It’s an industry where you need to run fast, just to keep up.
But there is always going to be someone at the front and, when it comes to the UK mobile games sector, Distinctive Developments has its eye firmly fixed on pole position.
The East Parade firm recently took the top prize at the prestigious Big Chip Digital Industries Awards with Hockey Nations, the first full six on six Ice Hockey game to be developed for the iPhone and iPod touch, and had another of its games, Dead Runner, short-listed for the same award.
Distinctive’s success is a vindication of its decision 10 years ago to get out of the games console market and target what was then the embryonic market for games played on mobile ‘phones.
Thanks to that shift, Distinctive transformed itself from being a small fish in the big bucks console games pool into one of the big fish in the mobile market.
“There is a lot of competition, but not many companies our size,” says managing director Nigel Little, who founded the business with technical director Keith Birkett.
“There is a huge number of tiny, tiny studios, with one or two people creating games for Smartphones and there are huge corporations, but not many of our size, so we use our expertise and size to our advantage and develop games that others cannot.”
Distinctive employs 25 people at its city centre offices – programmers, graphic artists, project managers and quality assurance testers in the main – and two more in San Diego, looking after the American market.
About half of its business is developing mobile games for big name publishers like Electronic Arts and Sega and top franchises like Tomb Raider, FIFA football, Sonic the Hedgehog, Metal Gear Solid and Guitar Hero.
The rest comes from developing its own games. The company numbers soccer, rugby, cricket, pool and horse racing, along with ice hockey among the sports it has brought to the mobile market, in addition to adventure and platform games.
“We do sports games because we like them and we know they are going to sell, but there is a lot of creativity in the office and we like to have an outlet for that, so we also put some of our development budget into creating something unique like Dead Runner,” says Nigel.
“It’s more speculative, but it’s a really nice game and it’s sold pretty well.”
The high overheads carried by console games developers, combined with the low price consumers are willing to pay for mobile games, and the fact that they appeal to a different audience to hard core console fans, tends to keep the big firms out of the market.
“If you look at the Top 10 iPhone games, all of them are 59p, compared with £40 to £50 for a console game,” says Nigel.
“The problem with the Smartphone platform – and the opportunity – is that it is very open, so anyone can produce a game, put it out there and sell it. There is a lot of downward pressure because there is an oversupply of games.
“It’s also more of a casual audience. Someone playing a console game will sit down and spend anything from half an hour to two hours or more playing. On a phone, they are playing for 10 minutes - snacking on games, rather than eating a main course - and you have to design a game around that.”