It’s the end of our fourth week back at university and today included another industry speaker; this time we had the wonderful Mark Craig from Lucid Games. First, a little bit of history of the company as some people may not be aware of them. Back in 2010 Activision made the decision to close Bizarre Studios over in Liverpool, who were the studio behind some of the more well-known racing games such as Blur and PGR. A large number of the team from Bizarre decided to go forward and create their own studio – and so Lucid Games was formed in early 2011, still based in Liverpool (and residing in a rather swanky converted mill I must say). Mark’s role within the team is as the programming director, and the company now mainly focus on games for IOS and Android. Mark himself has previously developed for the mobile gaming market, with the release of Fur Fighters in June 2012 for IOS.
Fur Fighters was released for both IPhone and IPad in June 2012
As well as being the programming director at Lucid Games, Mark also plays a major role in the recruitment of new staff. He went into great detail in discussing ways in which to focus your portfolio and to make it the most appealing for potential employers. Though a lot of this information was aimed at people looking to snatch up jobs as junior programmers, his tips and tricks were transferable across all the disciplines and so I gained quite a bit of useful insight. He also cleared up some of the steps of the interview process, and offered advice on how to present yourself and the sort of questions you can be prepared to be asked, and to ask yourself. Mark also gave us some great ideas on how NOT to turn up to an interview, such as with your wife/mother or stoned. I will make a note of this.
One of the areas that Mark most discussed was the making of games for the mobile market. In my university studies I have briefly touched upon creating art assets for the iPhone in the form of a Go Fish game for a first year assignment, but we didn’t learn in detail the processes required to take that game to a finished, published product. We looked at the pros and cons of developing for the two main systems; IOS and Android, and also the lesser thought of Blackberry.
+ The IPad 2 is the most powerful of all the tablets currently available on the market, meaning that it is able to run more complex games than other competitors
+ The user interface on IOS is very well designed and user friendly
+ IOS’s programming language, objective C, is much easier though less well known than C++, and the two can be combined together to make intuitive and engaging
+ IOS has a good development environment, and can be simulated for free on a Mac, or for a small developers fee for on the devices themselves
+ Android has the largest user base, running on the vast majority of phone brands such as Sony, HTC and Samsung, and this is growing with the release of a number of Android-based tablets
– Android development is geared towards smaller Java-based apps, so creating games is a little bit more complicated
– Fragmentation is a big issue due to the massive variety in devices from screen size to processing power, so this needs to be taken into consideration when developing for this market
– Android owners take a long time to upgrade their software. The majority of owners are still using Android 2.3. (myself included!) although the current firmware is up to 4.1. This is less to do with Google and all to do with the speed the manufacturers decide to release the update for their phones
– Android users are less likely to spend money (again I can vouch for this!), so most games released for Android are free to play with in-app purchases or ad supported
– Very small user base compared to other platforms
+ Very straight forward to develop for, and Blackberry are eager to fund companies willing to develop for their devices
+ A small number of apps means less competition and a greater chance of success
Admittedly looking over that list IOS seems to have a lot going for it and Android very little, so it appears that for someone starting out and trying to break into the mobile gaming scene, IOS is a great place to begin. With a team of 1-5 people with a range of skills in programming and art it can be relatively cheap to pull together a game and get it out there.
Shot of the user interface for my Go Fish IPhone game from the 1st year
Mark also touched upon the four main types of payment models involved when creating mobile games. Unlike console games where the traditional payment model is to create a game and then retail it at around £40 per copy, the mobile market offers a more varied choice of strategies: a paid app; a paid app with in-game purchases; a free app with in-game purchases and ad-supported games. All are potential ways to earn a revenue from your game, although the most sensible model you opt for can be dependent on both the platform and the genre of the game. Most apps on IOS tend to be paid apps, whereas on Android, most are free with either in-game purchases or cluttered with ads. There is a debate on whether developers who specifically make games to be free with in-game purchases are simply trying to take advantage of the less-wilful of us, but as Mark so rightly commented, if you enjoy a game, then you may pay to play more of it. There’s nothing worse than spending £40 on a title you only place once, and I would much rather pay £2.99 to unlock some more levels on a game that I found enjoyable and fulfilling.
The Settlers Online is my current free game of choice (though I’ve not yet forked out any money for extra diamonds)
Overall the talk was very informative, and Mark offered a unique and honest insight into the ups and downs of developing for the mobile market as opposed to console games. Personally, developing mobile games is not something I’ve looked massively into as I have my heart set on working on the next epic masterpiece, but with plenty of programs readily available making it easier to create games solo such as Flash and GameSalad, this might be something that I lend a hand to in the future.