Interview

Former Realtime Worlds man John Harrison on why new iOS project Bang Games offers greater connection with gamers

Former Realtime Worlds man John Harrison on why new iOS project Bang Games offers greater connection with gamers
As demonstrated when Anthony Gowland, formally of Rockstar, launched his new smartphone focused studio Mainly About Games, the attention of the press is always drawn when someone from console development makes a move on mobile.

It's a natural reaction to the industry-wide chip on the shoulder that affects scores of mobile studios: that somehow mobile games are inferior to their console or PC brethren.

According to Bang Games co-founder John Harrison – who, along with fellow founder Dave Lees, was jettisoned from Realtime Worlds when the Dundee-based studio imploded last September – the mobile gaming market is noticeably different to the business that exists on its bigger brothers.

But that's nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it comes with a sizeable body of advantages.

We caught up with Harrison to ask how working on the studio's first release Happy Face differed from delivering the worlds Realtime built.

PocketGamer: Both you and Lees have a history with console and PC development. What brought you to iOS?

John Harrison: For us, iOS is an exciting way of getting back into games.

For any developer, involvement in bigger projects, like those at Realtime for instance, can mean playing your part as a cog in a very large machine, and although this brings with it its own rewards, often you can become detached from where the fun is, from the game you are actually working on.

iOS development offers not only the opportunity to develop projects scaled and tailored to players we want to connect with, but also a clear and established route to market.

Did you consider it a business risk working on smartphones?

It's a very deep pool to jump into. We have looked across the board to decide how best to develop our business. The handset market is huge and accessible – and fits with game players expectations when it comes to smaller, casual gaming.

In the handset market, Android is extremely appealing, with so many new user registrations per day, but for the small developer it brings some issues with diversity of handsets and OS versions.

For now, the lowest risk for us, is our old friend Apple. The quality of the platform and the diversity of users make for the perfect springboard.

There's still a belief that console publishers are wary about the mobile market. Is there truth in this, or could you see more of them making a big move into mobile?

Well, I think recent marketing moves by EA and others show there is much to gain from a mobile presence. However, I do think handsets have their own market, and games need to be designed with this end user in mind.

Console games will always be huge, with perhaps mobile playing some part in that world.

What expectations do you have for Happy Face on the App Store?
Happy Face gave us our first chance as Bang Games to get close up and dirty with core gameplay. We hope folk find this a lot of fun, and that they connect with its simple 'points pushing' gameplay.

However, getting it in the hands of these players is the big issue. As you know, once your title drops off the front page of the Apple App Store, your exposure is very limited.

There are a great deal of excellent pay-for advertising opportunities, but again, for the small developer, advertising costs which are greater than development costs can hurt.

Our feeling is, with the experience of Happy Face and as we progress into further game development, we will become much more armed and have a better understanding of outlay and expected returns.

What tips would you offer studios looking to make some noise on the platform?

It’s all about the game. Make the best game you can, put it in front of people and listen to feedback. Build your business around your passion. Game making isn’t for anyone looking to get rich quick – but you can make people happy.

Free releases are becoming increasingly popular on iOS, and you've released Happy Face for free, so what's your thinking on this?

That's a tricky one. It's a tough decision to make, to release all your hard work - for free - and just hope players hit the advertising placed somewhere in your game.

 

We looked at this and imagined a game release graph with a 'hump' in it. The hump is getting your game under the noses of enough players – once you have achieved that, you may get enough word of mouth to perpetuate downloads. Now, how big is the hump, and did the plan work? Drop us a line in six months' time.

Are you sticking with iOS, or will you move to other platforms?

iOS has been good to us, and we are a loyal bunch. But if we can see a demand on other platforms, and there is a good store front, we will be there.
Thanks to John for his time.

You can find out more about Bang Games here or get Happy Face from the App Store [iTunes link]

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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