Development is at the core of every mobile game - there wouldn’t be a game without it - but in such a volatile time and landscape for the industry, how can a smaller mobile developer hope to grow? How are larger companies handling so many changes? And could there be a place for external development in mobile?
Matthieu Cheynut, Virtuos’ business development director for Europe, discussed these questions and more with us, sharing his insights from over 12 years in the games industry.
From roles in QA, localisation and business development at EA and Tencent, to associate art producer at Virtuos, and now as an integral part of the latter’s account management and business development, Cheynut has a wealth of knowledge to draw upon.
PocketGamer.biz: In the wake of recent industry shifts, such as layoffs, declining revenues and more, has Virtuos changed its approach to game development?
Matthieu Cheynut: The short answer is no. Every market goes through periods of highs and lows, and what the industry is experiencing now is nothing new. After almost two decades, Virtuos is still here and growing, and our recently launched studios in Dalat (Vietnam) and Warsaw (Poland) are a testament to this.
A key reason for our resilience is that we’ve always been relatively conservative. We are not hit-driven and have remained focused on our role as a co-developer supporting our partners with production and providing them with the flexibility in resourcing and solutions that they need to reduce costs and increase revenues.
This is made possible by having the best talent around to support our client partners, which is why we prioritise continual training and development of our people to provide them fulfilling careers.
This way, we also contribute to the sustainability of our industry as our partners can maintain fixed teams at a good size, and augment talent from Virtuos as required.
Are you anticipating new strategies from mobile developers in handling present and future changes in the industry?
Smartphone ownership worldwide is at an all-time high and mobile gaming is often the easiest first entry to gaming. Mobile is also a popular secondary gaming platform -0 Newzoo has found that 47% of players play on at least two platforms, with mobile being the most popular, then PC and console.
While mobile games have typically been created for a specific market or region, the walls are starting to come down. It’s likely we will see more mobile games developed for a global market and designed for universal appeal from day one.
We’ve also seen an increase in the scale of mobile games. Look at success stories such as Genshin Impact, CSR Racing, Call of Duty Mobile, and PUBG Mobile and you’ll see the line between mobile, PC, and console blurring. We are currently working on several mobile games with big production value that could have been released on consoles or the PC.
It’s likely we will see more mobile games developed for a global market and designed for universal appeal from day one.Matthieu Cheynut
Do you expect to see more conservative, low-cost projects from mobile game developers in the near future? When are production costs of bigger games worth the risk?
There will always be demand for, and hence, production of both small- and big-budget mobile games. While conventional wisdom has generally been that “the bigger the bet, the bigger the payoff”, games like Angry Birds became massively successful following Rovio’s initial investment of just €100,000.
More than cost, I think there’s something to be said about innovation and differentiation within a saturated market, from gameplay, visuals, the way it enables players to socialise with each other, to how it leverages next-gen phone features. In the case of Angry Birds, it leveraged a new generation of touchscreen phones to provide players with an intuitive and highly satisfying experience.
Among Us also comes to mind as a successful game that was developed with a rather small production budget. I think the fact that it is social and accessible—being free to play on mobile and available for a small one-time fee on PC and Switch—alongside its short playtime and straightforward gameplay mechanics have contributed to its global appeal. The game’s impact is amplified by the mass gathering of communities on Twitch and other streaming sites, resulting in user-generated content and revenue generation.
With bigger-budget games, we’ve observed that remakes of well-known IPs have hugely benefited game promotion and player acquisition, with existing fans forming a strong foundational player base. This is especially helpful in the case of multiplayer online games.
If you were a small developer, what would you do for growth in today’s landscape?
I’d focus on the idea of balancing innovation with cost-effectiveness.
In the mobile games market, it is essential to have the ability to create a lot of prototypes, test core ideas, and then filter out the ones with the best results.
Hence if I were to build a studio from the ground up today, I might hire a core and fixed team to make up 30% of my workforce. For the remaining 70%, I would look to external developers for three reasons.
First and foremost, we can ideate faster, make more prototypes, and hopefully find the one that we can scale. Secondly, a smaller fixed team means smaller overheads and a tighter internal culture. Lastly, leaning on an external developer gives me access to experienced talent and fresh ideas, as people from different backgrounds can bring colour and the required cultural or contextual sensibilities to a production.
In the mobile games market, it is essential to have the ability to create a lot of prototypes, test core ideas, and then filter out the ones with the best results.Matthieu Cheynut
Is there an untapped potential in external development? How can mobile developers best leverage the opportunity here?
For mobile developers looking to make bigger games for a global audience, it will be helpful to look to their peers in PC and console who are leveraging external development support. The benefit of engaging a co-developer such as Virtuos is that we can help reach the target quality faster and at a lower cost for the publisher by providing end-to-end services from concept to character or environment art, rigging, animation, and VFX.
At least in Virtuos’ case, we have a team of the world’s most talented designers who can help create content for game updates. Our engineers can support developers with optimisations, networking, matchmaking, and even a full adaptation of a mobile game to another platform, or the other way around - like we did in 2014 with XCOM: Enemy Within, adapting it from PC to iOS and Android.
That expertise is coupled with decades of experience working on over 1,500 games to identify bottlenecks and propose the most optimal workflows.
Because of this, our partners do not need to manage multiple service providers or fragmented development processes, and can focus on ideation and core gameplay systems while knowing that their vision will be brought to life.