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XMG Studio's Ray Sharma points to the creative power of 48 hours hackathons

XMG Studio's Ray Sharma points to the creative power of 48 hours hackathons
One of the many things I love about the mobile gaming industry is its democratic nature. Anybody can join in.

For example, XMG Studio has just finished running the Great Canadian Appathon.

Based on the hackathon model, it's an event that challenges contestants to start from scratch and create a great mobile gaming app in 48 hours. First prize: $25,000.

The Appathon took place over a weekend, with close to 300 students from colleges and universities across Canada competing. Canada has the third largest game development industry in the world, and this was a great chance for our company and co-sponsors to raise our profile in this community.

48 hours of Red Bull, adrenaline, and creativity

We set up seven campus hubs across the country, and had staff on hand to answer any questions.

The Appathon attracted amazing coverage from major media, including newspapers, TV, blogs, campus newspapers even radio. Co-sponsors Telus, KPMG, Microsoft and the National Post help run the event.

In the end, we evaluated 60 games; more than 10 of them offer solid game concepts and we think three are commercially viable. We will work with the top three to bring their games to market.

Double edged advantage

To me, the Appathon illustrates how totally wide open the mobile gaming industry is. We're completely different from the console gaming industry, which takes years and tens of millions of dollars to bring a game to market. In contrast, the mobile gaming market has very low barriers to entry.

A good mobile game with a simple concept can be brought to market quickly and generate a great return on investment. Creativity is king. The game doesn't need to be complex; one polished hook is all it takes to succeed.

The biggest challenge to creating a game is time management, and the best teams in the Appathon knew when to start cutting features in order to meet the time lines. Call it reverse feature creep.

Yet as a game developer, the Appathon is both exciting and sobering. It's exciting we can bring a successful game to market so quickly, but sobering to know our competitors can do exactly the same.

The power of fast

Earlier this year, before the Canada-wide Appathon, we ran a pilot-project appathon within XMG. Teams of XMG staffers had a weekend to create a game, and the winning game is now the commercially available Cows vs Aliens.

The concept was developed within 48 hours, but it took a few more weeks of polishing to bring it to market. Cows vs Aliens was eventually featured in Touch Arcade, TUAW, Gizmodo and 148apps.com, and was Apple's App of the Week. It had the best launch ever for new game at XMG.

Casual games are a perfect fit for the mobile experience. Mini Halo-like experiences such as Infinity Blade will have a market but I see the gaming industry heading in a direction where users have a portfolio of games.

There will be high-end game experiences that are console-oriented, Facebook time-killers, and then mobile, with simple new games constantly appearing - some of them created over a Red Bull-fueled weekend.



Ray Sharma is CEO of XMG Studio, a mobile developer based on Toronto, Canada. It's released titles such as Little Metal Ball, Inspector Gadget and Cannon Cadets.

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