Meet the Dudes Behind Dots, the iPhone Game of the Moment
By now you may have heard about Dots, the free mobile game that is singlehandedly responsible for at least a 27 percent decline in U.S. workplace productivity over the past two weeks, based on my very unscientific research.
If you haven’t heard of it, here’s the gist: You connect and swipe away rows of matching-colored dots to earn as many points as you can in 60 seconds. If you’re able to draw a square of dots of the same color, it’s like getting a raise on your birthday. You share high scores with friends — and by friends, I mean the Internet. And then you do it all over again. Immediately.
The iOS-only app, which was created by New York City-based Betaworks, has been downloaded more than two million times since it hit the App Store on May 1. Yesterday, I had the chance to catch up with the game’s creators, Patrick Moberg and Paul Murphy, to ask them about the inspiration behind Dots, who is playing the game — including a legion of “Dot-moms” — and what tips they can offer. Below are excerpts from our conversation:
Where did the idea for Dots come from?
Moberg: A lot of the early thinking was just looking at what was already out there, what was highly illustrated or cartoonish, and deciding we wanted to do something new, something that wasn’t out there.
But why dots? Why not coins, or squares, or birds flying through the air?
Moberg: Well, some of my inspiration for the design of the game actually came from the fine art world. I copied and pasted a bunch of fine art images from Google into my design documents and thought, if an app could be like fine art, maybe this would be it. But Dots was also inspired by board games. Old-school board games are fun and playful but have such — I guess the word would be neutral — such neutral personalities that anyone can approach them and play them.
You just crossed two million downloads on Tuesday. What are your engagement numbers like?
Murphy: It’s growing pretty well on its own, with very little marketing on our side. We’ve tracked that 100 million games have been played, so that means 100 million minutes, which is a lot of time. It probably doesn’t help the world with productivity. Every time somebody opens the app, they spend almost five minutes in there, and then tend to come back day after day.
At AllThingsD, some of us have this theory that Dots is a “mom” game. On Mother’s Day, I showed the game to my mom, who isn’t really into new tech or mobile games, and she couldn’t stop playing it. So I guess the question is, what does your audience look like so far?
Moberg: Yeah, my mom went to her Pilates class and said her friends kept telling her how addictive the game was. But she doesn’t have an iPhone. So now she’s thinking of buying an iPhone, so she can play Dots.
Murphy: But it’s not just moms. We started doing research on social networks and Instagram, and it seems a lot of young people are playing it, too. And we don’t have hard data, but we get a little bit of insight through the people that connect through Facebook. We know that it resonates heavily with women, but there are also a lot of men playing, too. So it’s really pretty broad right now.
What’s coming first, iPad optimization or Android?
Murphy: iPad. It’s not that we don’t love Android, but we got a lot of feedback right away from people that want iPad, and our instinct is to listen to the users. On Android it’s a little bit trickier because of the different strategies. One is, just make your app for Android, and the other is, build from the ground up, take advantage of all the features of Android, and we want to do the latter.
When will we see the iPad app?
Murphy: We’re aiming to do something by the end of the month.
You’ve also said that you want to make the app color-blind-friendly. What does that involve?
Moberg: Yeah, that’s something that will be in the next version, but we want to get it right. We want to make it so users can enable a color-blind mode within the existing app. It involves modifying the hue saturation, which is something we’re going to have to test with a lot of people first. It’s a fine line between useable and beautiful.
What are your highest Dots scores?
Murphy: I’m at 380, which is sort of lame. Patrick is — hold on, let me check — 472. He’s done a bit better, but he has access to the leaderboard, so maybe he’s made tweaks to his score.
Moberg: I feel like I’m not that successful at it. I have friends who score much better than I have. It’s a tricky thing. One of my friends compared it to spotting a pitch in baseball. When you see the initial board, you can see whether it’s going to be flush with squares, or even one step away from the initial square. Some people are just good at that.
What is the best tip you can give Dots players? (Readers: Also see this helpful guidebook, courtesy of Quartz.)
Moberg: Other than squares? Finding environments that you’re most comfortable playing in. I find that if I play on the subway when I’m trying to de-stress, it’s not the best. I’m just sort of playing to pass time. I play my best games when I’m home playing Dots with my girlfriend.
Murphy: I’m a big fan of the expanders, so whenever I accrue a lot of points I usually use them to buy a pack of expanders. If you use these at the right time, you can get more squares. The best time is usually at the start of the game.
Are Dots players actually making in-app purchases?
Murphy: People are buying dots, kind of to our surprise. We did want to make the game so people didn’t ever have to spend money and could earn dots just by playing, but also so you can spend a little bit of money and get those features right away.
How much money have you made through the app so far?
Murphy: We don’t really want to share that. But we are making money, so that’s positive.
Can we expect to see any ads popping up in Dots?
Murphy: It’s not in our road map. The game feels different from other games, and I think we’re going to try to preserve that. So we don’t have any ads immediately planned.
When you look at other mobile games that quickly became popular and then sort of fell off — Draw Something comes to mind — what do you think you can learn from that?
Moberg: Well, not to sound silly about it, but we’re testing some of the assumptions around how you’re supposed to do this for mobile games. That might mean the falloff still exists, or maybe this game won’t have that falloff. I don’t know. I think the key is optimizing for longevity instead of optimizing for mobile. When you look at old board games, there were no in-app purchases, right? And yet we’ve been coming back to them for years.
Murphy: The rule book would say, throw a bunch of ads at people’s faces right now! Jack up the prices in the game! And we don’t want to do that. We’re just sort of focused on the game experience.