Airborne Entertainment, a provider and publisher of mobile entertainment content and applications including games, has a heavily brand based portfolio, with recently published titles including Family Guy and Robotech titles. We talk to Billy Pamier, Head of Games and Applications about the company and the place of brands in the mobile gaming space.
Billy Pamier has worked in game development since 1988, working on titles including Aliens vs. Predator, No One Lives Forever, Judge Dredd and The Simpsons: Hit & Run, working with development studios such as Eurocom Entertainment Software, Rebellion Software, Monolith Productions and Radical Entertainment. In 1999, he moved into the publishing industry, holding positions with Fox Interactive, Vivendi Universal Games, and mDisney Studios.
Games On Deck: You've worked in the PC and console games industry for quite a while, working games that are considered by many to be classics, such as No One Lives Forever. Why did you make the move into mobile?
Billy Pamier: I moved into the mobile space because I'm a big lover of retro-gaming. I grew up in the 8-bit industry, and when mobile came around I viewed it as a great way to relive my youth a little bit.
GOD: How did you enter the mobile industry?
BP: I started at mDisney, and they offered me the role of a QA Manager, building their department. We started out with three employees and by the time I left they had 41 people.
The timing worked out well, it was a great opportunity and a great time to get into mobile. I spent a few years there and learned quite a bit and then the opportunity at Airborne presented itself to me. They'd gained quite a reputation in mobile publishing in general, and I decided that a move to Canada would be a good thing.
GOD: Things are changing in the mobile industry, and it's not so heavily led by retro games anymore. What's your opinion of the industry as it is now?
BP: I'm very fond of casual games and the current trend to them too, so it's really been the perfect industry to jump into! I like change - I like the fact that in mobile there's something different every day. It's the challenge of an emerging industry and being a pioneer.
GOD: You worked on FPS titles as a console/PC developer. What do you think of the trend towards them in mobile?
BP: I've not really played too many of them on mobile, I've dabbled a bit, and I'm fond of them but I think that FPS titles really require keyboards and mice, or at least dedicated game controllers. I'm really not sure how well they translate to mobile. It's certainly not a strategy that I intend to go with on mobile.
GOD: It does seem like a problem that the industry continues to face - the continued unsuitability of the controls.
BP: In my opinion, at the current state of the hardware on mobile I'd like to see the games remain more casual. I think there is definitely a future for more in-depth games on mobile which require deeper controls, maybe featuring RPG elements, that sort of thing, but for now, Airborne is looking to create engaging games more for the casual gamer.
Something that people can play for 5 minutes, or get lost in and play for an hour. Something that people can just jump in and play.
GOD: Airborne seems a very brand-led company. How do games fit into that sort of strategy?
BP: Well, Airborne has never really been known as a "hardcore games" company. What we do is we try to identify the brand that we're working with and make a product that makes sense for the brand - that could be a game or an application. The most important thing for us is supporting the brand, making sure that the end user is getting exactly what they expect from that brand.
GOD: What brands are you working with?
BP: Most recently we worked with the Robotech brand, creating what I consider a beautiful top-down shooter. Robotech was a perfect license to create something like that. We feel it represents the license really well.
We've also got a lot of other really exciting projects that we're working on right now, but unfortunately I can't name them right now. Let me assure you though that the partners that we're working with are huge. I think that we have some really great things coming out.
In the past we've worked with Fox on Family Guy products - things that make sense in the Family Guy context. Recently Air Griffin came out and Stewie 2.0, and we're very proud of those products, and we've got another title in the series that we'll be in a position to announce shortly.
GOD: Even if you can't talk specifics, what kind of brands work as mobile games?
BP: I think that we have a number of brands that we work with that are great examples. The Family Guy licence, for one. We've got many other brands that could work perfectly. The Speed Network, the Maxim brand... Another huge one that we've got is the NHL, and we have the option to craft games and applications around that. Another one is the Food Network.
GOD: The Food Network? I'd love to see an Iron Chef title...
BP: I agree! We've actually got something that we're working on in that kind of area that I'm extremely happy about and I hope to reveal it by the end of the year.
GOD: Do you have an interest in original IP?
BP: Absolutely. I would say that brands really drive the business but we're attempting to come up with the best mix to start working with original IPs. Some of the ideas that we at the games team have come up with could take the mobile market by storm.
GOD: Of course, on deck you still only see the title of the product you're buying, which is why brands remain such a big draw.
BP: From the Airborne side, we're extremely focused on quality. We don't want to release a product that doesn't do the brand justice or fail to engage the user or take advantage of the technology out there. We try to set ourselves a little aside from the rest because we have a tremendous approval process internally and try to make sure we release top quality products. Not just "keeping within the brand" but something which people are going to use - and have fun with using.
GOD: Do you develop titles in-house? Or with external developers?
BP: We do both. We've got a brilliant in-house development team as well as some porting engineers, but we've got external teams that we work with and will possibly pick up titles from. We try to keep our options open. We're extremely proud of our internal team, but we do realise there's a lot of talent out there.
GOD: Where do you see the industry heading in the near future?
BP: We're exploring some alternatives in the mobile space. The first of which, which I'm extremely excited about is Flash Lite, which is really an untapped resource here in North America, and yet the Asian markets are all over it. I think that that's something we're definitely going to move into. There's a lot of functionality in there.
Another initiative of ours is moving into the social networking market. We try to look at mobile as a tool that everyone has in their pockets. We want to create communities, get people together, that sort of thing. That's something that's definitely emerging and that's something that consumers want.
In general, Airborne Entertainment are trying to create a mix of really engaging applications as well as just great games that people really want to play, with the coolest new features and also that take advantage of the latest hardware. Smartphones, Blackberries, that type of device are a tremendously untapped resource.
It's about making things that people not only have some fun with, but they really want to use. Taking mobile to the next level, if you will.