The Charticle

The Charticle: Do console developers have the edge on mobile?

The Charticle: Do console developers have the edge on mobile?
Back at the end of November, UK indie Hogrocket revealed it had closed its doors, some 20 months after rising from the ashes of Bizarre Creations.

The studio comprised three Bizarre veterans who'd been left high and dry after the developer was shuttered by Activision. The trio came together to form a micro-studio, and Hogrocket was born.

But although the outfit had grand plans and excellent pedigree, it only managed to release one game before shutting up shop - and Hogrocket is by no means the only team of console pros that's struggled with the transition to mobile.

The firm's closure raises the question of just how transferable console development skills are when it comes to the mobile scene. Can old-hands find success in new markets?

In our latest weekly round up, we turned to the app charts for some answers.

The invasion

First of all, let's take a closer look at Hogrocket's first and only release, Tiny Invaders.

Launched in September 2011, the game received widespread press attention thanks to its developers' association with a dearly departed studio, and a certain amount of hype surrounded the game's launch.

However, this didn't translate into big bucks for the studio.

Perhaps it was the price. The game launched with a $3.99 price-tag, which was lowered to 99c and then raised to $1.99, all within two weeks of release. This arguably made Tiny Invaders a confusing value proposition for consumers.


Tiny Invaders

Whatever the reason, Tiny Invaders climbed to #94 in the US top paid games chart at launch, before quickly dropping out of the top 1,000.

A few weeks later, Tiny Invaders went free for a limited time. This saw the game peak at #47 in the rankings, before dropping out of the top 1,000 for good.

In the UK, Tiny Invaders fared a little better, but still failed to chart highly in the download rankings.

And whichever side of the pond you're looking from, Tiny Invaders' grossing charts performance is poor.


Tiny Invaders' performance on the UK App Store's top grossing charts between September and October 2011. It did not re-enter these charts. Analytics data courtesy of App Annie

Immediately after launch, the game slides down the charts, and within 20 days of its release, Tiny Invaders has fallen out of the top 1,000 grossing charts in the US and UK.

First time at the rodeo

So despite its hallowed lineage, Hogrocket couldn't make a sustainable business of its mobile development.

But the UK has been fertile ground for mobile start ups in recent years. Guildford-based Rodeo Games, for instance, bills itself as a group of veteran developers that "gave up their jobs developing triple A games to bring something new to mobile gaming."

The new thing in question turned out to be Hunters, an episodic turn-based RPG. Interestingly, Hunters: Episode One was free when it launched back in February 2011, and supported entirely by in-app purchases.

But in June 2012, Rodeo Games upped the game's price to $1.99, and has been using this 'feemium' model ever since.


Hunters: Episode One

A look at the game's performance on the grossing charts shows moderate success.

The game peaked at #108 in the US grossing games chart, and unlike Tiny Invaders, it shows some staying power, taking three months to fall out of the top 1000 grossing games rankings.
Hunters 2 launched in March 2012, priced at $4.99 and armed with an array of IAPs. The game peaked higher than its predecessor – reaching #78 in the US top grossing games chart – but slipped out of the top 1,000 slightly quicker.

Crash, bang, wallop

London-based indie developer Hutch - comprised of five former-console developers whose combined credits include Fable, Burnout and The Getaway - can also claim much success.

In January 2012, this team released Smash Cops – a driving game with a $2.99 price tag and in-app purchasing options. In the US, the game shot straight into #4 in the top grossing games chart.


Smash Cops' performance on the US App Store's top grossing charts. 

Predictably, the game's grossing chart performance began to slip after launch.

However, Hutch Games was able to manage this descent with some canny price cuts. For instance, once the game had dropped to #649 in the grossing charts, Hutch made Smash Cops free for a limited time.


Smash Cops

A spike in downloads followed, and these players soon began spending in game, bringing the game back up to #95 in the top grossing charts.

Just one more...

Of course, there is another mobile studio that emerged from the rubble of a well-regarded British racing-game developer – Boss Alien.

Formed by former-staff of Disney's Black Rock Studio, Boss Alien is a developer with superficial similarities to Hogrocket. But where some would say the latter has failed, Boss Alien has seen overwhelming success.
CSR Racing famously generated $12 million in revenue during its first month of availability, and the game has continued to draw in significant amounts ever since.

In fact, CSR hasn't left the US top 25 grossing games chart since launching in June 2012, and in the UK, the game's chart performance has been even stronger.


CSR Racing's impressive performance on the US App Store's top grossing charts.

So what did Boss Alien get right that these other companies haven't quite captured?

It seems that monetisation methods could well be key. Tiny Invaders was confusingly priced, and only able to drive significant downloads as a free title. Unfortunately, without IAPs, these downloads didn't help Hogrocket much.
Hunters and Smash Cops both include IAPs, which meant their developers benefited from free downloads. However, it was CSR Racing's sophisticated freemium model that delivered the most resounding success.

The takeaway

It stands to reason that console developers might struggle with monetisation. It's a very different beast on mobile and console, after all, while good game design tends to be more universal. 

And whereas console developers are typically divorced from the monetisation of their games, mobile titles typically require monetisation and game design to be developed hand-in-hand.


CSR Racing

But another interesting aspect of the console-mobile transition is how these console pros present themselves.

Some devs have argued that some 'veterans' have entered the mobile space armed with conviction that their experience developing console games would help them reinvent the rural backwater that is mobile gaming.

Whether this is a fair argument or not is entirely up for debate. So far, however, Boss Alien is perhaps the most successful studio of its type, and it's a developer that modified its approach to suit the successes already seen in the mobile field.

Rather than dismissing existing mobile games, Boss Alien looked to improve upon what had gone before, and has made an awful lot of money as a result.

Staff Writer

PocketGamer.biz's news editor 2012-2013

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BruceKwalee
But CSR racing was published by Natural Motion, who presumably had a lot to say in its success.
Self publishing is very risky on mobile. It is more difficult than making the game.
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