Studio Profile: Digital Legends Entertainment

The Spanish developer behind ONE and Kroll is riding high

Studio Profile: Digital Legends Entertainment

There's a new breed of mobile game developer making waves right now – they're the companies focusing on high-end games for N-Gage, iPhone and other smartphone platforms, as well as the higher spec 3D Java handsets.

Indeed, many of them have been part of Nokia's firstparty N-Gage program, including the likes of Jadestone, Red Lynx, Ideaworks3D and Infinite Dreams.

You can add Digital Legends Entertainment to that list too – the Spanish firm made ONE for the original N-Gage, and is remaking it for the new N-Gage platform.

The company began as a PC/console focused developer in 2001, working on projects including an MMO for NCSoft called Soccer Fury, which blended football, fighting and micropayments in a way that was just a bit ahead of its time in Europe.

That was when the Nokia link happened, with the development of 3D beat-'em-up ONE. "We liked the challenge," says CEO Xavier Carillo Costa. "It was risky, but what did we have to lose? We got visibility and expertise, and we really believed in mobile."

Unfortunately, ONE was launched in the dying days of the original N-Gage, although it did garner critical acclaim from media who were otherwise unimpressed by Nokia's gaming handset.

A revamped version, complete with easier controls and less hardcore gameplay, is due to be released soon for the new N-Gage platform, and like many of his peers, Carillo Costa has warm words for Nokia.

"They're the ones really taking the risks in mobile games, and even through the hard times they were still kicking with the ideas," he says. "They've learned and they've adapted, and you know how difficult it is to launch any new platform. It's been a very interesting and positive experience for us."

However, Digital Legends is spreading its wings wider than N-Gage. Its Kroll fantasy game was one of the big hits at Apple's WWDC show earlier this year, when its iPhone version was shown off during Steve Jobs' keynote speech.

Is there a conflict developing for both platforms? Carillo Costa thinks not. "We do not belong to Nokia, and as a company we need to grow, so if there's an opportunity, we need to be there," he says.

"We feel very committed to the N-Gage, but developing for the iPhone is not losing commitment. The two platforms are pointing in the same direction. In fact, you could say it's important for Nokia to have Apple there as a competitor. You need to have competition, and you need to have strong developers working across all the platforms."
Kroll has been a huge PR booster for Digital Legends, not least because it was a big hit with the significant online community of Apple-related blogs and forums. Although due out soon, Carillo Costa can't say much about the game – another sign of Apple's baffling desire to keep the lid on iPhone games until they're released.

However, he is adamant that the game won't just be a PC-style title shoehorned onto iPhone, but will instead be designed around the handset's touch and tilt interface. "We have learned not to take a PC game and throw it onto mobile," he says. "For iPhone, not having buttons to press means you have to take certain [design] decisions in any case."

Digital Legends has two more projects underway, hopefully for pre-Christmas releases, so the company is certainly busy. The company plans to look beyond iPhone and N-Gage, too, with Carillo Costa citing Windows Mobile, Linux, Series 60 and BREW platforms as full of potential.

He also thinks more PC/console developers will follow Digital Legends' path onto mobile. "For me, it's just a question of time," he says.

"When you see what's happening in the traditional games industry, next-generation projects mean huge teams and huge risks, so publishers are concentrating the risk on a few developers. So developers are moving to Wii, DS, and I think the next step will be for them to move to mobile."

What about companies moving the other way, from mobile to console, DS/PSP and PC? Many are trying, but Digital Legends actually axed its PC/console activities last year.

"We may get back into PC gaming as the size of laptops continues to get smaller and smaller," he says. "But right now we want to focus on something: mobile. However, we may be interested in the next iteration of DS, which will be more in line with what we're doing now on mobile. At the moment, if we want to take our games to DS, we have to scale them down!"

Business-wise, Digital Legends plans to use a mixture of first-party deals (with Nokia), self-publishing (Kroll on the App Store), and hopes to announce a couple of third-party deals with publishers by the end of the year, too.

Contributing Editor

Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)


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