Zipline’s Moai, Already Earning Revenue, Opens Up for More Devs

3/23/12Follow @curtwoodward

While the latest class of mobile, social, location-discovery hopefuls continues spelunking for actual users, the mobile gaming sector keeps plugging along and collecting, you know, revenue. Today’s example is Zipline Games, the Seattle-based startup that makes its own games, as well as the Moai game-development platform.

Although it’s a young company, Zipline has already been making money on both sides of the house—from beta developers who need premium support and cloud-hosting services, and players who are shelling out for extras in Wolf Toss, Zipline’s first major game release.

CEO Todd Hooper wouldn’t talk exact numbers, naturally. But he says Wolf Toss is profitable, following its release in early December. And even though it’s been in early testing, “We’ve made pretty significant revenues off Moai already,” Hooper says. “A number of people have launched live games on it and are paying us.”

That source of cash could start increasing starting today with the broad public release of Moai for mobile game developers. There are other middleware providers in the hot arena of mobile gaming, but Zipline is banking on Moai’s comprehensiveness to get ahead.

Moai is based on Lua, a common scripting language for game developers. It provides a single platform for building both the front-end elements and the back-end infrastructure, while also offering a cloud hosting service to keep everything running after the game is live. Crucially, Lua-based Moai allows developers to keep 99 percent of their code the same no matter which platform they’re publishing the game on, Hooper says. That kind of cross-platform development was on display with Zipline’s Wolf Toss game, which debuted simultaneously on iOS, Android, and the Chrome Web browser.

Zipline has been able to attract about 6,000 developers to the Moai development platform since the beta program started about a year ago. There have been some notable names among them, including Harebrained Schemes, the studio headed by game industry veteran Jordan Weisman.

There’s been a bit of a gold rush mentality in the broader gaming sector in the past couple of years, particularly with the meteoric rise of Zynga on Facebook. But there’s plenty of action outside social networks too, and Seattle has a srong core of gaming talent—witness mobile startup Z2Live’s recent acquisition of Vancouver, BC-based Big Sandwich for just one recent example of the deals rolling through this market.

One question for a small company like Zipline will surely be how it can balance hoped-for growth in customers with the kind of support that people will pay for. The startup has deliberately focused on professional game developers to keep that population down to a more manageable size, although more development languages are coming to the Moai platform in the future, Hooper says.

There seems to be plenty of roadway left for this sector to grow. The day we chatted about the Moai 1.0 rollout, in fact, was when Zynga’s purchase of small developer OMGPOP for a reported $200 million was hitting the news. “You could say no signs of peaking,” Hooper says with a laugh.

“What’s nice as well is, if you look at some of the recent market data, it’s not a market that’s dominated by any one platform or vendor or game maker. iOS and Android are pretty evenly split. The cell phone carriers are fairly evenly divided amongst game players. And then even big guys like EA and Zynga only have a small piece of the market, and it’s very easy for indie guys like OMGPOP to come up with a great game,” he says. “That’s actually an environment that works really well for us, because we have the tools and technology to help you build a really good cross-platform game, and build out the back end where you may not have the resources of an EA or a Zynga.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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