Interview

Hi-Rez Studios' Todd Harris on why its debut mobile eSports game is Jetpack Fighter not Smite

Hi-Rez Studios' Todd Harris on why its debut mobile eSports game is Jetpack Fighter not Smite

Hi-Rez Games, the US developer behind leading MOBA eSport Smite, has attracted our attention after the global launch of Jetpack Fighter on the App Store.

The firm's debut mobile release, it's a fast-paced auto-runner with a competitive edge and - most crucially - eSports ambitions.

As such, we reached out to Hi-Rez COO Todd Harris to discuss Jetpack Fighter, the struggles faced by mobile MOBAs, and the future of eSports on mobile.

PocketGamer.biz: Having seen titles such as Vainglory struggle for App Store traction in 2015, we began using the term Curse of MOBA. Is this the same reason you steered clear of the MOBA genre for your first foray into mobile, and do you think MOBAs have a future on mobile devices?

Todd Harris: I think all game genres will yield some winners on mobile.

But MOBA on mobile is particularly challenging due to current MOBA user expectations from other platforms around a longer session time, synchronous PvP with user frustration if teammates drop connection, and limitation in controls and precision compared to non-mobile platforms.

Hi-Rez Studios already has a very successful action MOBA with Smite. And Smite works well on both PC and console.

But we didn't think our particular Smite MOBA would translate well to mobile due primarily to the input controls and also required session length.

Smite MOBA wouldn't translate well to mobile, due primarily to controls and session length.
Todd Harris

The game genre should ideally be designed around the strengths of the platform instead of fighting against it. So for our first mobile title we developed a brand new IP designed around the strengths of mobile.

You've spoken about wanting to establish Jetpack Fighter as a mobile eSport, which is so far relatively uncharted territory. Are you able to share in a little more detail your plans for doing so?

As always our first goal is to build a game that is fun and competitive. It is the community and market that will ultimately decide whether Jetpack Fighter can be an eSport.

However I do believe that eSports are a lot broader than just MOBA. Way before MOBAs there were individuals competing in the local arcade on a quest for high score, to be the very top of that leaderboard. And crowds of people would gather to watch high skilled players on that quest.

That 80s-style arcade culture is a lot of the inspiration behind the game design and eSports aspirations of Jetpack Fighter.

There is also inspiration from 80s platformers and the idea of speed-running for best time and a perfect run.

Having an enormous existing community of Smite players must put you in good stead for building a community around new projects. There's already been some cross-promotion between Smite and Jetpack Fighter at launch, but will this be a key strategy for you going forward?

Yes. We owe our success to the large and growing Smite community.

Just this past weekend that community came together for the $1 million Smite World Championship and that event felt like the perfect time to launch Jetpack Fighter.

We have already seen a large number of Smite players try and enjoy Jetpack Fighter so we'll continue to explore cross-promotion.

Do you feel 2016 is the year in which competitive eSports on mobile really take off?

Not sure about the year, but it is just a matter of time. Mobile eSports are inevitable since mobile is the computing and gaming platform that every kid around the world is growing up with.

It will take the right game along with significant developer support, and it hasn't happened yet, but it will.

Jetpack Fighter is a lot more immediate than, say, Smite. Is this more due to the limitations of the platform, or catering to the wildly different expectations and taste of mobile gamers?

Immediate doesn't have to mean simplistic.
Todd Harris

We designed for the strengths of the mobile platform - action combat built around the satisfaction that comes from swiping on a touch device, sessions that are short enough to pick up and play at your leisure, but also a deep meta-game and meaningful player choices because there are a lot of 'core' gamers on mobile.

Immediate doesn't have to mean simplistic.

To what extent is the negative perception of mobile games - simplistic, exploitative, pay-to-win etc. - responsible for the slow uptake in MOBA and eSports adoption on the platform? Do you see any signs of change?

Candidly, a negative perception of mobile probably means you are too old or out of touch because it is a generational thing.

When I was growing up there was negative perception of all games, simply because yes some games were over the top violent and exploitive. But the youth knew better and that perception changed.

A few years back there was an a negative perception around competitive gaming, because some early eSports efforts and companies fizzled out.

But again, the youth knew better, and now 100 million people a month watch eSports and that perception has changed.

Millions play and watch PC eSports such as Smite, despite initial scepticism.

Now there are negative perceptions around mobile gaming, because there are a ton of poor quality, exploitative, simplistic mobile games.

But the youth always knows better, and that will change as more core competitive games come to mobile.

It's not uncommon for established eSports like Smite to offer multi-million dollar tournament prizes. Can you ever foresee a future in which mobile eSports reach parity?

Mobile games will continue to evolve in terms of high skill curve and very large tournament prizing will follow.

There have already been very high dollar mobile tournaments in Asia, and that region has always been the leading indicator around competitive gaming.

Here in the US, I expect the events and spectator experience could be very different from PC. With PC and console now proven - and we participate in both - mobile is really the next frontier for eSports.

Any word on Google Play launch date?

We're working on version for Google Play, but no launch date yet.

Download Jetpack Fighter for free on the App Store.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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