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Hall of Fame: Xavier Carrillo-Costa

Digital Legends CEO on the push for console quality
Hall of Fame: Xavier Carrillo-Costa
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Xavier Carrillo-Costa has over 16 years of experience in the video game industry, during which time he's held the positions of executive producer, development director and producer.

The CEO and founder of Spanish developer Digital Legends, Carrillo-Costa has worked with companies such as Adidas (miCoach apps), Disney (Split Second), Electronic Arts (Battlefield Bad Company 2), Nokia (ONE and Dance Fabulous), Universal and the Bruce Lee Estate (Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior), as well as hardware companies such as Sony, Apple and Samsung.

Its most recent partnership was with Zynga, which released Digital Legends' IP The Respawnables.

He also regularly participates as a speaker at industry conferences such as WWDC, Mobile World Congress, Mobile Games Forum, GDC Europe, Nordic Games, Fundación Telefónica, Spain Startup Investors Summit and GameLab Barcelona.

He is one of the initiators and founders and vice president of the Spanish Association of Game Developers (DEV) and Catalan Association of Game Developers (DEVICAT).

Pocket Gamer: What were your favourite games as a kid?

Xavier Carrillo-Costa: I started very early to play games on an Apple IIe and I remember two of them - Conan: Hall of Volta and a precursor of Wolfenstein called Castle Wolfenstein.

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

It was not something I knew I wanted to do but more a revelation that happened after my first internship in the games industry.

What was your first role in the industry?

I started on part-time summer internship with Rebel Act Studios when still at the university.

It was developing hack-and-slash title Severance: Blade of Darkness (aka Blade: The Edge of Darkness) for Codemasters. The project was started by a group of friends - very talented people - but with no previous experience in the industry.

It grew organically and each department - art, coding, etc - was developing their part independently until the project reached a point where nobody had a global vision of where it was going, and more importantly, a plan to convert it into a shippable product.

My role was to talk to everybody in the company, get a vision of the project status and draft a plan to bring it to market.

After that summer I was the person with the most knowledge across the project and so was offered a full-time job as the de facto producer. The game was shipped successfully and it received several industry awards and made many magazine front covers. It was an amazing team.

What do you consider your first significant success?

I have several first significant successes; each of them in different areas

Severance was my first title and success on PC. Later with Digital Legends, ONE on the N-Gage pushed the limit of what was possible with software rendering on a phone.

When the iPhone came along. I was onstage during a Steve Jobs' keynote to demo Kroll and when we launched Battlefield Bad Company 2 with EA. Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior was a launch title for iPad, and more recently, Respawnables was our first free-to-play, gaining over 6.5 million downloads.

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

We realized the potential of mobile game with Nokia and the N-Gage team. They had the right vision but they were too early and were missing an iTunes-style store.

That vision turned into reality when Apple launched the iPhone 3G.

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

N-Gage was a precursor, but the key milestone is definitively Apple launching of the iPhone 3G, and then the iPad

To-date, what are you most proud of? Any regrets?

I am proud of approaching mobile as a console even before Apple revealed the iPhone and continuing to bet on quality as a differentiator in our products… and, of course, presenting at a Steve Job's keynote.

I have many regrets; the most important is not having updated Kroll (and releasing a Kroll 2). It could have been the iPhone 3G's Infinity Blade.

Which mobile games have you most enjoyed recently?

I have to start with the latest game developed by Digital Legends - The Respawnables. I have been enjoying playing it since we launched in December 2012. Our team is doing an amazing job polishing the gameplay and generating more levels and great content. It's getting better and better and we are happy to see that 200,000 players are enjoying it on a daily basis.

Real Racing 3: First of all, I have a lot of respect for the team(s) behind it (Firemint and Ironmonkey). They have an impressive track record and consistently bet on the quality of their games. With Real Racing 3 they've hit a milestone for the mobile industry in pushing the limits of visuals while also innovating in gameplay and successfully integrating the free-to-play model. They're clearly validating an area that will grow as console players migrate to mobile.

Injustice: Gods Among Us: The team at Netherrealm has made the perfect hybridization between a card game and a fighting game. It's a great IP, which is well integrated into the game, with amazing 2D and 3D graphics, and is also fun to play.

I have a special relationship with GungHo Online as we worked with them for the Japanese version of Kroll (called Toryu Legend of Kroll) several years before they released Puzzle & Dragons. Puzzle & Dragons is great because it reveals the magic of the mobile space whereby a small team can find the right game for the right audience at the right time, have a massive hit, and become one of the most valuable games companies in the world.

What are your predictions for the future of mobile games?

My personal view is that the mobile games industry has reached a point where players are asking for higher production values and more depth, even in the casual space.

A good example are the endless runners. It's interesting to see the evolution between the original Temple Run and now games like Despicable Me: Minions Rush, Subway Surfer or Running With Friends. We can also see it with card games and their evolution into hybrids such as Injustice and Puzzle & Dragons.

But probably the area where I expect the bigger growth and development is the space between casual and hardcore that will see games with high production values and depth of gameplay but with accessible controls; games that will also look great when on a big TV screen.

We can consider Infinity Blade or Real Racing the precursors of this space - perhaps it's a world without consoles?

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

In all other platforms you always find a title that dominates the shooter genre. This hasn't happened in mobile, yet. This is where I'd hope to make a different - either building on The Respawnables or with a new IP.

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 will be doing in its regular Mobile Gaming Hall of Fame feature.

You can read our previous articles here.