Australian game developer reaches Apple's core

"It was an amazing buzz" ... Rob Murray.
"It was an amazing buzz" ... Rob Murray.
Rob Murray is greeted on stage by Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller.

Rob Murray is greeted on stage by Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller.

"I don't want to reveal too much of the magic behind the event" ... Rob Murray.

"I don't want to reveal too much of the magic behind the event" ... Rob Murray.

In the hullabaloo of the iPhone 5 launch, many missed that an Australian had entered the hallowed realm of Apple's chosen few.

About 25 minutes into the Apple presentation in San Francisco, Melbourne developer Rob Murray took to the stage to present a live demo of his upcoming game, Real Racing 3, which is tailor-made for the latest smartphone.

His appearance at the launch - and advanced access to the new phone - means his St Kilda Road design studio has been designated one of Apple's key partners. Real Racing 3 is a "hero app" on the iPhone 5. According to one marketing expert, the partnership means millions in free publicity.

"It was an amazing buzz ... it's one of those bucket-list kind of experiences I think for me," Mr Murray said in a phone interview.

"I messaged my wife later saying Al Gore was there listening to me and he laughed and clapped and that sums it up - it was just an amazing audience and you think about the millions online."

Mr Murray sold his app company Firemint to global game giant Electronic Arts last year, allowing him to focus on his passion, making games. He now leaves the business deals and legal wrangling to someone else. He became an executive producer at the company and Firemint is now known as Firemonkeys.

The 39-year-old has been so busy that when asked for his age, he had to stop and think about whether his 40th birthday this month had slipped by without him noticing.

Perhaps that's understandable for someone who yesterday stood next to Apple CEO Tim Cook and walked in the footsteps of the late Steve Jobs.

Apple's press conferences are theatrical experiences where Apple's executives are treated like magicians, unveiling their new devices to a sea of cheering bloggers, journalists and celebrities.

Every detail is kept under lock and key prior to the show, but Apple has recently struggled to keep a lid on its ballooning operation and most of the announcements from the launch had been leaked in advance.

But even now, Mr Murray, who stills lives in Melbourne across the road from his office, can't say how far in advance he had seen the new phone or whether he had professional presentation training before the event.

"We obviously have a great relationship with Apple but can't talk much about the business relationship," he said. "I don't want to reveal too much of the magic behind the event."

He did admit to watching copious videos of master showman Jobs at work on the same stage to try to capture some of Jobs' techniques. "Oh yeah — who wouldn't want to get close to his skills up there; it's certainly the moment to try and pull out all the stops that I could," he said.

Australian journalist Matthew Powell, a long-time follower of Apple and founder of MacTheMag, has had early access to Apple gear in the past. He said the non-disclosure agreements were so restrictive it made it difficult to test the product properly.

"[Murray] probably had a prototype that didn't look like the final version ... I can't guarantee that but I know from other people who for instance were given advanced access to the iPhone 3G that the units they were given to develop on didn't look like the final product," said Powell.

To be on stage at an iPhone launch with a captive audience of the world's media, and thousands if not millions of Apple faithful around the world following on via their favourite sites, is marketing money can't buy.

Iain McDonald, founder of digital marketing agency Amnesia, said the value was hard to quantify "but if you put it into perspective, the top 10 apps usually account for more than 40 per cent of all downloads, so being propelled into the top 10 means potentially millions of dollars".

Before his company was acquired by EA, Murray built some of the most successful early game titles on iOS including Flight Control and Real Racing. The App Store has become an industry sector in itself and made millionaires out of scores of entrepreneurs, including Murray.

"I haven't always used Apple gear, I wouldn't call myself a fanboy ... but you can't help but get excited at some of the features especially when we make games for it and they come out with twice the power and 16:9 [widescreen] screens and we're just thinking about all the things we can do with it," he said.

A new report by analyst firm Gartner says smartphone users worldwide will download more than 45 billion apps this year, nearly twice the number from last year. Of those about 21 billion apps are expected to be downloaded from Apple's App Store, a 74 per cent increase from the previous year. By 2016 Gartner estimates there will be more than 300 billion apps downloaded annually.

Before the iPhone, Murray's 35 staff were making mobile games using Java and C++ but struggled with developing games for clunky platforms and a fragmented array of devices, all of which had different keyboard layouts.

"Sometimes your controls wouldn't work and the screens were all sorts of sizes and quality, the ecosystem was so fragmented and horrible," he said.

The iPhone's touchscreen started a mobile games revolution. "The iPhone gave us the opportunity ... to break away from working with publishers and publish ourselves," he said.

Murray said he was happy to give up the start-up life to focus on a narrower creative role while taking advantage of EA's huge resources.

"I don't have to be out there pounding the pavement tracking down deals ... you think about how can we make this product bigger and better and you let some other people worry about the numbers at the end of the day, which is actually a huge relief," he said.

"I've lost 20 kilograms since the acquisition ... [but] it's not like everything's easy, work's hard, always is, and challenging, especially when you're trying to do such big things. We're trying to win on the biggest possible level."

Apple have confirmed that pre-orders for the iPhone 5 will be available from 5:01pm today.

This story Australian game developer reaches Apple's core first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.