Firemint CEO on EA acquisition, future of the company

Rob Murray chats to GameSpot AU about the recent acquisition of Firemint by EA; he wants the studio's next iOS project to become "the Mario of iOS."

In May this year, Aussie studio Firemint (Flight Control, Real Racing) announced that it was in the midst of an acquisition deal with global publisher EA.

At the time, Firemint CEO Rob Murray said that the studio would remain in Australia and would continue to operate with a high level of autonomy. Soon after, Firemint unveiled its latest project, a new iOS intellectual property titled Spy Mouse, set for release later this month in the northern hemisphere. The game uses the same touch controls that first made Firemint a household name with Flight Control--drawing paths on the iOS device using one's finger. By sticking to something that gamers already know, Firemint believes it has created something that is accessible to both casual and core players.

Flight Control was Firemint's first hit.

"Spy Mouse is our next big thing," Murray says. "We've invested everything into it. We want to make it a hit the same way that Flight Control and Real Racing were hits. We want it to become the Mario of iOS. It's an accessible experience, but it has depth. Gamers will appreciate that."

Spy Mouse puts gamers in the shoes of Agent Squeak, whose challenge is simple enough: grab the cheese before the cat shows up. There are six worlds in total, with 72 levels that each present a different set of challenges. Murray's greatest hope is that Spy Mouse will be picked up by both casual and core gamers, establishing Firemint as a surefire industry success with three highly successful and original intellectual properties.

"This is the one that could get us to that goal to be the Pixar of the games industry."

It's a lofty goal, and one that Firemint acknowledges could not come true without the support of a major international publisher like EA. Since coming on board, EA has provided Firemint with more resources and support, something that the latter is slowly learning to make use of.

"Everything is the same as it was before. We've got a lot of work to do to get anywhere near where we want to be. We needed the support of a large international company to deliver more to people across the world; it would be hard to reach heights of ambition without a company like EA."

Since Flight Control became a hit, the App Store has come alive with cheap imitations, something that Murray says both flatters and annoys him.

"I'm happier when people take what we created and make improvements on it, thereby taking the industry forward. When [a game is] a brutal copy and provides a lesser experience than the original; well, that doesn't feel so good."

Earlier this month, THQ announced a global restructure of its internal studios, a move that led the publisher to permanently shut down its two Australian development studios, Blue Tongue and THQ Studios Australia. Like others in the industry, Murray believes that Australian developers are both talented and resourceful and will find a way to bounce back. However, he's wary of encouraging everyone to go indie, and not just because more indies mean more competition.

Firemint's upcoming iOS game is titled Spy Mouse.

"Indies are a good thing for the industry, but it's a big deal to advise someone to start a business. There are opportunities there, of course, and more than being competition I think indies challenge us to move forward. But I don't subscribe to the notion that only now can you become an indie developer because there's more of a chance to build your own IP. That chance has always been there."

Firemint's plans for the future revolve around the adoption of a wider industry trend of delivering games as a service rather than as a one-off product through continuous downloadable content support. The studio is already doing this with Real Racing 2 and will implement similar support for Spy Mouse upon its release.

"This way of doing things is certainly more favorable to both the industry and consumers. But it's tough for developers, because you work really hard to finish a game, and you have to deliver something again and again and again in the weeks that follow. That can be hard. But it's a positive direction for industry, and I think all developers will have to get their heads around it. Personally, I love doing things this way because it's what really gave Firemint a chance to shine on the iOs."

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