Interview

'Focus on the games, don't be a slave to technology,' reckons FinBlade's founder

'Focus on the games, don't be a slave to technology,' reckons FinBlade's founder
Few people know more about the mobile game business than John Chasey. A co-founder of IOMO, one of the first UK studios, he managed its buy-out by US outfit Infospace during the initial wave of publisher/developer consolidation for a cool $15 million in December 2004. But as is the way of the consolidation boom-bust, a couple of years later Infospace decided to get out of the mobile games business – its main focus was mobile search – leaving Chasey to start up his latest game studio, FinBlade.

It's certainly hit the ground running, having already released the likes of Tomb Raider: Anniversary and Pub Darts 180, which revisited an old IOMO favourite, Pub Darts. Future announced projects for the studio include games for the Zeemote controller, BMW Racing and Total Film Quiz for Hands-On, as well as original title Zombie Pest Control.

So what better time to catch up with the man we're calling the youngest veteran of mobile gaming?

Pocket Gamer: It's good to see you back, but why aren't you sipping pina coladas like all those other 'I sold my company' chaps?

John Chasey: Life is all about opportunities; when they come along you have to grab them. So when Infospace decided to exit the mobile space and the great team, office and equipment were all sat there, that was an opportunity that had to be grabbed and something done with it.

How do you think the industry's changed since your IOMO days?

Probably the single biggest difference is that as IOMO we had carriers approaching us, knowing we were the developer behind some of the biggest games on the market and actively encouraged us to sign direct deals with them. There was a blurring of the publisher/developer roles and many companies were both.

That part of the landscape has changed totally. FinBlade is very much a developer with all content being sold through publisher partners.

You're working closely with Zeemote and its neat JS1 Bluetooth mobile controller. Why did you get involved?

The technology in a mobile phone continues to increase at an amazing pace. Every element of it improves – screen resolution, processor speed, memory – all except one thing. We still have a tiny keypad designed for entering phone numbers rather than playing games.

When we first saw the Zeemote we felt this was something that could really improve the mobile experience. We're adding support as a matter of course in all our titles, but until a Zeemote ships with every handset we're also making sure the game is playable and fun on a standard handset.

We were a bit surprised you decided to remake the old IOMO Pub Darts games as Pub Darts 180. Isn't it best to leave the past behind and move on?

Well, back in the IOMO days there were actually some clones of Pub Pool and Pub Darts not developed by us, but called Pub Pool 2, for instance. So we wanted to make clear that while the attitude and playability of the original was there, this was definitely something new! We've had some great reviews and the game has been topping the charts on carriers like 3 UK, so it appears the market agrees with us.

And on a similar tact, was Tomb Raider: Anniversary designed to be so hard or are our gaming powers starting to wane?

Learning curve is always tough to get right. I think we may have made it a bit steep. Persevere, however, and you'll definitely get your money's worth with the game. Besides we didn't want to get slated like The Simpsons if we made it too easy and quick to complete.

You seem to be doing a lot of work-for-hire at the moment. Do you have any original games you can talk about?

A balanced portfolio is essential for a developer or a publisher. Work for hire pays today's bills, but along the way you look to create something that could pay off long-term. We're already hard at work on this and have a teaser trailer for our first game in what we hope will be a long term franchise up on YouTube. Just do a search for 'Zombie Pest Control'.

Having experienced publisher/developer consolidation at first hand, are you worried that the oft rumoured publisher consolidation is going to make difficult for developers like FinBlade, especially as you're not currently working with any of 'The Big Three'?

Who said we weren't? Sure, there's plenty of consolidation in the traditional operator deck publishers, but I predict we will see an explosion of off-deck content and when that occurs it's more of an internet model where having a deal with a particular operator is no longer such an advantage.

And on the developer side, there seems to be a lot of talk about branching out from mobile into casual and console downloads. What's your view on that?

I think the whole of the mobile industry has to branch out to a degree. Rather than constraining ourselves by the technology the game runs on, we should look at the wider picture of the games we are developing. If that game content works on other platforms then we should deliver it there. It should be about making the best content and exploiting it in all suitable channels rather than being a slave to the technology.

Finally, as you're working on the Total Film Quiz, do you worry you're living in Groundhog Day so some publisher will buy FinBlade and then eventually you'll end up having to start another studio, and so on?

Well, day-to-day, life for the studio was pretty much the same when Infospace bought IOMO. The guys were still developing games, just for our parent company rather than a third-party. A focus on excellence in development has always been a focus for the studio – whatever the name on the door. And anyhow, my favourite film is Shaun of the Dead.

Our thanks to John for his time.
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.

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