At a recent Tapjoy Developer Meetup in Austin, LightBox Interactive President Dylan Jobe delivered his take on the impact of mobile gaming on the previously console-dominated landscape. He’s in a good position to speak on the subject – after shipping Starhawk for PlayStation®3, LightBox is working on its first mobile game, due to be released in the coming months.
The next day, I caught up with Jobe to discuss his team’s transition to mobile, and how he thinks games are going to evolve.
Tapjoy: How was the decision made for LightBox Interactive to pursue creating mobile games?
Dylan Jobe, LightBox Interactive: We had been doing console development for quite some time, and my business partners and I really wanted to sink our teeth into mobile. We don’t really see ourselves as “console developers” or “mobile developers” – we just like games. It just happens to be that there was some exciting stuff in mobile games at the time.
My tech director Bruce and I were talking over text one weekend and were like “I really wish I could sink my teeth into some mobile stuff.” Then, when the opportunity arose [post-Starhawk] to do mobile, it was kind of like, “Oh my God, were just talking about this!” So we put together a very small, focused team and self-funded with some of the capital that we had built up from Starhawk, and developed a prototype. It was something we really wanted to do. We loved having essentially having complete – and a scary amount of – control over where the product went.
And so for about 4 months, we just did super-fast iteration, 2 week sprints, build reviews every Friday on our prototype. Then we essentially went on a vacuum salesman kind of tour, like an investor pub crawl, to see if we could get additional funding to really bring the game to market.
Tapjoy: What were some of the biggest changes the company undertook when switching to mobile app production?
LightBox Interactive: We pretty radically changed our production process. There was a scale of production methodologies that we had in place for a bigger production like Starhawk, or the games we’ve done in the past. But when you get down to just 7 or 8 people, things do change.
I hate using the buzzword, but we essentially moved everything to the cloud. That allows us to work remotely. We have a studio in Austin, but people are in the office some days, not in the office other days, and we are always on Skype.
Now we’re doing builds so frequently and iterating so frequently that we’re trying to mimic the super fast production landscape of mobile. Because we’re behind the curve – we’ve only been doing mobile now for 5 and a half months.
Tapjoy: Most of the biggest games in mobile today are mechanics-based – the core of Angry Birds, Candy Crush is a fun gameplay mechanic. You’ve created games that are very story-centric on top of the gameplay. Do you think there’s a higher narrative ceiling for mobile to aspire to?
LightBox Interactive: I do. You can look at the success that Telltale’s Walking Dead had on mobile. It’s a fantastic product. While narrative systems aren’t super prevalent right now, they will be. I think it’s only a matter of time before people are seeking more entertainment than just games of quick convenience. Right now even our current game is being designed for convenient windows, but we’re also designing it so that it can have a long interaction as well.
What will happen is – and you see this with any media or technology transition – the first phase is just trying to wrap your head around the potential, the tools, and the techniques. And then the craft really starts to tighten up. I think it’s just a matter of time before narrative device starts to supplant the raw tactility of interactions.
Tapjoy: In your talk, you said that the way mobile is disrupting the games industry isn’t unlike how TV affected film – and that there’s much to be learned from how the movie studios reacted. How are you applying this hindsight at LightBox Interactive?
LightBox Interactive: At its most irreducible core, we are not making any assumptions. The word is humility.
I’ll use the game Candy Crush Saga as an example. About a year ago, I saw a screenshot of it, and I dismissed it. Months later, this humility made me rethink many things. So I replayed it, and this was a very big thing for me. Here’s a game I dismissed based on a screen shot, but when you have Candy Crush under your hand – the framerate, the juiciness, the candies – what I call the kinaesthetics – the way something behaves and feels under your hand. On a tablet or phone, that’s everything. Their kinaesthetics are so damn good that I had a complete 180 perspective on that game.
Especially for us because we had never done mobile before, it was questioning everything. Don’t just think that because we had done some good console games we could do good mobile games. Let’s not assume that we can jump in there and do it. Let’s really do our research and see. I think that’s really benefitted us.
Tapjoy: What can you share about your current project?
LightBox Interactive: I can’t talk that much about it because we haven’t announced it. People know that we love space battles, and so one of the things I’ve mentioned on Twitter and on our dev blog is that our current game is really trying to get that core experience of epic space battles in the palm of your hand. Not only the viscerality of lots of ships and blasters and explosions and all of that stuff, but I think a lot of players also want to do exploration, and conquering, and upgrading.
What’s really interesting is that we had to really consider the interaction design a lot more than on console. Starhawk was a shooter, and there are certain established conventions for controls which we adhered to. But in this case, there’s nothing out there like our current game, so we had to come up with a lot of very specialized interactions, and do so in a way that was very easy.
We focus tested across a huge age range sure that the game could be sticky and enjoyable. Thankfully, knock on wood, we’ve got that now. So we’re really excited to release it and see if all of our past research and development on game design and revenue design, single player and multiplayer mechanics ends up really turning out well.