Originally a strategy consultant, James Vaughan was a surprise entrant into the gaming industry due to the global success of his infectious mobile strategy game Plague Inc.
Developed as a hobby, Plague Inc. went viral, becoming the #1 paid iPhone and iPad game in a mere five days. It was one of the top mobile games of 2012 and 2013 with tens of millions of downloads.
James is British, lives in London, and has a degree in economics. Since the launch, he has quit his job and now works on Plague Inc. full-time - recently bringing it to PC.
He is currently having the time of his life!
Pocket Gamer: What were your favourite games as a kid?
James Vaughan: Theme Park, Civilisation 2, StarCraft, Age of Wonders 2, Supreme Commander and Half Life on the PC. Golden Eye, Perfect Dark, Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 on the N64!
When did you realise you wanted to make games as a career?
I didn't - it became a career by accident! I was originally a strategy consultant but within a few days of Plague Inc. launching, it was clear that this was a once-in-a-life-time opportunity.
I wanted to focus on the game but I didn't want to quit my job as I knew that mobile success was normally short lived. Luckily, the company I worked for let me take a leave of absence for a few months. At the end of that time Plague Inc. was still at the top of the charts so I decided it was probably safe to become a full-time game developer.
What was your first role in the industry? How did it turn out?
Heh, you could say that my first role is/was CEO, lead game designer, very junior programmer, customer support agent and general grunt - all at the same time.
I guess it turned out pretty well as we are having this conversation now! I made Plague Inc. as a hobby (helped by a few talented freelancers) over the course of a year and it was successful enough to allow me to work on games full-time.
It was also a tremendous amount of fun and it let me prove to myself that I could actually create something. I find that game designers and people in creative industries often take this creative aspect of their jobs for granted.
What do you consider your first significant success?
Plague Inc. It is also my only success to-date!
When did the potential for mobile games become apparent to you?
As soon as Plague Inc. launched.
I woke up one morning to find that the game had released overnight. Despite a completely silent launch and me not telling anyone in the world that it was releasing, it had already been downloaded around 500 times in just a few hours. I just couldn't believe it.
What do you think is the most significant event in mobile gaming to-date?
I'm not sure I'm the best person to analyse the overall mobile gaming market. The launch of the iPhone was obviously a big step.
I also think that letting games sell consumables had quite a large impact, although I'm not convinced it was a positive one overall.
To-date, what are you most proud of? Any regrets?
Making Plague Inc. has been one of the defining moments of my life and I am immensely proud of how it has been received by players all over the world.
A moment that sticks in my head is when I was at the London Olympics in 2012. I was amazed at how many people were rammed into the stadium but then I realised that even more people had paid for Plague Inc.. That was pretty humbling. That was only a month or so after launch though and two years down the line we have infected around 0.4 percent of the world!
Plague Inc. has infected around 0.4 percent of the world!
I'm lucky enough not to have any real regrets about how I've handled things currently, although I'm sure that will change at some point in the future.
Which mobile games have you most enjoyed recently?
Wayward Souls, Smash Hit, Out There, Castle Raid 2, SpaceTeam, Tiny Thief, Rymdkapsel, PWN, Empire, Outwitters, Bardbarian, Crabitron and Battle of the Bulge.
They are all very different but they are all clever, engaging and enjoyable games in their own way. I 100 percent recommend them to everyone.
What are your predictions for the new big development in mobile games?
No idea! This is the wonderful thing about the mobile industry - everything moves so fast and no one really knows what will happen next.
Hopefully people will make games that I enjoy playing
In which area of the industry do you hope to make a difference in future?
I want to keep making intelligent, sophisticated games which make people think.
There is a huge amount still to do with Plague Inc. and hopefully in the future, I can find the time to make new games as well.
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 PocketGamer.biz will be doing in its regular Hall of Fame interviews.
You can read our previous articles here.