Interviews// Haunted Hollow: Firaxis Goes Mobile

Posted 29 Apr 2013 11:27 by
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SPOnG: I?m curious about Civilization Revolution on mobile. With Civilization V on home computers, did you feel that Revolution lent itself better to the mobile interface?

David McDonough: I really couldn?t say. I wasn?t part of the decision to move Revolution to iOS. That actually predates me at Firaxis a little bit. But, in a similar way as to how I?d describe Haunted Hollow, Civilization Revolution is a lighter game. A little bit easier, little bit faster than our really heavy duty games.

I think that the people who made the call to put Revolution on iOS likely recognised that it is a game with a lot of cross-demographic appeal. It?s a simpler version of Civilization, and would be a good fit for the mobile marketplace. So far, I think it?s proven to be so. People seem to like it on that platform. As for the future of other Civilization games on mobile, I really couldn?t say. We might, or might not, try.


SPOnG: I wanted to get your thoughts on iOS and the mobile platform in general. There?s been a lot of talk that PC sales are getting cannibalised by tablets, and that sales of Windows are shrinking as a result. Do you agree with that sentiment? Do you think mobile is eating into the PC market?

David McDonough: It?s a tricky question. Which came first - the rise of mobile, or the decline of PC? I think what this situation is proving is that people want to play games on every device they have, wherever they are. And those people are using mobile devices a lot more than they used to. So, that?s naturally where they?re going to look for their gaming experiences.

But we still think that, no matter what platform your game is on, it has have a really rich experience. That was our goal with Civilization on PC, and it was the same with XCOM in making sure the PC experience was really rich, even though it was cross-platform.

So what I actually hope to see is that games will increasingly become cross-platform. That there won?t be such as thing as a game that can only be played on mobile and not PC, and vice versa. Certainly, as mobile devices become more powerful and start to catch up to laptop computers, there?s an opportunity for the experiences to converge.

So to say that mobile audiences are cannabilising PC ones... I think it?s all the same audience. Like all the pieces of technology that we play games on gets better, I hope that our games will explode on all of them, and then audiences will grow across the board.


SPOnG: You were the producer for part of XCOM?s development. Are you guys happy with the sales of the game? Do you think it?s enough to warrant a sequel somewhere down the line? Or was it a one time nostalgia trip for you guys?

David McDonough: I?d say yes, the studio is immensely proud of the work they did on XCOM, and how we were able to stay true to the original but at the same time modernise it for a new generation. I think that the game has been a success, both critically and commercially. And as you can see in our DLC plans for the game, how we?re continuing to support it post-launch.

We have a lot of optimism for the future of the XCOM game as a potential basis for a franchise. But I can?t specifically speak to whether there are plans for a sequel.


SPOnG: We?ve talked about how beneficial the mobile space is for gaming, but it also brings with it potential pitfalls, right? Things like in-app purchases, for example. Haunted Hollow is taking a free-to-play, microtransaction approach - what?s the balance in offering a mobile product when taking things like that into consideration?

David McDonough: There?s no ?one size fits all? solution. Some games lend themselves to certain kinds of microtransactions, and some games just don?t. I think a lot of the... tension towards free-to-play these days comes from people applying one kind of model to a game that doesn?t suit it, all because that model has proven to be successful for other games.

At Firaxis, we?re very focused on gameplay-first - making sure the game is fun, engaging and enriching to players. We?re very much against the concept of pay-to-win, or pay-to-progress. We don?t want to enforce paywalls to slow players down or annoy them in order to extract payments from them. We want to make sure they enjoy our games and want to play them.

We?ve tried a strategy of free-to-play on a model that we think works well. It?s in the model of a collectable card game - so there?s a starter pack and then a booster pack approach to purchases. You don?t need to buy any more content to enjoy the game, but you can do so if you want to diversify or enrich it.

We think that?s a model that respects gameplay, respects player experience, and rewards everybody who plays the game. We think it works for Haunted Hollow, and hopefully we?ll be proven right. But, free-to-play is quite a diverse topic, and this is just one way of tackling it.


SPOnG: Is it a challenge to create new IP in the mobile space and still get attention for it, when there are so many developers now vying for the same app store space? There?s a debate as to whether the mobile industry is too saturated these days. What do you think about that?

David McDonough: That?s an excellent question - if I knew the secret to getting a consistent success rate on mobile, then I?d probably find myself much higher than Firaxis! That?s a mystery that we?re all trying to solve - AAA studios and indies alike. Certainly we?ve seen that some games with great long standing IPs behind them don?t work out very well, and others that come out of nowhere turn out really well.

Mobile, I think, is a system very much in flux - with people still figuring out what kind of games they want to play on those devices, what kind of games they want to pay for and for how much. We?ve seen a lot of different strategies work, and lots of reasons why they would work. I think original IP versus established IP isn?t necessarily an indicator here.

I think at the end, just like on any other platform, gameplay is king. The game experience - whether it?s fun, draws you in, respects you, and offers something you want to engage with - that?s going to be a game that does well. There are loads of ways to do that with established IPs, with elegant or sophisticated adaptions, but there?s also plenty of opportunities for brand new IPs.


SPOnG: Atari founder Nolan Bushnell recently said that mobile?s honeymoon is over, and that developers should be looking to new technologies such as the Oculus Rift. Would you agree with that? Or do you think there?s still a lot of life left in mobile?

David McDonough: Oh, I think I would disagree, mostly. I think he?s right in that we?re now past the ?land rush? of mobile, where people were just discovering that there was a huge untapped audience, with the first good games getting high exposure. Now, it?s starting to... condense into sediments of studios who have been successful and know how to make good mobile games.

So yeah, it?s past its honeymoon stage, but I think there?s an awful lot of life left in mobile. There?s a lot of design opportunity here. The implications of touch interface alone has yet to be solved for lots of classic styles of games. And mobile devices themselves are getting more powerful - so quickly, in fact, that pretty soon there could be a brand new tech bubble for the platform. Be that 3D, perhaps, or opportunities for peripherals or cross-connectivity - games you could play both on your mobile and pc at the same time.

There seems to be a world of possibility and opportunity left on mobile. Even though we?ve gone past one of the first phases of mobile market, there?s a lot more to come I think.


SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.

David McDonough: Thank you very much!
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