Mobot Studios does not have a large physical footprint in downtown Crescent City. The three-person application game company's office occupies one room of a former medical building. The walls are stark, the room sparsely furnished.
A Nintendo Entertainment System and assorted video game paraphernalia offer a few hints as to the company's identity. There are even fewer hints of the success of the company's smash debut game, Paper Monsters.
The game has earned scores of favorable reviews from publications such as USA Today, Stuff magazine and the technology blog Gizmodo. Apple has featured Paper Monsters within its flagship stores as a demo to be played on iPhones or iPads.
Since its release in January 2012, Paper Monsters has been downloaded 1.6 million times from the Apple app store and thousands more times from the Google Play store. (Download figures from Google were unavailable. Mobot Studios founder and Paper Monsters creator James Fletcher declined to comment on Mobot's revenue.)
The last 16 months have been a whirlwind for Fletcher.
"Even if it didn't get any downloads, it blows my mind that mostly me with some contract help (produced the game) in a tiny little office in tiny little Crescent City, and the biggest company in the world uses my product to sell their product," Fletcher said. "It's insane."
Fletcher moved to Smith River with his wife and two sons three years ago. He was laid off from his information technology job with Flipswap, a Los Angeles-based mobile phone refurbishment company, a few months later.
With free time on his hands, Fletcher played the part of stay-at-home dad and indulged in a long-held interest. The 35-year-old grew up playing video games such as Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog and was interested in making a game in the "side-scrolling" or "platform" style - characters ran across the screen to advance through a level and jumped on to and off of platforms.
"At the time, side-scrolling or platform games had kind of slowed down. Recently, they've been kind of making a resurgence," Fletcher said. "We wanted to bring that Mario Bros. mix with that and that modern take that (Sony PlayStation game) LittleBigPlanet did."
Every free moment
Fletcher produced a few early games before coming up with the final concept of what would become Paper Monsters. He spent hundreds of hours programming the game, using every free moment available to him.
"When the family would go to bed, I would stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning working on games," Fletcher said.
In mid-2011, Fletcher was contacted by Crescent Moon Games, an app game publisher with more than 15 titles to its name. Crescent Moon assigned digital artists and animators to Paper Monsters to match Fletcher's programming with his vision for the game's look and feel. (Founder Josh Presseisen did not respond to an e-mail message requesting comment.)
In Paper Monsters, the peaceful world of Paper Land is overtaken by evil forces. ("It's not a very story-driven game," Fletcher admitted.) Left to save his planet is a diminutive cardboard robot with a smiling notebook-paper visage, known to Fletcher as "Box Guy."
"Box Guy" traverses levels while jumping on bad guys (like in Super Mario Bros.) and collecting paper clips, gold buttons and silver buttons. The object is to beat the levels and attain the highest possible score.
The game is bright, colorful and decidedly G-rated, meant for kids and adults of all ages. All characters and objects are modeled in three dimensions. Levels include additional platforms in the background of the game, where players are likely to find more paper clips and buttons, creating a visual distinction.
"At the heart of it, it's just a fun, clean, simple game to play," said Jared Wells, Mobot's coordinator for marketing and social media. "I think that's the reason that it's successful."
Fletcher set the price to download the app at 99 cents and eschewed in-app purchases within the game. Players have the option to spend money on outfits for "Box Guy" but are not required to spend money to overcome any obstacle within the game.
"Parents will definitely pay for what keeps kids entertained," Fletcher said.
'It's just that good'
As players discovered Paper Monsters, the game began drawing rave reviews.
"I've just finished playing Paper Monsters, and the game's left me literally speechless. It's just that good," wrote Mike Thompson of the video game blog GameZebo. "It's like Super Mario Bros. and LittleBigPlanet decided to put aside their differences, have a beautiful baby, and let the little bundle of awesome grow up on my iPhone. Seriously." Thompson gave Paper Monsters five stars, out of a possible five.
"The game is instantly accessible but increasingly challenging," wrote Marc Saltzman on USA Today's TechnologyLive blog. "From the gameplay to presentation to control, Paper Monsters is a real treat for iPad owners."
Fans of the game have sent Fletcher photos of drawings or sculptures of "Box Guy" and various game characters. The game has found additional appeal from artists who work in papercraft, where three-dimensional sculptures are made from paper.
As well made as the game may be, Fletcher does not deny the role luck took in turning Paper Monsters into a sensation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple has 800,000 apps in its store; Google Play has 700,000. Consumers spend an average of two hours a day on apps, with 43 percent of that time devoted to game play. Applications of any stripe will generate a projected $25 billion in revenue this year, up 62 percent from 2012.
The app market is also fickle. Sixty-three percent of apps used daily this year are different from those used daily in 2012, according to the Wall Street Journal. Mobot's success, then, stems from good timing, good luck and good placement within the market, in addition to the quality of its product.
"It's really kind of rare,"
Wells said. "The market is flooded with games."
Fletcher has been hard at work on new app games, including a sequel to Paper Monsters that is expected to come out this fall. However the consuming public responds to those games, Wells believes that Fletcher's entrepreneurial chops will lead Mobot toward sustained success.
"He's got this business mindset and he knows that not every game is going to have that kind of success," Wells said. "He's excited about that success but he knows you're not going to be that successful with every game.
"He workedhard. He worked hard for a long time without getting a lot back. He put a lot into Paper Monsters. To see him with that kind of tenacity, that kind of dedication, I know it's not going to be a one-and-done deal."
Reach Robert Husseman at firstname.lastname@example.org .