Digital Legends Interview
Let’s start out by getting a sense of Digital Legends’ history. How did your original three-man team meet up and decide to go into the videogame development business together? Was it everyone’s first time in the industry, or did you already carry a lot of videogame development experience between the three of you?
Before founding Digital Legends, the three of us were working together on an award-winning PC game published by Codemasters in 2001 called Severance: Blade of Darkness.
We wanted a company that was recognized for doing high quality games, capable of adapting to an always changing environment and nimble enough to evolve along with it. We decided to design a company for the particular needs and challenges of game development, with an important focus on quality and visuals, supported by a talented team in a very creative environment (and in a nice city: Barcelona !!) and where the development team is involved directly with management decisions.
It seems helpful to divide Digital Legends’ history into two eras: pre-2007 and post-2007. What projects did Digital Legends work on before the 2007 strategic shift? What were the main driving forces behind your company’s decision to focus solely on the mobile games market thereafter?
Before 2007 DLE was a PC and console oriented company with some activities in early smartphones. For the PC and console platforms we were working on a free-to-play soccer and fighting MMO game for NCsoft called Soccer Fury, as well as our own RPG, called Nightfall Dragons.
On the mobile side we were pioneering in partnership with Nokia to develop high-end games on smartphones, in this case an N-Gage project, with a 3D urban multiplayer fighting game called “ONE”. It was the first mobile project to include advanced technologies such as skeletal characters with motion capture or normal mapping.
In 2007 NCsoft realized that it was too early for F2P and decided to cancel all their F2P projects. Soccer Fury was killed as a result. We had 20 people dedicated to that project and it was a very difficult moment for us. We decided to re-think everything from the beginning and came to the following conclusions:
We didn’t want to face a similar situation again in the future;
We decided to stop all PC development and bet on high-quality games for smartphones (in 2007 nobody knew that Apple was planning to release the iPhone…!) and to leverage our own technology and expertise. Being an early adopter could give us a competitive advantage, and the primary new focus at the time was mobile;
We decided to create a fully dedicated R&D team and to develop our own game Engine and SDK as well as an abstraction layer. That effort absorbed half of the team of 20, and we managed to place the rest through contacts with other game developers.
This led to a major strategic shift and refunding of the company where I lost two of the original founders. I have to say that this helped us to re-target in a better way our business and to focus all activities on mobile. It was a risky call, but in the end it turned out that it was the right decision.
By all accounts, your first iOS game – Kroll – enjoyed an outstandingly successful run. To what factors do you credit Kroll’s success, and how has your company evolved to stay afloat in the increasingly competitive iOS market since then?
In 2008 people were not aware of the full extent of smartphone capabilities and therefore were not expecting to see high-end 3D graphics running on the devices. Kroll was chosen to be part of the iPhone 3G keynote as it was the first game showcasing the full potential of the device in terms of graphics.
Having the opportunity to present Kroll during Steve Jobs’ keynote at WWDC allowed us to jump from our Nokia circle into the wider (read: iOS) smartphone world and beyond. This confirmed the high standards and capabilities of Digital Legends to those publishers and manufacturers that already had known us from our work with Nokia and showcased us to the rest of the world. It forced us also to have our first experience as a game publisher.
Since then we have been building our business around three main focuses:
Having a rich code base and technology infrastructure that allows us to be on a wide range of devices (embedded deals with Samsung/Vodafone for the H1 and 360 launch title and preload for Sony Ericsson Xperia Play) which keeps us ahead of our competitors who are having to continually play catch-up while we continue to break new ground;
Working on key Intellectual Properties for major publishers (Split Second with Disney and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 with EA);
Establishing the groundwork to work on co-productions (Bruce Lee Dragon Warriors with Indiagames) and create our own titles.