Christmas Yetis and Poopy Pigeons: Favorite apps of 2014

It’s been a crazy year for apps. From the breakthrough of Glu Mobile’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood to top-chart newcomers like Crossy Road, the diversity of this year’s viral apps continues to make people wonder what it takes to publish a popular mobile app. Though I wish I knew the answer to this, I’ve picked out a couple of mobile apps that stood out to me this year based on features I thought were really unique and had that special “virality factor” quality. Let’s begin…

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Family Guy: The Quest For Stuff

I was addicted to Hay Day for one summer and I’ve played my share of Simpsons: Tapped Out. Despite all of the F2P, management-based games I’ve played, Family Guy: The Quest For Stuff, published by TinyCo in partnership with Fox, is hands-down the funniest and best maintained game I’ve ever played since I’ve had an iPhone. No, I’m not being paid by anyone to say this – I really do mean it, so let me count the ways. First, character development. It’s not something you would usually think of for a mobile game (an AAA console game, yes). Most people tend to tap past speech bubbles because they don’t really do much for the game. But in this case, dialogue is integral because it keeps the game fresh. The humor is, as expected, a little raunchy at times (mostly due to Quagmire), but it’s still hilarious.

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The TinyCo team also has an exceptional Live Operations team. Most games of this genre usually don’t survive because they start getting stale: Pick your crops, plant them, wait for them to grow and pick them again. But for Family Guy, their live ops go above and beyond the usual (and oftentimes obligatory) holiday or Halloween themes. Think attacking Christmas Yetis, hypnotizing mall santas and throwing snowballs at Christmas shoppers. It’s pretty fun.

I think the final feature I wanted to address for this game actually goes beyond the app itself. Like most management-based games, there’s a heavy push towards social media. Supercell, for example, maintains very active social media pages for its games in order to give out extra prizes or help connect players. TinyCo, through its Family Guy page, does a great job of staying in character when responding to users and, as far as I’ve seen, responds to nearly ever single person who has a question or suggestion for the game. Nicely done, TinyCo and Fox.

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Crossy Roads: Endless Arcade Hopper

I discovered Crossy Roads about a month ago after seeing it on the front page of the App Store. It wasn’t published by a Storm8 or DeNA type of mobile company – instead, it’s published by Hipster Whale, a three-person team of indie developers. Every time I show my friends or colleagues the game, they almost always bring up Frogger but add “except its infinite.” And it’s true – the obstacles (i.e. logs, cars) are undoubtedly inspired by the classic 80’s game. But the big difference? Characters. Instead of just one plain Jane frog, Crossy Roads gives players a chance to play with up to 53 (and counting) characters, including Pew Die Pug, Floppy Fish, Rusty Robot and Poopy Pigeon, my personal favorite.

Even though you can easily buy characters you want for 99 cents, like most F2P games there’s usually a workaround. In this case, once you collect 100 coins, you can use these coins to win a prize (aka a new character) – a gacha element that I think Hipster Whale did a great job of localizing. The only thing I would suggest to tweak would be load the game quicker. Right now, it takes about 10 seconds for the splash screen to transition to the actual game. It isn’t too much of an issue, but it would be definitely appreciated if it were improved.

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Monument Valley

Monument Valley is by far one of the loveliest games I’ve ever played on an iPhone. Developed by none other than ustwo, which also developed and published kid-friendly Whale Trail and Blip Blup, the company already has a record of creating great products. But Monument Valley is definitely ustwo’s best work yet. The soundtrack is delicate and mysterious. The art is good enough to frame and hang up (which you can, if you’re interested). And the mazes are often compared to M.C. Escher’s drawings – you are forced to think out of the box in order to complete each maze.

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Going beyond the game, Monument Valley has also been able to show how, unfortunately, the gaming landscape (though particularly mobile gaming) has changed for the worst. When ustwo released its expansion pack in mid-November, some people were appalled because the additional pack was not free.

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As someone who has worked in the F2P industry, I am aware of the downsides. In this case, because so many games out there are free, people are expecting everything to be free these days. But let’s get this straight: The people who were part of the Monument Valley team worked extremely hard on this game – it was their job. If they gave these games out to everyone for free, how would these hard-working people get paid? Though the expansion pack hasn’t done as well as the original game, there are still many exciting projects in store for ustwo… like their gorgeous new VR game, Land’s End.

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Weave

Let’s take a break from mobile games and focus on a social networking app that really grew on me. Weave is the Tinder for networking, where you can swipe right to show that you’re interested in meeting someone for coffee or just getting some advice. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how open the people in Weave’s community are and have learned a number of great things from people I’ve been talking to. From my experience with the app and the community, everyone is enthusiastic to share their ideas and share what they are working on. The UI is simple, so tutorials aren’t necessary. I can definitely see myself using this app more often post-college.

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TwoDots

Remember Dots, the adorable game where you connected matching dots in under 60 seconds? This year, Playdots really beefed up on its monetization model to create TwoDots. Though this game still has the same underlying rules, different elements like icy dots (takes three times to break the ice) and fiery dots (that burn up normal dots) are used as well as a Candy Crush-like path that winds through different worlds and boasts more than 200 levels. What I love about TwoDots is that it still has its original Dots-like charm. No ads and no pushy “Buy this power-up now!” pop-ups. The game boasts cute, minimal illustrations and a soundtrack that The New York Times quickly took notice of.

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Marvel Contest of Champions

As a segue into 2015, another year of many more apps to come, I wanted to add Kabam’s Marvel Contest of Champions to this list. Though this app has been out for barely one month, I got some sneak peeks of it while I interned at Kabam this summer, so I’ve been anticipating the arrival of this app for a while now. And let me tell you, this game is unlike any Kabam game I’ve seen yet. Like the majority of its games, it is AAA quality, and the game play and UX are so smooth and easy to pick up on. This game sets Kabam’s standards even higher, and I’m really excited to see what else Kabam has in store for the new year.

… And that wraps up my picks for this year! There are of course thousands of other apps that came out this year, so if I skipped over any of your favorites, make sure to leave a comment. Happy new year!

The Year in F2P: A Recap

This year, I was lucky enough to attend Casual Connect USA, which was just a couple of blocks from where I intern.

I was stoked to go.

Really stoked.

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Really, really stoked.

I attended a number of sessions, but out of all of them, my favorite was definitely Free-2-Play Games: A Year in Review, featuring Dave Rohrl (Founder & CEO, GameHound Inc.), Juan Gril (Studio Manager, Joju Games) and Steve Meretzky (VP of Creative, GSN). I found out during their presentation that this is a talk they’ve been doing for a couple of years now, but every year is completely different.

Here’s what they discussed, in fabulous TL;DR form:

1. Simulation games are getting more and more complex. Unlike Hay DayFarmville is pretty simple. Just plant your crops, grow them and build your farm, with the option of spending the money you earn to decorate your farm. Hay Day, on the other hand, involves this and more like cooking, boat orders, quests, etc. The loops for these types of games are getting more intricate.

  • Though these games have incredible staying power, if you want to try and successfully develop and publish your own simulation game, you’re going to need a lot of resources, since the production costs are very high.

2. Puzzle games have been very successful as casual games, but there are some obvious differences between indie puzzle games and commercial puzzle games. Traction is one of these differences. Just think: Voro, a fairly elaborate and addicting game, just doesn’t have the DAUs as sillier puzzles like Pet Rescue Saga or Farm Heroes Saga. Mass market themes tend to do better, and being able to achieve victory in different ways (instead of just one way that can get tedious if too difficult).

3. No one is copying Supercell’s Clash of Clans successfully. Even though there’s a website dedicated to featuring Clash of Clans clones, none of these games have been able to crack the code as gracefully. The only exception is Boom Beach which is developed by… *drumroll*… Supercell! Therefore, the opportunity to make another Clash of Clans is still huge… we’re waiting!

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4. There’s not much to say about social casino except for the fact that it’s making BANK. These are the leaders in each subcategory of social casino…

  • Slots Only
    • Slotomania, Jackpot Party Casino
  • Bingo Only
    • Bingo Blitz, Bingo Bash
  • Poker Only
    • Zynga Poker
  • Multiple Genres
    • Doubledown Casino, Big Fish Casino, GSN Casino

Unfortunately, these are heavyweights in the social casino genre, which means that it is hard for newcomers to try and compete. If you want to try, it’s best to draw inspiration from land-based casino as well as standard F2P gaming techniques (i.e. unlocking new machines, social elements, time-limited content, etc.).

5. Micro Games like Flappy Bird and Piano Tiles are stupidly popular. Because they attract such large audiences, ads are usually the main monetization scheme. Though these games, which can sometimes be developed by as few as one person, might be seen as threats to some gaming companies. But companies like Gameloft (with Ninja Jump) are embracing this formula by publishing their own micro games for the sake of cross-promoting their other games.

6. Hearthstone is one of the few games out there that is doing F2P as fairly as possible. Sure, you’ll have an advantage if you buy cards, but players who don’t pay aren’t at a complete loss. There are two different modes to play in Hearthstone – one which favors payers and the other which favors players. It’s something you don’t see too often in F2P. The game also does away with checklists, something that many, many F2P games use. They don’t leave a lot to the imagination, so Hearthstone replaces it with more time-based objectives, like rewarding users for being in the game for an hour or playing x number of games.

Now that you’ve reached the end of this post, here’s an even shorter TL;DR:

Simulation games like Hay Day are becoming more complex and need a lot of resources to keep players happy. Puzzle games are more likely to be successful if you reward players little by little. The potential for more Clash of Clans games is huge — so go start developing! Social casino makes buckets of cash, but is very competitive. Micro games are being used more frequently to natively cross-promote games. Hearthstone is doing F2P right.

Hope you learned a thing or two more about F2P. Happy (casual) gaming!

In defense of dumb apps

Last week, while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw this tweet from App Annie:

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Though I’m not particularly enamored with Slingshot, what caught my eye about this tweet were the two other top searches for Kim Kardashian and Yo, referring to two apps that have skyrocketed in popularity within the past couple of weeks.

In case you don’t know what these apps are, Kim Kardashian refers to Glu Games’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood app, where you can create your own celebrity as well as date and dump some of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors like Riff Raff and Lil Wayne. In other words, this game is a re-skin of their game Stardom: Hollywood, released in early 2013.

And Yo? It doesn’t get as simple as an app meant for saying “Yo” to your friends. Just choose some friends in your contact list and the app will send them a notification, letting them know that you said “yo.” (Yes, this is really an app).

As embarrassed as I am for the state of apps right now, there’s something to be said about these “dumb apps” that suddenly go viral. Here’s why:

1. They keep the mobile app ecosystem interesting

Though we can try and extract as much data as possible from our cohorts, apps like Flappy Bird and Rainbow Unicorn Attack are testaments to the fact that we still do not have an “exact formula” for developing instant hits for mobile. What’s great about this is that the mobile app ecosystem yet remains to be monopolized (and hopefully never will be!) because people can still try their hand at this mobile app lottery and see if they’ll get lucky with the next Candy Crush Saga.

2. They encourage creativity and entrepreneurship

Time and time again, I continue to ask myself “Why didn’t I think of that?” especially when it comes to mobile apps. The fact that these apps are so simple provides even more motivational fodder to hunker down and develop an app. It is true, however, that with stupid successful apps come lots of copies (remember when the App Store started to reject all of those Flappy Bird copies?) which defeat the purpose of originality and creativity. Nevertheless, if there are people who think they can make a better app and act upon their ideas, then mobile app entrepreneurship will continue to thrive.

3. Let’s face it — they make us laugh

As much as I think Yo is the silliest, most useless app in the world… I got a good chuckle out of it when my friend first showed it to me. In fact, a couple of students from Carnegie Mellon decided to launch Yo, Hodor, an app that lets you greet your friends with a friendly “Hodor!” which I thought was hilarious. Whether the creators of Yo are complete trolls are not, it gives people something funny to talk about and roll their eyes at, letting people bond over the silliness of Yo or the ridiculousness of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.

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And maybe that isn’t so bad after all.

Kittens that drive mobile revenue?

Even though I don’t usually watch television, when I was in Japan this past week, I found myself watching more than I normally would. Considering that I had no wifi access, perhaps this was a natural and rather unsurprising replacement to cater to my attention span. But aside from the fact that I had a little more free time than usual, I was also drawn to the t.v. in Japan because it was interesting to see the types of commercials that ran, particularly the ones about mobile games and apps.

From what I’ve seen and know of, the commercials seen on American television programming are usually about cars, alcohol and fast food. This is not to say that Japan doesn’t run these types of commercials either. In fact, here’s a charming commercial from Kirin Beer starring George Clooney:

And this isn’t to say that the U.S. doesn’t run mobile-related ads either. Here’s a commercial that Google has recently broadcasted to show all that Google Play has to offer:

Not to mention, in America, if an upcoming movie, a chain restaurant or an established company has an app in the App Store or the Google Play Store, they usually tack on a quick 5-second announcement about it at the end of the commercial.

But in Japan, there are 15 second spots dedicated solely to just mobile apps. Gunosy (グノシ), for example, is a news app that condenses its stories into easy-to-read formats. Think the lovechild of Circa and Nick D’Alosio’s Summly. According to Google Play, the app has anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 downloads. There’s an English version of the app too, but it’s done dismally in the United States. And even in Japan, where it’s most downloaded, it’s ranked in the top 125-150 apps* in the news category, not overall. Yet, as you can see from the Gunosy ad below, effort did go into the production:

Monster Strike, on the other hand, is a mobile game that’s doing quite well in Japan — ranked consistently in the top 15 for games and top 25 for overall apps (in the App Store). Compared to Gunosy, it makes a little more sense that Monster Strike would be running television ads, especially since this app ranks in the top 3 for grossing apps in the action, games, role playing and overall categories.*

There’s also the adorable commercials that COLOPL, Inc. runs for its game, ほしの島のにゃんこ (Hoshi no Shima no Nyanko) or, loosely translated, Cats on Star Island. Download ranks are all over the board for categories, including Family and Games. On the other hand, grossing ranks are fairly straight forward, coming in at numero uno in the kids and 9-11 age groups, as well as number three in family. And, after seeing this purrfect commercial, you won’t be too surprised as to why that is:

Aside from these smaller gaming companies, let’s not forget the giants such as Mobage, GREE and Line that continue to dominate the mobile industry in Japan. Puzzles and Dragons, for example, which has made more than $1 billion in profit, can easily expend money on television commercials.

So why all of these television ads? After all, with all the types of cross promotion and in-app ads, why would you bother going through the trouble of casting, producing and broadcasting a commercial just for a mobile app? Even though there are still quite a number of people who use flip phones as opposed to smartphones, for the ones that do have smartphones, they’re more likely to be a pretty passionate app user.

From what I do know about the Japanese app market, Japanese users are more likely to spend money on apps, especially when it comes to free apps that offer in-app purchases. And with so much competition in app stores (like the American App Store), companies need to come up with more ways to stand out. Hence, television commercials. Seeing that the other non-app-related commercials in Japan were about beauty, cleaning or food products, it’s pretty obvious (unfortunately) that these ads are targeted to women — specifically stay-at-home wives who watch television. To reiterate an important (but generalized in this case) statistic in the mobile app world, more females use, download and pay for apps than men. And, frankly, if more women are watching television, then wouldn’t it make sense for these mobile app publishers to advertise on television? Yes, and as long as they’re ok with spending too.

As for America, I haven’t seen too many commercials (if any, really) that are dedicated to just one mobile app. Then again, the so-called “millennial” generation isn’t watching as much television as they are streaming via Netflix or Hulu. Since the mobile app competition is already fairly intense in the states, will we start seeing more mobile app commercials on these streaming platforms? Only time will tell.

* = Data from App Annie

Notable reads from this week

Though I find maybe one or two solid and thought-provoking articles each day, for whatever reason (maybe the Facebook/Twitter gods were smiling down on me), I came across a number of great reads yesterday that I wanted to share. In case you don’t have the time to read all of these articles, I’ve TLDR’ed them for your convenience. Enjoy!

Can Silicon Valley Be Saved?
Published March 6, 2014
TLDR: Though Silicon Valley, particularly San Jose in this case, is home to mega-corporations including eBay, Cisco Systems and Adobe, people don’t really want to live in this area. Some of the reasons that are brought to attention include the lack of a unified public transportation system, little walkability (San Jose’s congestion is the seventh highest in the nation), and barely any culture that attracts tech people who like food, bars and an overall urban atmosphere. Samsung is hoping to contribute to this change with a brand new building that promotes walking instead of driving.

The Ultimate Guide to Solving iOS Battery Drain
Published March 27, 2014
TLDR: My friend Jessie told me about this article and how the author of this blog, Scotty Loveless, worked on the Genius Bar for about two years. Though I already knew that leaving my 3G on in places with poor service drained my battery, I didn’t know about BAR (Background App Refresh) or that quitting my apps actually messed with the phone’s RAM. To get the most out of this article, I advise that you read it somewhere where you won’t be distracted, so you can follow each step in the article.

The Internet’s Telltale Heartbleed
Published April 9, 2014
TLDR: I had read plenty of other articles about Heartbleed, but none of them explained the bug as well as this one. Key takeaways include: 1) Up to 500,000 sites were affected; 2) Heartbleed is scary because you can’t detect whether requests for information are malicious or not; 3) OpenSSL is a volunteer project, and is only overseen by four people; 4) Unless websites have specifically told you to change your password, there isn’t much to be done as of now (maybe wait a little longer, then change all of your passwords).

Will starving artists turn to coding instead of waiting tables?
Published April 11, 2014
TLDR: A feature story on Fractured Atlas, a non-profit in New York that’s looking to help artists get and learn the resources they need in order to become entrepreneurs. Since the program is so new, there haven’t been any Atlas alumni just yet, but it might be worthwhile to keep an eye on this organization.

When the restaurant you Googled Googles you back
Published April 13, 2014
TLDR: A swanky, three-Michelin star restaurant is now catering a more personalized dining experience by doing research on its clientele beforehand. Though it sounds creepy, the intentions are good. Taking a page from the article, “If a particular guest appears to hail from Montana, [the maitre d’] will try to pair up the table with a server who is from Montana.”

300M downloads and $600M in revenue say Google is the ‘loser’s choice’ in mobile games monetization
Published April 14, 2014
TLDR: In a VentureBeat survey, it was announced that when it comes to monetizing their mobile games, developers are using companies like Vungle or AdColony instead. As for which mobile ads proved to be the most annoying, banner ads, notification ads and surveys ranked in the top three.

Hacking the Facebook Hackathon

After my first hackathon, I’ve come to realize that aside from being free to make whatever your heart desires just with some code (though lots of it), hackathons create a perfect environment to GSD or “get shit done.”

I went to the Facebook SoCal Regional Hackathon on Friday with a friend, but we both had our own agendas. While he was planning to finish up a little bit of CS homework before diving into his personal project, I planned to work with some cool jQuery plugins I’ve been meaning to try out, since I haven’t had the time to experiment with web development tools in a while.

After signing in and finding that most of the seats were taken, we sat down near the back next to two UCLA students. We chatted for a little bit and found that none of us had prepared an actual hack for the event just yet, which was slightly reassuring. Though the returning champions from last year were just a couple of tables away from us, it was nice to know that people of all levels are getting involved with hackathons.

The hackathon was probably 99% dudes, but that wasn't going to stop this girl.

The one time we could use Facebook without feeling guilty about ourselves.

Soon enough, the two students next to us had formed a team with two other Bruins, while I continued to work with plugins and my friend hurried to get his CS homework done. From time to time, I listened in and chimed in on the UCLA team’s project, and found myself a little miffed since I decided to opt out of joining a team this time around.

But instead of throwing the towel in and going home, I decided to learn something completely new. Sure, I wasn’t creating a project from the ground up, but I was going to take advantage of this space and wanted to ride the productivity momentum that this environment was generating.

So no, I didn’t exactly “hack” the Facebook Hackathon, but I hacked it for my own benefit. Because, for the next couple of hours, using what I knew about HTML, CSS, APIs and Php, I worked through Tuts+’s Facebook Graph API tutorial, and managed to finish the whole project. Did I make something completely original? No, but in the time I was at the hackathon, I made my first *unofficial* Facebook app and learned how to integrate Facebook logins into just about any web app — not something I would’ve accomplished had I been by myself at my apartment.

Used colors from here

Perfect Facebook color palette brought to you by Design Pieces

I even won a pair of Facebook sweatpants during one of their hourly raffles.

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If you squint just enough, you can make out my name.

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Comfortable and Zuck-approved!

What I’m trying to say is that just because you might not be a whiz programmer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend hackathons. You might not be able to attend every hackathon out there — PenApps, for example, requires that you apply formally — but for hackathons that only ask that you RSVP, such as this one and the upcoming LA Hacks (I’ll see you there, if you’re going!), I absolutely encourage you to attend. The truth is that at most hackathons, there are always at least a couple of people who come to hackathons without a team, so don’t worry about not finding one.

And if you feel like you still need to hone in on some skills — just do it, but try to stay at the hackathon, so you get a feel for the environment and structure of a full-fledged hackathon. You’ll be better prepared for the next one.

What’s also amazing about hackathons is that for whatever reason, even if there is loud music playing and people chatting, everyone tends to get a lot done. One friend showed me his RescueTime log after HackTech, which calculated his productivity to be about 90% over a span of 16+ hours. Sure enough, when I opened up RescueTime on my computer, it said that I was being about 92% productive.

If you haven’t been to a hackathon yet, it’s definitely not too late. I might sound a little sappy when I say this, but a certain, unspoken camraderie is fostered among attendees through late nights, tired fingers and eyes, debugging frustration and not ever having enough snacks. It’s an irreplaceable experience that you can’t find anywhere else.

Thoughts on today’s food innovation

In 1996, Michel Lescanne, a food-processing engineer, came up with Plumpy’nut, an ingenious peanut-based paste that was meant to treat severe malnutrition. It’s an innovation in food tech and engineering that’s helped countless lives and changed the way nutrition is approached in third world countries.

It was one of the first products of food engineering that I had ever heard of growing up. Since then, I’ve heard of a couple of other inventions including ideas from Aseptia, an up-and-coming food science company that’s already patented tech that “enables the production of shelf-stable fresh food products without using preservation or refrigeration.”

These days, instead of actual food engineering, I’ve been seeing a lot of food innovation — startups revolving around food, which range from “disrupting” takeout or improving catered food. The rise of the foodie culture, where people live, breathe and “document” (aka Instagram) food, has become very prominent in recent years, and it’s becoming apparent that more people are willing to experiment with their tastebuds.

But unless you get paid to eat for a living, not all of us are able to eat great food all of the time, especially if you’re getting bogged down by school or work. A lot of these startups acknowledge this issue because they’ve experienced it themselves, be it in the role of a CEO or even as an extremely busy college student.

If you can’t wait for your food, there are startups that specialize in same-day deliveries. Munchery, for example, is a food startup where meals are prepared by local chefs and delivered the same night. For about $11 to $13, you can get a hearty dinner, and add sides, desserts or drinks if you’d like. But if you’re in the mood for something with a homemade touch, there’s Eatro, which lets you choose which homecooked meals you want, then lets you pick it up from his or her house. If you aren’t too picky, SpoonRocket claims to serve “the most convenient meal ever,” with super speedy delivery and meals that are fresh and healthy. Not to mention, the prices are a bit cheaper at $8 for some sweet potato lasagna or roasted pork chop.

What if you’ve just moved from New York to Wisconsin and suddenly find yourself craving Momofuku Milk Bar’s amazing pies? No, you don’t have to fly back to The Big Apple just for a taste of that famous Crack Pie. If you’re ok with a little waiting and are willing to splurge a bit, you can order from Goldbely, a food startup that is dedicated to taking the very best foods from cities across the nation and making them available for delivery.

There's a reason why they call it Crack Pie... | Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post

There’s a reason why they call it Crack Pie… | Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post

There are also many, many food subscription box services out there, including Skoshbox, a monthly package of Japanese candies and snacks, and even Taster’s Club, for those who are very into bourbon, a group of people who contribute to, what Fortune Magazine calls “the billion-dollar bourbon boom.”

The more popular of these monthly subscription services are Love With Food and Plated. The former, for only $10 a month, sends organic snacks to your door and, for every box that you receive, a meal is donated to a child in the U.S. The latter service sends you recipes along with the ingredients to make them, if you want to try your hand at cooking something yourself.

For healthier options that won’t require you to lift a finger, you can order from Zesty, which delivers from restaurants dedicated to serving low-carb, gluten-free or even paleo dishes, or you can get your favorite smoothie or some organic vegetables from grocery delivery services like Good Eggs, Instacart, or AmazonFresh, Amazon’s very own delivery service.

It’s exciting to see so many companies dedicated to making food even more accessible, more convenient and, of course, more delicious. They’re solving problems like nostalgia-driven cravings and healthy eating, and packaging them in ways that make life a little easier. I’ve tried my share of subscription boxes, and I will say that it’s pretty fun to get a package every month with all sorts of goodies that you don’t expect. Not to mention, most, if not all, of these startups offer promo codes for first time users, which shows that they’re willing to shave off some of their price margin to show that A) they’re worth your time and money and B) to grab the attention of curious, open-minded food lovers.

As great as these startups sound, unfortunately, their services are not always widely-available. For instance, SpoonRocket is only available in the East Bay and San Francisco, Eatro is primarily based in London and Munchery is, again, Bay Area-centric.

And if you haven’t guessed already, these startups are catering a very specific, upper-middle class to upper class demographic, a target audience that doesn’t need to worry about very much aside from what to wear and what to eat. The prices for these dishes and products, including sometimes hefty shipping costs, are not very affordable for the average middle class person.

Nevertheless, these are creative ideas that are all executed very well. We’ll always need food to survive and, even though we might not always need to have our pies shipped from the east coast, changing up our meals every once in a while adds some spice (no pun intended) to our lives. Though it may be cost-effective to live day-to-day on oatmeal, it doesn’t bring us a whole lot of joy (unless you really freakin’ love oatmeal). Tasting a friend’s brother’s wife’s “world-famous” tuna casserole, sharing a meal with a stranger or trying an Ethiopian meal of Gomen Kitfo for the first time connects us on different levels and brings us a little closer.

Whether you find yourself with the same expression of bliss as the person sitting next to you in a restaurant or you’ve brought your girlfriend over for dinner to try your mom’s homemade lasagna, be it for sustenance, entertainment, love or friendships, food is certainly here to stay.

Maybe only sometimes.

Maybe only sometimes.

Update: Just got an invite to City Lunch Club, a catered lunch service which is only available in New York at the moment. If you want to give it try, click here.

Update 2: Found out about a really cool startup called Gobble that designs “dinner kits,” where ingredients are already cut… all you have to do is prepare the meals (which doesn’t usually take more than 10 minutes).