Future Games of London MD and co-founder Ian Harper explains why the Hungry Shark studio doesn’t believe in the ‘Starbucks coffee rule’
FGOL launched just a year after the iOS App Store, and has followed its transition from premium to free-to-play business models. What has your experience of the changing mobile market been like?
When the App Store first came out you could sell a game for a dollar and that was it. Inevitably it’s got more complicated. When Apple introduced in-app purchases, the games started coming straight over from Facebook and it was pretty clear free was where the mass market was going.
For us making the Hungry Shark games, it’s always just been about accessibility – making sure as many people can play it as possible. So free-to-play was a no-brainer. It needed to be free to get out and get that kind of scale.
We don’t subscribe to the ‘Starbucks coffee rule’; that seems to be taken as almost a mantra for the industry. But we believe it’s possible to have a gaming session that lasts longer than the amount of time it takes to get a coffee. What we’ve learnt is that you don’t have to be the same as what everybody else is doing. You can be different.
We don’t have energy mechanics in the game, they just get in the way of the experience for us. If we want as many people to play it as possible, telling them they can’t play the game doesn’t seem to be a good way of enabling that. We’ve just always steered our own path on those kinds of things, going as broad as possible, and it seems to have worked quite well.
While you say you don’t subscribe to conventional mobile mechanics, your largest audience is in the East – where those mechanics are more widely accepted than in the West. Have you adjusted your games to reflect this?
We’ve done some on Hungry Shark Evolution. We’ve done things like testing different price points, for instance. But, really, no – it works pretty universally worldwide.
It’s more about the packaging and the messaging. The Korean, Japanese and Chinese markets are very competitive due to having such strong local publishers; so people in China are used to receiving their games in Chinese with great customer service and marketing. If you don’t have that and you’re just coming in straight in English with no effort being made, it’s hard to get through to them.
Since it was founded in 2009, FGOL has grown from a team of five to 55. How else has the studio changed?
We used to make a game in six months, and now it’s two years. The number of people in the teams has exploded.
It’s got a lot more complex, there’s a lot more things to manage, but otherwise the core of it is pretty much the same: finding something that’s really appealing and engaging and bringing it to the world.
It’s such a huge audience that we have access to now, and it’s a real privilege to work in this day and age. I remember the days when you had to target specific markets individually and it’s really amazing to see how many people around the world can be playing a game at the same time.
You were acquired by Ubisoft in late 2013. What difference has that acquisition made to the studio’s operation?
It’s different for me. I don’t have to fly all over the world doing business development myself. There’s lots of great people in Ubisoft who can help facilitate on that.
For most people in the studio it doesn’t make too much of a difference. We’re an autonomous studio, we get to make our own creative decisions and Ubisoft is there more as a scale and support mechanism.
Obviously, Ubisoft are fantastic on the marketing front. We’ve been able to leverage that, to some extent. It helps us get cross-platform; it’s a lot easier having this infrastructure of Ubisoft behind us. If we want to go to a particular market in China, we don’t have to do everything in-house here ourselves, there’s people who can help around the world to make that happen.
With the bigger publishers moving into the mobile market by snapping up smaller studios such as FGOL, is it harder for start-ups to find success?
It’s just the way of the world. Large publishers are always going to look to acquire great IP and put it in their portfolio.
The advantage of a large publisher is you have the portfolio effect; you can cross-promote from all of those, and you’ve got the recognised consumer brands.
Mobile has such a low barrier to entry, anybody can go in there and take a punt if they have a great game idea.
STUDIO SPOTLIGHT: FUTURE GAMES OF LONDON
Location: London, UK
Best known for: The Hungry Shark franchise on mobile(including various spin-offs), Pool Bar Hustle and Little Raiders