Guest Post: 18 Years to Our First App

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Steve Bullock is the founder of Adveractive Inc., and co-creator of Word Winder, a NOOK app for puzzle lovers and word game players. Word Winder was selected as App of the Week on Monday, and within just two weeks of release, it reached the #1 spot in both the board and word game categories on NOOK Apps. Congratulations to Steve and his fantastic team on their success! 

Eighteen Years to Our First App

Some people think we are a bit slow here in North Carolina. Our little company, founded in 1994 (first games in 1995), finally released its first app last week, a game named Word Winder™. Honest… we’re not really slow. We’ve just been ambling towards this event at a southern pace!

The Path We’ve Taken

I founded Adveractive in 1994 and hired a single employee, Rich Stewart. I was enamored with early multimedia (i.e. Myst, Passage to Vietnam, 7th Guest) and had a crazy idea about “interactive advertising,” hence the company’s slightly odd name. Then all of these things happened in 1995: the Internet (on a 9600 baud modem) blew me away, we discovered some talent for making simple games and we were invited to be beta testers for this funky browser plug-in called Shockwave. Our fate to be aspiring game developers was sealed. In the years since, there were a few times when Adveractive nearly dissolved and we nearly starved (figuratively). But along the way, we’ve had a lot of fun, made a lot of friends, and created a large body of world class online and download casual games – but never an app until now.

The Loves We Have Had

We “married” three different game development environments over these years. I use “married” intentionally. Once you throw yourself and your group into developing with a particular SDK, there is a lot of co-dependency, a lot of love and excitement and admiration, periodic disappointment, and there are times when you simply need to work around or through problems (sometimes together, sometimes on your own).

First Love

My first love (virtual “marriage”) was to Macromedia Director. It spawned Shockwave. We were there and we were pioneers. Maybe the thing I loved the most then about Director, and love the most now about Corona, was the tight knit group of independent developers and SDK folks who were so excited, so bust-a-gut to get things done, and so supportive of anyone on the team that was pushing it all forward. Director/Shockwave supported me and my company (and we supported her) into the early 2000s. We were hard working spouses!

Second Love

Along came Flash and busted up the first relationship. Flash was darned pretty, but not very capable in the 1990s. And then she grew up. I never fell deeply in love with Flash. But she pushed Director aside and brought home the bacon for us for a lot of years (2001 to the present). I respect the program intensely. I also greatly respect the people who created that development environment for building a great product. They’re professionals, but I don’t often sense the excitement, the fervor mixed with evangelism that the Director team and the young Corona team display.

New Love

Now I’m in love again. Although we have wanted to build apps for several years, a fair amount of paying online work got in the way. Last summer, we finally ambled into the world of mobile/tablet apps with the question, “Who do we marry next or can we do it with our second partner?” After some fitful dating with alternative new partners, we chose Corona and have no regrets. Although we still build in Flash for certain online work, Corona is our future.

After 9 months in this new marriage (no, not a baby), we realize that the new partner is not perfect; but the things we have come to love about Corona include:

  • We get excited to see the total dedication and enthusiasm from folks like Jonathan, Peach, Tom, Carlos (he is missed), Walter, Joshua and others that we saw back when web games were young and we were in our first relationship. These very nice people love their product and it shows.
  • Corona is powerful! Our games look simple on the surface, but Word Winder (as an example) has thousands and thousands of lines of code making it all work together. There are six separate games inside of the app with different logic, different layouts, and varying play mechanics. Plus, we do all of the small things such as auto-save, provide extensive help, show special first-time tips and much much more- the things that make for a great player experience. It takes a lot of code and a powerful/flexible development platform to do all of that.
  • There have been 3 or 4 tech issues that we’ve raised with Ansca during Word Winder’s development. All have been answered promptly, courteously and with good explanations of what is going on within the Corona engine. In a couple of cases, the answer was that we couldn’t quite do what we wanted… for now. But having that thoughtfully explained is really nice!
  • We launched this game on the NOOK first for various marketing and strategic reasons. But we actually prototyped it on an iPad before the NOOK development. And now we are turning to iOS, Kindle Fire, and Android versions of Word Winder for this summer. Corona really seems to do this cross-platform stuff pretty darned elegantly.

The First New Child (and maybe the best ever?)

Word Winder™ may be the best game and piece of intellectual property of which we have ever been a part. In the last week, the physical board game version launched in certain stores (Barnes & Noble and many more) and it will be very broadly available this summer. And our app, of course, is on the NOOK and we’ll be porting it broadly over coming months.

Word Winder™ is the brain child of David L. Hoyt, the author of the Jumble™ games (newspaper syndication and online), the Word Roundup™ games which appear in USA Today and lots of other daily online games and puzzle books. Adveractive has partnered with David since we were both working on Pat Sajak games together in 2006, and we’ve done virtually all of David’s online games. Through a combination of events and brain storming discussions, and by drawing from ideas furnished by me and another brilliant game inventor, Graeme Thomson, David came up with the core game play for Word Winder™ last summer. The game is so simple that it can be explained in a single sentence.

Win the game by being the first player to connect opposite sides of the
game board with words that form a continuous winding line of letters.

We game creators (David, Graeme and I) couldn’t possibly tell you how many experienced word game players have told us, after test playing the game, that “this is the best word game I have ever played.” We smile and nod when we hear this, as it seems a cliché – but it is really nice to hear.

Thanks to the Corona folks for letting me ramble about the winding path that brought us to the Word Winder™ app. We are in our third relationship and back in love again. And we are hard at work on our favorite word game!

-Steve Bullock, Adveractive Inc.


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