One potato, two potato, three potato, tour!
There are very few successful games about potatoes, but Pota-Toss World Tour by Saborstudio has proven that with the right team, mentors and an original spin, tossing potatoes can be utterly addictive. José Cayasso, the Founder and CEO, quipped, “It turns out birds and fruits were taken, so we took a look into veggies that are not often featured characters in games. We thought of mixed vegetables, but in the end chose potatoes because of their funny shapes. They had great potential for character. The name also created a compatible pun.”
Pota-Toss is an artillery physics game – Angry Birds is the most popular example of this model – where players throw potatoes with different types of capabilities across cityscapes modeled after real-world locations to smash rolling armies of evil spuds. There is also a multiplayer version of the game, Pota-Toss Social, which uses the GPS on your phone to determine location and generate levels that are a mash up of your location and your opponents.
“Saborstudio has a big bet on location-based gaming,” Cayasso explained. “We believed this would create an important variable regarding engagement, if instead of playing on a random level, you’d actually get to play in your location. Indeed, the location variable became an incredible sell for the game: it not only made it different and appealing, but also generated an incredible added value on user engagement. We confirmed this by comparing the data between countries that had no custom local levels, versus countries that had a lot, and the numbers are amazing.”
Another unique feature of the game is the use of billboards for advertising. Freemium model games make the majority of their income off of advertisements, but ads can feel very obtrusive to the gameplay experience when they’re placed as a banner across the top of the screen or inserted as pop-up slides between sections of the game. “Most ads in freemium games are extremely annoying and invasive,” Cayasso explained. “We developed a system that allows advertisers to place a banner on places they would never imagine, without affecting the user experience. Ads in Pota-Toss are sort of highway billboards that we can place absolutely anywhere in the world. Aside from being location-based, they blend in with the landscape and are non-obtrusive, but still very visible to the user. Each impression lasts at least 30 seconds, which also guarantees that the player will see it.”
It would take a very unique studio to create such an innovative game, and when you hear the story of Saborstudio, you know it’s just that. One designer, Cayasso, and one developer, Phillipe Casorla, who grew up together in Costa Rica, built the first version of the game off of a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign in 2011. For a two-person team working with a limited budget to create a product of this complexity was a significant feat. “It was truly an overwhelming amount of work,” Cayasso said. “Full time development started in February and lasted through October on a 10am to 3am schedule. It was a challenge for the both of us and proof that we could actually develop this project ourselves. We were bootstrapping during this time, so the chance to hire an extra developer was very limited.”
It was during this time that one of their board members advised them to apply to some startup accelerators in the U.S. They applied to a few and were eventually accepted into the DreamIt Ventures New York 2012 program, which gave them the distinction of being the first Costa Rican startup to be accepted to a major U.S. accelerator.
When asked what had made Saborstudios stand out as a company during the application process, Mark Wachen, Managing Director of DreamIt Ventures New York, said, “We were really impressed with the unique vision that Saborstudio communicated through their application. A game about potatoes sounds somewhat bizarre, but we were amazed by the quality of the artistry and production values they brought to the game. Additionally, they showed tremendous entrepreneurial flair by being able to raise $14,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to fund their initial development.”
Saborstudio entered the accelerator and continued to impress. “The company made terrific progress in the program,” said Wachen. “When they came in, they just had an early beta version of their product. We helped them fine-tune the game, and develop a launch strategy. We also paired them with key mentors with significant domain expertise that helped them further flesh out their product.” And flesh it out they did.
Since completing the DreamIt Ventures program, Saborstudio successfully launched Pota-Toss World Tour and has received a ton of downloads, over four stars on the App Store and positive reviews from a number of well-known publications. But the experience seems to have had a more far-reaching impact than just the creation of a successful game and company. “For us, being Costa Ricans, becoming part of the U.S. ecosystem was an absolutely incredible experience. I would dare say life-changing.” Cayasso remarked, “It really opened our eyes to the potential of ideas and how many people are fighting to make them successful. There’s an amazing feeling of support between all startups that I had no idea existed. As we’ve returned to Costa Rica, we’ve tried hard to get more and more involved with the startup ecosystem in the country, and we are happy to say that it is growing and we’re thrilled to be a part of that and our great story of success from our New York experience.”
“We’re really proud of the fact that we had the first Costa Rican company in a U.S. accelerator,” Wachen remarked. “Based on our experience with Saborstudio, we hope there are many more.” And we not only hope to see more games that are as innovative as Pota-Toss; we also hope that all of these mashed potatoes resulting from this Costa Rica and New York matchup will help to create a whole new patch of startups both here and abroad.