Global Game: Full Fat on why mobile is the perfect match for the Midlands
Finger flicking fun
Full Fat Games may have been one of the earliest examples of British success on the App Store, but the studio itself is no newcomer.
Indeed, the firm has a rich history of developing games in the UK Midlands, having been founded back in 1996 - its 20th anniversary looming large.
In all, Full Fat has served up more than 75 games to date, stretching across handheld platforms to its more recent exploits on iOS and Android. But it's not just the firm's focus – the studio initially working on mostly licensed titles for large publishers like EA – that has shifted in recent years.
Full Fat has also moved geographically.
The Codemasters connection
In the final part of our look at the mobile dev scene in the UK Midlands, creative director Ashley Routledge told us the company originally chose to set up amongst their peers in Leamington Spa, before moving out of town.
"Like many developers in the area, we had previously worked with Codemasters in the early nineties and made the Midlands our home, so it was a natural progression to stay here with friends and colleagues when Full Fat was created," saus Routledge.
"Full Fat originally started in Leamington in 1996 then moved to Coventry years later. We've recently moved to Warwick to a fantastic open plan office. All locations are within 20 minutes travel of each other, so it didn't really feel like moving too far from the Leamington Spa gaming community."
Routledge says Full Fat, like Peter Williamson's Supersonic and other small local studios, has benefitted from the talent pool created by Codemasters.
"I don't think it was a specific choice for many studios to locate here," he adds.
"The people starting the companies were already here. It goes back to the late eighties when Codemasters were a hub for many talented freelance developers to move to the area, then throughout the nineties undergoing dramatic expansion which brought hundreds of talented games developers to the region.
"Over time, some people decided to start their own companies. Many of the companies in the region are owned and run by ex-Codemasters developers – Full Fat, Blitz Games, Supersonic, Playground Games and Kwalee to name a few."
Strength in numbers
But does this mean the region needs Codemasters to guarantee future success?
"There are so many companies in the area now, some with a large numbers of employees, many small development companies and many start-ups that are expanding in the mobile market," he answers.
"Overall I think the area would continue to thrive even without Codemasters, but there's no doubt they are the biggest star in the cluster around the Leamington area. I sincerely hope we never have to find out."
The cluster in Leamington has expanded throughout other local towns and cities in recent years, reaching Warwick, Coventry and Birmingham. The larger game development region is bringing more stability for the individuals working in game development, according to Routledge.
"The benefits [of the cluster] are really to the developers working in the region, which in turn supports the companies here. Companies inevitably undergo times of growth and decline, so it gives everyone stability to stay in the region," he says.
"There aren't really any challenges presented as studios have their own strengths and generally specialise in a genre. Many developers and owners of the companies in the region know each other well – there's a good camaraderie amongst us all."
American Football: the British way
But while Full Fat may be fully settled in the Midlands, its comparatively more recent 'move' on mobile has paid off, with the studio enjoying huge success with original IP.
Flick Soccer hit top spot on the App Store in 12 countries, while Agent Dash reached number one in an impressive 31 different markets.
Going full circle, this success has attracted new interest and investment from big brands looking to capitalise on the success of apps.
Full Fat now has a great working relationship with America's National Football League, the NFL. A British developer creating an American Football game seems like an unusual combination, but the game was a huge success.
"The NFL actually approached us, having seen Flick Golf amongst others," reveals Routledge.
"They were keen for us to create an accessible arcade title to represent the huge NFL brand. We had already started planning a game based on American football, so it was perfect timing for us.
"I don't think the British/American separation made a difference, we wanted to focus on the most glamorous aspect of football – the Quarterback – and have a few members of staff who are big NFL fans, so bringing together a really fun game and the NFL brand worked well."
"All our NFL games have had great success in the US with overwhelmingly 5 star reviews on the App Store and Google Play. NFL Flick Quarterback was a huge success in the US, attaining Game of the Week, Benchmark Games and Intuitive Controls features from Apple.
"We have a new NFL game coming out early next year, NFL Quarterback 13, which is currently unannounced and we think the best in the series so far."
Spot the difference
Full Fat's success in the very early days of the iOS App Store has given it a platform upon which to attract continued interest from repeat customers, as well as creating lucrative brand relationships with the likes of the NFL.
Routledge says that spotting the difference between consoles and mobile, while working on both platforms at the same time, was the key.
"I think we saw what was happening to the games industry very early on, with the shift to mobile, and began developing mobile games on the iPhone at the end of 2009 while we were still creating traditional console games," he says.
"As the mobile market has grown, so has the scale of our development, with mobile currently representing all our game development across both iOS and Android on the App Store, Google Play, Amazon and Nook stores.
"The main factor leading to our first mobile hit was having talented games developers working at Full Fat and most importantly the ability to see the differences in the mobile market compared to the more hardcore games console market. This is the single biggest issue all developers switching to mobile will face."
Routledge says success on mobile starts with "doing our best to understand the market."
"Having a background in creating Nintendo games on Wii and DS meant we already had a lot of experience making games that appealed to a wide audience outside hardcore games," he claims.
"That definitely helped in making the transition to mobile. Our key focus has always been on simplicity with depth; games that can be played by any one, but have enough depth to appeal to gamers too. Having the right price, well timed promotions and embracing the freemium market has also helped lasting appeal."
Support British gaming
Despite the future looking bright for Full Fat, however, Routledge still believes more Government support is still needed if the industry in the Midlands – and the UK overall - is to continue to compete on the international stage.
"The games industry makes an enormous amount of money with lucrative investment opportunities and creates thousands of jobs across the UK, particularly in mobile and social gaming right now, but the cost of running studios here is astronomical compared to other parts of the world," he concludes.
"There has been a bit of an exodus in recent years with many big-name American and Japanese owned companies closing studios due to the high cost of operating in the UK, also talented British developers being tempted to work in the US and Canada where government tax incentives are already in place and driving the industry forward."
Routledge believes recent announcement of British tax incentives for the games industry are "promising", but the jury is still out on just how much it'll help.
"The UK has always been a home to innovation and talent, so start-up companies and resourceful individuals will always be there," he says.
"The big hope is that tax incentives would lure back some of the biggest video games companies to create large scale employment opportunities here as well as promoting growth in small studios."
You can read Full Fat's columns on the art of Agent Dash - part 1 and part 2 - here.
Meanwhile, part 1 of our look at the UK Midlands is here, with part 2 and part 3 here.
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