Today, Universal's Games and Digital Platforms publishing arm has announced a collaboration with Payday developer Starbreeze to create and publish a mobile entry for the franchise, Payday: Crime War.
Universal will be responsible for publishing and marketing the title, and will also contribute knowledge of games-as-a-service practices and mobile free-to-play expertise.
That expertise is led by Universal EVP Chris Heatherly, who joined Universal over two years ago to start building a team geared specifically for mobile publishing. The team is now around 60 strong, and is preparing for around 4-5 releases in 2019, including already-out Fast & Furious Takedown, story-building Series: Your Story Universe, and now Payday: Crime War.
"Mobile's half the game's market at this point, and everyone carries mobile phones, even core gamers who play on console and PC have a phone," said Heatherly, speaking to GamesIndustry.biz on the partnership. "If you want to be a relevant gaming brand, you've gotta be on mobile.
"If you want to be a relevant gaming brand, you've gotta be on mobile"
"The second thing is that in the last year, we've seen the migration of console games and console IPs over to mobile, in particular first-person-shooters, and those successes showed it's time for a game like Payday: Crime War to have strong equity with core gamers and deliver the ability to play on mobile for the first time."
The partnership with Universal came about due to the long relationship between the two companies, said Starbreeze acting CEO Mikael Nermark. Universal and Starbreeze go back 15 years to The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay in 2004, and the two recently worked together on location-based The Mummy Prodigium Strike VR in 2017.
For Nermark, Universal was a sensible partner also due to the publisher's knowledge of mobile gaming, which is new territory entirely for Starbreeze and the Payday franchise. With Universal at Starbreeze's side, Nermark seemed untroubled by a few of the pitfalls other popular console and PC IPs have run into recently as they announced mobile releases, including worries of fan backlash.
"When they see the game we're trying to make, I think it's going to attract core players as well as casual mobile players," Nermark said. "What we're trying to do is utilize the strength of the mobile format and make a new game in the Payday franchise."
Nermark also seemed unperturbed by the franchise's tenuous history with undesirable forms of microtransactions. Payday: Crime War will be a free-to-play mobile game, and though there are no details yet as to what monetization scheme will be used, past attempts at certain types of loot box monetization in Payday 2 did not go over well at all with players and were eventually reversed (though this was admittedly when Overkill still had its hands on the wheel).
"We're looking at the mobile market, and the mobile market is quite different from PC and console," Nermark said. "I think they're more used to free-to-play and monetization, and we want to be able create the next installment and bring Payday to the mobile market. We always try to use the benefits of each platform we [release] on."