Joseph M Tringali, 5TH Cell
As big brands, sequels, movie and traditional game tie-ins become commonplace in mobile entertainment, there too becomes a need for developers to think creatively in order to differentiate. Joseph M Tringali of US developer 5TH Cell offers advice on getting original IP published and the benefits of working with THQ Wireless.
Founded in XXXX by Joseph M Tringali, Jeremiah Slaczka and Brett Caird, 5TH Cell is a US-based mobile games developer with global ambitions. At the latter end of 2004, 5TH Cell announced an agreement with THQ Wireless that will see them publish their first three original concepts Siege, Mini Poccha and Seal Team 6 across Europe and the Americas.
As the studio looks to grow its broader mobile development capabilities, we stole some precious minutes with General Manager Joseph M Tringali to talk about the key challenges in delivering original IP, the benefits or publishing agreements and the future of mobile game development.
5TH Cell was started in August 2003 by Brett Caird, Jeremiah Slaczka, and Joseph M Tringali. I've been in the game industry along with Jeremiah for some time, and Brett is an MBA with previous experience of founding and building a successful IT start-up. We're founders of the company, and all lead in specific areas of the company.
Brett is Business Director and handles most of the business management, contracts, market strategy. Jeremiah is the Creative Director, and creates and pushes our vision of games and company projects, and I'm General Manager, producing and managing the development of our games and our company contacts. Rounding out our management team is a General Manager in Malaysia- Sherman Chin, and our Technical Director, Marius Fahlbusch.
Our company vision is to create great games with a positive message, and we wanted to retain as much ownership of the business and creative control of our projects as possible. We took a look at the game industry, our available finances, and decided that mobile was a great way to build our team, company and establish relationships with publishers.
We also have much more creative freedom and the opportunity to push our own IP, as well as work with great licenses. It's also a great challenge to fit your entire vision into (sometimes) 64KB of storage space.
Well, the market is becoming much more competitive, with heavy competition on the decks of the major carriers. Our game plan is to continue to work with top publishers and licenses while building up strong sales of our original IP.
We have a non-exclusive publishing agreement with THQ which grants some exclusive carrier rights in certain territories for SEAL Team 6, Siege and Mini Poccha. The agreement does not obligate us to publish any future titles with them, and none of our original titles currently in development have been added to the agreement as of this moment.
THQ Wireless has been absolutely great in supporting and publishing our products. They are very generous with royalties on our original products and helped us greatly in terms of porting and deployment for our first games. Back then, we didn't have the infrastructure or experience with porting, and they saved us a lot of time and got our products out to market.
THQ has assisted with the porting of our original projects and proceeded to deploy on carriers in Europe, with work proceeding on deployment in the Americas. We have formed relationships with producers and other people at THQ, primarily through the licensed projects we have developed for them over that period (such as Full Spectrum Warrior and Ministry of Sound: Club Manager, and two titles currently still under development). This has also allowed us to become familiar with their development practices.
5TH Cell handles all development... We provide THQ with a concept pitch, and if they are interested, then they contract us to complete the game for them. We usually do both a J2ME and BREW version, with several SKUs (and sometimes a significant quantity of ports). We design the game, code, art, sound, and THQ handles the majority of testing. We also consult on major game issues, and THQ coordinates with the licensor on any questions we have, or specifics that they want.
We've grown a lot each year, from a couple of guys working on original IP, to a leading independent developer able to handle multiple projects at one time. Each year brings growth and change, and I expect this next year to be no different. I expect us to continue to handle top licenses and also continue to support our original IP. We also will continue to expand our staff, and focus on more Research and Development in emerging technology
Original IP is always difficult to push, in both the console and mobile space. They key is to have your game done (or close to being done) and have the evaluator enjoy it from the get go. We actually spent a considerable amount of time looking for publishing deals, but finally our games reached the General Manager of THQ Wireless EMEA. He played them, liked them, and we ended up meeting at E3 2004 and negotiating a publishing deal.
Polish... And make the game fun. Make sure your characters and settings are identifiable to the mass market. Think ahead in regards to marketing, support your games with concept art, movies and other marketing material. I would also suggest focusing on one original property at a time, in order to give it the support required.
Original IP is increasingly difficult to get deployed due to competition on the carrier deck, but it does happen. I would also suggest concentrating on some of the growing carriers, so while Verizon and Vodafone might be off limits, several other smaller carriers might be crying for content. And finally, probably the most important part of getting your product to market is deployment.
Port that game to as many handsets as possible. The more handsets you have your product available on, the more lucrative your game will look to any publisher. If your game isn't done yet, then have a specific plan in place to port.
The Force is strong with this question.
It doesn't have much of an effect on the quality and effort involved. Established brands that are based on previous games usually come along with a set of expectations to meet (and exceed) and we always look for new ways to combine solid gameplay with whatever IP we're working with.
Well, I think there can be a tendency to take for granted the sales potential of a license and fail to develop an interesting game around it. To be successful developing brands, you need to think game first, then license. This is challenging on mobile, since you're limited in scope to what you can do.
Also, you have more people that aren't necessarily designers demanding a voice in the design process, and that can end up hurting the end result. A license owner is almost always more concerned with the appearance of their intellectual property, and less about how that affects gameplay.
Our Creative Director always looks at the platform, potential of a certain device or series, and designs a game that fits into it. Licensed games usually come along with numerous requests for gameplay modes, level types and features. Some publishers are more hands on in terms of dictating design then others are, THQ has been great in allowing us to have creative freedom in how we develop the titles.
Well there is currently a big push for 3D concepts and content. 3D development brings in its own host of problems, and will result in increasing the cost barrier for developers wanting to break into the industry. But I think we'll continue to see 2D dominate sales for a considerable amount of time.
Budgets and costs are going to go up, the market will continue to be competitive with fewer, more quality titles, and I think we'll see much more console style polish for mobile games. More and more traditional game companies will probably get into the mobile space, either pairing with an established developer / publisher or going at it alone.
Everyone in the industry is still waiting for the true gamer to pick up their mobile and take an interest in games, but that has yet to happen. When it does, expect to see an explosion in the popularity of the mobile space in regards to game-centric licenses.
I love what I do, and the people I work with. The challenges of co-operating an independent developer are numerous, but it's very satisfying to see a project well done. Over time, I've discovered that creating games is as much fun as actually playing them.