Based in London and Malmö, ustwo™ is a creative design studio specialising in pioneering graphical user interfaces that drive the services and products of some of the world's leading brands. The team behind hit iPhone applications Steppin, MouthOff and most recently The Dot - or simply .™- the first of a series of games created spontaneously in just 48 hours. Macworld caught up with Matt Miller, Creative Director at ustwo™, to discover more about the studio.
Q. MouthOff™has gained and continues to gain coverage - what's the secret in getting an application out there?
The secret, hmm... I'd say never give up, never listen to those who say "put it to sleep", an app is never dead, and even when it is dead... it's free! With MouthOff™ we set out to make an application that showcased ustwo's™ classic blend of design quality and personality.. our company philosophy 'we make products smile' has never rung so true.
After the relatively long development process of our first app steppin™ in which we learnt the hard way ‘how to not develop and market an app’, we set out to make a 'quirky' app, (less than two weeks), nobody had done a sound reactive Mouth, so MouthOff™ was born... If you think of an idea, you can bet your bottom dollar that within a few months another version will be out there.. everyone is racking their brains for the 'golden app'. Sadly it’s a journey that will more often end in emptiness and app-ache.
Over its lifetime it's been picked up by the BBC, Creative Review, a US hip hop group who used it as their promo video concept, appeared on the Apple 'what's hot' list, and recently was picked out as one of the TOP 35 apps of this year... Not bad for a fun and pointless app!
One of - if not THE main reasons for the success was the viral extension of the app. We actively urged users to make videos of themselves and to send them to their mates via our website ShowUsYourMouthOff™.
Tagging the video on YOUTUBE with the word showusyourmouthoff meant that the videos automatically populated the site.. The best videos were rewarded with iTunes vouchers. This meant that the user was having fun using it, but this fun was the carrier of the message 'buy this cool app'...
We also made 4 updates to the app over the last 6 months, allowing a steady flow of interest to stay with the app, building from an original 5 Mouths to the current 37!!!! The last update introduced the 'Signature series' where we invited 12 of the most 'current' and creative illustrators to create their own set of MouthOff™ Mouths. This opened the app up to the design world and brought a big awareness in the creative field.
We are currently working on a HALLOWEEN update for Halloween, but that is TOP SECRET so we won’t mention it unless it's leaked :). We also sold MouthOff™ to a BIG BIG brand, which will release in the next month.
You can download MouthOff™ for 59p HERE.
Q. Would you class MouthOff as a game or something else?
MouthOff™ is an infectious 'show off app'. The worth is not in the actual app itself, but the ability to impress your mates. It's an app that gets attention from and to your beloved iphone, "apptention"!!! As a special treat we released 1 MouthOff™ as a FREE app to gain awareness of the app, allowing users to try before they buy.
Download 1 MouthOff™ FREE here.
Q. With around 21,000 iPhone games currently available on the App Store, are games a potential goldmine for developers or is the sector over-populated with developers struggling to get gaming applications noticed?
Sadly, I see a goldmine for a very 'lucky' few. Not the masses, and I'd say about 50 apps are making enough money to support the actual build and ongoing development. This is the same outside of the 'games' app arena; it just doesn't seem possible to gain enough awareness without spending on marketing and promotion. Bottom line is it takes about 4 days of non stop 'monkAPPing™' press releases to app review sites alone, time not without its cost association.
Q. What's with the .™? and why is it so special?
The issue we saw with app development (even MouthOff™ which took weeks not days!) was that apps were taking too long to make, we need to have a constant stream of quality apps in order to gain ustwo™ awareness. We got frustrated by not being able to talk about fresh apps, and needed something to talk about alongside our MouthOff™ baby.
There is nothing better than producing quick turnaround projects. Pulling that crack team together over a beer one night. Simple task, we need something cool, something addictive, something that showcases quick thinking. We only produce what can be done in a 2 day period. Bottom line is that it has to go to Apple on hour 48.
So we created .™, the worlds first ‘48hourApp’, Concept. Design. Development. Marketing concept. All produced in the space of 48 hours. The name of the game is survival. It’s simple (so are we!!). You are .™. Blue circles are food. Red triangles are death. .™ starves and shrinks without food. Red death makes .™ hungrier. The gameplay is simple, and the name even more so, the name is the character.. and there’s nothing better than trademarking a .!
The key for this app is that the money was to be spent on the marketing and not the app. We realized that 'cool'ectable™ games, with limited functionality other than to entertain you for that 'spare' minute when you have nothing better to do. We've included our latest viral here:
The key skill in this project was being able to say NO to the extras that ustwo™ wanted, but couldn’t be done in the time. The goal was to cover the development costs and break even so 5750 downloads will be needed at 59p after Apple takes its cut. ustwo™ will then update the app with new features. In this case it’s the reverse Kostner©, ‘if you buy it, we will build’.
Q. And can you still make money when you start to offer applications such as Steppin free?
steppin™ was a massive lesson learnt for us, the free version got us 180,000 downloads, and we naively thought that this volume in free would transfer in some way to the paid, improved FULL version, but we only sold 1200 at 59p. All in all we had spent about 30k in studio time 'learning' iPhone app development with steppin™ and it seemed madness to limit the amount of people who could experience it. After a while we realized that steppin™ was not about making money, it was about showcasing our first app, if we wanted users to see the app, then we had to give it away. We also used steppin as a carrier for a small advert showcasing MouthOff™.
See the difference in downloads from Paid (59p) to FREE in Mid May.
you can download the FREE version here.
Q. Did the area you are working in fully exist prior to the iPhone, or did you start to adapt code/ideas/applications to suit the iPhone platform?
ustwo™ is a user interface focussed digital design studio. Growing a design studio capable of delivering client solutions is one thing, but it’s the exposure of the studio to the world that is the key to its real success.
And this year we realised this more than ever. So what did we do? Well to start we have committed around £150k into the App area, building a quality iFocussed™ team, proportioning it over the first 12 months of the ‘new app age’, giving us the confidence to say NO to paid projects that the chosen developers would have been on. Thus the iPhelopers™ were born, and were able to concentrate on the one and only: iApps™
The beauty of iApps™ is that we can contain all parts of the projects in the studio. We control the process, we control the budget, we control the direction.
Q. And when did ustwo start to see the potential of the iPhone and iPod touch?
MouthOff™ was the real eye opener for our studio, it showed us that we could reach the world through one app, bringing a smile to their faces, and send out a message of creativity and humour. As it stands it’s our main vehicle for studio promotion, using Apple’s near perfect delivery system to people we could never have dreamed of reaching before.
Q. Are there practical limitations developing for such a small platform size wise?
When is it comes to designing for the small screen, we have over 6 years of experience, so if anything the iPhone allowed us more space to work, more pixels and more importantly a platform where restrictions are only in the mind.
Q. When you are working with a client, how do you gauge the application’s worth, what you will charge the client and what the client charges the customer?
As the iPhone platform is still in its infancy Appucation™ is still the key issue for us. The initial brainstorm, which usually goes uncharged, often takes up a large proportion of time, and scope creep is a ongoing worry for development.
A typical scenario, which is the same outside of apps, is that a client signs off the app requirements, then when it is finally finished they request new changes, putting a creative design studio such as ours in a tricky situation, balancing that 'passion for perfection, and not losing money.
Q. Generally, has the App Store approval process run smoothly?
As it stands today we are looking at a 14 day approval process, but this can change on a daily basis, so when it comes to any client backed application we will never commit to an Apple agreed sign off date, only committing to our release to Apple. The rest is Apple world. One issue is keywords, should you get the keywords wrong the only current way of updating them is to update the app, (another 14 days wait!) which means that in the case of the .™, if searching for the . doesn’t pull up our app, if people cannot find the app, there is no chance of sales.
Q. What can we expect from ustwo in the near future?
In the next 4 weeks we have three massive releases. Two very exciting branded apps for Reebok and Cartoon network and our 4th ustwo™ studio application, named inkstrumental™ . A 'mental' sound toy and viral sound creator, working alongside our favourite illustrator Jon Burgerman. In terms of apps, this is our BIG BUDGAPP™
See the trailer here...