Pocket God inverts the current standard model for comics sales: Publisher Ape Entertainment has sold over 150,000 units of the digital version of the comic, which is based on the game of the same name, and fewer than 1,000 units of the print version. This paradox demands explanation, so we asked Ape CEO David Hedgecock to tell us about Pocket God and why their single-comic app is one of the top-grossing book apps in the iTunes store.
PWCW: What is Pocket God, exactly, and how did you come to do a comic version?
David Hedgecock: Pocket God is this little iOS game for the iPhone and iPad that just happens to have sold over 4.5 million units at this point. The game, at its core, asks the user to take 6 little pygmies on an island and creatively find ways to electrocute them, burn them, dismember them, harpoon them, flick them into volcanoes, feed them to sharks, and on and on. It sounds very violent when it is described, but there’s really more of a Wile E. Coyote vs. Road Runner type of mentality to all of it.
At Thanksgiving a couple years ago, I pulled aside my five-year-old nephew and, when his parents weren’t looking, showed him a fun new game I had found: Pocket God. Within about 3 minutes of playing the game, my nephew had found 3 or 4 new ways to mess with the pygmies that I had never thought of. We both giggled hysterically and, for the rest of the weekend, we would sneak turns playing until eventually our screams of glee brought too much attention and we had to let the parents in on our fun. Which mostly ended the fun. Parents just don’t understand (and they started hogging the game). And for the record, yes, I am THAT uncle.
At the end of the holiday on the trip back home, I started to think about the game and how powerful it was. Here was a simple product that appealed to an incredibly wide audience on a delivery system that had direct access to a consumer base hundreds of times larger than the Direct Market.
So, I convinced my partners to let me go after the comic license and by the beginning of the new year, we were in discussions with Bolt Creative, the license holders. For their part, Bolt was very receptive. The guys at Bolt are comic fans and they understand how valuable the narrative that we are helping them create is. They GET it. We’ve taken their game and helped give it an entire universe of stories and characters for them to build on and play with in a variety of different media outlets.
PWCW: Why did you choose to release Pocket God as a stand-alone app, rather than through a distributor such as comiXology?
DH: It was really the only solution that made ANY sense. We never even considered NOT doing it primarily as a stand-alone application. We were creating comics for an entirely new fan base that had probably never been exposed to comics before. We didn’t want there to be any barriers to entry. Can you imagine a 15-year-old having to sort through five decades of DC Comics on comiXology to find a single Pocket God issue? At the time, there weren’t even search capabilities for in-app purchases. It would have been a disaster for us. A stand-alone application was always the main focus.
Marvel and DC are doing with digital what they’ve done for decades in print—they are flooding the market and pushing their competitors out of the arena by sheer volume. But we don’t have to play by their rules on the iOS and Android systems the way we do in the Direct Market, so why would we?
I have to give major props to iVerse Media here because they understood what we were doing from Day One and supported us throughout the process.
PWCW: At San Diego, it was reported that Pocket God had sold over 100,000 copies in digital form but fewer than 1,000 in print. Is that true, and if so, what is your explanation?
DH: Actually, that is not correct. Pocket God #1 had sold over 150,000 units in digital at the time Rich made that report (it’s higher now) and a little under 1,000 units in print. Yes, that is the opposite of everyone else. The explanation is simple and it’s one of those things that, when you hear it, you say, “Of course, that is obvious,” but I am honestly reluctant to discuss it. Right now, we are running ahead of the pack and I would like to keep it that way for as long as possible.
I will say this: The Pocket God Comic app routinely matches and beats the Marvel and DC apps in gross receipts on a monthly basis on the iPhone. With nine books available to their HUNDREDS we are (I am guessing here) making roughly the same amount of money.
There is an old saying that cream always rises to the top, but in the Direct Market, that isn’t always true. There is a “good old boy” mentality in place in the DM that tends to keep the same people and companies in control of the marketplace and force certain products onto the consumers. Despite a couple Eisner nominations and generally great reviews from fans and critics that find our books, we just aren’t allowed into that particular party.
On the iOS system, products still generally succeed and fail on their merit. Cream can still rise. We are putting out a great product with an engaging story and fantastic art. Not only do people notice, they have the OPPORTUNITY to notice.
PWCW: Where was the print edition sold—direct market only or newsstands and bookstores? And was it strictly single issues or a trade?
DH: The floppies were available to the Direct Market. The Direct Market trade paperback just released, and it is even more rare than the floppies. We have a digest version of the first four-issue story arc that will be out in bookstores in a few weeks, and then we are doing digest collections of each story arc from there on for both the DM and Book markets. No more print floppies on Pocket God. The floppies are the digital version.
PWCW: Do you think the disparity was due to a weakness in the direct market (i.e., it is not particularly good at reaching kids) or because the iPad was the natural ecosystem for this particular comic?
DH: Yes to both.
PWCW: Did you do any cross-promotion with the game?
DH: In print, we did a ton of promotion. We held a contest through the game and the Pocket God blogsite to drive fans to comic shops. We had a couple hundred kids going to shops and taking pictures of themselves in front of the stores and shaking owners’ hands. It was neat! The print version was very heavily promoted with free preview books shipping out to every Diamond account, poster offers, signings, header cards, retailer phone calls, ads in various print media, exclusive stories only in the print content, posts to Facebook, advance reviews… and it was all for naught.
On the digital side, Bolt does a fantastic job of using the game app to remind people of the comic app and drive traffic to it on an on-going basis. I like to think the comic does a good job of keeping fans engaged with the game as well.
PWCW: What are your plans for Pocket God in the future?
DH: On the digital side, we are looking to double production in the next few months. We’ve got everyone working overtime to make it happen. The fans want the story and they want it now and we want to make them happy. We just released issue #10, and issue #11 is nearly complete and being prepared for submission to Apple. We are working concurrently on issues #12 through #14, and we’ve got scripts completed through issue 17. We’ve also doubled our production on the Pygmy Peril, which is a sort of “letters-page-on-steroids” that we release for free between updates of the comic. At this point, if you bought the Pocket God Comic app for $0.99, you would get the first issue plus about 30 pages of free additional comics as well as exclusive animated videos, tons of cool PG extras... it’s a ton of material and an incredible value now.
We’ve also got some other great ideas in the works that will allow us to better take advantage of the digital media and enhance the digital reading experience. A lot of those ideas are being rolled out inside our new Cut The Rope comic, but some of it will definitely find its way to Pocket God as well.
On the print side, we are working on a plan to start selling exclusive print versions of the book through the Direct Market and the Pocket God Comic app. We will continue to collect each story arc in a digest-sized trade and sell those through the traditional print channels. Currently, Pocket God: Gem of Life Digest and Pocket God: Tale of Two Pygmies Digest are available for order in print. Our hope is that the Direct Market will come around to the realization that there is a pretty sizeable fanbase to latch onto here. We continue to support the DM with exclusive story content while we wait for them to join us. I hope it happens.