A business founded in a Bowling Green living room by twin brothers in high school has become a serious app developer serving up titles gamers can’t refuse.
Hitcents is the creative agency behind “The Godfather: Family Dynasty,” a strategy game for Apple and Android devices. Since its release Thursday, the game, which was produced in partnership with Paramount Pictures, was downloaded more than 100,000 times in the first 24 hours and is receiving rave reviews.
The game’s release ends perhaps the most unforgettable week ever for 34-year-old entrepreneurs Clinton and Chris Mills. Chris’ son Maverick was born Tuesday.
Hitcents has achieved a level of success neither twin imagined 16 years ago.
The company was started in 1999. The Mills brothers were self-taught keyboard jockeys eager to ditch their monotonous retail jobs. Their savior was the online advertising industry, which at the time had broken the $2 billion mark, according to Ad Age.
The Mills brothers partnered with Best Buy and Match.com to put ads for them on other websites. Almost overnight, Hitcents was serving 4 million ad impressions a day, Clinton Mills said.
“It was fruitful,” Clinton said.
The brothers’ success came to a halt in 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst; dozens of Internet-based and leveraged companies crashed, as did the advertising market. That year, 17 dot-com companies sank about $44 million into Super Bowl ads, Bloomberg reported. In 2001, that number shriveled to three companies.
Hitcents pivoted its business and started creating websites for businesses in Bowling Green. It also provided IT services.
The Mills brothers received full rides to Western Kentucky University on entrepreneur scholarships but lasted only through their sophomore year before dropping out to focus on Hitcents.
By 2010, Hitcents had worked with more than 100 companies in and outside of Kentucky. One of the company’s 50 employees at the time was designer Phil Williams, who was eager to tinker with a game idea during normal working hours. The Mills brothers obliged, and in September 2010, Drawastickman.com went live. The website allowed visitors to draw a stick figure that would go on a 5-minute interactive adventure.
“Almost immediately, the website went viral, and we had over a million page views in 24 hours. The site went on to win numerous awards, including 3 Webby Awards,” Hitcents wrote on its company blog.
Hitcents followed up its Drawastickman success with its Hanx Writer app in 2014. The company partnered with Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks to produce an app that “simulates a typewriter keyboard — clacks, clangs, and all,” according to a story in The New Yorker in August 2014.
One Hitcents employee who helped foster the Hanks relationship was Macy Mills, 23, the twins’ sister, who joined the company in March 2014 as the vice president of strategy and business development. Macy was the driving force behind the the opening of a San Francisco office.
“We work together every day and it’s been a lot of fun,” Macy said.
Part of the fun at Hitcents the past two years has been its immersion into the world of “The Godfather,” based on the novel by by Mario Puzo. A team of about 14 Hitcents employees worked to create the game by reading the book, rewatching the films, and combing through “Godfather” memorabilia, Mills said. The release of the game could not have come at a better time, Macy said.
“It’s the 45th anniversary of the film on March 24,” Macy said. “It’s now a perfect time to celebrate the movie. We’re really excited about that.”
Today, Hitcents is a family-run business that includes their father, Ed, whom the twins hired after he retired. Although the company has opened offices on the West Coast, the Millses are proud of their Kentucky roots. Hitcents has been self-financed and self-sufficient from the beginning.
“There are good IT people here; there are a lot of people who have been with us for many, many, many years who have grown with us,” Clinton said.