Business


Deer Park company falls off app map

SUNDAY, SEPT. 30, 2012

John Swiderski’s technology company has been wiped out by the apps tsunami. His Deer Park company, Mean Hamster Software, just closed down, crushed by not being able to compete in the mobile games market.

From 2005 to 2010, Mean Hamster grew to 21 workers and made several successful games for sites such as Yahoo and PlayFirst.

But websites where people play games are out of fashion. The game industry has shifted toward mobile games played on phones and tablets.

Once mobile apps became the dominant system for game developers, companies that were depending on Web-based games got caught.

“We couldn’t compete with thousands of people who were able to become low-cost developers,” Swiderski said. The iTunes and Android marketplaces made it vastly simpler for anyone to upload a game and reach thousands of potential customers.

“So there was a lot more competition with the very large app companies, and with indie developers, and that all left me unable to acquire any more third-party contract work,” Swiderski said.

By July 1 Mean Hamster had shrunk to eight workers.

Swiderski tried hard to find jobs for his crew, calling companies from Spokane to Seattle.

He shut down the office last week.

“I paid my workers before I closed shop. That was the right thing to do, but it left me personally broke,” Swiderski said.

At this point he’s joined his former workers on the job-search front. “If I can’t find employment here, I’ll have to move to Seattle. I don’t only do games. I’m a producer, a project manager and a designer. But there aren’t many jobs in Spokane.”

One of the biggest successes Swiderski’s company had was the popular game Pet Shop Hop, which had more than 450,000 downloads after rising to popularity in 2008. Swiderski developed the game for PlayFirst, then continued working as a contract developer for that company and others.

Mean Hamster’s last big success was a 2010 casino slot game called Vegas Nights, a popular option on GameShowNetwork.com. After doing work for GSN, the relationship ended, in part because Mean Hamster provided the company with resources to continue developing its own games.

With apps on the rise, Swiderski tried to steer the company into small, well-made mobile games.

One game, “Goo Society,” used tiny blobs that must work together to colonize planets, but it never got far along.

With more than 800 new apps a week there are no rules to determine which games sell and which don’t, he said.



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