Interview with Keith Shepherd of Imangi Studios

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interview with Keith Shepherd iphone developer and ipod touchAppCraver recently sat down (via email) with Keith Shepherd Founder, CEO of Imangi Studios. He answered some of our questions about what it's like developing apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

1. When did you start developing apps for the iPhone?

Keith Shepherd: I started developing Imangi in early June of this year and formed Imangi Studios shortly after.

2. What was the inspiration behind your app?

Keith Shepherd: Inspiration comes from many places. My wife and I love word games, everything from crossword puzzles to Scrabble and Boggle. I’m also a huge Apple fanatic. My first computer was an Apple II+, I’ve never owned a PC, and I got an iPhone the first day it came out.

The conceptualization of Imangi happened very quickly. One day my wife and I were in the middle of a Scrabble game and we got curious about the history of the game. We looked it up on Wikipedia and found the story quite inspirational. I thought it would be fun to come up with our own word puzzle. I looked at Scrabble and thought to myself, this is basically like building a crossword puzzle in reverse, what if we try doing a word search in reverse. In that instant, Imangi was born.

I took a bunch of letter tiles, put them in a grid and and realized we needed a way to move pieces. Sliding rows and columns seemed to be the most natural way, but doing this with physical pieces was quite a disaster. We pressed on and took turns sliding pieces back and forth trying to make words. It was fun, but almost impossible to keep the pieces in a nice grid. We realized then that this would need to be done virtually and we thought that it would mesh beautifully with the iPhone’s touch technology.

We went through many iterations and refinement of the concept before we landed on the final configuration you see today, but our original inspiration was pretty much a whim.

3. How did you settle on your price point for the app?

Keith Shepherd: Imangi is currently on sale for $3.99. Prior to the opening of the store, we had very little information on how other similar applications would be priced or what prices the market would bear. The only price points that we had were the products announced at WWDC. We knew that Super Monkey Ball would sell for $9.99 and we decided that any price under $5 would be a fair price for our game. We decided to go with $3.99 and after the store opened we were able to compare our price to others. The price still seemed fair, and perhaps even a bit low compared to other apps. We decided to keep the price, and we’ve had quite a few customers comment on what a great value Imangi is for the price.

4. How did you like the developer tools provided in the iPhone SDK? Is there anything missing?

Keith Shepherd: The iPhone Software Development Kit is a dream to work with. Prior to working on Imangi, our professional experience was primarily with Java, C++, and C. We had never done any work with Objective C or the iPhone APIs. There was a bit of a learning curve, but the documentation and example code that Apple provides with the SDK are outstanding. We were able to get a basic working prototype built and running on this new platform in about a week.

5. Is your company privately owned? Venture backed?

Keith Shepherd: Imangi Studios is privately owned and I am currently the only full time employee. With the announcement of the App Store / iPhone SDK and the idea for Imangi, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to start a small company. I left my previous job in April and decided to focus on starting Imangi Studios full time. I see the iPhone and App Store ecosystem as a great opportunity to start as a small independent developer and grow into a larger business. My hope is to be able to continue developing many great apps beyond Imangi.

6. What are some of the other iPhone apps that you like?

Keith Shepherd: There are so many great apps to choose from. My personal favorites are: Pandora, DizzyBee, Labyrinth, and Toy Bot Diaries.

7. What kind of features should apple implement in future versions of the iPhone / SDK?

Keith Shepherd: At this point, we are extremely satisfied with the iPhone / SDK and haven’t really had any moments where we wanted to do something but were limited by the SDK. Imangi only scratches the surface of what is possible on this platform. I look forward to exploring some of the more iPhone specific technologies that we didn’t get to use in Imangi (OpenGL ES and the accelerometer), for some of our future titles.

8. What’s the development cycle for iPhone apps like?

Keith Shepherd: The first release of Imangi™ was developed in about a month by myself working full time 40-60hrs a week. This release was around 2000 lines of Objective C code. This includes everything from learning objective C and getting up to speed with the iPhone SDK API to writing the actual game code, developing the graphics, testing, and polishing everything for release.

Imangi 2.0 built upon the first release, but really expanded in scope and complexity. With this release we included quite a bit of new functionality:

1) Speed Imangi – Race against the clock to score as many words as possible!
2) Daily Challenge – This gives you the opportunity to play against the rest of the world on the same Imangi board every day and see how you compare.
3) Friend Challenge – Play against your friends on the same Imangi board and see who does the best.
4) Online High Scores – See how you stack up against the rest of the world.
5) Internationalization – German, French, Italian, and Russian Word Lists were added in this release and we are working to translate the interface as well.

These additional game play modes and the server side application took about a month and a half of work. At this point I would say that the code base is closer to 10k lines of code. Another thing that we introduced to our development cycle for this release was beta testing. We had about 10 people from the Imangi community testing for bugs and providing feedback on the new features before Imangi 2.0 was released. This was a tremendous help and there were some really great ideas generated from this process.

9. Are you working on any other apps that you will be releasing soon?

Keith Shepherd: Yes, we have a number of other titles in the works, but I can’t comment on any of them yet at this time. We will keep you posted as they get closer to release.

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