Interview With PlayFirst GM Chris Williams

One of my favorite styles of casual gaming on my iPod Touch is time management, and one of the top developers in this genre is PlayFirst, creators of the “Dash” series (Diner Dash, Wedding Dash, etc.)  They just released a new entry in the iPhone series called Hotel Dash, and to add icing to the cake, I recently had the opportunity to correspond with PlayFirst GM Chris Williams about their iDevice ventures and where they are headed next.

1.    Can you tell me a little bit about PlayFirst and what your role in the company is?

PlayFirst is a publisher of emotionally engaging interactive entertainment and is committed to providing compelling experiences that always delight our customers. We publish our games on the most popular platforms worldwide including PC, Mac, iOS devices, Facebook, and consoles. We are known for hit titles such as Diner Dash, Chocolatier, and Dream Chronicles. My role as the General Manager of Mobile is to define the product and marketing strategy to bring our existing and new IP to all the established and emerging mobile gaming platforms.

2.    Looking at your web site, the iPhone seems to be the only smartphone platform with PlayFirst games.  Why did you choose the iPhone over other platforms?

PlayFirst was very early in putting a game in the Apple App Store, when we released Diner Dash in September of 2008. This was back when there were less than a thousand games and we could charge $9.99 for it. Apple had created a device which was very appealing to our audience and was a natural fit for our gameplay, so we jumped on it and had a lot of early success. As the new smartphones are now gaining market share, we are evaluating the opportunity to participate in the App Stores on those devices.

3. The Diner Dash series has been quite popular on the PC and Mac.  How has it fared on the iPhone?

The Dash franchise is one of the most successful in the App Store, with over 8 million downloads to date. We have three Dash games on iPhone and iPod touch (Diner Dash, Cooking Dash, and Wedding Dash) that all very consistently rank in the Top 100 Grossing Games. Diner Dash is consistently in the Top 30-40 Grossing Games. Both Diner Dash and Cooking Dash have at their peak ranked as the #2 overall Paid Application. Very few publishers have 3 games in the Top 100. Very, very few have three games that are all part of the same franchise that perform that well. On the iPad, Diner Dash: Grilling Green was a launch title that was featured by Apple when the device launched, and it was also playable in the retail stores as a demo. We are currently very excited about Hotel Dash launching on the iPhone and iPod touch – we think it is also going to be a huge hit!

4.    Time management games seem to play quite well on the iPhone.  What challenges were there in bringing the game from the big screen to a portable one?

See 5.

5. In general, do you add any features to your games that are specific to the iPhone?

While Time Management is a natural fit for the iOS devices, we have made significant improvements to the games over time by consistently providing updates. We don’t consider our current iOS games as ports – we think of them as being native versions that are heavily customized and enhanced for the platform. For example, Diner Dash: Grilling Green was the only iPad launch title to support gestures, multitouch, both orientations, two players, and all new art assets and levels. Most launch titles were just updated iPhone games with “HD” graphics. We made a ground up iPad game based on an existing franchise. On the iPhone and iPod touch, we take the same approach and are constantly updating to take advantage of new iOS and device capabilities. An example would be our recent update to incorporate Game Center high score rankings into Diner Dash.

6. You have quite a collection of games to choose from.  How do you decide which ones come the iPhone?

We look for games that we think are going be a natural fit for the device as a point of departure but expect that there will be a lot of work involved making them play well on the iOS device. The multitouch input is very different from clicking a mouse so we try to envision what it will be like to interact using the touch screen and then quickly prototype the core gameplay. Only when we have validated that it is deeply engaging on the platform do we move forward with development.

7. With the advent of the iPad, will we see more games jumping back to the larger screen?

We are very excited about the iPad as a gaming platform and believe the extra screen size allows for some different types of gaming that may not work as well on the iPhone and iPod Touch. We are encouraged to see that some of the adventure games currently available are doing well, since our Dream Chronicles franchise is widely considered one of the best in that genre. The iPad will immerse players into the beautiful artwork, intricate puzzles, and engaging story worlds of Dream Chronicles like never before.

8. Are there any plans for creating PlayFirst originals on the iPhone, or will we just continue to see ports in the near future?

We are hard at work on original, ground-up games for the iOS devices with new IP. You can expect a blend of our existing franchises and some iOS originals from PlayFirst going forward. We are also looking to provide cross-platform gaming experiences to our fans, particularly with our social games on Facebook.

9. What can we expect from PlayFirst in the next few months as far as the iPhone / iPad is concerned?

Hotel Dash for iPhone and iPod Touch just launched. We oriented the game vertically so that you play holding your device upright, and we are really excited about how it feels on the device. We are also putting a lot of effort into updating our existing Dash games with new restaurants. The Spooky Saloon in Diner Dash is currently very popular and you can expect more restaurants to be available around the holidays.

10. Briefly (I know that’s not really fair), can you share some thoughts on your opinion of the mobile games market and where it’s heading?

The mobile gaming market will continue to show amazing growth with the continued smartphone adoption worldwide. The number of App Stores that are going to be launched to put content on these devices is impressive. I think there will continue to be a blend of premium paid games with high engagement, low cost and low engagement games, and freemium games with a large user base that monetize through ads or in-app purchase. Given the massive number of games that will be available, well established brands like Dash will continue to have an advantage while it will become more and more difficult for new IP to break through.

I’d personally like to thank Chris Williams for taking the time out of his schedule to answer these questions for TMA and our readers.

You can check out PlayFirst’s iDevice offerings here: App Store Link

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