Steve Felter, the new chief executive of GameSalad, won’t be happy until everybody can make games for the iPhone and the web.
Felter (pictured) has taken over as the top boss for Los Angeles-based GameSalad, which makes game tools that allow anyone to make web and mobile games. In contrast to other game tools, GameSalad does not require a developer to know any programming. It has a drag-and-drop user interface that a developer can use to string together the elements of a game, from art work to sound. The tools are part of a larger trend of the democratization of technology, which allows everyone from YouTube film makers to artists to become self-made creators.
The market for these tools is heating up just as enthusiasm for mobile game companies is picking up. Disney recently acquired RocketPack, which specializes in making tools and games based on the HTML5 web format. Mobile games are taking off because demand for smartphones and tablet computers is also skyrocketing. More than a third of adults say they now play mobile games.
Felter replaces co-founder and former CEO Michael Agustin, who will become chief product officer for GameSalad. So far, the business is going well. GameSalad has been used to create more than 4,500 games, including 30 games that have made it into the top 100 ranks of the U.S. version of Apple’s App Store.
GameSalad appeals to anyone who has ever dreamed of creating a game. Abdulrahman Al-Zanki, a 14-year-old student in Kuwait, accepted a dare from a friend who said he was incapable of building an iPhone game. He accepted and downloaded GameSalad, which is available for free in its limited form. Three days later, he submitted his first game to the App Store. Now that game, Doodle Destroy, has been downloaded more than 1 million times and has been featured on CNN.com.
Daniel Caldwell, an eight grade science teacher outside of Syracuse, N.Y., used GameSalad to build an educational app, SciTunes Human Body Adventure, which became a finalist for a prestigious White House education award. Stories like this are plentiful and are one reason Felter joined the company late last year.
“It’s like a lottery,” said Felter. “There’s always the chance of making the next Angry Birds,” referring to the Rovio game that has been downloaded more than 75 million times.
Once game makers get the hang of it, they can buy the professional version of GameSalad in order to better monetize the games. Agustin will focus on building out the product line while Felter focuses on growing the company. Before joining GameSalad, Felter was chief operating officer and chief financial officer of DigiSynd, a social media marketing and analytics firm. That company helped the Walt Disney Co. become hip to social media, which included growing Disney’s Facebook properties to more than 100 million fans. He also work in business development at Warner Bros.
GameSalad was founded in 2007 by Agustin, Daniel Treiman and Tan Tran. The company has raised at least $1.2 million from Steamboat Ventures (Disney’s investment arm), DFJ Mercury, DFJ Frontier, and ff Asset Management. Rivals include Unity Technologies, which makes tools for the professional and amateur crowd. While GameSalad focuses on two-dimensional games, Unity’s tools (which require programming knowledge) can be used to make sophisticated 3D games. Other rivals include non-game app makers WidgetBox and Cabana. GameSalad has 20 employees.
Games published to the web are playable at GameSalad.com, and users can choose to create apps that are uploaded to the App Store. The GameSalad creator tool has been downloaded 126,000 times. More than 400 games were launched in the last 30 days. GameSalad games are now 3.1 percent of the total number on the App Store. In January, 10 percent of the games submitted to the App Store used GameSalad.
Felter said that GameSalad will continue to focus on simplifying the game making process. Right now, the biggest obstacle is creating high-quality art for a game. The screen shots above show you can drag characters from the left hand side of the screen and insert them into the scene on the right hand side.