Interview

Too many social games are anti-social, but we're going to change that

Too many social games are anti-social, but we're going to change that

When we first met Ewan Lamont - CEO of Nottingham-based studio Legendary Games - at G-Star in Korea earlier this month, the topic of conversation was HTML5 and its future role in the mobile games industry.

"We hope to be seen as pioneers," Lamont said of his studio, "and if not, well, we'll be the skeleton on the side of the road in the desert."

A closer inspecttion, however, suggests Legendary's approach to both HTML5 and social games makes it especially unlikely that it'll be relegated to bare, bleached bones any time soon.

We recently caught up with Lamont in a more formal interview to talk about what it takes to make a social game in the ever-shifting mobile landscape.

Pocket Gamer: Legendary Games set out to build games 'that are truly social' - do you feel that a game has to be built on HMTL5 to be truly social?

Ewan Lamont: A 'truly social' game doesn't necessarily have to be built in HTML5. It could be a board game, a card game or even something written on a piece of paper. It's the experience shared with friends that counts.

Too many social games are in many ways actually 'anti-social'; you play by yourself and then spam your friends for upgrades and enhancements.

At Legendary Games, we are experimenting with lots of different technologies for our games, but our main aim is to make sure that our users have the best possible gaming experience which they can share with their friends by being able to play on any device that can access the internet, and this is easier to do with HTML5.

Most social games on smartphones are free-to-play, so why not just develop native apps for Android and iOS?

Good question. The main appeal of using HTML5 is the ease of creating cross-platform games and the fact that players don't need to install anything to start playing.

It should stop us having to make the call on whether to focus on iOS or Android or Windows or Tizen or whatever... the theory is we just make the game once and hey there you go!

The reality is it is not that easy.

The chips in the devices are good but the native browsers embedded in the operating systems are often pretty poor: iOS has WebGL but hides it, and Android bizarrely doesn't use Chrome by default, but something that would make IE look positively groundbreaking!

Year 0

We are considering going native in the short term, and have done some native projects for other people, but HTML5 is still the promised land of the future.

As an early adopter we hope to be able to take advantage of the new technology when it finally reaches where it should be but we just have to make sure that we don't end up being a skeleton in the desert for everyone else who comes after us to point at on the way there!

What challenges do HTML5 games face in terms of monetisation and discovery? How does Legendary Games look to overcome these challenges?

Pretty much the same challenges as any other game, but there are a few specific issues that we need to overcome.

We have the advantage with discoverability that we can get our product on any platform and don't require players to download and install anything. That said we suffer from having to embed the code inside a native wrapper to get a presence on the mobile app stores.

As regards monetisation, we are still going through the angst that a lot of Western game creators are going through.

Freemium is clearly the future for web and mobile products, but for truly social games where you are playing with other gamers 'pay to win' game play can very easily negatively affect other people’s gaming experience.

We will have to work out how to do this as otherwise this leaves us with selling customisations and the old-style slot machine pay-to-play model.

What advantages does HTML5 offer to online strategy games over native apps built for iOS and Android devices?

Again, we come back to the cross-platform capability of creating an HTML5 games.

Once the game has been developed, it can be accessed from any internet enabled platform, so players can check their progress and take their moves wherever they are using whatever device they have at hand, be it their desktop PC or a mobile phone.

It means the game runs on iOS and Android, but also PC and Mac and Linux, Windows 8 tablets, even Kindles. So when a player gets an alert that they are under attack, they can respond immediately rather than having to go and fetch their phone or wait until they are back home in front of their PC.

As technology continues to advance, the number of internet enabled devices continues to grow. Do you plan to branch Legendary Games' offerings out to smart TVs and less traditional channels?

Yes, and on every device if possible!

Obviously smart TVs are still a relatively new concept so research will have to be carried out to discover if they are appropriate for the type of games we create, or if we can create games with a smart TV audience in mind.

We'll have to find our demographic to be able to effectively create games that are appropriate and enjoyable for a myriad of users.

This also depends on what the companies who make the smart TVs and what the service providers are looking for, what they will allow, and how they hope the future of gaming on smart TV looks.

Year 0, the latest from Legendary Games, just entered its open beta phase and can be accessed via this link.

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US Correspondent

Representing the former colonies, Matt keeps the Pocket Gamer news feed updated when sleepy Europeans are sleeping. As a frustrated journalist, diehard gamer and recovering MMO addict, this is pretty much his dream job.

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