Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame: Jason Citron

From Aurora Feint to OpenFeint and beyond

Hall of Fame: Jason Citron

Jason Citron is a lifelong game programmer turned serial entrepreneur.

In 2009, Citron co-founded the mobile social gaming network OpenFeint, growing it to 100 employees and 120 million users.

The company was sold to GREE in 2011 for $104 million. 

Most recently, Citron founded developer Hammer & Chisel, with the goal of being the first big core gaming company exclusively focused on tablets.

It raised $8.7 million in its Series A investment round. 

Its first release will be MOBA title Fates Forever.

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

Jason Citron: Final Fantasy 3 for the SNES (FF6) was my first encounter with an role-playing game and it completely changed my life. Some other highlights were Uniracers, GoldenEye, and Super Metroid.

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

Pretty young actually. I started coding QBasic games as a hobby when I was 13.

I made a text adventure in the world of Final Fantasy 7. It had animating circles for spell effects! I didn't know how to clear the screen so drawing moving circles created this really cool fill effect that looked like a laser beam.

What was your first role in the industry?

I started my first company in high school writing code for internet services in 1999; that was my first professional exposure to coding.

But I joined the games industry after university as a gameplay programmer. I made my way to Double Fine Productions as a tools engineer before leaving to start Aurora Feint /OpenFeint.

What do you consider your first significant success?

Haha well... if you count my High School adventures... making $500 in a weekend writing PHP for people halfway across the world.

I have a distinct memory of eating dinner with my parents and asking them how to deposit a check for $500. They got all worried because they thought I was getting into some bad stuff. You can imagine the look on their faces when I told them it was for coding.

Anyway, I think OpenFeint would have to be my only significant financial success. But it was a good one :-)

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

I bought the first generation iPhone shortly after Apple released it. After carrying it around for six months I knew it would make a great mobile game device since it had a beautiful touchscreen.

How it all started: Aurora Feint

Back then you could only get games on the web that were built using pretty slow HTML technology. So the day Apple announced they would be releasing an App Store I thought it was going to be a lot like a new console launch - They'd have 20 million or so devices that all of sudden could install apps.

I was in the process of working on a start-up idea for social networks (if you recall, this was shortly after the Facebook platform launched) and I canned that project. I downloaded the jailbroken development kit and started working on a game that eventually became Aurora Feint, which was available in the App Store the day it went live.

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

The Nintendo Game & Watch essentially invented the category, so that was a pretty big deal. Game Boy wins the prize for "most significant event in mobile gaming" for taking mobile video games from a super niche product to a fairly mass market thing.

But obviously the App Store gets the crown for knocking it out of the park.

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

I can't say I have any regrets about decisions I've made.

What we did with OpenFeint was pretty awesome: being part of building a company that employed 100 people; impacted 120 million players around the world; and successfully made its investors money was a great learning experience.

Which mobile games have you most enjoyed recently?

I've been playing a lot of our new game Fates Forever ;-)

What are your predictions for the future of mobile games?

I never like making predictions. If I make a specific, exciting sounding prediction then I'll probably be wrong. There are too many moving parts to stand up and say "This is going to happen!"

Coming next: Fates Forever

So instead I'll make a kind of boring one. I think that mobile gaming is going to mature and become more difficult for smaller studios to break into.

Much like it has always played out, in the next 10ish years there will be a new technology platform or distribution channel that hits critical mass causing the center of gravity to move from smartphones. It could be tablets. It could be wearables. Maybe it's something being dreamt up in laboratory somewhere.

All I know is that the future will be exciting!

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

Well, right now I'm putting a lot of energy into bringing high quality core games to tablets with my new company Hammer & Chisel. So I hope we are a positive force in legitimizing the platform for core gaming.

I expect hundreds of millions of people will get access to tablets over the next 5-10 years, who don't really use desktop PCs. I'd like there to be great game experiences, in terms what I grew up with - tailored and available for the next generation of gamers.

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 the people who helped make that journey possible - something PocketGamer.biz is doing in its regular Mobile Gaming Hall of Fame feature.

If you have a suggestion for someone you think should enter our Hall of Fame, please email jonathan [dot] morris [at] steelmedia [dot] co.uk

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.