Hogrocket is over, but mobile is still kicking it over console says studio co-founder

Collier on the dev's not-so-bizarre ending

Hogrocket is over, but mobile is still kicking it over console says studio co-founder
Given Hogrocket was set up by former Bizarre Creations men Peter Collier, Ben Ward and Stephen Cakebread - all cast adrift when Activision closed the Liverpool studio in 2011 - news the outfit had itself closed its doors drew much attention when it was announced in November.

Speaking exclusively to, however, Collier has revealed that Hogrocket – which was behind iOS release Tiny Invaders – had effectively been wound down months earlier, at the start of 2012.

In his own words, the press didn't pick up on it because he and his fellow co-founders "simply didn't make a song and dance out of it".

But now Hogrocket's adventure has now come to a close – Collier now at Playdemic – what did he learn from the experience, and how did he find the jump from console to mobile? We caught up with Collier for the inside track on Hogrocket's near two year run.

Pocket Gamer: What can you tell us about the decision to close Hogrocket?

Peter Collier: The decision was born out of necessity for mainly two reasons.

Firstly, Ben was moving down south, which meant working together would be impossible. Secondly financial - I was uncomfortable with the burn-rate through my savings. Tiny Invaders simply wasn't making enough to sustain the three of us.

Despite these crucial factors however, it was still an incredibly tough decision to close Hogrocket. We'd achieved a lot in a short space of time and I felt like I was abandoning it at a point where we had created opportunity for ourselves.

For that reason I felt frustrated, but I also felt relieved to chalk that chapter up to experience and move on.

It's been some time since the launch of Tiny Invaders of iOS. What did you get up to in the months after that?

We released a new level-pack for Tiny Invaders and a free version. We actually then ended all development at the beginning of 2012 - we just didn't want to make a song and a dance out of it!

The company has continued in a limited capacity for the benefit of Tiny Invaders, but 2012 has since been a year of moving on and applying what we learned at Hogrocket to our individual careers.

When we spoke to you back in September 2011, you said you found working on mobile as a more 'connected experience' compared to console. "It's also a joy to be involved in every aspect of getting the game to market, from a business perspective and a creative one," you added. Has your opinion changed since?

Absolutely not, I continue to enjoy the business side of game development as much as I do the creative side. In fact I'm passionate about that relationship between them.

This is exposed more on mobile and social, which is why it excites me more than day to day console development.

In general, how do you think Hogrocket was received by the mobile development community? Is it hard approaching it from a console background?

It was a blessing and a curse coming from the closure of a well-loved console developer like Bizarre.

An opinion seems to have pervaded that console developers swaggered into mobile development claiming to be the big boys knowing how 'proper' game development is done.

Now we garnered a bit of press attention with Hogrocket at the time, but seemingly by virtue of this, were accused of this swagger by some in the indie dev fraternity.

It couldn't have been further from the truth.

We had an interesting story - perhaps some sympathy - but primarily we just personified the shift occurring in the industry from the fractured console space into mobile. As the dynamic shifts and mobile dev leaves its role behind as younger brother to console it has thrown up some interesting insecurities and blind spots on both sides!

Everyone has to adapt. It's been fantastic and invaluable to experience it firsthand though.

You're now at social studio Playdemic. How has your work changed since the move?

At Playdemic I head up a game team working on a Facebook social title. A colleague recently described it to me as a bit like working on a magazine and it's a great analogy.

We release regular content updates and in the meantime we're always trying to work in new features to enhance the overall experience.

One of the key differences to past work is that it's very analytics driven. It's fascinating to see improvements in acquisition, retention or monetisation sometimes just from small changes. A lot of it's about the cumulative effect of lots of marginal gains.

I'm constantly being surprised and finding out new things about player behaviour, so I'm in my element!

In the original story about Hogrocket's closure, you described the studio as being as on "indefinite hiatus". Are you looking to revive the outfit at some point in the years to come?

It's just my way of saying closed, but never say never.

I think Hogrocket is a great name - it's sad to see it not used!

How would you describe your time at Hogrocket, and what advice would you give to any developers looking to make the console to mobile shift?

I would describe my time with Hogrocket as invaluable - the experience has opened so many doors to me that would otherwise not have been there.

I feel more rounded but also very humbled, which has been the biggest positive.

Advice wise, I'd say:

  • Don't be afraid to take time to do proper research on what works in the marketplace and why.

  • You're a business and you need to make money - ditch any sense of indie romanticism you have about making the perfect game. Leave your magnum opus to when you can bankroll it!

  • Making decisions is vital, don't endlessly debate, get on with it and learn through doing.

  • Be realistic about your own strengths and weaknesses and let your experts be experts!

  • If you're a team, for gods sake be in the same room together.

  • Get some humility - you'll be more wrong than you think about a lot of stuff!

  • Don't be afraid to go with a publisher. 50 percent of £100,000 is better than 100 percent of £10,000.

  • Be an interesting story and make it easy for people to tell it - it makes journalists' jobs easier and increases your chance of coverage.

  • Use every possible means to get yourself a contact at Apple, then talk to them. Give them easy, quick and visual information as to why they should promote your game and tell them what you're plans are for promoting it too.

  • Free is very powerful, but needs to be designed into the gameplay right from the start.

  • Don't be scared. Even if it all goes horribly wrong, you're much more employable having gone through the experience!

Thanks to Peter for his time.

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