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10 years of Pocket Gamer: Thomas Nielsen on the rise of a game console in every pocket

From Sola Rola to HTML5 slots
10 years of Pocket Gamer: Thomas Nielsen on the rise of a game console in every pocket

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.

In this article, we talk to Thomas Nielsen. Starting out with veteran mobile developer Progressive Media, he now works for Magnet Gaming in the real-money gambling sector. What were you doing in mobile/games 10 years ago?

Thomas Nielsen: 10 years ago my mobile studio had survived its first 12 months, we had just had our first J2ME title The Munsters Pinball reviewed by Pocket Gamer, and we were starting up on our second title for InFusio, WallBreaker 2.

Like any other startup, we were going through massive amounts of pizza and burning the midnight oil.

What was the hot mobile technology/hardware back then?

J2ME had established itself as the preferred technology for games. It wasn't the best, far from it, but it was what the carriers and handset manufacturers were the most happy with, so we went along.

I feel like I have made a lot of wrong predictions about gaming, but I never had any doubts about mobile.

Something we thought was hot was a UK company called Alphamosaic, which made a mobile video chip with 3D acceleration. We signed with them to do a 3D prototype game, demonstrating the powers of the chip. It was a whole lot of fun, and was a big sign of things to come..

Can you remember any games you were playing?

I was making sure to play anything Mr Goodliving did. I was probably playing GTA and Lumines as well.

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

I feel like I have made a lot of wrong predictions about gaming, but I never had any doubts about mobile.

The best way to get people to play is to give them a free gaming console. Mobile phones was, and to a large extent, still is just that.

People invest in a communication device, but get a gaming device on top of that. When my mom started carrying around a gaming device, that's when I knew things would take off.

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

Undoubtedly the launch of the iPhone.

I had very little faith in what Apple had coming, but as soon as you saw it - and more specifically, the App Store, you immediately understood how big of a leap this was compared to anything Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, LG, and all the mobile carriers, had on offer.

I have always wondered how so many major players in the industry managed their position so horribly that Apple could swoop in and disrupt everything.

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

My favorite mobile title will always be Sola Rola, because it was a great game to work on, fun to play, and always made me proud to show around.


Where's My Water? is one of the games I've spent most time on, and most wished I had made.

Monument Valley is also great. Very short, but a perfect experience.

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

Today I have move away a little from the app stores to focus on real-money gaming.

I was making sure to play anything Mr Goodliving did.

I am heading up business development in Magnet Gaming, a new company that develops and publishes HTML5 online slot machine.

That's an interesting industry because a lot of the learnings from "traditional" mobile games on production quality, polish, depth of gameplay and monetization are now being applied here, and it's great to see how that raises the quality and opens up the market.

More generally, what games are you looking forward to?

The next Zelda for Wii (or wherever it's coming).

Mobile? Whatever Nintendo does, I'll need to check out. Other than that I like to be surprised with what's going live on the App Store rather than ready too many previews.

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

I think we'll see a lot more of the same:

  • Few studios with insane success,
  • Big titles with huge marketing spend attracting millions of daily players.
  • And a larger amount of lesser, but still sensibly, successful developers that explore various genres and niches.

Game developers, and mobile developers especially, have finally succeeded in reaching a point where games can be run as a service, which is great for scaling and predictability.

I'm not much of a believer in VR, but I do think it's the one development that has the potential to really create a new range of content.

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

I've always enjoyed running into Chris James and Stuart Dredge.

And then it has always been amazing to wait for that new review of your game to turn up on Pocket Gamer.