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10 years of Pocket Gamer: Distinctive's CEO Nigel Little on the journey from FIFA on Java to Rugby Nations on iOS

10 questions, 10 answers, 10 years
10 years of Pocket Gamer: Distinctive's CEO Nigel Little on the journey from FIFA on Java to Rugby Nations on iOS

As Pocket Gamer celebrates its tenth birthday this month, we're sharing the memories of those who have been in the mobile games industry for as long as we have.

That's back when the iPhone was but a futuristic fantasy, and the closest you could get to social mobile gaming was via WAP.

This time, we're talking to Distinctive Developments CEO Nigel Little.

Sheffield-based studio Distinctive was founded 21 years ago, and has spent 15 years of those focused on mobile. What were you doing in mobile/games 10 years ago?

Nigel Little: We'd been in mobile game development since 2001, as soon as Java entered the market.

By 2006, we were well-known for producing FIFA Football for Electronic Arts, and that was at the point where devices were getting just about good enough to produce a good version.

[Devices] progressed pretty quickly, and at this point they were actually getting quite good. It was an exciting time, as we could do far more with the games we were developing one or two years before.

But the range of devices was becoming a problem.

What was the hot mobile technology/hardware back then?

We produced a 3D Pool game, which was certainly one of the first proper 3D games on mobile phones at the time - for which we got BAFTA-nominated.

“There were a lot of phones coming out - manufacturers were just trying anything and everything.”
Nigel Little

Hardware-wise, there were a lot of phones coming out and manufacturers were just trying anything and everything.

I remember the Nokia N-Gage as one of the stranger devices… Nokia also did another device where the number keys were arranged in a circle. There were lots of strange experiments going on.

Can you remember any games you were playing?

We were always in awe of the guys at Sumea and some of the games that they produced, and they obviously went on to form Digital Chocolate, and some of them on to form Supercell.

We were always looking at Gameloft, too.

As competitors, we were also looking at Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer games for mobile and thinking, 'what are they adding this year? How does that match up to what we're doing?'

Did you always think mobile games could/would become the widest global gaming sector?

Absolutely. Back in 2000 - Distinctive's been around for 21 years - we realised pretty early on when the PlayStation 2 that we didn't have the resources to do anything significant on the platform. Team sizes were huge.

We looked for other opportunities, and there was a lot going on. There were online games, interactive TV was being talked about lots but not a lot of people were using it, and of course mobile phones.

When we first looked at it, it was all about WAP games - and they were absolutely terrible. But when we saw that programmable phones were on the horizon, that's when we jumped in with both feet.

We never looked back.

What do you think has been the most significant event in mobile gaming during the past 10 years?

You have to say the arrival of the iPhone and the App Store, I don't think anyone would say anything else really.

The original iPhone: a huge moment in mobile gaming
The original iPhone: a huge moment in mobile gaming

It was such a momentous occasion, and the quality of the games shifted by such a large amount so quickly.

“The quality of the games shifted by such a large amount so quickly.”
Nigel Little

What have been your favourite mobile games over the past 10 years?

We a play a lot of sports games - that's what we make, so that's what we tend to play. But I know a lot of guys in the office have been playing Hay Day for years.

My recent favourite is Crossy Road - just the charm of the game, its dip-in dip-out appeal. It's just really well-made, and hats off to the guys at Hipster Whale.

Looking to the future, what are you working on now?

One of our main games at the moment is our rugby game, Rugby Nations.

It does well, and Rugby is a sport that has been historically underserved, so we're going to keep going with that series on a roughly 18-month schedule.

We're also trying to take a more arcade look at some of the sports, with Patrick Kane's Arcade Hockey and Football Unleashed: Jamaal Charles. We want to look not just at simulations, but making sports more accessible and casual.

<em>Football Unleashed: Jamaal Charles</em>
Football Unleashed: Jamaal Charles

A big title for this year is a sequel to Downhill Xtreme, which is due towards the end of the summer.

More generally, what games are you looking forward to?

We will be looking forward to the games that get updated every year, like the next Madden or Top Eleven - so it's more updates [we look forward to] than new games.

How do you think the mobile games industry will change over the next 10 years?

“We took interest in VR, but are yet to be convinced that it's mass market.”
Nigel Little

On one level, mobile visuals are definitely reaching console grade, but in terms of gameplay they remain very different - and rightly so.

So I think that will evolve, visuals will get better and people will develop new kinds of gameplay that works on mobile, but it's going to be more about evolution now rather than a revolution.

We took interest in VR, but are yet to be convinced that it's a mass market proposition.

Finally, do you have a favorite Pocket Gamer memory you'd like to share?

In San Francisco, at the end of one of the Pocket Gamer parties, I remember walking down towards the OpenFeint party with [ editor-at-large] Jon Jordan.

We were a little bit worse for wear, and we stopped off for a kebab, but I remember talking with Jon about all things - from mobile games, to not so much mobile games.