Company Spotlight: Cheeky

October 23rd, 2006 by Arjan Olsder Posted in Interviews | No Comments »

Cheeky was one of the first to enter the mobile games market, but is currently struggling to survive. Mark Riply, CEO of Cheeky opened up to us and talked about the problems he faces and how he tries to wake up fellow developers and distributors.

[Arjan] So first off, I know Cheeky has been around for ages as I played your games back when the 3510i was still on the shelves. What was the reason for you to jump into a market that was pretty much underdeveloped back then?

[Mark] Well we’d pretty much done the Web games market to death. As Friendly Giants we had a portfolio of over 50 games – casual, hardcore, 3D – but we just couldn’t make enough money from it. I formed Cheeky on the back of a deal we struck with 3 (we were one of their initial line-up of development partners), which essentially funded our first six months. From that we could explore other markets.

Aside from that, mobile was my last hope at forging a new IP, before all the license holders jumped in a ruined the market as they have done with PC/console. Development costs were low, project times were low, so again it allowed us to explore new ideas without bankrupting ourselves.

[Arjan] Which of your first series of games do you regard as the overall Cheeky classic?

[Mark] From the first series I’d say Wooly World. It was quite experimental, in that the artwork was based around the works of Mackenzie Thorpe, and we tried to make it humorous with sheep shaggers, butchers and mad chickens. As far as sales go though, the classic was Bubble Tots. We sold over 40,000 copies of that fella.

[Arjan] You are known also as a blogger. As the last one you seem to cause a lot of disturbance by opening up the troubles you see on the market. The latest post for example displaying that a #3 game on AOL DE earned you 6 euro. Aren’t you afraid this might backfire on you?

[Mark] How can it backfire? I’ll earn 2 euro? 😀  I’m getting to the point with the mobile games business where I just don’t care any more. Take AOL – they make up their charts to rotate new content. I’ve since learned they’re not the only ones to do this. I can see their reasons for doing this, but it’s misleading to punters and publishers.

[Arjan] The troubles you have experienced in the market clearly seem to be the fundamentals for you to start the somewhat notorious private forums. Can you tell us a bit more about what the forums exactly stand for and who have access as it’s pretty much off limits for most of the industry.

[Mark] The forums are for a number of things these days:

  • For developers to talk about techy things, business ideas, and general chat
  • To report on pirates, and take action to shut them down
  • To find out which distributor owns or provides content to a particular site
  • To discuss distributors themselves – the good, the bad and the ugly

Only the last forum is strictly private – it’s only open to developers whom don’t distribute a significant amount of other people’s content. I say "significant amount" because most developers themselves are doing a spot of publishing on the side. Obviously having distributors themselves on this forum would stop developers talking openly about who the dodgy characters are.

Everyone who wants to join the forum is vetted. There’s a lot of valuable sensitive information on there, so unless you’re actively involved in mobile games development or publishing, you won’t be allowed on. What would be the point?

[Arjan] Also you noted on your blog that you are porting your J2me games to Microsoft’s XNA platform. What is your experience in this?

[Mark] XNA is great. It just works. When our latest game Blobbit Push is finished I’m going to switch to leading development on XNA, *then* port to Java/J2ME. Love or hate Microsoft (and I hate XP), they’ve always known how to make good tools.

I have a middleware layer called Platform, which defines a common API across XNA, J2SE and all the different J2ME handsets. The idea is you write your game to the API, then link it to the relevant Platform JAR/DLL and you’ve got a version for that device. Because Java and C# are so similar, I can practically take the Java code and plop it straight in to XNA. And vice versa.

The thinking behind this is to produce versions for XBLA, standalone versions for PC (i.e. that don’t require Java) which lead on to other opportunities such as Interactive Television.

[Arjan] Do you recon XNA has a more easy and safe path to the market?

[Mark] Well XNA is certainly more straightforward than porting to hundreds of different mobile phones =) Everyone is jumping on the XBLA bandwagon though, so we’ll have to wait and see.

[Arjan] Will this mean we will also see your games on XBOX 360?

[Mark] Hopefully! Like I say, its become a fiercely competitive market.

[Arjan] Do you look at other possible platforms for your games?

[Mark] I look at every platform possible. iPod is the one I’m keeping a keen eye on. It’s a closed shop at the moment, but hopefully once Apple have created a toolset for it there will be a developer programme where you can submit content for distribution through iTunes. I hope they do open it up for third parties to develop for because Apple have it sorted – a true mass-market device, a cool brand, and most importantly an established distribution mechanism.

[Arjan] From all games you developed, what do you recon is the best one and why?

[Mark] From a technical standpoint, GR++. That was 9 months of hard graft, trying to squeeze every last drop of performance. Blobbit Push is the most enjoyable game to play though I think – it’s a Sokoban game, but with lots of different enemies you have to avoid. Stoo’s done a cracking job on the level design and the graphics are gorgeous. The desktop version should be out in the next week or so, with the mobile ones close behind….

[Arjan] Looking at the competition in the market, which game has inspired you most and why?

[Mark] Anything that tries to do something *different*, rather than simply take a license and slap a crap game on it, or another tedious port of some console or Amiga game. Anything that tries to make a game for the phone and the situations when you’re stuck with a phone as your 
only source of entertainment.

[Arjan] Is there any closing statement you wish to make toward the readers?

[Mark] Don’t do it! Develop games for mobile phones, that is. Become a plumber instead. I’m sure it’d be infinitely more rewarding and your customers will actually pay you. =)

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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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