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The next Words with Friends?

Updated: January 25, 2013 - 1:28 pm

Posted: January 25, 2013

by Jared Council


Developers at a local multi-media company said its smartphone app has gained some traction after two months on the market, but they're looking to build on that as they plan to make the word game their flagship application.

The game is called RoJo WORD, and executives at parent company ZiggityZoom said the 99-cent app has been downloaded more than 20,000 times since its mid-November release. A large portion of those downloads came this month when it was made free for three days.

"We've had free apps before and you just don't see downloads like that," said ZiggityZoom CEO Kristin Fitch, "unless you're one of the bigger companies."

The Virginia Beach-based company develops family-oriented games, sells e-books and has other digital offerings.

RoJo is a timed word game that's similar in concept to Boggle. With a rack of seven letters, the goal is to spell as many words as possible before time expires. Letters may be used more than once, and the game picks up accidentally spelled words.

"It's almost like an action word game," said developer Kris Wright, "as opposed to 'Come up with a word in Scrabble, wait a day for your friend to play.'"

"It's a brain game," said Fitch, adding that users can track high scores and compete with friends.

One of the letters on the rack is red - or "rojo" in Spanish - and it doubles the word score every time it's used. The game can be played solo or with up to four players.

The app is only available in Apple's App Store, but Fitch said an Android version is forthcoming.

ZiggityZoom was founded in 2008, and Fitch said the idea for RoJo started several years ago as a dice game.

Major game companies considered the app, but it never made it to production. The game sat on the proverbial shelf until a meeting with a local developer spawned ideas of making a smartphone app.

"The first time we met, Kris was spewing off word statistics stuff and I said, 'OK, I could have told this to like 10 other developers and none of them would have been saying stuff like that,'" Fitch said.

The two met last spring through Start Norfolk, an entrepreneurial idea-sharing summit. Wright, an Old Dominion University graduate student, worked on the app most of the summer.

Fitch said she's a mentor at Start Norfolk and the business incubator program known as Hatch.

With Fitch, Wright and two others, ZiggityZoom operates family-focused websites and has children's apps including "Feed the Monster," but it's looking to make RoJo its main venture.

But making a profit isn't easy, said Yuzhong Shen, an ODU modeling, simulation and visualization engineering professor.

Apps generate money by either paid downloads, ad-supported free versions, or add-ons and credits. But none will be fruitful if the app is not a good product, Shen said.

Three factors are important, he said.

"First, you need to have good game mechanics. Second, you need to have good programming skills. And third, you need to have a good artist to make the game look good, visually appealing."

There are more than 775,000 apps in Apple's App Store and Shen said making money or breaking even is difficult with that competition.

According to an April 2012 survey of 102 developers by app consulting firm App Promo, 63 percent said their app has been downloaded 50,000 times or less and 68 percent said their total revenue to date was $5,000 or less.

The survey also identified a group of top earners - just 12 percent of respondents - who they labeled successful. These developers made over $500,000 and confirmed their app makes enough to be a stand-alone business.

The survey's authors said: "What we found is that those developers that spend money and time on marketing outside of the app stores found the most success based on the revenue they had earned for their app."

Fitch said she's not looking to get rich overnight off RoJo.

She said she's optimistic about future success, but in the meantime, her developers are working on updates, promoting the app on social media and other venues, and contemplating additional revenue streams for the game.

"Developing an app, you're not going to just immediately have success or make any money," Fitch said.

"It's definitely a long-term play and you have to be willing to commit the time to do updates throughout the year and have a promotional strategy."