Gameranx Interviews: Timothy Best (Mighty Games)
Shooty Skies, the strength of mobile games, and a prophecy for the future of casual games.
In a time-poor world run by memes and short attention spans, breaking into the mobile market requires two things: a plan, and an unforgettable hook. This is something that resonates with Mighty Games’ Tim Best, who knows exactly how important it is not just to create an accessible product, but to make sure players get a dopamine hit whenever they blast zany voxel enemies with missiles and guns. Like Hipster Whale’s Crossy Road, which elevated the mundane concept of a chicken crossing the road into an adorable Frogger-esque endless runner, Shooty Skies floats in the vanguard of Australian mobile game development with attractive, arcadey gameplay that thrives on simplicity. Its mission? Bring enjoyment to the table, and, if fate permits, re-write the rules. We spoke to Tim about the plus side of mobile development, Mighty Games’ latest initiative, and what the future of casual gaming looks like.
Gameranx: What is the allure of mobile games? Why did you select that specific niche as opposed to console or PC?
Timothy Best: Well for me, what I really enjoy about games is the storytelling aspect of it. It’s a way of interacting with people and has really interesting colours, because you get to use a person’s triumph or guilt if they make a funny decision, and they regret it. There are very few media where people own their decisions like that.
If you watch a movie, they’re all reflected; you go on their journey. But you don’t get the sense of triumph because it’s not what you’ve done. And mobile just happens to be the space that (Mighty Games) is in at the moment, mainly. But we are going to a version of Shooty Skies that’s on Steam, so we will move to PC.
One of the really good things about mobile is that it is very inclusive, like it pulls in a lot of developing markets, there’s a low barrier to entry. And that plays into the free-to-play model that we generally follow, too, which means anyone who wants to check out the game can, and they can see if they like it. Those are some of the real strengths about mobile. It also means we focus on quite short session games that you play standing in a queue, or before bed. Nice little bite-sized experiences.
Gameranx: Would you say there are different challenges in the free-to-play or freemium market? I think Shooty Skies and Crossy Road have in-app purchases if you want to buy certain characters rather than leaving it to chance. What are some of the rewards and benefits of working in free-to-play?
Best: It’s just a different approach to building a game. If you build items like in-app purchases that aren’t connected to the core of what the game is about, like if it’s just tacked on the end, then they’re not engaging. They’re not interesting, they don’t feel fun, you know, they feel extraneous.
So a part of the design process is building in these opportunities that let you treat yourself. If you’re having a rough day and get stuck on a level, you can get a powerup that helps out in Shooty Skies. If you love the Fish Tank character, so “I identify with that character, that’s the one I want to play”, you can drop the dollar or $1.29 AUD to pick up that character and play. We like that you get to play the game first, so you get a good idea of what the value proposition is. And with freemium games, you get an idea of the gameplay through trailers, or maybe a demo.
“We want to make sure people are engaged and really enjoying what they’re doing…because that means they’ll come back”
But we’ve all bought something and haven’t enjoyed it. There are just different risks associated for the consumer as well as the developer. There are a lot of different challenges, but a lot of the core concepts are the same; we want to make sure people are engaged and really enjoying what they’re doing. We want to make sure that when people get something, it adds to their pleasure of the game, because that means they’ll come back. I think there are some models of free-to-play that can be quite predatory, but they’re not good strategies for the long-term. If you leave people feeling bad about (spending), then they’re not going to come back to your games.
Gameranx: I noticed in Charming Runes and Questy Quest that the art style was a bit different to Shooty Skies, which reminds me of the voxel art style used in Crossy Road. Is this deviation in art style something you plan to continue for future titles?
Best: Well Matt Hall and Andy Sum who created Crossy Road are also creative directors of Mighty Games, so there’s a direct lineage between Crossy Road and Shooty Skies. We did want to have a nod to that, not just in the title, but in the visual style.
The voxel graphics are quite interesting. They’re easy to read, they’re quick to produce content, and we have a lot of characters and all those sorts of things. It also gives (games) a fun, bouncy style. So we wanted to make a game in that space, but also explore other art styles which were just as cute. We looked at what each game really needed. Charming Keep and Charming Runes (and even Questy Quest) have a similar vibe because it fits the appeal of those games. We’re happy to use the right tool for the job.
Gameranx: Mighty Games has also been working on the Mighty Serious initiative, a new program backed by the Victorian Government. Will that have a more serious focus as opposed to the cute, colourful games you’ve been producing until now?
Best: Yeah. So Mighty Serious is a new branch of the Mighty Games Group, and it’s not so much the tone of the games, because the games that we produce to help combat homophobia might be very cute and bouncy. It’s more the purpose of the game. It’s not just a game for entertainment, it’s also for behavioural change, because we want to have a positive outcome. There’s a core educational element to it, and serious games usually are for education, behavioural change or training. Obviously we want to help combat discrimination, but ideally we’ll do that through fun experiences which engage people and are accessible. Our last Shooty Skies update was Rainbow Riders. We’re really proud of that because our studio is very inclusive, and we want to bring in a lot of different ideas, people from different backgrounds, and life experiences. So we thought it was important to come out and say yes, we’re behind the ‘Yes’ vote, because we want to reflect the culture we think is important in games.
Gameranx: What are your thoughts on the future of casual games?
Best: It’s a really interesting question and something that we grapple with a lot. In general, I think casual games will still be more single-player based because you can drop in drop out whenever you need to. That said, Clash Royale has been very successful, and now they’ve added the two-player 2v2 version.
“One of the really exciting things about the casual space is that there are rules, but they only last until someone re-writes them”
But it comes down to what experience you want to give the player — what sort of story or fun thing can you tell? Sometimes it’s very social. I think playing with people will be a very big component. We’ll have a lot of cooperative games as well as competitive games. And I think one of the really exciting things about this space is that there are rules, but they only last until someone re-writes them with a game that really takes off. I don’t think anyone anticipated just how popular Words with Friends or Let’s Draw would be.
But they’re collaborative casual games, and our goal is to follow what’s enjoyable. There are lots of ways to have social interactions, whether it’s talking about the game, sharing it with friends, or mentoring other people, it doesn’t necessarily have to be direct head-to-head multi-player. There’s a lot of scope, and mobile devices are connected devices so it makes sense to explore this area.
Gameranx: You mentioned the possibility of Shooty Skies coming to PC earlier. Could you see some of your games heading to Nintendo Switch? That also seems like a good platform which puts an emphasis on co-op games.
Best: We’re looking at the Switch, and also Shooty Skies on Steam in a wide screen format, how we can get the most out of those systems and hand controllers. So yes, Switch is very much on our radar, but we also want to make sure any game we move between systems does the game justice, uses the system well, and engages people. Switch is very cool.
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Gameranx thanks Tim for his time, expertise, and making this interview possible.
*Interview has been edited and condensed.