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Hall of Fame: From Amiga to mobile with Future Games of London's Ian Harper

The studio's MD on dreaming of development and making it a reality
Hall of Fame: From Amiga to mobile with Future Games of London's Ian Harper
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Ian Harper has been working in the games industry for the past 16 years.

It all started with a brief stint at Codemasters. He then moved to Elixir Studios and Shadow Light Games, which became Future Games of London in 2009.

After serving as commercial and development director, Harper was named MD in 2011.

The studio has had huge success with its flagship franchise: acrade game series Hungry Shark.

The IP's popularity - it's been downloaded 250 million times - and the studio's talent was enough to convince Ubisoft to acquire the company in October 2013.

Future Games of London released Hungry Shark World in early 2016, and quickly caught the appetite of consumers to rack up ten million downloads in six days.

But Harper and his team aren't stopping there, and more is set to come from the talented studio.

And if you're interested in job opportunities at the studio, read our recent HR interview What were your favourite games as a kid?

Ian Harper: I grew up playing games on the Amiga 500, along with board games like Space Marine.

My favourite Amiga games:

  • Another World
  • Cannon Fodder
  • Megalomania - Do you want to be on my team?
  • Speedball 2 “icecream”
  • Sensible Soccer
  • Stunt Car Racer - networked!

Later, when I got a PC, I got pretty into FPSs like:

  • Quake
  • Unreal Tournament
  • Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
  • Dungeon Keeper

When did you realise you wanted to make games as a career?

I think I was about nine years old when I started programming simple games, and by my teen years I was pretty sure I wanted to make games for a career.

My first role was as a graphics programmer. Unfortunately, I was made redundant after six months.

I was trying to sell my own homemade Amiga games on 3.5” disks at school by 14, and dreamed of being on the front cover of Amiga Format, where you could win £3,000 if they put your game on the cover disk.

I think Worms was discovered this way about this time.

What was your first role in the industry? How did that turn out?

My first role was as a graphics programmer on PC and Xbox games for Codemasters on Colin McRae Rally 2.

How did that turn out? Not well. Unfortunately, I was made redundant after six months.

When did the potential for mobile games become apparent to you?

In 2003, while walking down a street in Camden. A street cleaner answered his Nokia.

The weekend before I had just purchased a Sony Ericsson T610, specifically for the reason it could be programmed by connecting it to a home PC. It had a colour 128x128 pixel screen!

That was when gaming on mobile became a viable prospect for me. I could see that mobile phones were quickly approaching the capability of the Amiga and the games that I loved as a teenager.

What do you consider your first significant success?

Pinball Legends: Reactor (2006).

It was the first mobile game we made without a licence. We were really proud of how fast we got the game to run, and the quality of the graphics and physics.


The sales were terrible, but that wasn’t the point. It proved to us that we could create high frame-rate arcade games on mobile.

The entire game, including graphics and music was 169kb, and ran at 240x320 pixels. I can only find any evidence of its existence on pirate sites now, and this really old article!

Ten years is a long time in mobile.

What do you think is the most significant event in mobile gaming to-date?

Clearly the launch of the Apple App Store in 2008, enabling developers to sell directly to consumers in a worldwide market.

It created so many opportunities for a mobile developer that didn’t exist before that.

What are you most proud of? Any regrets?

Mobile is the biggest software market ever to exist, and it will be at the centre of the computing ecosystem for a long time.

We’re proud of the large number of people who have played / are playing our games.

Over a quarter of a billion people have played Hungry Shark games.

We have two to three million people playing every day. It’s genuinely humbling.

Which mobile games have you most enjoyed recently and why?

All-time favourites would be WindRunner (WeMade) for its fast arcade running action and RPG elements.

Flight Control (Firemint) for some real-time puzzle fun, and The Room (Fireproof Games) for its atmosphere and intriguing physical puzzles.

More recently, I’ve been really enjoying Human Resource Machine (2D Boy). As a programmer it’s hard not to like.

What are your predictions for the future of mobile games?

My prediction would be that VR is going to be huge much sooner than people expect, and especially on mobile.

I think mobile presents a very exciting platform for VR.

Google has done a great job of beginning the market with Cardboard and now Daydream, and Samsung with Gear VR.

I predict that once people are hooked on VR, they will want a more comfortable and fashionable experience, and will be prepared to buy a standalone display to achieve that.

I think we’ll see some lightweight VR glasses soon (i.e. just a screen plus sensors, maybe some battery in the legs) that connect to your phone via a USB-C or similar cable.


I also think it’s likely that VR glasses will be available with prescription lenses.

In any case, it’s going to be fun to watch how mobile VR develops over the next few years, and if VR starts getting a lot of users, that is likely to have a big impact on games.

In which area of the industry do you hope to make a difference in future?

I’m firmly in the mobile camp.

It’s the biggest software market ever to exist, and it will be at the centre of the computing ecosystem for a long time.

The hardware is growing in performance quickly as are the numbers of people acquiring smartphones for the first time.

Smartphones are expected to go from two billion in use today to six billion by 2020 - that’s an incredible opportunity to reach pretty much everyone.

Will Google's Daydream kickstart mobile VR?
Will Google's Daydream kickstart mobile VR?

In terms of our brands, I think Hungry Shark has a lot of further growth ahead of it.

We’ve been working on Hungry Shark animations and we hope to bring those to a big audience in the future.

Starting out in simple monochrome in the days of Snake and WAP, the past decade has seen the mobile games industry kaleidoscope into a glorious, multi-billion dollar sector that's driving global innovation.

So it's high time we celebrate some of the people who helped make that journey possible - something is doing in its regular Mobile Gaming Hall of Fame feature.

You can read our previous Hall of Fame articles here.