Financial fragility is forcing indies into a too narrow focus, reckons XMG's Adam Telfer

Innovation requires broader approach

Financial fragility is forcing indies into a too narrow focus, reckons XMG's Adam Telfer
| XMG Studio news

In many respects, there doesn't appear to be anything much remarkable about Canadian outfit XMG Studio.

The developer has a finger in many, varied pies: titles such as the firm's latest, Fashion Star Boutique being the polar opposite of previous releases such as Marine Sharpshooter or Cows vs. Aliens.

But that's its trick.

Mobile developers who actively target entirely different sectors of the market are rare, compared to the majority of companies who find a comfort zone and stick with it.

We caught up with XMG VP of game development Adam Telfer to see why the Toronto-based studio is happy to stand out from the crowd.

Pocket Gamer: You've worked on a lot of different sorts of games. What's the thinking behind current release Fashion Star Boutique?

Adam Telfer: Our second major franchise was Style Studio, so XMG is no stranger to the female market - it's a reflection of our studio. And we have a couple of extremely talented female developers, artists and designers.

XMG recognised a huge hole in the market for 'core' girl games. There are plenty of games in the marketplace targeting women, which aren't really XMG's style.

Most games revolve around finding and keeping boyfriends, choosing an outfit, being a party girl etc., instead of actually challenging the player with real, creative, problem solving situations like in Fashion Star Boutique.

It was a game created in partnership between a fashion designer and a game designer.

It was a tough design process, too, but they achieved something we feel hasn't been done before. A game that is built around creativity, focuses on the niche of fashion - not necessarily girl or boy - and delivers a quality game experience that lasts hours.

Most mobile outfits tend to focus on one or two specific genres. Why do you think this is?

It is easy to stick to the cash cow when you've got one. Focus is incredibly important in the mobile game market when there are so many games out there. It's cost effective. Building for a similar audience means you build expertise in the niche.

But some studios focus a bit too much, I think, sharing a lot of code, art, and design from previous games. They create clones upon clones of their first game. While some developers are so averse to risk that they clone others people's games.

Others tend to focus on what works, but allow for innovation for the future. That's our approach.

Do you think this will change?

I think developers focusing on a specific niche of gamers is just a reflection of the market we are in: a lot of small indie studios competing with each other. None have a lot of financial backing - they're paying the bills with the modest app sales. They don't have the financial backing to branch out and take risks.

I think it helps that those companies focus and deliver quality products, but the downside is that they aren't able to innovate or take risks as quickly as a company like XMG can.

We, of course, put a lot of attention and focus on our core franchises: Drag Racer and Style Studio, which is obvious in our game Fashion Star Boutique and upcoming launch of Drag Racer World.

Fashion Star Boutique was a large push forward to innovate in the girl space, a space that has been flooded with games like It Girl, Fashion Icon and others like it.

Cows vs. Aliens was our opportunity to innovate the arcade genre, and we did so by implementing a brand new mechanic that won the Best App Ever Award for Most Innovative Android Game.

We will continue to innovate - you can look forward to our take on the augmented reality meets location based world with our Ghostbusters game this summer.

Do you try to share gameplay elements across your various games?

We don't share a lot of gameplay elements. We prefer to target each niche audience deeply, and thus build features and gameplay elements that specifically target them.

We take our learnings from our previous properties, and design our games around what we know and what our target audience wants.

We do focus on what works though. Through our experience launching Cows, Drag Racer, Marine Sharpshooter, Style Studio, Degrassi and Totally Amp'd, we were able to understand new monetisation models and really look at what is the purchasing behaviour of the mobile marketplace.

In many of our games we focus on customisation as its core, allowing the user to create whatever experience they can imagine.

What advantages does appealing to multiple different types of gamers give XMG?

We have a solid knowledge base across different segments of the market and substantial experience in the female market - more than most studios.

We find so many companies out there are starving for opportunities on the Apple App Store and because of our breadth of knowledge and willingness to innovate we are able to create opportunities across many different market segments and with many different partners.

For original IP projects, we are agile and are able to deploy games to open market segments quicker then other companies. We aren't tied down to company ideals, which focus on staying in 'red ocean' competitive regions of the market. We are able to deploy games to 'blue oceans' – or open market segments - regardless of who or where they are.

Any downsides to this approach?

Not being able to really cross-promote our games is a disadvantage. Our Fashion Star Boutique players won't want to play our Drag Racer game, but could enjoy Style Studio or Cows vs. Aliens. We cross-market where we can.

We are able to do a lot of excellent link shares with multiple partners, however, so even though we can't effectively cross-market with our internal brands, there are tons of games on the App Store with better fitting customer bases that we can pull players from and help push players to.

The indie game marketplace has a great community of devs that help each other out too.

Are all your projects produced in-house, or do you outsource?

We build games under the XMG brand name generally, but we've also launched a few games on Windows Phone developed by winners of our Great Canadian Appathon contests, which were created by students from the winning teams.

Where do you think such broad approach could take XMG? Could acquisitions of specialist studios be on the cards?

Our hope is that our broad approach will continue to flourish and allow us to stay competitive and innovative.

We will continue to service segments of the market where we find new and un-serviced players. We will also hopefully continue to find segments, which offer plenty of reward, and grow our active user base.

We have no studios in mind - sorry, no juicy hints. XMG will always keep its options open and we are willing to take risks, so nothing is off the table.

Thanks to Adam for his time.

You can pose your own questions to Adam via Twitter.

Subscribe to Pocket Gamer on
Keith Andrew
Keith Andrew
With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. He's also Pocket Gamer's resident football gaming expert and, thanks to his work on, monitors the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.