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Ex-Facebook designers climb charts with adorable game Pinchworm


Funky physics and controls make mobile games fun. You tap against gravity in Flappy Bird, fling on a trajectory in Angry Birds and press to maintain momentum in Tiny Wings. So when two of Facebook’s top designers left to build their own apps, they wanted to bring a new gesture to gaming… and let worms, not birds, be the stars.

Pinchworm sounds simple, but its the mapping of the controls to your mind that makes it addictively challenging. You’re a worm. You fall in love with another worm who’s stolen away by the early bird. You pursue, learning more of the story as you pinch your fingers together to hop over rocks, and pull them apart to burrow under flowers. But since the gestures are horizontal and the obstacles are vertical, it’s harder thank you’d think.

Joey Flynn and Drew Hamlin have turned the mental gymnastics into a hit. Their app studio Unity&Variety launched Pinchworm this week and it already has more than 100,000 daily active users. It’s the No. 2 free game in the iOS app store, the No. 1 free arcade game and the No. 8 overall free app.

2. Gameplay

Flynn and Hamlin studied together at University of Washington and were product designers for Facebook for the past years. They pushed pixels for some of Facebook’s most used features, like 2014’s big Messenger redesign, and Flynn built the beautiful but unloved Facebook standalone app Slingshot.

They left the social juggernaut because “We wanted to work on something that would be completely new for us, challenging, and something we could accomplish with just a small team,” Flynn tells me. So with their Facebook earnings, they bootstrapped and hired some friends like Sean Popejoy, who made Messenger’s sounds, and Brian Brasher, who illustrated icons for Facebook and Foursquare.

Pinchworm's developers Drew Hamlin and Joey Flynn (from left)

Pinchworm’s developers Drew Hamlin and Joey Flynn (from left)

Flynn tells me the idea for Pinchworm actually sprang from Twisted System, “a game I played with friends growing up that was (bear with me) a mini-game within a demo of a game on the Halo 1 for Xbox disc.” What stuck with Flynn was how the game was “insanely hard and for some reason insanely fun.”