Fire Hose’s Sean Baptiste on the Mobile Gaming Stigma

Though it hasn’t completely taken over the industry like some predicted it might, mobile gaming is certainly a phenomenon. While meaningful experiences exist on mobile platforms, they are often overshadowed by limited, money-grabbing, free-to-play titles. With hundreds of these lackluster games hitting the App Store and Google Play, an unfortunate negative stigma has hit mobile gaming. The gaming community is starting to see mobile developers as cash-hungry rather than passionate. We caught up with Sean Baptiste, the PR Extraordinaire for Fire Hose Games, to discuss the issues surrounding the mobile gaming space.

[Hardcore Gamer] For those unfamiliar with Fire Hose, could you describe the studio’s goals and the project(s) you’re currently working on?

[Sean Baptiste] Fire Hose is an indie studio out of Cambridge, MA. We’ve worked on games for bigger companies like Harmonix (we did a bunch of the early tech for Dance Central), and have released our own games Go Home Dinosaurs and Slam Bolt Scrappers for Steam, PSN, and iPad.

In 2013 we decided to move to an accelerator model for making games. We’ll be inviting great local developers to come work on their games with us and we’ll give desk space, mentorship, a little marketing support, advice, etc. Our first developer in the program is Chris Chung with his first-person destructive housecat simulator Catlateral Damage. We also have another game, which is the game I’m working on, which is a competitive comedic debate game for PC and mobile (currently in Beta on Facebook) called Let’s Quip. It’s closer to a social game… like a competitive social media for jokes.

So the main reason for this interview comes from your recent comments on Twitter about the stigma surrounding the mobile gaming space. You recently stated that you are not ashamed of working on mobile games; why did you feel like this is something you actually had to put out in the open?

There is a lot of hand-wringing over the mobile space. That the freemium model is a scam (which I myself partially believe), that it’s too casual (God forbid), that the folks making games in that space are just in it for a quick cash grab and less making games than empty pits to throw cash into.

I understand where all that comes from – there are a lot of developers/publishers making bullshit games that are crudely reworked for maximum monetization. And that is gross – I hate that. I also reject the idea that you should design for the “whales” in your audience, which I also have a problem with.

Meanwhile we’re making a game in that space that I am very proud of. It’s been designed from the ground up to avoid a lot of those issues (probably at a potential to make less money) but to be something that couldn’t work in any other space.

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“…don’t take just any old IP and shoehorn it into freemium or mobile – that’s just bad design.”

See what’s truly a shame is that in a description of the problems with mobile gaming landscape, those issues always take precedent over the actual quality of what we’re playing. Shouldn’t that be what’s important?

Exactly! The quality should matter. And if you are designing for this space you need to commit to that. The big issue is the games that shoe-horned in the freemium stuff. Just look at Dungeon Keeper and its ilk, but if you actually design with your constraints in mind you can make something that means something on mobile.

So if I understand this correctly, one of the highest priorities of Fire Hose is delivering experiences that are fully geared towards their platforms? For instance, if a developer wanted your help to build a Vita game from the ground up, that would be what you’d be committed to doing?

That’s where the quality shines – when it is supposed to be there. I think games like Disco Zoo and Triple Town have done a pretty good job of navigating the issue. If you are definitely making something that is going to be on only one piece of hardware then design for that, take advantage of it’s pluses and minuses. If it’s multi-platformed, design for that as well, but don’t take just any old IP and shoehorn it into freemium or mobile – that’s just bad design.

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“I’d like developers to stop focusing on the whale and look at better/less-creepy ways of making some money on their games.”

So lets say the world’s most ghetto genie only gave you one wish instead of the standard three, with the constraint being that it can only be used to take away a specific mobile gaming plague; what would you get rid of and why?

Ooh! I’d want developers to work more on unique games fit for the platform.

Such as a title about the world’s most ghetto genie?

I’d play that game!

That would remove 75% of the money pit games out there. I’d like developers to stop focusing on the whale and look at better/less-creepy ways of making some money on their games. Because right now I feel like a lot of the backlash is warranted. Developers and publishers have driven a lot of potential customers from this market with shoddy clone war crap.

So since you want to get rid of “money pit games,” do you think that there need to be more stringent standards on what can appear in the App Store and on Google Play?

Not so much – I’m always more in favor of self-policing and voting with our dollars. Which is up to, not only developers, but players. If we demand better and pay for it when we see it, we’ll get better games. Sometimes when standards are too stringent you lose some great stuff that fails on technicalities.

"The big issue is the games that shoe-horned in the freemium stuff. Just look at Dungeon Keeper and its ilk, but if you actually design with your constraints in mind you can make something that means something on mobile."

“The big issue is the games that shoe-horned in the freemium stuff. Just look at Dungeon Keeper and its ilk, but if you actually design with your constraints in mind you can make something that means something on mobile.”

So what’s your favorite video game of all time and why?

That’s a tough one because I bounce around a lot. My two favorite games when I was a kid growing up were Zork (obviously) and a weird cool LucasFilm (before LucasArts) game called Rescue on Fractalus. Zork for the story and Rescue on Fractalus for the crazy graphics and scenes that in the mid-80’s could actually scare the crap out of you.

Other than a game about the world’s most ghetto genie, what is the dumbest idea for a video game you’ve ever had?

Aaron Trites and I once discussed a game based on the classic film Glengarry Glen Ross that used the engine for Lemonade Stand. That one has always struck me as dumb-awesome.

Favorite game of E3 2014?

No Man’s Sky. Pass it on.

Finally, will eating Doritos and drinking Mountian Dew aid my Catlateral Damage skills, or do I need a better gaming snack?

Cat food. Just get a bowl of the wet fishy stuff, some tortilla chips and some friends and watch the fireworks.