Mobile rarely feels like the ideal platform for a shooting game.
But understandably, the prospect of combining a genre that rakes in billions of dollars on PC and console with the world's most mainstream and accessible platform has remained a tantalising one for developers.
But while it can't lay claim to such a well-known IP, Canandian developer Hothead Games has been working in the FPS genre on mobile for much longer.
It launched Kill Shot, the first entry in its own flagship series, back in 2014. Kill Shot Bravo then followed in 2015, and to date the franchise has hit a combined total of more than 75 million downloads.
Lost in translation
Its next release, Kill Shot Virus, is set to put a zombie spin on the series when it launches on May 11th, 2017.
As such, PocketGamer.biz reached out to Hothead Co-Founder and Director of Development Vlad Ceraldi to learn more about the company's ambitions in the space and the current state of play for mobile shooters.
The first question is an obvious one: why has the success of the shooter genre on mobile thus far paled in comparison to its dominant position on PC and console? For Ceraldi, execution is the key.
Most mobile shooters have failed to translate what makes a great console shooter.Vlad Ceraldi
“I'd start with what makes a great console shooter,” he says. “I believe you need great controls, heart-pounding action… then you need amazing graphics and technology that's going to wow you.
“I believe that our shooters have accomplished these elements, and continue to improve and develop over time. When we look at why a lot of them have sucked, most mobile shooters have failed to translate those components properly.”
Indeed, Ceraldi explains that it's not enough for mobile shooters to be “shrunken-down port cousins” of their console counterparts.
Many, he says, fail to build a control scheme that works on touchscreen or to accommodate for mobile play patterns.
“They fail to cater to the challenges and strengths of what mobile can offer, while also failing to bring across console quality that is accessible to a broad range of mobile gamers,” he states.
Learning from experience
Ceraldi believes that Hothead's games benefit from its four years' experience making shooters for mobile, particularly in terms of the control system which has been developed and honed over time.
Another area in which the firm is keen to iterate is the balance between game modes that demand intense, lengthy play sessions and those that fit more easily into an average player's daily life.
Hothead has toyed with a number of approaches over the years, including 2013's Rivals at War which pushed metagame to the forefront and focused on recruiting and upgrading a team before simply watching battles unfold.
Now, it's keen to bring the gameplay and the metagame in one package.
“It's not a one-size-fits-all situation,” considers Ceraldi. “It's an expanding market of many different game styles and gamers' expectations.
“I might not want to go into a PvP match because I'm on a train or I'm busy, but I might want to check in and tweak something.
“If you look at Bravo and how it's changed over the years, it's a quite deep experience with a variety of different gameplay modes that we offer - and Virus is expanding on that.”
Inevitably tied up in any discussion around metagame, and indeed the shooter genre on mobile, is monetisation.
Ceraldi believes that existing F2P mobile shooters are held back by their “immature economies”, and this is one of the areas that Hothead is actively working on.
This year we'll have announcements besides Kill Shot Virus, and they'll be new ideas that we bring to bear.Vlad Ceraldi
“This year we'll have other announcements besides Virus, and they'll be new ideas that we bring to bear," he reveals. "Not only around gameplay and technology, but also monetisation and the overall economies of these games.
“It's definitely been a limitation so far for the space. Some of the economy designs that you see in the top grossing titles aren't necessarily a natural fit.”
He adds that coming up with solutions that work in this regard will not only help Hothead to fund long-running titles and develop new features, but also make for better games overall.
“Economies aren't necessarily a negative thing,” he argues.
“Economies can actually be fun. The gamer might not think of them in that way, but these different systems are fun to interact with on a daily basis if done right - and that's outside of the core shooting experience.”
At the same time, Hothead's continued commitment to slick FPS gameplay is borne of its belief that as the power of mobile devices increases, more of the traditional 'core' demographic will make it their primary platform.
And the spoils are big for the company that appeals best to this group.
“Mobile is going to be become more and more core as a gaming device,” says Ceraldi. “It's not ancillary, it's not secondary, it's going to be more and more where most people's time is spent.
“We believe that you will see a top 10 grossing shooter title in the next few years, and it will be a Hothead game.”