Spotted Zebra is a one-man independent game company focused on making original games for new platforms. You will notice one thing about Spotted Zebra right away -- that name. What is a Spotted Zebra? Clearly, the founder of this company is someone who enjoys the playfulness of language, and playfulness in general.
We first learned about Spotted Zebra from Alex Schearer, founder, whose three Windows 8 and Azure-based apps are Scramble Legends, Adlib and Petunk. And sure enough, these are word games and a game that allows you to toss rocks at crows.
Adlib and Petunk are built using WinRT & XNA/MonoGame. Scramble Legends uses WinRT and Azure (Azure Mobile Services, Azure Storage, Azure marketplace for mail) on the backend.
Most word games rehash Scrabble or Boggle. Not Adlib
In Adlib you'll have a blast flipping letters, spelling words, and keeping the board from filling up. Adlib was an "Honorary Mention" in MochiMedia's "Word Play" contest and has been featured on Dictionary.com. To date, Adlib has been enjoyed by over 500,000 people!
Tired of flicking birds? Petunk lets you flick things at birds. Actually, it is something like a play on the French game of petanque, only instead of rolling heavy balls to targets, you can take the opportunity now and again to smash a crows in the head with one.
We asked Alex a few questions about the origins of his gaming company, and what he thinks about on a daily basis.
Do you build for scale first, or for revenue? How are those things related in your mind?
I aim for scale first. As a game developer I recognize that I’m competing in a crowded and competitive marketplace where top performers take in the majority of the profits. Furthermore, game players are becoming incredibly price sensitive and demanding – why play, let alone pay for, a slightly worse physics game when Angry Birds is available? As a result I believe it’s most important that my games reach as many players as possible. Once a game has established traction the revenue will follow.
How much of what you are building is based on leaving a legacy and how much of it is based on technical challenges, or the ability to make something just for fun? In other words, where do you fall on the seriousness scale? For fun, for profit, for life?
I make games because doing so is creatively fulfilling, challenging, and fun. At the same time, I started Spotted Zebra so I could tackle the problems of running a business. Finding a balance which will profitably sustain the business and continue to be creatively fulfilling is my number one priority.
When did you decide that you were “startup material”?
I’ve always been independent and highly self-motivated – two qualities I think are important for entrepreneurs. Four years before starting Spotted Zebra I discovered game development and fell in love. I wound up spending all my nights and weekends making games. During that period I decided that I wanted to pursue game making more seriously and began making plans to start a company. Moving to Amsterdam presented a natural opportunity to finally put my plans into action.
What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?
In Adlib and Scramble Legends I have created an original, unique type of word game unlike what is presently available on the market. I would like to see these games grow to become the top word games on Windows 8 and beyond.
Can you describe the relationship that you have had with Microsoft while building your startup?
I chose to release my games on Windows 8 to coincide with the new OS’s launch. My first game, Adlib, has gone on to be featured by Microsoft in the U.S. store. Outside of game development, Microsoft has asked me to talk about game development for Windows 8 and accepted Spotted Zebra as a member of BizSpark.
Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?
In my opinion BizSpark is a fantastic program for any new company. Access to Visual Studio and Office alone make the program worthwhile. Beyond BizSpark I think Azure Mobile Services is a very promising new product from Microsoft and believe developers should think twice before reinventing the wheel on another platform.
Tell us about your Azure based solution.
I use Azure to power the back end for my upcoming social, turn based word game Scramble Legends.
How is Azure implemented in your solution?
I use Azure Mobile Services and Azure Cloud Storage for persistence. I also use Azure Mobile Services to perform authentication, push notifications, and send e-mail.
How did you get excited about Azure?
I really enjoy working with C# and Visual Studio and was excited to use them to write the server side of Scramble Legends. Azure’s well written SDK’s and integration with Visual Studio made the decision a no brainer.
What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?
Azure Mobile Services won me over. Being able to send push notifications and authenticate/authorize players so easily was exactly what I wanted. Ultimately I want to focus on making great games and Azure Mobile Services lets me do that.
What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?
Start planning how you will integrate with the cloud early on as it will have a big impact on your client architecture. Read up on NoSQL and how denormalization will change how you think and work with data. Look into services such as Azure Mobile Services to get a head start.