Hope Springs Eternal: Can Mobile Offer a Console Experience?

Ryan Payton on developing République, going episodic and why F2P is "manipulative, evil and anti-consumer"

This Thursday, Ryan Payton - of Metal Gear Solid and Halo 4 fame - will launch his Kickstarter-funded stealth-action title République on iOS. Payton and his studio Camouflaj are aiming to revolutionize the mobile games space with an offering that showcases console-like gameplay and story on the small screen, but without the complexity that a controller inherently brings.

Payton, who is very much against the free-to-play option, has chosen an episodic model for République. The first episode is five dollars and the first season of five episodes can be had for $15, which is 25 percent off the total.

The game itself puts players in control of surveillance cameras, which must be put to good use to aid the main character, Hope, in escaping from an Orwellian state. The 1984-inspired title is planned for PC and Mac next year as well.

In the interview below, Payton chats with GamesIndustry International about the challenges of building a game for mobile that will appeal to console players, how smartphones need to be Trojan Horses for the games business, and why free-to-play is wrong for Camouflaj.

Q:You're one of a number of AAA devs who've tried to bring “console quality” games to mobile. Isn't it a mistake, though, to try to make the mobile platform something it's not? Perhaps the touch screen is inherently going to limit mobile to less-than-core experiences...

Ryan Payton:That's a good question. It's true that we're trying to push the iOS platform towards a more console-like experience, but I can't claim that République is the first to attempt this. I clearly remember lying in bed playing Infinity Blade in bed on December 9, 2010. It really opened my eyes to what was possible, not only with the iOS hardware, but what's possible with touchscreens. From that moment forward, I started doing mental exercises on how to bring the things I love about console gaming to these smaller devices.

"These devices are the true Trojan Horse gaming devices, now it's up to us developers to be smart about how we design our games for them"

I also clearly remember bringing Metal Gear Solid 4 home and showing it to my family. They were enthralled by the opening sequence, but when it came time to play, they just couldn't wrap their heads (and hands) around the 17-button controller. People were shouting out commands like “press and hold X!” and “Hold L2 and then press R2 to fire!” It was a disaster.

I love games and I believe in how transformative of an entertainment medium they can be, and I believe that the global appeal of games have been stunted in recent years by expensive, dedicated machines and overly complex controllers. While experiencing video games will never be as simple as sitting down in a theater and watching a film, I think that games designed specifically for touchscreens are the way we get hundreds of millions of people playing. A number of popular mobile games have already proven this.

In short, we should be thinking of ways to expand our appeal beyond the 10 or 20 million people who buy NBA2K and Call of Duty every year, and be leveraging the global adoption of smartphones and tablets so more games reach the 300 million-player mark. These devices are the true Trojan Horse gaming devices, now it's up to us developers to be smart about how we design our games for them. It's up to us to define what gaming experiences are best for phones and tablets.

Q:You've got an all-star voice cast for République, which is something very few mobile titles can boast about. Voice can be a huge element in immersion on console/PC AAA titles. How important will solid acting be to elevating the mobile games space?

Ryan Payton:I've been a big believer in game voiceovers ever since I played the original Metal Gear Solid, so you can imagine what an honor it was to work with the voiceover director (Kris Zimmerman Salter) and the franchise voice cast on Metal Gear Solid 4. It was incredible to see, first hand, what they brought to the game.

So when we started development on République back in 2011, I knew that I wanted to work with the Metal Gear voice talent again, no matter the budget or what form our mobile project would take. Not only are Kris Zimmerman Salter, Jennifer Hale, David Hayter and Khary Payton extremely talented, they are also great and supportive friends.

I don't think the whole idea of bringing voiceovers to mobile is as radical of an idea today as it was back in 2011, but the idea of doing facial capture for a mobile game still surprises people. In addition to doing motion capture for all our cinematics, we've partnered with Faceware Technologies to power the facial performance in République. Thankfully, our talent like Jennifer Hale and Rena Strober were totally committed to it. We knew from the very beginning that we had to nail voiceovers and facial performance, because the whole fantasy of the game is about Hope calling players on their iOS device…

Q:What went into the decision to go episodic? Does it allow for more development tuning based on feedback? Does it mitigate risk for Camouflaj? Are you hoping it's ultimately a more profitable business model? Also, do you see episodic becoming a more prevalent model emerging on consoles and across all platforms?

"Camouflaj may never be valued at a billion dollars, but I can also sleep at night knowing we're not manipulating people into spending hundreds of dollars for something that is clearly not really worth it"

Ryan Payton:A lot went into our decision to go episodic. While we've always felt good about the PC marketplace, we spent a year debating internally how we would monetize the game on the App Store. Many of our friends and industry colleagues warned us against premium pricing on the App Store, as consumers have shifted to the free-to-play model and hesitate to pay upfront for anything, even if it's 99 cents. Forget about charging $9.99 for the whole thing like we initially envisioned.

Around springtime, we looked at what we had developed: a high quality, five-chapter, 10-15 hour game. We knew there was no way we could market the game for $10 or more on the App Store, which is why we were really excited to see the success Telltale was having with its episodic model on the App Store. That's when we started to explore the idea of selling the game as $4.99 individual chapters with a $14.99 season pass.

That said, we're still trying to pave our own way with République. For starters, we've added a lot more value to the season pass with an exclusive interactive developer commentary feature and exclusive chapter of our making of video. We also guarantee players early access to Episode 2, which is a great value add.

In terms of the actual development of the game, I'm excited about what the episodic model will mean for the overall quality of the game. République is not 100 percent linear, meaning that we will be updating previous content with the release of each new episode. Not only does this mean we'll be finding and fixing more bugs, but it also means we'll be improving the overall design and performance of the game across all devices. I'm really excited to see and feel how Episode 1 plays when Episode 5 launches. This idea of continuous updates is something I've always enjoyed about the Infinity Blade series, and it's something we intend to double-down on with République.

Q:Was any consideration given to free-to-play? Could you have used this model or would it have ruined your design?

Ryan Payton:We explored the idea of free-to-play for a few weeks, but ultimately decided it didn't make sense for our initial release. We actually have a number of systems in the game that are compatible with free-to-play, but we don't charge any real-world currency for them. To our F2P friends, they'll just cringe when they see that…

Personally, I really struggle with free-to-play. There are a handful of free-to-play games that I like and respect, but for the most part, I think they are manipulative, evil and anti-consumer. I personally don't want to be a part of this rush to squeeze as much money out of consumers as possible. The bigger companies are literally milking hundreds of thousands of dollars out of some players, and in my opinion, that sort of business should stay in Las Vegas.

Camouflaj makes high quality games - we'll charge you up front, and then you can do whatever you want with it without fear of being nickel and dimed. Camouflaj may never be valued at a billion dollars, but I can also sleep at night knowing we're not manipulating people into spending hundreds of dollars for something that is clearly not really worth it.

That's not to say that République doesn't have any IAP, though. We have our $14.99 season pass, and we also charge players for extra content like the making of video, the soundtrack and our ancillary fiction iBook.

I'm still a believer in the premium model on the App Store, and I'm happy to see December filled with a lot of great premium games like The Room Two, Skulls of the Shogun, and San Andreas. I hope this trend continues. I hope consumers show up.

In the future, I want to explore new methods of monetization that has some of the merits of free-to-play (try before you buy, anti-piracy), but for right now, we're excited about our episodic approach.

Q:It seems like you landed on Kickstarter when the wave of interest was red hot. Now, however, many projects are seeing backlash, and it's become harder to generate funding this way. If you were starting all over again now, would you even try Kickstarter?

Ryan Payton:Kickstarter is the best thing that happened to Camouflaj and the République project - not only was the funding extremely helpful, but we've really benefited from having a community of eleven thousand fans there to keep us excited and honest.

I'm really interested in seeing how Kickstarter evolves in 2014. I think it's still a great platform for getting your game funded, especially now that consumers are wiser and can detect BS when they see it.

Q:How has your experience on MGS and Halo helped you? Or was it a hindrance in some ways because you had to change your thinking radically for a new platform?

Ryan Payton:One of the biggest things that influenced me with my Metal Gear experience was that team's relentless commitment to quality. It didn't matter if it was the game, a trailer or a TGS pamphlet - the team fought hard to make sure everything was delivered at the highest level of quality. This is something I've been trying to instill in Camouflaj with everything we do.

"We have the same broad-scope aspirations for this game as other, more established studios have for their huge, next-gen console IPs"

I think my experience at Microsoft better prepared me for developing a totally new game for a relatively new platform. In the early days of Halo 4, we were in an extended blue-sky pre-production period that got me thinking of radical new ways to play. We were also part of early Kinect meetings, which trained my brain to consider new input methods.

Despite my experience on Halo and Metal Gear, nothing could have truly prepared us for what we embarked upon: two years designing a console-like 3D action game that takes the 17-button controller experience and distills it down to one touch. No gimmicks, no rails, no virtual joysticks. I'm super proud of what we've accomplished, especially because there was no roadmap and no other iOS games to take inspiration from. This was both extremely exciting and scary.

Q:I understand you're also taking a transmedia approach with République, offering a separate iBook and a soundtrack. In the past, mobile games became extensions for existing brands, but in this case you're working in the reverse direction, trying to establish the brand on mobile first and expanding with transmedia. What went into this decision and what's your ultimate goal for the République brand?

Ryan Payton:By beginning this journey on mobile, we're able to expand on the République brand in a way that's contextual, that feels driven by the objectives and desires of the game's characters. Since our story begins with a desperate phone call from Hope, it's fitting that we establish the game on mobile devices first. In the case of our iBook, the République Manifesto, it's our strategy guide, but it also features heavily into République's story, right up front in Episode 1. In fact, our character, Zager, the revolutionary, has taken the Overseer's Manifesto, the bible which all subjects in the game world must carry with them, and written hints on how to escape in the margins of its pages. The fictional strategy guide for Hope becomes a real-life strategy guide for the player.

Going forward, we have the same broad-scope aspirations for this game as other, more established studios have for their huge, next-gen console IPs. Our beginnings are, perhaps, more humble than others, which only serves to fuel our ambitions as industry underdogs.


Q:One of the biggest problems on mobile is discoverability. Unless Apple features you in the store, or you have a good marketing or viral campaign, you'll never get noticed. Have you worked out any feature placement with Apple?

Ryan Payton:Whether we are featured by Apple is obviously up to them, and they do a great job of spotlighting quality. It's been our approach to just ship the best game possible and then hope for the best. We also have the added benefit of our Kickstarter community and an IP that millions of people are aware of thanks to our dramatic crowdfunding campaign last year.

Q:Are you worried about the timing of the release, just a few days before Christmas, that République could get lost in the shuffle?

Ryan Payton:We are all very competitive people, and we haven't batted an eye when we look to the other competition on the App Store. At the end of the day, quality will win out, and we're very confident that République will be one of the best games on the App Store this Christmas.

This has been our vision since day one, and we've partnered with dozens of people and studios to make République a reality. We've all got a lot invested in this game, and we're proud that we've been able to achieve our ambitious vision. In a way, we're just getting started though - we have more episodes to deliver, and we're still developing the desktop version of the game. 2014 is going to be a very exciting year for us, but it all starts on December 19!

Related stories

We've been thinking about storytelling wrong - Payton

Camouflaj founder says developers should be letting players tell their own stories

By Brendan Sinclair

Camouflaj: Fighting the good fight with Republique

AAA, episodic, premium-priced content for mobile - Ryan Payton on a project of uncommon ambition

By Matthew Handrahan

Latest comments (16)

Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd5 years ago
There are already thousands of mobile games that appeal to console gamers, they're just ones that play to the strengths of the format.

"Bringing console quality to mobile" always seems to be a euphemism for spending a conspicuous amount of money on rendering technology and art assets. It doesn't even represent what console games are any more. I have played and enjoyed many more modest, well-crafted 2D games on console in the past five years than I've played over-produced wannabe 'blockbusters' on mobile.

The notion that consoles are too expensive and complex for mainstream audiences requires us to ignore mega-successful casual console franchises like Let's Dance, Singstar, Rock Band and Wii Fit, and mega-selling handhelds like the DS.

That's not the bottleneck. There just aren't an infinite number of players who want to invest time in deep and involving games.

I fully expect that Republique will get marketing support from the platform holders (Apple do love glitz) but unless it's super amazing, will struggle in the long term, like most games that try to buck the trend of what the mobile audience actually wants. Good luck to them though.
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Andreia Quinta Photographer, Studio52 London5 years ago
The answer is simple. No.

And it's ridiculous to keep comparing chicken with beef when you can have both.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
I actually want to play this game quite a lot. Just not on a tiny or bigger tablet screen.
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Show all comments (16)
Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany5 years ago
So far not my case, and it's been years already. Closest case have always been ports with sub-par controls.

Maybe someday, but with the massive focus in F2P and casual gaming they will hardly get the attention of console gamers.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
Can Mobile Offer a Console Experience? Why should it? Mobile offers a different, some may say better, experience. You control the game directly with your fingers in the graphics. Not via some intermediary device. Good game designers delight in this.
Demonising FTP is just plain silly. FTP covers a huge range of game mechanics and business models. It is still in its early days and is developing very quickly, both from a game design point of view and from a customer expectation point of view. The overall concept of letting the customer play for free and then to pay only when they want to enhance their experience is a very good one.
Episodic is good. It worked for William Shakespeare, it worked for Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens, it worked for George Lucas. Our industry doesn't do it enough. The great thing about episodic IP is that is carries the emotional engagement of the customer from product to product. So everyone wins.
As for discoverability. The main problem with app stores is that publishers mostly lack marketing skills and expect the customers to come to them. Marketing requires just as much (often more) creativity and skill as development. Until the people publishing games understand and believe this they will continue to underperform and often fail.
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I'm not paying $4.99 per chapter
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee5 years ago
They don't need to but there will be some crossover in the ideas and visuals.

Its a shame we have more "F2P is evil" rhetoric here though, as that's probably not the way most players who enjoy and invest in these games feel. Its merely a different approach to monetisation from the publisher's perspective and accessing more content from the consumer perspective.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 19th December 2013 10:10am

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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd5 years ago
I think I may have been to harsh on this last night. If we put 'console-like' mobile games on a spectrum with Walking Dead and XCOM at one end and The Drowning at the other, there's at least a reasonable chance that Republique could be nearer the good end.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany5 years ago

Yeah, that's generalizing indeed. There is bad free to play in the "Now pay to keep evolving" (The Drowning, sorry but that is how I felt) and good one in "let's make something so awesome that people will want to pay for it although they already got the full experience"

DOTA2 and Path of Exile are amazing examples of good F2P

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 19th December 2013 11:15am

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David Serrano Freelancer 5 years ago
Is it only a matter of time before smartphones and tablets can (on some level) also function as TV game consoles?
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 5 years ago
This is STUPID.... mobile will never offer a console expirience and vice versa. No matter how powerful the hardware. The very nature of the two is completely differant and the industry should stop compairing the two and fighting a meaningless war.

An example is if I take a moble phone plug it to an HDMI 40" HDTV, plug it to the wall so I dont run out of power and connect a wireless game pad to it, it essentially becomes a home console defeating the purpose of mobile.
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Simon Lepine Studio Creative Director, Gameloft Montreal5 years ago
I'd really like for games like that to be a success on iOS but from my experience its going to do ok as a best case scenario. More likely is a decent launch, show up in the rankings for a week or 2 and then disappear. Christmas is also a tough spot to launch a game with a lot of discounted titles to compete with.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development5 years ago
No, mobile cannot provide a console experience.

It has different control inputs, not enough power and isn't meant to be played through a TV set. If a developer wants to make a console game, I have a suggestion for which platforms they should target with it. (Hint: It begins with 'c'.)

As for console "quality", I think I prefer mobile how it is. Direct, to the point, not overproduced and not overpriced.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 19th December 2013 9:18pm

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Matt Walker Production Coordinator, Capcom5 years ago
Man, I can't believe people scoff at paying 5 bucks for a game. If it's an enjoyable experience, regardless of platform, that should be enough to justify the purchase for the price.

In the end , whether mobile or console - a platform is just circuit boards and software. I personally prefer the console game experience to mobile, but that doesn't automatically make the value of mobile games worthless. They both have their strengths, and completely discounting one or the other seems disingenuous to me.
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ5 years ago
It's a shame that Apple make it so hard for Kickstarter Campaigns to get the app to the backers.

Currently, I'm really struggling to get my copy of the game, the full first season, for my iPad 2. Which is a real shame, seeing everything has gone so well so far, and the game looks really promising.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development5 years ago
Comment bait
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