, hitting as low as No. 15 on the top list. The company cross-promoted the game with its Zombie Farm fans, and it advertised the title as well.
In the game, you play the role of a young zombie challenged to live life in the real world. The zombies have to put on make-up in order to escape detection from humans in the game world, as the humans freak out when they recognize zombies.
McDonnell said the revenues from the first game were enough to build a team of 25 developers. The company plans to hire 10 more by the end of the year. The company’s focus is on making fun games that can be understood by all ages, McDonnell said. So there are no gory scenes or zombie guts that would be too much for little kids to handle. In the Zombie Life game, players have to stay “fresh” by putting on deodorant. The zombies can hang out, bite people, and get a promotion. Zombies have to get real-world jobs, work hard and climb the corporate ladder.
Playforge was founded in 2009. Rivals include PopCap Games (now owned by Electronic Arts) and a host of other mobile game companies. McDonnell said the company recently released an Android version of Zombie Farm, but it will focus mostly on iPhone games. Another game is in the works and will come out before year end. With a bigger team, McDonnell said, “We can start pumping out the games.”