Company Spotlight #3: Tag Games

September 30th, 2006 by Arjan Olsder Posted in Interviews | No Comments »

This company spotlight is dedicated to another fresh player in the market called Tag Games. We spoke with Paul Farley, Managing Director (and probably a whole lot more) at the company. When Paul first introduced his company to me, he told a lot about the legacy of it. Naturally, we want to know more;

[Arjan] You told us you have worked on console and PC titles before, but also some titles for iPlay. Which titles should we know your company from?

[Paul] Although Tag Games is still very much in its infancy, the
team we have started to assemble at Tag has many years of console/PC
and mobile experience. I personally started my career in game
development at DMA Design who are best remembered for Lemmings and the Grand Theft Auto
series. In fact the first game I worked on in the industry as a games
designer was GTA where I was responsible for building the map and
missions for Liberty City. I then moved to Vis Entertainment where I was lead designer on State of Emergency before finally joining the mobile revolution with I-play (Digital Bridges) over five years ago.

At I-play I was involved in much of the internal and external game
development including big brands such as the FIFA and Tiger Woods
series and the Fast and the Furious franchise in addition to original
IP titles. I am probably most proud of the last game I completed there
called My Dog, an
original pet game that seems to be doing very well indeed! The rest of
the Tag team have a similar background. Jamie Bryan our creative
director was art manager at DMA Design and was team leader for Space Station Silicon Valley
a little known but critically acclaimed N64 game that was apparently
Shigeru Miyamoto’s favourite game of the time! Jamie has had experience
of not only managing large teams of artists but also brand management
with Vis Entertainment so he comes with a great skill set and pedigree.

[Arjan] Working on titles for a company like iPlay is a position
many people would love to be in as it’s often good money. Why go solo?

[Paul] I think ultimately it’s difficult to summarise the numerous
factors that come into force when deciding to give up a well paid and
secure position, take a bank loan, put your family’s security and well
being on the line and start something new. Those factors must be very
strong! I have always been attracted to the idea of setting up a small
development studio and had been at I-play for over five years and
really felt that personally I wanted to do something fresh. The mobile
market has been dominated by so many big brands and licenses over the
first few years of its existence and I began to see that the mobile
games players and the operators that supply them were beginning to look
for more original and innovative gaming experiences on mobile. With Tag
we have the freedom to really create some new ideas and concepts
specifically for mobile gaming and that excites me. I don’t think we
have even scratched the surface of mobile gaming’s potential yet,
whether that is in terms of game-play innovation or revenue!

[Arjan] How do you think you can compete in this market where the big publishers are fighting for every bit of marketshare left?

[Paul] Right now it’s very important for us to continue to build
good relationships with all the large publishers and we really see them
first and foremost as customers rather than competitors. Most of the
big publishers are now actively seeking high quality, original content
to drive their growth and quite simply the company structures and
funding models that they have makes it very difficult for their
internal teams to produce innovative content. This is where smaller
companies like Tag can really develop a niche by taking risks and
developing original game ideas.

At DMA Design the company was founded upon a simple desire to do
things differently, to innovate, to place game-play first and to always
try something new. It was not a company focussed on technology or high
production values but it produced two of the biggest gaming franchises
in the world. We believe we can achieve a similar result in mobile by
embracing the same ethos.

[Arjan]You released your first original game Dead Water last month, can you tell us more about your roadmap for this or next year?

[Paul] Sure! Following on from Dead Water which was very much a ‘gamers’ game we have a title called Rock’n’Roll
which is far more appealing to casual players. It’s a simple concept
where you rotate a maze to drop the ‘rock’ character through it and
it’s quite similar to Loco Roco on PSP. The game is looking really
great and is impossible to put down once you start playing it! The
software behind the game is pretty neat too, we have some sprite
scaling and rotation routines that are working well even on low-end
devices allowing us to achieve an excellent frame rate which is
important for action games such as this. We have focused upon making it
easy to play so there are just two keys used to rotate the maze and we
plan motion sensing as well for a really interesting control method.
Players will find the rock’n’roll theme is reflected in some really
great original music tracks we have had commissioned especially for the
game and again this just raised the overall quality of the game
further. Rock’n’Roll is due to be released Q1 2006.

After Rock’n’Roll we have a really quite ambitious game in
production that is scheduled for release Q2 2007. I can’t really say
too much about it right now except that it is an extremely innovative
approach to bringing a very popular game genre to mobile. We are going
to be building the game around our understanding of how and why people
play mobile games, so whilst it might look familiar I can promise you
it will deliver a style of game-play that is unique to the mobile
platform. We also have a couple of licensed games due in 2007 as well,
one is an extremely popular casual PC game and the other is an old
favourite of ours that is getting a new sequel on Xbox Live Arcade as
well as mobile. You might also see a sequel to Dead Water if our hero
manages to avoid being drowned!

[Arjan] Currently you seem mainly operating in the J2me area. Any plans to make changes here?

[Paul] We are focussing on J2ME and Europe as our target platform
and territory right now simply because our resources can only allow us
to do so much at one time. In the short term we aim to partner with
distributors and publishers to port our games to BREW and other US
devices, but further out we will certainly consider bringing BREW and
development for other platforms in-house as the company grows. There
are plenty of platforms that interest us such as Symbian, iPod, iTV,
XBLA and Flash Lite to name a few. We will consider developing for
these on an on going basis but first there has to be a viable revenue
stream in place otherwise it’s just not worth our time.

[Arjan] Recently ad-funded games have been in the news a lot.
Will Tag also make their games available on this basis like many others

[Paul] I think it is highly unlikely that we will take this route in
the foreseeable future. Giving away your game for free undermines the
inherent value that a high quality game should have and the inclusion
of unrelated and quite clearly obtrusive advertising certainly taints
the experience for the game player. At the end of the day the consumer
will decide if they want to pay for mobile games or get them free and
suffer the advertising, which ever route they choose we will obviously
need to take it with them! Still this outcome is far from clear at
present so we will watch developments with interest!

We are however very much at ease with the concept of in game
advertising or product placement. In some cases this subtle form of
advertising can actually add to the authenticity of the game experience
for example by having real life sponsors display on advertising boards
at the side of a football pitch or on signs in a city environment. This
is something we are actively engaged with right now for a couple of our
forthcoming games so it will be interesting to see how successful this
approach will be.

[Arjan] Which of your own games do you like the most and why do you think it’s the best?

[Paul] I’m very happy with Dead Water in that it shows we can
design, develop and deliver a high quality, innovative, mobile game on
budget and on time, however it is Rock’n’Roll that really excites me at
the moment. Although the game still has a month of development left on
the reference devices it already has something really special about it
that is hard to define. Sometimes when you are working on a game you
just get an instinctive feeling that you have a massive hit on your
hands. It’s a bit like Star Wars when Luke Skywalker feels a
disturbance in force, the last time I felt it was at I-play with My Dog
and that is certainly doing very well and previously I got that feeling
with GTA when many people were writing it off. Time will tell however!

[Arjan] Which of the games from competing companies do you think
is most interesting (and don’t select one of your old iPlay games here)?

[Paul] I’m really enjoying Glu’s Stranded
at the moment. It is a really great concept that is well suited to
mobile and implemented with a great deal of attention to detail and
care. The look and feel is excellent and it plays very nicely. My only
real issue with it is the constant loading of map data but that is
forgivable when the rest of the game is so well crafted. Digital Chocolate’s Tower Bloxx
is also excellent, a nice simple action puzzle game that is
refreshingly different to anything else and for outright weirdness you
have to check out Gamevil’s NOM.

Generally as a game player I’m rather bored of playing the latest
sequel with slightly better graphics than last year so I’m always on
the look out for something new. I’m also looking forward to getting my
hands on a Nintendo Wii; its
novel control system will ensure developers approach game development
in a creative manner rather than just porting their existing games to
it without thinking and at the end of the day the games just look like
they are pure and simple fun

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    Arjan Olsder is the Vice President of Pixalon Studios. Opinions expressed on this publication do not have to represent those of Pixalon Studios.


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