Monday, March 03, 2008

Podcast Interview: Ego City Developers and 2008 Mobile IGF Finalists...

Hey folks,

Tobin and Steve, from Punch Entertainment, talk about developing mobile games and their flagship product Ego City

You can download the podcast here...

or listen to it here...

Show Notes:
0:00 - 5:00
Two developers from the Ego City mobile game
an IGF Mobile finalist

Started into mobile games at the beginning of the industry in North America

Challenges for the initial mobile games...was developing for handsets with very limited capabilities

Also, did not realize how difficult it would be to port games to mobile...and making them work across many handsets

Did a multi-player title with Box Sports Racing...did this a few years ago...and realized how hard it was to do multi-player in mobile. Gave a reality check

The main challenge was to figure out how to get networking to work across different handsets...because networking worked differently on different handsets

Also, was hard to network across different carrier networks

After that first multi-player games several years ago, came to conclusion to focus on more single player games...did feel that community games would be the future, but would immediately
work on single player games...

There are a lot of large business challenges in the space...the marketing and sales channel is very challenging to overcome...because carriers control distribution
Carriers are more into taking already-successful brands and bet on them...they do not want to risk effort on new titles, etc.

5:00 - 10:00
Tried to do another multiplayer game before ego city...did something that worked with bluetooth...but by the time got to market....bluetooth devices needed to make the game work were not available...

Design goals for Ego City was to leverage the mobile space...and focus on the strengths of mobile...mobility and connectivity
So the goal was to focus on a community game

Question was...
How do you create a social game in mobile space that allows people to social/connect with each other?
So developed a system so that when communicated or interacted with other people in the game...would create a change on your ego as well as theirs

Asynchronous gaming vs. synchronous gaming and
how it relates to Ego City design...focus on PASSIVE multi-player design. So when you are off-line, your ego can interact with others...the AI your ego gets is based on the stuff you did in game earlier.

10:00 - 15:00
Changes to the initial design of Ego City
Development process was challenging because of hardware issues
But also found that could put in more customization after initial design
Pleased with that
Was able to add different features like chatting, blogging, and social aspects
End result was way more ambitious than initially started

User testing for Ego City...
most important thing is to make sure game is really fun
Target demographic was teens on up
The biggest change as a result of play testing was...
trying to match a social site like Facebook with the mobile experience

Initial idea was to make something that would complement a social networking site
But in the end, developing something that was its own social site

Other thing realized was that people wanted to do a lot more things with their avatars

15:00 - 20:00
Empowered avatars to do a lot of interaction with
debate with each other, flirt with each other, fight with each other, hug with each other, etc.
There is a lot of interactivity between avatars

Borrowing and learning from mobile games in Japan and Asia
They do wish North America had the handset capabilities of phones in Japan and Asia
could do a lot more stuff with the game

Inspired mainly by Nintendo and most of their games

Games with micro-transactions...inspiring future features for the game

Through actions, can change personality and unlock rewards based on gameplay instead of just buying features

How flirting and fighting works in the game...
Can create interaction by doing something

Can always trigger competitions by giving folks gifts ... like if give flowers, triggers a flirt competition.

The website will complement the mobile experience. The flirt and fight club will happen on the website and augment mobility.

Ego avatar helps to express identity and visuals convey what to expect the person

20:00 - 25:00
How does the website relate to the game itself?
Helps to extend the initial experience

Is Ego City in the same design space as Facebook ... or is it a different design space?
Not interested in building a competing social network like Facebook. It's about gaming...and built a community around that.
Wanted to integrate Ego City into current social networks...released a Facebook app to promote Ego city

May eventually allow egos to interact with other Egos on Facebook

Gaia Online released something on Facebook...and it took off.
Is the goal to extend Ego City into Facebook and to get folks to join Ego City
Yeah, goal is to promote the Ego City...and at the same time, the goal is to allow folks that have egos they are working on...
and carry it into other parts of their digital world (like Facebook or other places they hang).

Each platform offers advantages...
Mobile allows for quick messaging

Websites have different experience...sitting down and spending more time. So can have a longer game experience

With Facebook, with "Ego Mail" app...a great way to take your ego and share it with friends.

25:00 - 30:00
Are there any nuances and differences to developing a mobile community vs. a web community?
A lot of these questions are unanswered...cuz pioneering the space.
The main focus is on support once the folks buy the game.

Have a set up where other folks can interact with your ego even when you are folks can interact with your ego...and you make
friends while you are off-line

Is this a whole new design space ... for mobile vs. developing for the web?
It is a little different because your ego can interact with other folks...even though you are off-line. So it was developing an AI personality
that allows your ego to interact with others properly when you are offline...

That was the main design challenge.

Learn from game actions you take online to develop a personality ai that gets used for your ego when you are off-line

Also realized that to do a good mobile, not necessarily about's about focusing on the FUN factor that takes advantage of mobile features

30:00 - 35:00
Another challenge for mobile is designing a game that works on many handsets

How does Google Android relate to doing mobile games? Google Android is promising...but hopes that it is more than just another platform
Will have to wait and see

Where do you see the future of Ego City going?
Find more things for the Egos to do
That will be more clubs (Fight and Flirt Clubs)...lounges coming out related to having fun and dancing

What about building missions in the game? Is that relevant to the mobile space...or is it too real-time to work in the mobile game space?
Well, it's a good time to talk about the other real-time game, Mobile Battles...where you do battle others and do have missions to unlock features. That other game does offer
more opportunities for missions

Mobile experience can only offer so many maps or missions. Developed a way to make something that works with mobile and web. So you play mobile...and if liked that,
then can continue the experience on the web.

Aside from these 2 games, are there any other games you're working on?
There are other games getting done, but these 2 are the main ones we can talk about

35:00 - 40:00
Where do you see the future of mobile game development going?
Seeing ports of console games where core experience ported to mobile experience
There are 1 or 2 experiences....that are everlasting...
You want to be powerful
you want to have a social circle, friends

Future of innovation in taking those core experiences...and figure out how to make it work in the mobile space
Finding that core experience *and delivering it in a new way that is unique to mobile*

Business model challenges for mobile games...
cannot offer stuff for free because of carriers

40:00 - 45:00
Their favorite mobile games...
Games from Gameloft like Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell that took core experience and ported it to mobile

What are your last suggestions for indie game developers looking to get into mobile...
a) There are porting challenges to overcome
b) Need to think about ways to get marketing and distribution; hopefully carriers will be more open to innovative titles in the future

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