Interview: Player One's Pete Russell on sporty mobile games

Cricket, rugby, and how video could feature in the future

Interview: Player One's Pete Russell on sporty mobile games

Summertime (well, it's stopped snowing...) and a young-at-heart pocket gamer's thoughts turn to blue skies, jumpers for goalposts, or failing that playing a soccer game on your mobile phone whilst sheltering from the rain under a damp hedge.

We thought we'd mark the changing of the seasons by talking to the rather outdoorsy mobile games publisher Player One. And happily, key man Pete Russell proved a good sport...

How are things going? Summer must be a busy time for a sports-focused publisher?

Yeah, we've got an interesting run of things going through the next nine months. We've got Ronnie O'Sullivan's Snooker 2007, the Grand National, and a new Frankie Dettori game that involves management, so it's probably one of our more in-depth games.

Then we've got Michael Vaughan 3 and Freddie Flintoff 3 coming, Pokermillion's going to come back with more multiplayer features, and then in the latter part of the year we'll have a pool game which will be best-of-breed, and a snowboarding game.

Our strategy is very simple: we go for key events, and try and get one game out a month, which satisfies what the operators are looking for. We're seeing very good numbers on some of the games. For example, Phil Taylor's Power Darts had a very good run.

Sports games are still doing well on mobile then?

Yes, they lend themselves very well to mobile, especially as they get you off on the right foot from a marketing perspective in terms of how operators treat them.

We have done non-sports games, but you don't get the same tail that you get with sports games. For example, we've been relaunching the likes of Vaughan and Flintoff for the cricket World Cup, even though newer games like Lara and Pietersen are out.

Is signing individual sports stars the way forward, too?

I think so, yes. We can do more with a person, even though there's an element of risk. Michael Vaughan's a good example. If he gets injured and doesn't play, what's your strategy?

But we've been very fortunate in general. And if you think about football, EA has FIFA wrapped up from a licensing point of view, so it would be mad for us to spend a lot of money on a licence to try and compete with that.

Look at cricket: we've got two of the big boys [Gameloft and Glu] coming up against us, which must suggest we're doing something right. It's not rocket science in terms of the sports you select: where there's an event with a lot of hype around it, we'll try to find a licence that fits.

As I said, you can't underestimate the popularity even of darts: we had a huge spike in sales over Christmas due to the World Championships.

Let's talk about the rugby Six Nations game. We didn't like it at all, but it's only fair to get your views?

Well, it's one of those... It wouldn't necessarily be one of our go-to games. We've got franchises like Vaughan, Phil The Power and Pokermillion that play incredibly well. This one was a struggle in terms of delivery: you have these dates you have to get the game out for, and the game development cycle is getting longer and longer.

We all felt that the game wasn't a true simulation, but it wasn't intended to be a true simulation. Going forward, we understand that to work with the Six Nations licence, you have to get closer to that.

So no, the game wasn't a classic, and we accept that point, but it wasn't a complete disaster. It's a simple game to play, and we think it's pretty fun. But yes, we realised its limitations, so going forward we want it to be more of a sim.

What's more interesting in the future for these kinds of games, 3D graphics or more connected aspects?

The latter is more interesting for me, but we want to take it further than that. We want to evolve the gameplay so there's more interaction with other kinds of content. A good example is Michael Vaughan, where it'd be great to play the game, and then be rewarded by showing you a video of Michael Vaughan's greatest moment. That's the kind of stuff we've been looking towards, anyway.

Some of the games will be 3D, obviously, but we won't get too excited about that until we feel the market has moved in that direction.

Multiplayer and high scores? Some games lend themselves to that more than others. We just want to keep evolving what we're doing in terms of gameplay, and that's where the sports video area could come in. If we can link the games and the video together, that's a unique proposition that EA and Gameloft can't do, as they don't have access to those rights.

Thanks Russell! If you want to know more, you can check out all of our coverage of Player One's mobile games.