Start-Up

Happy Labs gets into the Apple TV app game

Local game studio takes a crack at relatively unknown market with its Happy Tennis

Local game studio Happy Labs has launched the first made-in- Asia motion sensing game for the Apple TV.

The company, founded in 2012 by husband-and-wife team Jeffrey and Kayee Chee, released its game Happy Tennis last Thursday in Singapore and several other Asian countries.

It costs $6.98, or US$4.99, on the Apple TV App Store.

The three-month-old, fourth- generation Apple TV has been slated as the next big thing in home entertainment.

On top of video streaming services, the microconsole is the first Apple TV to come with its own tvOS App Store, making it poised to take on party game favourites such as Nintendo's Wii U and Microsoft Xbox's Kinect.

With its new app, Happy Labs has become one of the first developers to take a crack at this relatively unknown market.

 CEO
Local gaming company Happy Labs is one of the first in Asia to create a motion-sensing game for the Apple TV. Their app, Happy Tennis, allows players to use one Apple TV Remote and 3 iPhones to play virtual tennis. Seen here are (from far left): CEO Jeffrey Chee, artists Yuliana and Anastasia Catherina Nagisa and 3-D artist Alex Chow. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

In Happy Tennis, players can ace, lob and smash their way to victory in a virtual tennis match. Up to four players on the same Wi-Fi network can play at a time in a doubles match, with one using the Apple TV Remote and three using iOS devices.

The game itself is simple to play. On-screen characters automatically move towards the incoming ball, and players have to time their strokes right in order to send it back over the net.

Too fast or too slow, and your character will be left swinging at air while your opponent scores a point. Hit the ball correctly and a white trail will appear behind the ball as it is returned at high speed.

PLENTY OF POTENTIAL

It's a very good chance for small developers to go in, because big developers cannot buy their way into the competition yet.

MR JEFFREY CHEE, on developing games for the latest Apple TV.

While this is the first Apple TV game that Happy Labs has created, the Chees are no strangers to making games.

In 2013 and 2014, they released mobile simulation games Hotel Story and Happy Mall Story respectively, which have garnered a total of over 10 million downloads on Android and iOS App stores.

Creating an app for the Apple TV though, is a whole different ball game. Apple requires its TV apps to use the Apple TV Remote - a rudimentary input device with a motion sensor and a small touchpad - to play games.

This means that more complicated controls such as joysticks are unavailable, which restricts the kind of controls a game can have.

Mr Chee said: "We tried to come up with game that would make intuitive use of the inputs. For example, we can't do a simulation game, as that needs a lot of tapping and scrolling, which will be slow on the Apple TV."

So, Mr Chee came up with a timing-based tennis game which is similar to the tennis mode in Nintendo's Wii Sports, which Mr Chee himself is very fond of.

"I played a lot of tennis on the Wii when it came out," he said. "What I liked about it was that it's very natural, you can just pick it up and play and there's no need to learn."

Developing games for Apple TV is also unexplored territory, as the latest Apple TV is the first to have its own tvOS App Store.

"We don't even know who the target audience is for now," said Mr Chee. "Unlike mobile games, we also cannot run targeted marketing campaigns such as ads on Facebook, so we have to grow our audience organically."

But he sees a lot of potential in the market: "It's a very good chance for small developers to go in, because big developers cannot buy their way into the competition yet."

He also hopes that Happy Tennis will be a platform for friends to come together and interact with each other.

"Nowadays, everybody has a phone, and when they visit other people, sometimes they take out their phones and surf the Web or access Facebook.

"Now, the Apple TV can be a good bridge for them to communicate."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'Happy Labs gets into the Apple TV app game'. Print Edition | Subscribe