They’ve barely unpacked and constructed the office furnitre, but already LA-based studio Industrial Toys is one of the most talked about developers in mobile games production. It’s not hard to appreciate why. Formed by Halo co-creator and Bungie co-founder Alex Seropian, the company has set out a compelling mission plan: to bring core gaming fundaments to the mobile sector.
But how will that work in practise? Last week, Christian Donlan spoke to Industrial Toys president Tim Harris about this intriguing endeavour. Can Seropian’s ‘league of evil misfit superheroes’ really change the way we think about portable gaming?
What makes now the right time to launch this kind of company? Was there a specific moment that tipped you over to mobile?
I think timing and freedom are the two key factors here. If you look at the console games market, there are huge, awesome established studios that are making huge, awesome core games – some are making money, some are starting to struggle. If you look at the mobile games market, there are a few darlings out there who are killing it with casual; they’re developing games that are making money and we’re all playing. And there are a ton that are getting lost in the shuffle. We suspect that it’s time for a studio to take the good from both worlds, making games that combine the deep satisfaction and “oh wow” moments of the core experience with the flexibility and extensibility of mobile platforms. We think it’s time to redefine what expectations one should have from a mobile game.
The team sounds really exciting, with ex-staff from DC, Marvel and Dreamworks. Was it your intention to get people from such varied and interesting backgrounds?
I’m super-jazzed about the team, it’s like the League of Evil Misfit Superheroes. We specifically went out and gathered varied pasts and skills to form the basis of this crew. The art and world-building and additional engineering talent that is joining us in the next couple of weeks is exciting, but our current team forms the basis of my hope for big things to come.
Our main man Alex Seropian has created some of the greatest games of all time, but he’s DJ Humble McGee and I end up having to be his hype man. Brent Pease, our engineering top dog, has been an inventor behind industry-changing products from Apple, Bungie and Dreamworks — he’s architecting our whole operation, gleefully building the foundation of everything we’re getting ready to do.
Creative genius Hardy LeBel is just that — I’ve never met anyone like him. He’s like an idea machine-gun, but also has the ability to take your ideas, build on them, clarify them and turn them into the types of game elements you just can’t wait to experience. And Mike Dekoekkoek, more usually referred to as Mike D because of the four Ks in his name, is the Ultimate Wildcard of engineering. He’s a web guy, a mobile guy… whoa wait — he’s a database master, a social media wiz and a do-it-yourself assassin (he recently made a turntable, a sous vide machine, and soldered his electronic drum set into Rockband). I grin every time I look around the room.
You’ve said a big part of the plan is to bring core gamer sensibilities to mobile: what does this kind of approach entail for you guys? And why do you think core gamers have been a little suspicious about mobile for so long?
This is no small nut to crack, and we’re taking it seriously. We’re core gamers, and WE’RE suspicious. We’re letting that suspicion guide us. All of us grew up playing and making console and PC games. Heck, half of our “life stories” are things that happened in games. There’s an emotional depth and, as I mentioned, a satisfaction element that comes from core gaming that is very difficult to define.
I can tell you how we’re approaching this, though. We’re going to be mobile to the core, developing mechanics and flow that appeal to core gamers, but are endemic to mobile devices. We’re going to focus on quality — from production value to depth of story, to the creation of worlds and universes that extend past our games and cause the players to want to be there, explore them and create their own content. And we’re approaching the community as a collaboration – we’re going to give people tools to communicate, organise themselves, affect the game, and interact with us.
Having worked on some pretty big core games in the past, do you think a lot of those skills are transferable, or is there a necessary period of relearning things for mobile?
Actually, I think it’s both. We’re lucky enough to have representation in our small group from console, web, and mobile gaming. We’re examining what we know about creating fun compelling experiences and using what works on mobile, discarding what doesn’t. We’re adapting to the platform, not just from a technology and production standpoint, but from a fundamental design standpoint.
What are the really big challenges of mobile gaming? Is it stuff like keeping team sizes small so you can be profitable? Is it discovery on the App Store and Android Market? Is it other stuff entirely?
You named the big ones. Shorter production cycles and team size are challenges, but we’re treating those like opportunities. We’ve all worked in big teams, and there are advantages to that. But one of the reasons we formed this company is that we prefer the smaller, ultra-creative and collaborative nature of the small team dynamic. You get to touch more, affect more, and there’s nothing that can replace the feeling of family that only small teams can provide.
Discovery is definitely an issue. More and more publications such as yourselves are helping us as gamers find what we’re looking for, but with the sheer number of games going into the app stores every day, it’s tough to stand out. We’re going to try and combat that by involving our community from the get-go. We’re up having discussions on Facebook with players, our blog will feature debate, and we’ll launch boards before we even announce our first product. Players will have a hand not only in giving feedback on our games, but they’ll actually affect elements from features to storyline elements. We’re hoping that partnering with players will make for a better product, a better community, and better ongoing support for the games.
Can you say anything about the platforms you’re targeting? Assuming it’s iOS and Android?
No secrecy there. You guessed it.
Okay, but I’m also guessing you don’t want to talk about projects yet. Could you say a little about the mobile games you really like and that scratch the same kind of itch your titles will be going for?
We’re fans of so many studios, publishers and their games. While I can’t say that anything scratches the exact itch we’re talking about here, itches are definitely being scratched by some of the mobile studios making great games today. We’re hoping to take some of the cool things that are already being done well in mobile gaming where natural mobile behavior is used as a game design element, production values are high, and community elements are human rather than mechanical; then we’ll combine those and serve the audience in a way that feels familiar but is unique at the same time.
Finally, any idea when you’ll be ready to make some announcements about games?
We have an evil plot, but we’re not ready to share just yet. We’ve been working on concepts, art, and systems for a while now, but we won’t be able to talk about it until we have a few more pieces in place. But rest assured, when we do announce our first product, we’ll both share some details and open our community doors for reaction and discussion. We can’t wait.