Why I ditched DICE for Rovio, and what that says about the future of mobile game development


Last year, when I found out about the opportunity to start a new studio in Stockholm with Rovio I jumped on it immediately. Honestly, DICE is one of the best triple-A studios in the world, so if I would leave it would be to do something completely different, and boy did I get different. As far as games go, Rovio has its foundation in digital and mobile obviously, but the company as a whole is really an entertainment company, widening the horizons for my own development beyond pure games.

The main driver for me to make such a seemingly drastic move is really to go where my passion is, as I’ve always done, and to always stay on top of what’s current. What I also discovered early on when trying to categorise all the games on handhelds, as we usually do on console games, is that there are way more different type of games. There are even many games that are hard to place in an specific genre – an indication of how much innovation is happening there!

I’m not going to predict the death of console, or preach freemium as the be all and end all business model. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that we’re in the middle of a disruption and a permanent change of the industry, whatever the outcome might be. From a developer standpoint we are seeing a lot of challenges ahead, apart from the pure practical and technical ones with making games for a device that can get a phone call at any time. Also, don’t underestimate the challenge of making game with a relatively wide appeal. The new wave of gamers that handheld is bringing in are teaching us a lot about a new generation of gamers and new contexts where games can be enjoyed. But we also have a responsibility to teach them the joys and intricacies of what a deep gaming experience can bring over time, something we ourselves have enjoyed for the last three decades. Touchscreen controls of course affect the feasible core mechanics and are currently leading to certain type of games, but we’ve only scratched the surface there and we have yet to define clearer genres. The input method obviously affects the game types, from joysticks and gamepads to mouse and keyboard and motion controls, leading to platform dominant genres.

One of the most controversial topics I’ve had with my peers is freemium games. Firstly, business models have always affected game design. Old arcade games were specifically designed to kill the player every few minutes, just enough to retain the player but also monetize enough to keep business going. Boxed games have been trying to justify the high price tag for a long time with increasingly more filler content. Secondly, freemium as the next paradigm is also just scratching the surface and we need to kill the prejudice what kind of games freemium can be, just as we need to stop talking about casual players as if they were a stupid homogenous group. Casual and hardcore are way too crude terms to have any meaningful use for me.

What’s most surprising though that I’ve found is how much is staying the same, or rather that we’re seeing a convergence. In terms of pure processing power handhelds are developing way faster and already at a level that’s good enough for most purposes. We are seeing convergence in the control schemes where everyone are working on more accessible and understandable input methods, and accessibility in general has improved constantly ever since computer games came into existence. The shift to digital has enabled everyone on every platform to move to games as a service and business models that weren’t possible before.

Most importantly we have a new generation of gamers that has grown up with Internet, mobile and digital that’s starting to become really strong consumers. It’s an entitled and demanding generation that has a tremendous technical understanding, that poses other challenges for game makers. But once you’ve won them over, they have the ability to give a lot back, invest and engage in what they love more than ever before.

The next generation of mobile gaming is here, and it’s made by gamedev veterans that has fully embraced the new platforms and business models. We have the ability to marry commercial success with artistic integrity, and we should never forget that great games and innovation will always prevail.

Patrick Liu is speaking at Nordic Game this week.