Tanner Hall met Dave Howard last March in the Monashee Mountains in British Columbia. Both were there to cat ski: Hall was filming for two days with his ski sponsor Armada, and Howard, owner and president of a Canadian company called To Market, had come as a private client. One afternoon after skiing, Howard walked up to Hall, introduced himself, and asked him a strange question.
"Why don't you have an app?"
Hall was taken aback: He had spent the last four years brainstorming ideas for a video game just as Howard had in mind. The two strangers talked some more, and by the time they left, they basically had a deal in place for Howard to develop the freeskiing game Hall had always wanted -- one that will be the first of its kind on the market. The iTunes app will be released the week of Winter X Games 16 in January 2012, and will be playable on Mac computers, iPhones and iPads.
"I've always wondered why it took so long for someone to bite on a skiing game," Hall said from his home in Park City, Utah. "There used to be Jonny Moseley Mad Trix [released a decade ago], and I was one of the characters in that, but that game was kind of a joke. You could ski on top of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It didn't really represent our sport well."
Hall's game -- Tanner Hall Halfpipe Skiing -- will be designed to be as authentic as possible, he said. "We really want to show the sport in a good light, with good style." The halfpipe game will be developed for an age range of 8 to 45, Howard said, and will allow players to move their phone to steer down the pipe. A joystick on the side of the screen will control jumps and inversions, while directional arrows allow you to spin right and left. Hall said all of today's cutting-edge tricks will be included in the game, and he'll create characters for fellow pro skiers, among them Phil Casabon and Henrik Harlaut.
The game will be free to download; they are also developing three other games that will likely cost 99 cents each and be released after the first game generates some feedback: an urban rail game; a backcountry freeskiing game, with pillows and natural features to jump off; and an advanced pipe-skiing game. The concept's business component is just as ambitious: Music from Hall's record label is being incorporated (and will be for sale), and players will be able to buy Hall's pro-model gear through the app.
"If they're playing the game and they like the jacket he's wearing, they can actually go purchase that jacket," said Howard, who expects 1 million people to download the app within the first month. "That kind of e-commerce has never really been done in this category. It's a great way to do market testing for sponsors, and a great way to sell product."
About a month after the game is released (Hall is planning a launch party in Aspen with Cali P. performing), the app will be available on Blackberries and Droids, Howard said. Hall is banking on the games' generating a buzz in the industry. "This could either be really big or really stupid," he said. "I don't really want to put my name on anything stupid, and I know Dave doesn't want to either."