Urban dictionary defines turd polishing as “The act of trying to make something hopelessly weak and unattractive appear strong and appealing. An impossible process that usually results in a larger, uglier turd.” Luckily, one mobile game developer was able to turn this saying on its head.
Retro Dreamer created an app–Happy Poo–in reaction to what can be seen as the sad state of affairs of the Android market. They had released a game called Double Take, which got very few downloads. Their modest success on Apple’s App Store was disheartening.
Happy Poo was born of this early frustration. Says Gavin Bowman, co-founder and lead programmer, “I think most app developers think about making silly apps like this from time to time, especially when things aren’t going well.”
Interestingly enough, Happy Poo garnered positive reactions from friends and family alike. Many small developers use their social circles as a sort of adhoc beta tester group, and Retro Dreamer is no exception. It also helped that the Android market ecosystem is so forgiving.
Bowman says, “This app would never have hit the market if we’d had to submit it for approval. We would have been over the idea before I uploaded the binary and we’d have pulled it down. Being able to get it out there instantly and get the amusing reactions from our friends was the only reason this wasn’t just another discarded silent vent.”
After relatively little activity on the Google marketplace, Happy Poo became somewhat of an Amazon App Store success after a whim of a submission. It reached No. 3 on the overall free apps chart, and continues to have more downloads than their flagship app, Sneezies, which is also available for free on Amazon. The company has broken even on the project, something Bowman counts as a success.
As Bowman and partner, Craig Sharpe, showed Happy Poo around at GDC this past March, they got tons of feedback from other developers. They also read through over 500 reviews on the Amazon App Store. Their final take-away? That Happy Poo needed more game elements. Multiplayer Happy Poo for 2, Happy Poo Jump, and kid-friendly Wash The Dishes are all out now on both Android app marketplaces. Have they found the same level of success? Not yet. “We don’t have any interesting data from any of these new apps yet. Happy Poo for 2 is the only app that’s been available for more than a few days, and it’s the only one that’s available on the Amazon App Store so far, says Bowman. “It’s getting some downloads, but it’s not attracting the same craziness that the original did. But that’s to be expected. My only hope for that one is that someone enjoys it.”
In a rush-to-the bottom app ecosystem that can be seen on both iOS and Android platforms, it takes a combination of luck, quirkiness, and great design to succeed. For a two-man team to find even this level of success is both a testament to the disruptive nature of the smartphone gaming arena as well as to the persistence and dedication of its development community.