From Puzzle Box to The Room: How Fireproof found its feet on mobile

Barry Meade on life after Burnout

From Puzzle Box to The Room: How Fireproof found its feet on mobile

"If you have a long term career, there is a moment when they stop being their explicit discipline and they start being game creators," opened Fireproof's Barry Meade during his talk at GDC Europe in Cologne.

"For us, we started realising when we were working on Burnout Paradise that we wanted to make games rather than just artwork."

Meade, whose firm is behind the multi-award winning and critically acclaimed The Room, had previously made his name working on games for console, with his time at Criterion causing him to work on multiple version of Burnout, culminating in Burnout Paradise.

His work on mobile, however, has been vastly different. The quality of the games has not dropped, but the size of the games and the time they take to make have both come down dramatically.

The new age

"It was actually the combination of Unity and mobile that allowed a company like us to make a video game – it really was the perfect storm of development," he continued.

"It was amazing that we could be on the same store as the bigger guys."

The Room, of course, is one of the bigger guys on iOS, though its modest foundations as initial concept game Puzzle Box were remarkably similar to the final game.

"With Puzzle Box, we wanted to see if we could recreate Chinese puzzle boxes," he continued. "This was our second demo, and we basically never stopped making it. We binned everything else and eight months later it became The Room.

"I really should stress, we literally made this game up – we never had any designs or anything. We'd come in one day, add things, play it, we literally made it up every day. I'm a real believer in that way of doing software, but it's very difficult to do that these days. We're all being told when to make a game, who to make it for, and so on."

The Room, as Puzzle Box later became, was in a playable state within six weeks, with Meade taking the game to Apple to showcase.

"For us this was a revelation," said Meade. "From Burnout Paradise that took two and a half years and people all over the world and God knows how many millions of dollars, this felt amazing – it really felt like something had changed.

We literally made The Room up – we never had any designs or anything.
Barry Meade

"This had never happened to me. To able to take something I was proud of after six weeks would never have happened on console."

The key

Meade, however, is unwilling to the suggest that Fireproof has in any way 'cracked the code' for success, noting that everyone does it differently.

"We develop as gamers mostly for gamers, and when we think about games themselves we think about what we want to play," said Meade of Fireproof's approach.

"The gamer community doesn't really respond to PR or marketing. We thought to ourselves, everyone I know buys games on word of mouth – this is how games work for us. Of course the biggest games have marketing that does work, but we wanted to come up with something novel that had a quality to it. So we made the game as small as small can be, and then we can polish what we had, and I have to say, it did work out for us."

It certainly did work out. One year on from release, The Room has more than 1.5 million users, with 350,000 user ratings with a 4.8/5 star average.

"I have to be very careful how we talk about this stuff because I understand everyone has a different take on how success is achieved, but we just believe there was a pool of gamers looking for good stuff, and if you make it available to them they will buy it."

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