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Distinctive MD Nigel Little on derisking the App Store gamble with sports games, Android, and non-game work for hire

Aims to get iOS projects ported to Android in a week
Distinctive MD Nigel Little on derisking the App Store gamble with sports games, Android, and non-game work for hire
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One of the original UK mobile game developers, Sheffield-based Distinctive Developments has been operating in the sweetspot of releasing original content, while also working for high profile clients such as EA Mobile, Konami and PopCap for nine years.

But as a medium sized company, how's it dealing with the challenges of making cross platform games, as well as all the different options when it comes to monetisation and discovery?

We caught up with MD Nigel Little to get his views on how Distinctive, and the industry, are changing, as well as the company's new logo.

PocketGamer: What's the deal with the new branding for Distinctive?

Nigel Little The friendly looking phone logo has served us well over the last eight years but the mobile games industry, and our role within it, has changed massively in the last two years so we need to reflect that in our branding.

The new logo represents the new direction for Distinctive and our goal to provide distinctive entertainment games and apps for mobile devices both directly to consumers and via our publishing partners.

How has the company changed during 2010?

This year has been an amazing rollercoaster ride. Java and Brew platforms have been our mainstay for many years but, like everyone, we've known for sometime that Java games is a shrinking market and that publishers would be switching their investment over to smartphone platforms.

At the same time we also saw that the big publishers were acquiring large internal development teams to support iOS development. We therefore knew that we either needed to shrink the company dramatically or we needed to find new revenue streams - and quickly.

The strategy has therefore been to find new business-to-business clients from outside the games industry, to work on apps, and at the same time grow our self publishing unit.

The target we set ourselves back in March was to cover half of our costs from self publishing. It's been a hard slog but we've more than achieved this and we're now growing the company again.

Distinctive hasn't released any freemium games yet, so what's your take on the sector?

We will definitely be releasing some freemium games in the near future. The freemium market will continue to grow quickly and we've been watching carefully to see what works and what doesn't.

What I would say is that to adopt the freemium model you have to design the game from the outset with the business model in mind. It's no good trying to bolt it on at the end. It also doesn't work well for certain kinds of games so we will continue to produce both paid games and freemium games.

Your original IP work remains focused on sports games. Why?

If you know anything about the games business on the App Store you know that most games fail to make a profit; I sometimes liken it to high stakes gambling!

Distinctive is a strong independent developer but, even so, smartphone game development is expensive so we couldn't afford many flops. We therefore needed a strategy that increased our chances of covering our costs to an acceptable level.

The solution was to look for any substantial niches that still existed. We found that some very popular sports were under represented. We knew that there would be an audience for high quality games that simulated these sports and that the sports fans would be less price sensitive than the average consumer. Our experience in making sports games is well know so it made sense on every level.

Cross platform development is clearly going to be a big deal in 2011, so what's your take on this?

We've been dealing with device and platform fragmentation for many years now so we're well prepared to take our games to multiple platforms. Indeed, every game we release on iOS is also released on Android and we've experimented with Palm and bada.

Android device sales are very strong and I believe that 2011 will see the monetisation of Android resolved, both via improvements in the Android Market and thirdparty stores and payment methods. Windows Phone 7 has a lot of ground to make up so we're keeping a watching brief on that.

Nokia - under its new boss - needs to quickly get its act together and create a smartphone platform that is technologically consistent, so that the development community can get behind it, as well as a platform that offers a great touch-based user experience. Hopefully, 2011 will see this.

So we've heavily invested, and will continue to invest, in the right tools and technology to enable us to support multiple platforms quickly and profitably. On average it takes us two weeks to go from a completed iOS game to a fully tested and completed Android game. Our aim is to reduce this down to under one week through better tooling and training.

What's your strategy when it comes to work for hire projects?

Our work for hire projects are hugely varied now in terms of timescales, platforms and type of project. We're not only making great games on smartphones but we have started producing some non-games apps for our clients.

The gamification of software is well documented so our experience is very valuable to app publishers looking to make their app sticky, enjoyable to use and stand out from the crowd. All of our app development has been done on a white label basis so I can't tell you which apps they are but, needless to say, they have been well received and successful.

At our core, we remain a games company but it's sometimes useful and interesting to look over the fence. We certainly have a lot to offer non-games app publishers and at the same time it offers us a fresh perspective on how we develop our games.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges and opportunities in 2011?

The biggest challenge will remain gaining the attention of your audience. There's a lot of noise out there. Our job is to continue to make distinctive games that stand out from the background noise and make sure the get the attention they deserve. The opportunity for 2011 is successfully monetising Android.

Thanks to Nigel for his time.

You can check out the newly spruced up Distinctive website here.