Designing Games for Mobile with Lucas Gonzalez- Episode 132
We really needed an expert to talk to us about game design for mobile and console and give us the best career advice on that subject. So we found him! This week’s guest, Lucas Gonzalez sits with us to go over a career of mobile game design after a career of console game design, he tells us how students can accelerate their career climb and what’s most important about being a good designer that can create for any platform.
Lucas Gonzalez is currently the Product Manager for Zeptolab, creators of Cut the Rope and C.A.T.S. Before ZeptoLab, Lucas was a lead game designer at Gameloft and many other notable companies like Tequila Works, that shipped Deadlight.
What is a Product Manager?
“ A Product Manager is not as evil as what a producer role is in AAA games.”
A Product Manager Is a unique position in the mobile world and as Lucas puts it, it is
“not as evil as what a producer role is in AAA games” as everyone roars in laughter. The job entails making task lists, scheduling, and setting up the high level vision of the game. Overall the Product Manager “help facilitate the vision to stakeholders and other parts of the company.” As Lucas further explains, “When you are making pc,console, or a mobile game and you are a so- called lead game designer or game designer - at the end of the day you are always thinking how your players will feel playing the game.” When he was leaving Gameloft he was reading the description of a Product Manager and what the role was, he discovered that he “was already doing all of it.” The term itself was quite new to him with his background being mostly working in the PC/Console market.
After years working in the mobile game industry his role is even more defined as being in the middle of the marketing team, analytics team, stakeholders, designers and “sometimes this can be very bad” Lucas warns. “Because of my background of being a game designer the stakeholders perceive I am still a game designer that would only listen to the developers and to the developers I represent the stakeholders.” “So neither side wants to ally with him,” Larry jokes.
Transitioning from PC/CONSOLE to Indie Developer to Mobile
Lucas mentions that “Gameloft had some bad press.” Because Gameloft’s business model is all about borrowing popular console games and bringing that to mobile without much changes to the game design. In defense, Larry gives credit to Gameloft because “a lot of console-esque level gaming was available on iOS or Android devices way early due to them taking interest and driving forces saying ‘hey, we want the mobile version of Call of Duty or I want the mobile version of these games.” Lucas adds that “first person shooters in console saw a resistance from the keyboard and mouse community” then “halo and all these games pop up and now it's okay” playing on a gamepad. Now that games are moving to touchpad Lucas thinks “people mentally will get use to it because they just want the experience and the controls will adapt to these players.”
Lucas’s transition to Gameloft after working in the PC/Console market for many years earned him a lot of respect among his new peers. “Even though there were game designers that knew much more than me,” Lucas explains “they felt they were more low level game designers because they are working in mobile.” He didn’t understand this because “they are great,” he says “they knew a lot of game systems and they really understand the player’s mind - and they knew a lot of mobile games.”
At first, when he started at Gameloft, it was a big learning curve for him besides knowing the market. He had to learn “all these free to play things... like an upward chase? What is that?” Lucas rhetorically asked. His background of mostly platformers and adventure games made it challenging because he mostly started doing spreadsheet balancing. He shares that if he had worked on RTS and strategy games, it would have made the transition much easier. Because he understood that free to play was standard in the mobile market “which makes the case for balancing,” Lucas reasons.
Although, after a awhile, Lucas was falling into his groove and felt “in my head, I'm like. ‘Hey! I make games and I started working in console and pc, but now I'm getting more and more experience in mobile and am looking more and more like a mobile designer!”
Master Race of Console Game Designer
“You have console/PC game designers and then you take this guy from mobile, he has a vision that is different. And if you know how to do things this vision will make what you are doing much more richer. Also the same - the other way around.”
Lucas references in the podcast about his wonderful article titled “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mobile Games” in where he explains the difference between working in mobile games vs console. Whereby in mobile, you are doing many things that you are not doing in console games. For example, when you are doing a sub lounge you have a direct contact to the player that you don't have access to in console. However, he iterates that “game design is about players understanding players and providing experience for players, and this is valid for every single platform.”
The benefits for console developers to move to mobile is great and should be happening more often. “When you are bringing some mobile game designer to console. You are also bringing a vision,” Lucas continues, “you have console/PC game designers and then you take this guy from mobile, he has a vision that is different. And if you know how to do things this vision will make what you are doing much more richer. Also the same - the other way around.”
Larry agrees and says “A great way to kinda tie that example, and it might sound kind of silly, is that in farming they rotate crops. Where they use the same dirt obviously to grow crops. Like they grow corn every year, every year, every year. But then one year they're like 'actually we can't keep making this corn, we need to bring in this other type of crop. Because of soil richness, it actually changes based on what is being farmed there. So the idea is we are always going to keep generating the same thing. Well ‘Hey! Let's bring this outside influence with a different perspective and the way they think and the way they may attack or problem solve is different from the way we currently do it. And they maybe better overall for the yield.”
“Let's bring this outside influence with a different perspective and the way they think and the way they may attack or problem solve is different from the way we currently do it. And they maybe better overall for the yield.”
The State of Mobile Games
“C.A.T.S. has been downloaded by more than 70 million people,” Lucas says proudly. He believes game designers just want to make games for players and 'if you really want to reach players that will like participate in the experience that you have crafted. Then yeah you are reaching an incredible audience with games that you don't have on console and PC.” Brandon adds that “It's an ego-thing on my part, ‘how do i make my mark in this world? Especially through this medium that i have dedicated my career to. We are in a unique space where we can reach hundreds of millions of users out there that play games and send a message basically. And mobile is the platform to do that if you want to send a message to everyone and reach everybody.”
Brandon asked about the effect of Fortnite’s success on mobile and Lucas reasons that mobile games that doesn't have “all this free to play business stuff, that has super long game sessions super awful interface, super not mobile tutorial- making a lot of money and having millions of players.” he hopes “this is a game changer and open the door for mobile players. And bring even more experiences to mobile.”
“There's a huge gap from the super successful mobile game company, that is able to afford everything and there are guys out there that would put out 1000 apps and it just doesn't work.”
The mobile game industry has seen some great successes but the industry as a whole is still is in its infancy. So when looking for game designers Lucas shares “Honestly, it's still difficult to find a mobile game designer that has a lot of experience in mobile.” He continues “When you see someone that has really grown up playing mobile games. They’re mindset is super, super different.” Things in mobile have to be accessible and mobile game designers need to learn alot about user interface and tutorials precision “and these guys are completely hardwired.” Making mobile games is really competitive now and the market is supersaturated. “There's a huge gap from the super successful mobile game company,” Brandon comments, “ that is able to afford everything and there are guys out there that would put out 1000 apps and it just doesn't work.”
Making games in general is so difficult that Lucas often jokes with his friend and asks “if you had money, what would you do with the money?” and in response his friends would say “I won’t be making games.”
The key differences with mobile versus console/PC development is that the mobile industry is more data-driven. Therefore “mobile is a lot more apparent and the players are more responsive so ‘[mobile developers] are a lot more connected to [their] core audience than AAA” Lucas further explains. “But when you go to mobile” he says “yeah things start, like, changing fast.”
He feels “at the end of the day, gaming is entertainment, that maybe can be a art, but you have to create something that people want to play.”
Indie Mobile Development Still Possible?
It is really getting hard to stand out in the APP store especially with experienced big mobile companies like Gameloft and Zeptolab regularly rounding out the top 10 in the charts. So is there even a chance for indie mobile developers to get noticed? “Yes!” Lucas answers simply. “There are ways to get featured,” so everyone can still apply and “when you get featured, and you might happen to have a thousand or some million players’
Monument Valley and Alto’s Adventures comes to mind and “has this kind of indie flavor with apple interface and colors. And they make it. And they are there and super successful” Lucas mentions. He advises “If you have a really good idea and indie concept, instead of looking for a publisher, try to approach a platform.” In truth, he agrees it is difficult “but maybe you can do it. I’m sure it’s super hard, but everything is so hard these days.” To add on to that thought, Larry says “Knowing its super hard should make you feel good, because not everyone is willing to try it.”
“Knowing its super hard should make you feel good, because not everyone is willing to try it.”
How to Get Featured in the APP Store
Getting featured on the app store heightens the success of your mobile game and it is a very big deal. Usually, at large companies “there are people dedicated to it” Lucas shares. But he reassures that as long as “You apply, at some point you will get an answer.” He once asked the Monument Valley developers this very same question and they answered “eventually you know what Apple likes. You know what Google likes. [We] think at some point of view if you are trying to get a publisher, you need to bring something that’s showing your concept that fits the style of the company and go for the specific publisher.” Lucas concludes to just study what Apple usually features and copy that. “If you think of it, it makes sense,” he says.
Sponsors & Gratitude
WANT TO TALK TO LARRY & BRANDON in real-time to discuss the episode or get some feedback on something you are working on? Join us in Discord for After Show Tuesdays and Feedback Fridays. Where every week we discuss with our listeners about their thoughts on the new episodes and give FREE advice on personal projects.
KEEP IN TOUCH!