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Interview: Chris Miller of player1games Talks About the Challenges of Being an Indie Developer in Mobile

It’s no secret that the mobile gaming market is massively competitive. It always was, but when almost every game is free to download you have to do a lot to just get noticed – let alone create a hit.

So we talked to Chris Miller, Founder at player1games, about the challenges his company has faced over the years in mobile gaming – and what lies ahead for his team.

Hi Chris! Tell us a bit more about yourself and how player1games got started.

I’ve been making games of all types for over 26 years. I found my way into the games industry by accident or fate, depending on how you look at things, via a temporary agency in Los Angeles. I had my first testing job at Sony Imagesoft and was hooked. I knew I’d found my niche. The rest was an uphill climb through a young industry trying to figure itself out along the way. I went through QA, CS, Production and up to VP on the publishing side.  Then I co-founded a studio which was successful and went on to be acquired by Niantic Games. That process was fun (insert sarcasm here). I guess I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment, so I started again from scratch and created player1games.        

What were your original aims when you started developing games – have they changed at all since?

Originally I was just shocked to be getting paid to play and then make games.  Now you can actually go to school and get a degree in game development! I’ve always loved playing games, and first person shooters were my passion. That hasn’t changed, but I’ve come to appreciate the growing popularity of casual games, the challenges in finding fun mechanics, and looking for ways to build those into product.  When I started making games, the audience was pretty narrow. The market demographics have shifted; everyone is a potential gamer. I want to make games for everyone.  

Tell us more about your early games like the Mathletix series and Vicious Varmints – and how did they shape your other titles moving forward?

Earlier titles like Vicious Varmints and Frak Attack were used to build and test pipelines.  We were early to the “work at home” scene, so we needed to find talent, setup up pipelines and plans etc. I’ve been in the hardcore gamer space for a very long time, and felt like I needed to tackle some new genres. Mathletix was born from that, and also – my youngest daughter was working her way through elementary school math. I was observing the repetitive lessons, endless printing of practice worksheets, and just started brainstorming. I knew there were other games out there, but most of them require accounts and collect personal information. I wanted a clean kids app that just worked the basics through repetition in a fun and familiar way. 

Those early games have helped us gain experience as a team and we continue to build our portfolio for the widest market possible.  

You’ve made casual and educational games as touched upon above, but why did you feel comfortable making titles in these competitive genres?

Sometimes you have to just step off the ledge. For smaller businesses, the heavily researched calculated risks are harder to find. If you never take risks, you’ll never learn. And some of the best lessons are learned during the fight. 

Honestly, every genre is competitive at this point. There are so many people making apps and trying to compete. The huge publishers have all the capital they need and nearly all the licensed IP.  Some of them even buy up IPs just to sit on them so others can’t use it. It’s how the business is now.  Indie teams have no choice but to be as nimble as they can be creatively to find a seat at the table. I’m hoping through consistent execution and some luck we will be at that table, or build a table of our own!  

Are you looking to target a certain audience with your titles, or are you just trying to reach as large a group of people as possible?

Every title has a market in mind. We’re looking for what sticks. We’re a small group, so scaling is challenging, but not for a lack of creativity or ideas. We are looking to make games for everyone, whether that’s retro games, educational games for kids, casual action, or word games.  

What are your latest titles and what are your plans for these in the near future?

Our latest release is The Linguist, a word-based puzzle game that combines crossword style and “fill in the blank” with relaxing graphics and music.  There’s also a teaser to another type of standalone word game coming soon. We have plans to expand The Linguist word games even more in the future.  

What are you most proud of in terms of the titles you’ve created so far?

I’m proud to have figured out how to bring a team together and produce a solid slate of titles covering a wide range of genres with a lot more to come.  These past several years have been so rough on everyone. I’m happy we have pulled through that time. I’m hopeful for more opportunity and growth moving forward. Ideally, making games should be as fun as playing them. We’re getting closer every day.  

What would you tell aspiring indie developers if they were looking to enter the mobile gaming industry, going from what you’ve learnt?

If you happen to be one of those rare indie developers that can literally do it all, skip this part. You won’t listen to me anyway!

For everyone else, find people you can trust. Find people who share your passion for gaming and those who have a solid work ethic.  Make sure your skills don’t overlap too much. A little is fine and healthy, but too much is problematic. Take the risk if it feels right. You’ll never know otherwise. 

Can you share any details on any other new projects you have in the works?

We are currently working on a new VR game that we are VERY excited about. Additionally, we hope to be able to announce at least one IP-based game in the not too distant future. 

Thanks to Chris for his time, and you can find links to all of player1games on its website right here.

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