Peggle Finds A New Home

A screen shot from the Peggle game on an iPhone.
A screen shot from the Peggle game on an iPhone.
By Mike Musgrove
Sunday, May 3, 2009

A few levels in, and I'm hooked all over again.

The goal is to wipe the orange buttons off the board by aiming and firing a ball from the top of the screen that bounces its way across a game board packed with obstacles -- it's a little like pinball, a little like pachinko. Complete a level and you're treated to a rousing burst of "Ode to Joy."

There's something famously addictive about this game that's been a hit on everything from the personal computer to a variety of mobile phones. Developer PopCap says that free, sample PC versions of the popular title Peggle have been downloaded 50 million times, though the number of actual purchases is a subset of that figure that the company declines to disclose.

Now the game is about to appear on the iPhone, a bit of news that may bode poorly for the productivity levels of the device's owners. When the tech culture blog BoingBoing took note of the coming launch, the announcement seemed to inspire an amount of despair among its readers, more than anything.

"Of all the iPhone's features and innovations, this is probably the one that would push me to break my Verizon contract," wrote one typical commenter, sounding like many who chimed in about the upcoming release at tech and game blogs. The iPhone is only offered on AT&T's network, after all. "I hate myself."

This month, Apple's App Store cracked the billion download milestone -- a remarkable feat for an online store that has been open less than a year. So far, games and entertainment titles such as Peggle have been the most popular category at the store, but Apple tends not to share much data about App users except for a list of the store's latest offerings, and lists of the store's most popular paid and free applications.

That's why, if you really want to know what App users are up to, you should ask advertising software and research firm Medialets. The start-up company, which tracks usage off applications on mobile devices, offered to relate some findings with me about behavior trends it has noticed among 1,000 App Store users who agreed to install the company's tracking program on their devices. While the company wouldn't identify the usage and sales performace of specific iPhone Apps, the findings provide an early sketch of this new industry's consumers.

According to Medialets, for example, you'll be more likely to see your fellow Red Line commuters playing Peggle on the way home from work: News and productivity applications tend to get used during morning commute times, but entertainment applications are used more at the end of the day. Social networking applications are an exception to this trend; programs such as Facebook's iPhone App, the all-time most popular application at the App Store, only see a decline in usage between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Developer PopCap, which plans to release the new version of Peggle next week, may enjoy a small, early lift in sales thanks to a fortunate bit of timing. Memorial Day is coming up in a couple of weeks, after all, and whenever iPhone owners have free time, they tend to download a heck of a lot more applications. Weekends, especially three-day weekends, are when iPhone users tend to be most active in terms of downloading new applications for their devices.

Being off the list of "new" or "popular" titles can be bad news for a developer. If an application is, say, number 100 on the list of the App Store's most popular applications, that title may be downloaded up to 100 times more frequently than the next application down that didn't crack the list.

Even though the software available on the App Store works on both the iPhone and the iPod Touch, iPhone owners are far more likely to download applications than iPod Touch users, who download a third as much as iPhone owners.

More than anything, App shoppers are price sensitive. "We see a big spike in downloads whenever someone decreases their price," said Rana Sobhany, vice president of marketing at Medialets. App Store shoppers love products that are priced at $1, perhaps because that's what they're already used to paying at the store for song tracks, she said.

Even though it's priced at $4.99, I'd look for Peggle to appear near the top of the charts when it debuts at the App Store next week -- that's my prediction, not one that Medialets offered, but it's not exactly a daring forecast. Peggle has already been a strong seller on every device it has appeared on, and PopCap seems determined to get this title on to every gadget imaginable. In March, the company introduced a downloadable version for the Xbox 360; in April, the game debuted on the Nintendo DS.

Recently, the company even released a version that can be played inside the virtual realms of the computer game World of Warcraft, meaning that you can play the game from inside another computer game. Not a joke.

As for PopCap, up next is a version for Android, also known as the Google phone, and a version for the BlackBerry, said Andrew Stein, director of mobile business development at the company.

"If your refrigerator had a screen, we'd put Peggle on it," he said.

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