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The Mysterious Re-Appearance of Color Switch: An Interview with David Reichelt

We speak to the David Reichelt, creator of mobile sensation Color Switch.

The mobile gaming industry isn’t something we cover an awful lot here at FNGR GNS, and with good reason. Much like Steam. It’s overwhelming. It takes a special game for us to drop our controllers and take notice. Last year, for me, that game was Color Switch.

It’s a game that had been out for a while before I came across it, you could say I arrived extraordinarily late to this particular party but once I was in I had a fantastic time. The free game is a seemingly very simple concept of colors and progressing a ball vertically through various traps and hazards. It’s one of those ‘I can’t believe this wasn’t around already’ kind of games that got its hooks in me and throughout 2017 I amassed games played of over 28,000. I played it every single day when I had a few minutes, unlocking as many levels as I could until I reached that sweet sweet 100%. What a glorious moment, and 200 million downloads worldwide tells its own story. It got the hooks in damn near everyone that played it. The updates were rolling in and it would seem that this game was going to live forever.

My play total as of 05/07/2018. Yeah, I like it.

Then the updates stopped, and the game was ripped from both the App Store and Google Play. The game remained on your phone but there no more updates, no more fresh levels and no new balls to unlock. It seemed typical that a mobile game I finally found myself deeply invested in after so many false starts (Temple Run, Canabalt, Super Mario Run all fell by the wayside) suddenly became akin to the retro games it was so clearly inspired by. No more updates, the game was it. It was a punch in the gut.

Cut to June 2018 and I’m browsing the Google Play Store looking for my next fix. Lo and behold, there it was. Color Switch was back on the store, available to download once again. My face lit up like a Christmas tree and I wasted no time in getting it back on my phone. The download was a exactly the same game, but entirely new. Both versions of the game sit on my phone screen next to each other. Bliss. Still, the question remained;

What the hell happened to Color Switch? Why was it pulled from the App stores and how did it come back? I figured I could only really ask one person. The creator of Color Switch, David Reichelt.

It’s fair to say that David has had quite the life leading up to the release of Color Switch. From being a professional magician to serving in Iraq as a medic – narrowly avoiding death a couple of times -, cleaning swimming pools to being a car valet and finding himself in $80,000 in debt. By his own personal admission he’s a low-level programmer, but began making games on Game Salad before moving onto Build Box. In this time, and still very much in debt, he made 40 games that unfortunately never did the business.

Then he made Color Switch. And the rest, as they say, well, you know.

So on a very warm Tuesday evening – at the exact time England kicked off against Colombia to be precise because my timing is always so very perfect – we managed to find time to sit down over Skype and discuss the return of Color Switch and his inspirations.

Below is an edited transcript of our interview;

Rossko: Color Switch is a game that had me hooked all last year, I think at last check my ‘Games Played’ stands at over 28,000! I got very addicted. I remember at the start of 2018 I noticed there weren’t any updates coming to the game. It wasn’t until recently when I saw on the Color Switch website that the game had been ‘taken hostage’ by its publishers and as such, you weren’t able to develop for the game any longer. Could you go into more detail regarding that and why the game disappeared for six months?

David: I can say a couple things. One, all I had was a two year licensing deal with this publisher, and the licensing deal finished I think December of 2017. So it ended and they chose to take it down instead of doing otherwise. I guess once they lost the rights to my IP, they weren’t happy about that. That was not by my choice because I didn’t have the file on account and they weren’t going to transfer it.

Long story short the reason why it’s been off so long was what I didn’t want to do was upload something that was exactly the same. The theory was a lot of the players would get angry because they would have lost their progress and purchases, so we wanted to relaunch the game not only for that reason but also with a lot of new content so we have a mix old modes that are redesigned and new modes. I have four years of content, around 80 minigames [that can be added]. So instead of trying to cash in on getting the game up right away, I basically put a team together of ten people between artists and programmers, to make sure that not only would we get the game back up but we would get it back in a way that would show that we cared about something of quality and upload something that would make the fans as happy as possible.

It’s also to try and alleviate some of the backlash that could happen. I actually don’t know any other game that’s been taken off the App Store that’s become as big as Color Switch was. So it was actually a bit of an unknown. I’ve travelled the world and met many fans, my gut feeling was no matter how long the game is down, people will embrace it when it’s back.

I worked really hard to create a game that was inspired by things that I enjoy in life and I really put my heart and soul into the game, I think when you create something like that people can connect with it. So when it was taken down some people said to me ‘what if people forget about the game?’, and I really don’t think they will. I believe that when I get it back up people will embrace the game, which they have! We have had a lot of fans that were mad when it was taken down but once they realise that it wasn’t our intention they often aren’t angry anymore.

Did you see a demand from the fans to have the game back or to see why the game had stopped being updated?

A lot of people were curious. If you go on Google Play or the App Store we respond to nearly all of our fans. When it comes down to it the fans just want a game they can play and they don’t care about the behind the scenes situations, so we would just tell them ‘look it was a temporary deal, it wasn’t on our account and we did not want this to happen but we’re trying to get the game back with a lot of modes and let us know what you guys like, we’ll be happy to implement that’. I have someone that answers fan emails and they were curious why it was gone. Once they know the situation people are really accepting.

Was it easier or more difficult to get the awareness out there that the game was back? I’ll be honest I had no idea the game was back until I saw it whilst I was browsing the Google Play Store.

Well here’s the interesting thing; When I launched the game it shot up the charts in two days. By day three it was in the Top 25 and this was without marketing in the beginning. And when we relaunched it, the game shot up the charts On Google Play we hit the Top 17 and on iOS we got in the Top 100, into the 80’s or 70’s and this without marketing. So the game initially shot up without marketing and the relaunch shot up without marketing. We still haven’t started our marketing campaign, we’re basically just waiting for certain things to line up to actually market the game. So it just shows you there’s a big demand by fans.

Of course with any product you’re going to have to start marketing it to some extent, but the IP is so strong that we went almost instantly to the top charts. Once that initial rush was over we started dipping a bit but we’ll be marketing in the not too distant future. I won’t be surprised if you see the game in Top 5 if not at number one for a bit.

I do tell my friends and colleagues about it. We’re primarily a console based website but if we find a mobile game we get addicted to we do let each other know and Color Switch is the one mobile game I have sunk many hours into.

Awesome.

What I appreciate is how it’s not in your face about purchasing and there aren’t too many adverts that get in the way of the game, it’s what keeps me coming back playing it and purchasing because I feel like the more subtle approach is far more welcoming. From that success, the mobile game industry is notorious for copycats and games that blatantly steal a popular idea. How have your team dealt with that particular corner of the industry?

I think we’ve had over a thousand clones, that I’m aware of.

Wow!

I know. We’ve taken down, I don’t know, 600 of them? Yeah, it’s a process. Apple and Google most of the time don’t want to get involved. So even if we show that they have an exact file of our game, or they’re using trademarks in the visuals or the title we don’t always get it taken down right away but a couple days, a week, a month later Google or Apple will finally take a game down.

So not only has it been a problem since the beginning, two weeks after the initial launch in 2015, we had a clone up of the game. I don’t think we’ll ever be in a place where we don’t have to deal with this. I’m able to afford a legal team to take care of it. On the one hand it’s good because if so many people want to copy something then you must have done something right, but on the other hand you have to enforce your rights. As a trademark lawyer told me once, ‘if you don’t enforce your rights you have no rights’. So we’ve had successful takedowns.

My brother he cleaned out Google Play, and a week or so later there was a whole new set of clones up there so it’s definitely not going anywhere, but it’s like a daily activity. It’s just part of the routine now.

Was it always the plan to bring back Color Switch? Was there ever an intention once the game was taken down to move on to create a new IP?

No it was always the focus, I just had a different vision for the game. A lot of the modes I wanted to focus on and polish I had a lot of ideas that I didn’t implement with more modes and multiplayer features, I really wanted full control of my game. When I first got this contract I was poor. Well past that, I was eighty grand in debt parking cars for a living, and I was in a bad place in life but I still somehow made this game. When I first made this game my intention was to make a game that would be around for over forty years. I took inspiration from classic games like Pac-Man, Uno, Super Mario Bros., and I used various aspects of those games into Color Switch. When I made it, I knew that I had made something really special. I could just feel it, I couldn’t put it down

So I think once you nail down the formula, look at Coca-Cola for example. When you nail it it just makes sense to expand on that and grow your customer base and then there are updates so Diet Coke, Cherry Coke. They always do updates for a product of their band that really connects with people. Color Switch is the game version. I nailed down this formula for the brand and now it makes sense to always give it different flavours and updates. Maybe someday I’ll work on another IP but once you work on something that people really love, that will keep you busy for a long time.

I can’t wait until you see the latest mode that’s coming to Color Switch, the fireworks mode. To give you a quick behind the scenes on how our development works I’ll think of an idea and then I’ll have my team implement them, so they may not always know exactly what I can see in my head so I’ll always have to give references and images from some inspiration, and with this new mode [which launched on July 4th] until I think Sunday? My artist finally made this animation that it’s in the banner [in the mode selection screen] and I said ‘that’s, it guys, put that in the game’. It’s really cool, and gives you a new take on how to avoid obstacles and things, I’m looking forward to launching it.

One of the aspects of Color Switch I enjoy is the uploads that link to popular culture or to Seasons, such as the Fidget Spinner mode or the Don’t Touch the Lava meme mode that hit when both were at their peak. Is it important to get on top of those waves to keep people coming back?

Well here’s the thing with that. One of the things we’re able to do with Color Switch is, well, why hasn’t Angry Birds or a lot of these other big games have been able to be as dynamic with their gameplay and themes? Well, the design is so specific. Angry Birds it’s these cartoon birds. It’s really hard to stretch that in a variety of ways and they’ve tried but they have not had the same success. One of the reasons we’re about to do that is that the game is so minimalistic we’re able to mold it into anything we want. Any theme, any gameplay type. There are core design elements that are often always the same between these modes but the game is so minimalistic it’s not something specific like Mario or Angry Birds and that’s what allows us to do anything.

We’ll do modes for big events, like we currently have our soccer mode which is out and we’re gonna be marketing that and hopefully the World Cup is still going on. So we’ll do modes that line up with different trends, or events that will get a lot of attention, but on the other hand I’ll just think of things that inspire me and I’ll do a mode off of that. I’m always seeking out inspiration from books, movies. If you were at my house you’d see my retro game room where I have thousands of Nintendo, Atari and Genesis (Mega Drive) games. So I’m always playing these old games to gather inspiration to make modes out of. And Atari especially were so limited in what they could create and limitation enforces creativity and that’s the same thing that happened with me. I was limited because I’m a very limited, low-level programmer, so I limited with those skills. This forced me to find software I could use very easily. I also had to find software I could create art with that would look good just being circles.

So it’s inspiration from trends and inspiration from things from my childhood and how we can best implement them into the game.

Is there where the influence for the Paddle mode came from? It feels and plays like a new version of Pong.

Oh yeah, there’s a lot of influence from Pong. Along with Breakout, which was made by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak which was influenced by Pong. Breakout became Arachnoid. It’s a gameplay type that’s been around for a while now so we have the Color Switch version of that and Rebound is heavily inspired by Pong. We added our own Color Switch theme to that along with some game mechanics and whatnot. Knowing your history is important with many things. There are alot of retro games that some many not look at anymore but for me I look at everything.

Like I said, Color Switch is a direct influence of 80’s games. Pac-Man, Super Mario and the theme of color switching is what I got from them but it’s always a side element rather than the main element.

There’s a lot of retro inspired game modes coming out, I think you’re going to like them.

It it waking up at 3am and getting inspiration out of nowhere and just having to write it down?

Many times, so long as I’m not too grumpy or tired to write it down. When I initially created Color Switch, it wasn’t 3am but more the middle of the day and I was just sitting there sketching ideas. No matter what you’re doing or where you are if an idea for anything comes into your head, write it down because otherwise you’re going to forget it.

Will Color Switch ever branch out? Is it possible that we may ever see the game on a Nintendo Switch or other console?

Oh I would love that, Nintendo is my favourite platform ever. We do have a couple big partners in terms of game companies that we’re going to be teaming up with to do a compilation of IP’s. I can’t way what those are yet, but we have plans to expand Color Switch in a variety of ways. The fact the game is so minimalistic it allows for the game to blend easily with other IP, so we do have a lot of plans.

I guess phase one is we’re trying to get this game built with a lot of new modes and content that people are going to be happy with, and then once we have that locked down then we’re gonna start working with these partners.

I think people are going to be surprised with how we’re stretching Color Switch.

It’s very exciting.


Color Switch is available to download on the App Store and Google Play

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