From Console to Mobile : 38 Days Later
by Matt Powers
The Elusive Mobile
Just over a year ago, as I walked out of the Sega of America offices in San Francisco, I paused. What shall I do next? After five years at Sega and over twenty years making video games, I reflected on what I had accomplished. I have been fortunate to have been involved in many great games and to have worked with great people. What shall I do next? I have control over my future; what do I want to do?
I decided I wanted to get involved in mobile gaming. I have twenty years of console development under my belt working on platforms from the Sega Genesis to the 360 and everything in-between. I’ve worked on games for the 3DO and Jaguar. I’ve had launch titles on the Dreamcast and PlayStation2. It was time to try the next exciting space in games – mobile. I was sure my many years in the game business would be applicable. Heck, mobile publishers probably need people experienced in managing developers. Mobile is just another platform, right?
I attended a number of sessions at the Game Developers Conference regarding mobile gaming and mobile game development. Since I had never worked on a mobile game before, I wasn’t sure what I needed to know about the business. GDC was a great experience and I learned a lot. From an outsider’s perspective, mobile looked like a land of opportunity and a field I could lend my development experience. Sure, there were a lot of new terms and buzzwords to learn, but it didn’t seem like it really was that different. It sounded different enough that I could learn something new and be challenged. But, it was similar enough that I would be able to apply all my years of experience and contribute positively right away. I started interviewing with companies.
A number of second and even third interviews came my way, but no offers. It always came down to my “lack of mobile experience.” Then Reliance Games(http://www.reliancegames.com) found me , and after an extensive interview process, offered me a job. As my soon-to-be boss told me during the interview process, “Mobile is another platform; you can learn that. What you can’t learn quickly are things like the ability to manage developers, understanding the development process, and working well with people. That comes from experience.” And while I agreed, throughout my interview process with many mobile companies it appeared that unless you had specific mobile experience it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get a foot in the door. I am fortunate that Reliance made me an offer. But I wondered what I was missing. Why didn’t other companies see me as someone who could contribute? Now, I am officially a producer of mobile games. Now, I could find out first hand what making mobile games is all about and find out if I have what it takes. Will my experience working with console translate to mobile?
I am 38 days into mobile. Time to reflect and answer those questions. Are my twenty years of console experience applicable to mobile? What are the differences between console and mobile? What is it like to be a mobile producer? Read on, my curious friends.
- 70-80% of all mobile downloads are games. (DigitalBuzz – “Infographic: Mobile Gaming Statistics 2011”)
- 76 of the top 100 grossing iOS apps are games. (Wired – “Mobile Kills the Console But Advances the Gaming Industry”)
- Time spent on tablets playing games has overtaken time spent watching videos, listening to music, and reading magazines. (same Wired article)
- Roughly 500 billion total birds have been shot in Angry Birds. (iQU – “Mobile Game Stats You Need To Know: Infographic”)
More great mobile game facts are at: http://skillz.com/blog/2013/03/05/65-mobile-gaming-stats-to-impress-your-friends/
A Day in the Life
Looking out the window I watch the sky turn from inky black to light blue as the sun begins to rise. The glow from the horizon warms the air; a slight wind kicks up the leaves outside my window. Turning back to my computer I type. “I’m downloading the build from Test Flight now.”
As I type, the voice coming through my ear buds continues to talk to me. “So those conversion, ARPDAU, and day 30 retention numbers are our KPI goals. It is important….”
While listening, I jot down notes then turn to check my iPad. Noticing the build has finished downloading, I return to Skype and respond to the request from the team in India. I type, “Download complete; checking load time now.”
Another Skype message appears from another contact. “Do you have time to chat?”
Looking up at my clock I notice the time. “Hey Rob,” I interrupt. “I need to talk to Rahul before he goes to sleep. Can we catch up on this later?”
“No problem, just remember Toronto is three hours ahead of you. Don’t call too late.”
“Yup, and I have my call with Manila this afternoon. I’ll buzz you after India and before Manila.
I end the Skype call with Rob and click on Rahul’s name and type. “Done with Rob. Ready for our call when if you are.”
Rahul is a Senior Producer in India working for me on one of our games. Rob, my boss, lives in Toronto, Canada. One of my developers is in Manila and their head office is in Arizona.
Rahul and I talk about what he did today and what I will be focusing on during my day. With the thirteen and a half hour difference in time between India and myself we can have twenty-four hour coverage on our projects. Our current top priority is working on responses to the latest milestone feedback with our developers.
Skype chirps at me and I notice a message from Piotr, “Do you have a minute?” Piotr is in business development, and he is located in Poland. We are working together to find some developers to work on a Reliance IP(intellectual property).
I type back at Piotr, “Give me 5 minutes.”
I lean back in my chair. “Rahul, gotta go. We’ll talk again tonight before I go to bed and when you get into the office tomorrow morning. Have a good night.”
The sky continues to brighten. The darkness has all but retreated and a light mist hangs over the ground. I can see the blue sky through the trees, which hopefully means no rain today.
In the couple minutes before I get back on the phone I think about my priorities for today. There are a number of pressing items. Most important is sorting out the Social Design Document with one of my developers. That developer is in Southern California and we’ll talk about their social design this afternoon. I need to finalize the milestone feedback for another project. I have a couple of proposals from developers needing my review. And, I want to finish the Request for Proposal Overview for another project so we can start talking to developers about it.
The sun is shining overhead here in California. Elsewhere the sun is setting. Is the day just beginning or reaching its end? I lean forward at my desk and start the call with Poland.
And that was just the first two hours of my day.
Our Shrinking World
The world is becoming a smaller and there is no better example than my average day. Daily I will speak with co-workers at Reliance in Chicago, Toronto, and Canada. I have a call with a developer in Spain tomorrow morning. I am expecting a proposal for a project by a developer in Poland tomorrow as well. On my plate I have proposals from developers all over the world to review.
A smaller world means we have more talent at our disposal. And, as I have quickly learned, work continues 24 hours a day. There are a lot of talented development groups; having an internationally minded company such as Reliance means we can work with the best talent, anywhere in the world, to make our games.
How many mobile developers are there in the world? I found an article on FierceDeveloper by Shane Schick that summarizes a study by Evans Data. The headline of the article reads, “Evans Data: Mobile developers now number 8.7 million worldwide” In the article Shane mentions some interesting data points:
- In total, there are 19 million software developers in the world, which means about 50 percent of them are now focused on creating apps for mobile devices.
- The worldwide developer population has essentially doubled since 2010, with an increase of 700,000 in the last year.
- Evans Data estimates a worldwide developer population of 25 million by 2020.
Granted, not all mobile developers make games, but if just a portion are focused on game development – that is a lot of developers.
Unity reports that over 3.3 million developers use their software (from - http://unity3d.com/public-relations). GameSalad reports they have over 750,000 developers (from - http://gamesalad.com). In my rough calculation, it shouldn’t be surprising if over half the total number of developers working on mobile are making games. That gives us a lot of developers around the world to potentially work with.
In my first month at Reliance I have already had the opportunity to speak with developers in Spain, Argentina, the Philippines, Poland, and the United States. When I stop to think about it – that is amazing. We all are speaking English and all talking about making games. We all understand the process and procedures that are used to make games.
Making games, no matter where you are located in the world, is fairly standard. And, I have found that all around the world there isn’t much difference in game development between mobile and console. When making games, we all speak the same language.
A couple interesting tidbits from “EEDAR-2014 Deconstructing Mobile and Tablet Gaming Free Report”:
- The mobile gaming market in North America continues to grow. As of Q3 2014, there are 141.9MM NA mobile gamers
- In 2013, these mobile gamers spent an average of $32.65 in the last year, generating $4.63B in NA mobile gaming revenue.
- The top 6% of spenders (Heavy Payers) generate about half (51%) of the mobile gaming revenue, while nearly half of all mobile gamers (45.7%) do not pay to play mobile games.
With all these people making games, all over the world, things could easily fall into chaos. That is where process is important.
Proposals and Development
Process is very important to me. Understanding what the process is, and ensuring everyone follows the process, helps everything run smoothly. This includes what needs to be done to identify and sign great developers. And, with projects currently in development, the process of receiving, reviewing, and approving milestones is important. I quickly found out that Reliance does have a process not too different from what I have done before with console games. And, to my delight, they welcome my input to improve their process. My previous experience as a console producer is directly applicable in this area. It is part of the job of any producer on any game.
After my first month-plus of working in mobile I have found that being a Senior Producer in mobile is not very different than being a Senior Producer in console. The simple definition of my role at Reliance as a Senior Producer could be boiled down to two roles:
1.Managing external developers working on current games.
2.Identifying potential developers and assisting in signing up new developers to make new games.
The great thing about these two items is that I have been handling these roles for decades already. Let’s look at these two roles in a bit more detail as to how they apply to a producer working on mobile.
Papers have been written dedicated to product management. I’m not going to go into details here on how to manage your products or your developers. But, I will say that it is done the same for both console and mobile. You work with talented developers who are passionate about their work. Alpha is always quickly approaching (granted, much faster in mobile) and executives have a lot of input.
The development process is pretty much the same between console and mobile. There are milestones eventually leading to a release date. I can foresee some notable differences once your mobile game goes “live”, but since I haven’t shipped my first mobile game yet – we’ll save that for a future article.
I would say the biggest responsibility for a producer in product development is communication. The producer is the middleman between the rest of the publishing team and the developer. The producer handles communication between execs, marketing, the developer, the license holder, and more. Keeping communication clear and running smoothly is a critical job regardless of what platform you are developing on.
So far, 38 days in, I have found that managing developers and the development process is pretty much the same in mobile as in console. When I made the decision to transition to mobile I assumed that the management skills required in mobile development would be the same as console. It is good to find that, so far, my assumptions were correct.
Before a project begins, there is a lot of work involved. The project must be defined, proposals received and reviewed, and negotiations must occur between publisher and developer. This entire process is pretty much the same in mobile as what I did in console.
Reliance has a lot of great IP available and we are always looking for great developers. At Reliance we create an outline for the IP/game before we start talking to developers. We agree internally on what type of developer we are looking for based on the game we think would be best for our IP. Then, we identify potential developers and ask for a proposal. There is some back and forth with the developer regarding their proposal. If everything continues to go smoothly, we sign a contract and development begins.
So far, from the aspect of finding and managing developers, the work I had been doing for the past twenty years on console is directly applicable to my new life as a mobile producer.
As a fresh producer to mobile game development, the area of social design is the newest area for me. One of the requirements we ask of our developers is to create a Social Design Document(SDD). This is basically part of the GDD focusing on social features such as friends, leaderboards, competitions, rankings, and so on.
In console we designed with social in mind when we created multiplayer games; but that was nothing to the extent of what is done with mobile. In mobile we live and breathe by social and the life of the game after shipping. Keeping players engaged and leveraging them to draw in more players is critical.
Another unique feature of mobile development is the large amount of time spent designing and discussing areas such as acquisition, engagement, monetization, and retention. In the world of free-to-play how we acquire money is incredibly important, and very different from anything I had done previously in console development.
For me, this entire area of social design, user experience, monetization, and so on is very exciting. This is a big part of what I get to learn now that I am working on mobile. And, it is fun! I am making games, applying my skills, and learning a lot of new stuff.
More from “EEDAR-2014 Deconstructing Mobile and Tablet Gaming Free Report”:
- As of Q3 2014, there are more females playing mobile games than males in North America (56% vs. 44%).
- Heavy spenders are more likely to be male (71%), while Non-Payers are more likely to be female (63%).
- The average age of a mobile gamer in North America is 27.7 years old.
From the website statista:
- There are approximately 152 million mobile gamers in North America, which is about the same as Western Europe.
- Asia Pacific has 740 million mobile gamers.
- The world as a whole has almost 1.5 billion mobile gamers.
Console versus Mobile
Here are some of the similarities and differences between console and mobile development I have noticed so far.
Similarity - Milestones and Deliverables
Guess what? Mobile game development is just like console game development in regards to milestones. There is a contract with deliverables, and producers like me manage the development. We work closely with developers and internal stakeholders to make the best game possible. The most notable difference is the time frame; mobile moves much faster.
Similarity - Working with Developers
Here is a statement that might seem obvious; people make games. And the people making mobile games are just as passionate and excited about making games as console developers. Artists, designers, and engineers strive to make a product that hopefully will be enjoyed by millions of people all over the world.
Difference - Terminology and Acronyms
The mobile world practically speaks another language. There are a lot of new words and terms to learn. Here are some great acronyms:
KPI Key Product Indicators
CPI Cost Per Acquisition
ARPDAU Average Revenue Per Daily Active User
I’m learning what the acronyms mean, but as far as really learning the language of mobile? Give me another 38 days, and hopefully I’ll have that figured out.
Difference - Rate of Development and Development Budget
Console development could easily take over a year with a cost of over a couple million dollars. Mobile deals with months and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everything moves a lot faster in mobile.
The Journey So Far
38 days into the wonderful world of mobile I find myself having fun making games. I’m working with talented developers and a globally minded company on exciting IPs. I am enjoying my life as a mobile game producer. Certainly there is no time to be bored. I’m learning new words; I’m figuring out what time zone various countries are in, I’m working with great developers on some fun games; and, I’m working with some very smart people at Reliance Games.
I'm excited about mobile. And, I am glad my previous assumptions have turned out to be correct. Mobile is different but not so different that my console experience isn’t applicable. It’s different enough that I have more to learn and can be challenged in new areas. I look forward to learning a lot more.
The Next 38 Days
So what do my next 38 days in mobile have in store for me? Good question. I’ll keep you informed. Stay tuned!
About the Author
Matt Powers has been making video games for over 20 years. Until recently that time has been spend producing games for console. Now he is hard at work producing mobile games.
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You can find more articles on Gamasutra written by Matt here: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MattPowers/951858/
If you would like to contact Matt you can email him here: [email protected]