Behind the App: Enthusiasm and Dedication Bring PB&J Publishing’s Hansel and Gretel: Lost to Life

While the App Store is full of iOS versions of fairy tales, few retellings are as expressive or well-designed as PB&J Publishing’s Hansel and Gretel: Lost for iPad (PadGadget = 4.5 stars)

PB&J’s Jessica Bogart was kind enough to share her thoughts on perseverance, viral marketing, and just how many people it takes to bring an iOS app to market. Ms. Bogart was willing to work into the wee hours to make bring her app to life, but don’t make her choose whether she’d rather have pie or cake for dessert.

(PadGadget): Why did you decide to create Hansel & Gretel: Lost?
(PB&J Publishing): When Steve Jobs announced the iPad, my cousin Stu and I were 24-years-old. We lived in different cities at the time, and we were looking for a project that would keep us connected.

The iPad inspired us. We imagined a child sitting in her room, reading a story on her iPad. Music plays in the background and when she taps her favorite character, it springs to life. The interactivity, the sounds, the animation—they all come together to create an experience that was never possible before. And the kid’s driving it! To us, that’s the coolest thing—it reacts to the child’s touch.

I know it sounds cheesy, but that’s the vision that drove us. It’s why we came home from a long day at our jobs and worked on Hansel and Gretel until 2:24 AM. Sometimes it was very exhausting, but in the end, I’m really glad we did. We grew much closer.

(PG): Is there a particular version of this fairy tale that inspired you?
(PB&J): We loved the classic Grimm’s fairy tale. We remembered from our childhoods the breadcrumb trails and the evil witch who eats children—and the interactivity just flowed from it. For instance, we loved the idea of dragging candy off the candy house and feeding it to Hansel and Gretel. We loved the idea of taking those core elements of that original story and bringing them to life, it was a lot of fun!

(PG): How is Hansel and Gretel relevant to kids’ today?
(PB&J): That was actually one of our challenges. If you remember the original Hansel and Gretel story, it’s pretty dark. A lot of parents think it’s too scary for kids!

We wanted to create a story that was accessible to families. First, we add humor to the scary parts. When Hansel and Gretel are trapped by the Witch, for instance, we make it fun. You can actually drag Gretel to make her scrub the witch’s feet. Or when Hansel’s being fed by the witch, he complains that he “only eats organic”.

We also modified the violence. Instead of sending the witch to her fiery death, Gretel locks the witch in an empty oven forever.

As a woman myself, I also wanted to show a girl in a strong role, overcoming her fears. In our story, Gretel starts as a scared little girl who follows her brother everywhere. By the end, she overcomes her fears, outsmarts the witch and frees Hansel from his cell. I love seeing a girl kicking butt—I can never get enough of that!

(PG): What were the challenges to bring your app to market?
(PB&J): When we started our app, we had no idea how many people we’d need to involve— animator, illustrator, voiceover, sound studio, developers—just to name a few! At the end we counted over 100 people who contributed to our app in some way.

Not everyone worked out though. Our biggest setback came from our developers. We were about a year into the project, and suddenly they stopped sending us work. We emailed and called to try to find out what was going on. They wouldn’t tell us. After dozens of call and emails with no response, we were forced to make the difficult decision to take legal action. It was an awful experience.

That’s when we had a choice: we could either give up or start over. We decided to start over. We partnered with Fuzz Productions, who is an amazing mobile development company based in Brooklyn, and a year later we launched our app. It was such an awesome feeling, especially after everything we’d gone through to get here.

(PG): Has the app been as profitable as you had hoped?
(PB&J): Apps are a tough business. We knew it from the start. We’ve been getting great reviews for Hansel and Gretel, and the stories that we hear about parents and children reading the app together are incredible.

But we still have work to do to be profitable. People who download our app love it, but not nearly enough people know about it. There are over 60 other Hansel and Gretel apps on the App Store, and with only a few dollars per download, it makes advertising very expensive.

We’ve been focusing on launching some viral campaigns to reach more people. Our latest features the fuzzy monster from our story who eats Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs. He feels awful and rallies the people of the “interwebs” to help him find Hansel and Gretel. It’s super adorable:

(PG): Who are your favorite iOS app developers?
(PB&J): We are big fans of Nosy Crow. Their art is gorgeous, their functionality is fun and characters are always quirky, well developed and enjoyable to play with. Their consistent high-quality apps are an inspiration to us.

(PG): Has the release of the iPad mini presented any challenges or opportunities?
(PB&J): Every new iPad has its challenges and its opportunities. The iPad mini, for instance, should be more accessible to kids since it’s a smaller device and at a lower price. Hansel and Gretel: Lost looks great on it.

The biggest help for us has been the increase in memory from the iPad 1 to the iPad 4. Our app has gorgeous graphics, but it’s memory intensive as each scene loads. Refusing to compromise the quality of the images, we ran into all sorts of trouble developing for the iPad 1, but in the end, our amazing developers made it work.

(PG): Do you have any other projects in the works that you would like to tell us about?
(PB&J): We’re always batting around new ideas, but for the moment, we’re focusing on promoting Hansel and Gretel. We both still have our full-time jobs, so we have to focus our efforts. One step at a time!

Now it’s time for the speed round. Which term do you prefer?

Lightning or 30-pin? Lightning actually! It charges so much more quickly.

Jobs or Cook? We appreciate Cook’s efficiency, but you can’t replace Jobs. I have a typographic poster of the Think Different spot on my desktop. Every time I look at that, I hear Job’s voice and want to celebrate the creative crazy ones in our world.

Facebook or Twitter? Pinterest! I’m addicted!

Ipad or iPhone? Tough question! If I haaaddddd to choose, I think I would say iPhone – only because I literally cannot operate without it!

Wi-Fi or cellular? Cellular. I’m connected everywhere, all the time. As a New Yorker who needs to be able to always work and be accessible, that is very important.

Print or digital? Digital –- my absolute passion in life is designing and imagining digital experiences for enhancing peoples’ lives. Though, I will say, to all you cynics out there: print is not dead! I’m reading a print book right now as a matter of fact.

Work or sleep? Sleep? I’m not familiar…

Pie or cake? Both!!

Download PB&J’s colorful, engaging take on Hansel and Gretel from the App Store for $3.99. This interactive storybook is compatible with any iPad running iOS 4.3 or later.

About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite