ANCHORAGE — Maybe you saw the commercials on TV: A group of young professionals are brainstorming ideas about a new game they’re developing called “Unicorn Apocalypse.” The commercial is for a line of Samsung smartphones, and the series of advertisements shows the group stressing out over deadlines, debating the use of unicorn glitter and eventually launching the fictitious game.
As part of the ad campaign, Samsung and Gamespot sponsored a contest asking developers to create a real “Unicorn Apocalypse” game. The winning entry came courtesy of Liquid Gameworks, an application development company run by Jarod Hoogland in Anchorage.
The grand prize was $25,000 — plus a few headaches.
The problem is a lot of people hate the game. Hoogland thinks Samsung’s idea to develop an actual version of the game from the commercials came as an after-thought. The contest was announced on Feb. 22; submissions were due 10 days later. Hoogland, who had help in developing the game from artist Basil Murad in Portugal, found out by email four days after the deadline that their game won.
“By the way, “They didn’t give us any time to do some bug checking,” he said. And Android users who downloaded the free game from Google Play let them know about it.
As of Friday, the game had a rating of 2.3 stars out of five in the app store. Out of 541 reviews, 315 awarded one star. The website Tech Crunch ran a headline that read “Unicorn Apocalypse Is Real And It Sucks.”
“People on the Internet are kind of trolls,” said Hoogland.
The 28-year-old started developing games after stumbling on an article online about how to make games for iPhones. During summers, Hoogland runs a fishing business called Alaska Tackle Rental, and making games seemed like a fun, creative outlet for the off season. He’s made about eight games with Murad for various formats using software called GameSalad. The two initially connected on the GameSalad forums, where Hoogland is a “sous chef” — the website’s version of a moderator — and they coordinate via Skype.
So when Hoogland isn’t running a tackle shop in the summer, he’s making video games in the winter. “I know it’s a weird mix of two different businesses,” he said.
After his newest game went live, Hoogland started trying to put out the fires. He said the bugs had been fixed by that first weekend, but Samsung didn’t release the update until last Tuesday. And since Unicorn Apocalypse had been the subject of a high-profile ad campaign, expectations were high for a game made in 10 days.
“It’s not as epic as you would have expected from Samsung,” Hoogland admitted.
The reviews have been more favorable since last week, with a number of users commenting that the initial problems had been fixed with the update.
“He was one of the few entries (of which there were around 45 total) which fit the theme that Samsung and Gamespot were looking for,” Matthew Lyon-House of GameSalad explained in an email. “With such a short time frame to make a full game, Jarod did an amazing job.”
Hoogland said he plans to invest the prize money in both of his businesses.