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The rocky transition from console to mobile development

It seems like every other week another console dev announces its fresh mobile transition. UK-based Atomicom made the transition last year, but it's only now just getting to grips with it.
What's that coming over the hill? Why, it's a barrage of veteran game developers, all charging headfirst into mobile game development having spent the last 15-plus years with their heads down in console development. Mobile game development is where all the money is now, thanks to the iOS and Android boom, and it seems like every other week another big-name dev or publisher is announcing its fresh new mobile transition. UK-based Playbox made the transition last year, going as far as to change the company name it had used for over six years to Atomicom. Its last console game was Bang Bang Racing for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC -- it is now a mobile-focused studio. Gary Nichols has seen every transition the video games industry has been through for the last 20 years. He started out as PR manager for the now-defunct Psygnosis back in 1994, before Playbox took over his life back in 2005. Now he's pushing the mobile revolution as hard as he can with Atomicom. "Originally we wanted to move into mobile in 2009," he admits to Gamasutra, "but we had secured investment to build two console titles with the legend that is Ian Hetherington [Psygnosis co-founder], so we continued on console for a while longer. It wasn't for another year that we could start to plan it properly."

Bumpy ride

The transition to mobile wasn't a walk in the park, he notes, and Atomicom had a rocky start with its first title Switch, a Tegra 2-powered Android launch title. However, the studio regrouped, built its cross-platform mobile technology up, and launched a mobile version of Bang Bang Racing, which has now seen over 1 million downloads (that includes paid, OEM orders and free downloads). "Ongoing development is so much easier than console, and above all there's no wacky publisher telling us something should be yellow instead of red for reasons only the Mad Hatter would comprehend," says Nichols. "We'd had a lot of bumps in the road on the console side and been ripped off a number of times by publishers and with the smaller budgets around mobile and the potential to never have to work with a traditional game publisher again we set on that path." Back to that rocky start -- Nichols says that Atomicom made a "big mistake" from the get-go, in that it focused solely on Android and didn't bother with iOS. The team quickly learned that Google Play for Android is a great place to sell games, but not if that's you're only source of revenue. Switch.jpg"On Google Play, people generally don't like to pay for games and the piracy rate is just off the scale," reasons Nichols. "It did however help us get our mobile tech set up, so it was worth it for that. "Now that we're completely cross-platform, we should start to see a healthy improvement in our sales for our current catalog and our future titles. We're also planning to release more content on PC and Mac shortly so that will be another avenue for us that we want to explore." Compared to Nichol's many years of experience with console game development, mobile development has its challenges, he says -- but this is the most excited he's been about game development in a long while. "This is money we have earned ourselves, not money we've got from a publisher milestone after having worked all through the night to get signed off, knowing that when the game is released we'll never see a royalty," he says.

Going off-road

As Atomicom finally gets into the swing of mobile game development, it has now hit another wall of unknown -- Kickstarter. The studio is attempting to fund its next game Super Off-Road via the pledge website, but so far, the campaign isn't doing too well. Nichols admits that he has no idea why the Kickstarter isn't doing better. offroad2.jpg"I think this is partly due to us not having released a demo, or maybe because we haven't created a big following previously to launching the Kickstarter," he notes. "Some of it could be that the game isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary - it's a known genre and game type. We also struggled to get coverage on a lot of websites who just won't feature Kickstarter campaigns." Nichols is now looking to the next step for the game. Getting a playable demo ready for consumption is his first port of call, at which point Atomicom will possible look to give Kickstarter another go, taking into account everything it has learned. "It's not the end of the world," he finishes. "We'll try again on Kickstarter but focus on the UK version instead. That way it might be easier for us to get noticed."

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