Crop Duster creator William Walczak holds up an iPad with one of the Crop Duster

Crop Duster creator William Walczak holds up an iPad with one of the Crop Duster

Smartphone games touted as Kelowna’s next hot market

Could this be the next Club Penguin? Anything is possible from where William Walczak sits—halfway down Ellis Street in a brand new office, a stone’s throw from the Laurel Packinghouse.

Could this be the next Club Penguin?

Anything is possible from where William Walczak sits—halfway down Ellis Street in a brand new office, a stone’s throw from the Laurel Packinghouse.

The mastermind behind an iPhone game created right here in the Okanagan, he’s hoping his product’s similarity to FarmVille, Flight Control and Angry Birds nets just enough spillover clientele to build the momentum necessary to top the App Store download list on iTunes.

“It’s like you’ve got the game, but that’s kind of the beginning of the problem,” he said. “Somehow you have to tell people about it.”

Crop Duster, as the game is called, uses small plans to grow and cultivate crops.

It was released on the iTunes Store earlier this month, and has seen over 1000 downloads, largely due to a guerilla social marketing campaign conducted from his small office, and contacts with blogs like Dubious Quality (http://dubiosquality.blogspot.com).

In the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics, the company, ITS Kelowna.com, had a Whistler iPhone application that made it to number six on the top paid applications list.

But, Walczak admits entering the competitive gaming market without a hook, like Whistler’s name recognition, will make this run tougher.

“It’s not like we can go out and buy a front-page story wherever we go,” he said. “So we’re just trying to figure it out.”

That said, they do have a game plan.

Harvesting a little shine off the golden glow of people like FarmVille’s founder, Mark Pincus (and his roughly $10 billion and 250 million users), for example, should give Crop Duster a head-start; although Walczak said he and fellow developer Timothy Czyrnyj also really wanted to build a product they could be proud of as gamers.

“We’re the Nintendo generation. We’re the demographic that all of these games are written for, so we just made a game that we would want to play,” he said.

Joined by local graphic artist Sarah Gerber, who gave the game’s story a kid-friendly face, Crop Duster thus leans heavily on the Okanagan’s agricultural roots for inspiration, and includes its creators’ favourites—a flying component and a Farmville-style build-out.

Walczak’s neighbours are pilots, and after helping test-run the game, both earned themselves a character.

Thus, Kelowna’s Dr. Dan Kobi, who owns a helicopter, became Chopper Dan and pilot Stephen Munro took on the Seeder Steve persona.

Throw in a Phil the Waterbomber and Dusty the Crop Duster and one has the complete Crop Duster complement of characters; just choose a plane for an opportunity to sew your own oats—or corn or hay or whatever the crop of choice may be—in a field of dreams its creators are hoping yields big returns.

The company was the first to announce its game this month, but in an interesting coincidence, another company followed almost immediately.

New to Kelowna, PlayMobility, is also going after the Smartphone application gaming market this week with an interactive geo-caching hunt that draws locals and tourists into businesses to find Ogopogo.

Originally operating out of Vancouver, Miles Marziani says he moved the company to town to follow the love of his life and now plans to use Kelowna as groundzero for his tourism-oriented games.

“This one I did on my own purely to test a new type of platform,” he said.

Marziani said only 19 per cent of the smartphone market is on the iPhone and he wants to build a multi-platform product that can play to every provider.

He intends to charge local businesses for the opportunity to be in his game, which basically operates like a tour, offering caches of information needed to solve the game’s puzzle when the user reaches designated business locations.

As for the puzzle, well, he went with a simple storyline—where is Ogopogo.?

Supposing the lake monster has jostled a boat, knocked a phone overboard and swallowed it, the story goes that the gamer must use the cellphone’s GPS to track Ogopogo to catch the monster, securing vital pieces of information along the way.

The Ogopogo story is only the first of many legends PlayMobility is planning to track with this new game, Legend Tracker, which is available on the iTunes App Store and will soon be available on several other platforms including Nokia, Android, and Blackberry Playbook.

To check out Crop Duster go to www.cropdustergame.com or plug the name into the finder on the iTunes Store.

 

jsmith@kelownacapnews.com

 

 

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