Firemonkeys on Real Racing 3 going free-to-play

Inside Mobile Apps yesterday got a hands-on preview of Real Racing 3. We also spoke with Ptolemy Oberin, one of the game’s programmers and project lead at developer Firemonkeys, about the studio’s experience going free-to-play and the game’s Time-Shifted Multiplayer feature.Real Racing 3 app icon

Real Racing 3 is the first game in the Real Racing franchise that’s developed by Firemonkeys, a studio consisting of developers Firemint and IronMonkey. In July 2012, Electronic Arts merged Firemint, the developer of the first two Real Racing titles, Flight Control and SPY mouse, with IronMonkey. Melbourne-based IronMonkey was purchased by EA in February 2010, and are known for bringing EA franchises to mobile as it did with Mass Effect Infiltrator, Dead Space and The Sims FreePlay. Firemint, a Melbourne-based studio as well, was acquired by EA in May 2011.

Modifications made to Real Racing 3

The most noticeable difference going from Real Racing 2 to the third installment is the graphics. Oberin tells us that Real Racing 3 is pushing about the same graphic fidelity seen in PlayStation 3 titles such as Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo 5 and Xbox 360 games like Turn 10 Studios’ Forza Horizon. Oberin adds that Real Racing 3, which runs on Firemonkeys’ in-house engine Mint3D, is pushing around five to six times more polygons in the cars, and that the tracks have been upgraded graphically as well. Other graphical touches include full damage visibility on cars, multiple camera angles and real-time images on the mirrors in cockpit view.

The game is broken down into multiple series, each featuring various events. According to Oberin, who was the project lead for Flight Control Rocket and SPY mouse, there are about 900 events in total. There are 46 licensed cars in total from 12 car manufacturers including Audi, Bugatti, Ford and more. Control-wise, users steer the car by tilting a device side-to-side and braking by pressing the screen — the gas pedal is automatically pressed down.Real Racing 3 screenshot 1

The biggest change in Real Racing 3 is Time-Shifted Multiplayer (TSM). TSM records a real person’s skill level and attributes on EA’s servers. That data is then used to program the AI opponents in races. This works because every user that plays the game will have their driving data recorded. If a user integrates with Facebook or GameCenter, they can then asynchronously race versus AI opponent that are programmed by a user’s friends. Oberin says the cars are not just ghost racers, he described the AI driving the cars as an “AI doppelgänger.”  It should be noted that TSM isn’t a mode, it’s in every race. Real Racing 3’s TSM will also be platform agonistic, meaning players can compete against each other’s TSM AI-controlled driver whether they are on iOS or Android devices. (more…)

Flight Control Rocket takes Firemint’s classic to the stars

Flight Control Rocket is a new iOS title developed by Firemint and published by Electronic Arts. It’s the followup to the Australian developer’s 2009 hit Flight Control, the game widely credited with popularizing the “line drawing” genre of touchscreen gaming. A $0.99 Universal app with additional in-app purchases, the title is one of the  first new games to support the new iPad’s high-resolution Retina display.

Gameplay in Flight Control Rocket unfolds much like its predecessor, challenging players to direct various different spaceships to their appropriately-colored landing area — red ships land on the red area, yellow on yellow and green on green. To direct ships, players must draw a line with their finger from the ship to where they would like it to go. If this line will put the ship on course for landing, it will turn grey and, in a twist on the original game’s formula, also accelerate. Further embellishments on the original game’s formula are provided by the much wider variety of ships which come in for landing — some split apart when touched, some shoot out ships in front of them while on course, others drop static drones which must be independently directed to the proper landing area. Players can also build up a score multiplier by landing numerous ships of the same color in succession.

In order to make up for the increased complexity of gameplay provided by this wider range of ships, the game no longer ends when players cause a single crash. Rather, they have three lives to use, and can even continue their game past this point in an “arcade game” style by spending soft currency, which is collected through play or acquired in larger quantities via in-app purchase.

The game is built for social play, with support for both Game Center and EA’s own Origin service. While it’s unusual for an EA title to support anything other than Origin, as the original Flight Control was a big hit on the Game Center leaderboards, it makes sense for Firemint to include support. Leaderboard functionality is well-implemented, with a post-game summary informing players of how many points they need to get in order to beat their closest Game Center rival’s score, along with their worldwide ranking. Players may also tweet their scores using iOS 5’s built-in Twitter functionality as well as brag on Facebook.

Unlike its predecessor, Flight Control Rocket features an in-game shop where players may purchase various “Bots” to make their game experience easier. Bots also earn experience, level up and become more effective through use. This process may also be accelerated by purchasing Power Crystal items, which temporarily increase the rate of experience gain. In order to use their abilities, Bots must be powered through the use of Battery items, which must also be purchased from the shop. Given the potential power of some of the bots, there’s a slight risk of the game having an element of “pay to win” about it, though all bots and items may be acquired through normal play — just at a significantly slower rate.

Flight Control Rocket is currently the No. 51 most popular paid app and the No. 60 top paid iPad app. In the paid games genre, it ranks at No. 29 on iPhone and No. 37 on iPad. These low-ish rankings are something of a surprise given EA’s apparent keenness to promote the game based on its Retina visuals for the new iPad, though it’s possible that Flight Control’s most loyal players prefer to play on the iPhone where the game was originally born.

You can follow Flight Control Rocket’s progress through the App Store charts with AppData, our tracking service for social and iOS games and developers.

Firemint’s Acquisition Price Was Less Than $25 Million, EA Says

Australian developer Firemint was acquired for less than $25 million by Electronic Arts, according to the company’s earnings call today. The news came out yesterday, but the amount wasn’t disclosed. EA chief executive John Riccitiello shared a few more details today.

EA said the acquisition price was around four times Firemint’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Firemint had sold 4.5 million copies of Flight Control and 2 million copies of Real Racing.

“We just picked up a company we feel great about with Firemint and we did so at a vastly lower price than has been reported publicly,” Riccitiello said. “They’re extremely talented developers with a couple of blockbusters.”

EA said it will continue to look at smaller scale acquisitions that are purely digital. The company is trying to bolster its mobile strategy as revenues on iOS pick up: EA’s mobile revenues rose by 27 percent year-over-year to $70 million in the last quarter. iOS revenues doubled. The company is also planning more “digital service” games on the Facebook platform.

“One of the things we enjoy about acquisitions is the speculation that we spent five times more than we did, which is what happened with Chillingo,” he added. Game publisher Chillingo, which has distributed Cut The Rope and Rovio’s Angry Birds, was reportedly acquired for less than $20 million, according to Reuters.

EA to Acquire Australian Mobile Game Developer Firemint

EA said today that it plans to acquire Firemint, the Australian game developer behind Flight Control and Real Racing. EA said the price wasn’t material, it isn’t releasing terms and that the deal should close within four weeks.

The deal comes shortly after EA’s acquisition of Mobile Post Production Inc., which helps developers create cross-platform titles and port their games for different devices.

While EA has plenty of IP to bring to the table (most recently NBA Jam) and a large mobile game development studio down in Southern California, it isn’t shying away from snapping up emerging talent. Firemint’s Flight Control and Real Racer have both been strong performers since they were released in 2009, with 4.5 million copies in sales and nearly 2 million copies in sales respectively. But the Melbourne-based company hasn’t successfully rolled out any new franchises since then. Firemint announced an upcoming game called Agent Squeek at GDC this year but hasn’t provided new details on a launch date since.

Momentum is gaining behind acquisitions in the space as the iOS and Android charts become more competitive. DeNA recently bought mobile gaming platform OpenFeint for $104 million, while Zynga has scooped up a few mobile game developers like Wonderland and Newtoy. EA also bought Chillingo last October and Reuters reported that the price was less than $20 million in cash.

Soldiers, Customization & Music: New Apps Enter Apple’s Top Grossing Apps List for iOS

We’ve seen a number of new applications, released in, roughly, the last two weeks, break into both Apple’s paid apps and free apps charts, but a handful have also entered the top grossing lists. They were all paid apps, only one of the four did not appear in our lists earlier this week (simply due to its Thursday release). Here is what we found:

New Titles Within Top 25 iPhone Top Grossing Apps List

Rainbow SixTom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard — Having only been released yesterday, March 17th, the popular Rainbow Six franchise has already reached #6 on the charts with Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard. Developed by the veteran international developer and publisher, Gameloft, who has been in business since 1999, the game is also currently #27 on Apple’s paid app charts. The paid app is running $6.99.

Pimp Your Screen — Customization shows its profitability with the paid app ($0.99), Pimp Your Screen appears at #20. Developed by Apalon, a small mobile development, animation, and game development studio out of Belarus in Eastern Europe, the application allows users to customize their iPhone with colorful skins, screens, icon shelves, and neon effects. The app is also cross-platform. Apalon is a smaller part of the outsourcing company MoveYourWeb.

New Titles Within Top 25 iPad Top Grossing Apps List

GarageBandGarageBand — Apple is making a second appearance this week with its new iPad app GarageBand. Currently #1 on the top grossing iPad charts and running $4.99, the application is a port of the company’s popular music and recording program for Mac. GarageBand on iPad allows users to realistically play instruments such as the piano, guitar, and drums, as well as lets them create and share songs. Creations can also be sent to and edited via the Mac version software. The app has been out since March 10th.

RealRacing 2 HD — The sequel to Australian studio Firemint’s first iPad racer (Real Racing HD), Real Racing 2 HD marks the #10 spot on the top grossing apps list. A visually impressive and realistic racing title, the game is developed specifically for iPad 2. That said, the high quality visuals are not translating well on first generation devices. As for Firemint themselves, this developer out of Melbourne, Australia is known best for their path-drawing title Flight Control. The game was released March 11th and runs $9.99.

How Is VC Money Set to Change the Mobile Gaming Landscape?

Last week, I was in the strange position of being in Berlin instead of San Francisco’s GDC where all the industry bigwigs were. But luckily, it turned out that the top paid iPhone app and the top free iPad one were by two different rookie developers from Germany.

I met one of them — Berlin-based Chrome Gekko, which is made of two brothers, a sister and a Polish guy. Long story short: they met because of a washing machine and they had the best-selling free iPad app in nearly 40 countries last week. Before creating their apps, Bowmaster for iPhone and later for the iPad, they had never made a game before. They were really quite charming and genuine. Unlike the conversations I have with larger developers, they didn’t — or didn’t know how to — throw around more monetization acronyms than can be counted on ten fingers.

It was bittersweet in a way, because I hope they’re not part of a vanishing constituency at the top of the iOS charts.

When you look at it from afar, Apple’s platform sits at a fascinating nexus within the gaming industry. It attracts top-flight developers hailing from the video game world, social gaming companies that dominate on Facebook and publicly-traded companies like Glu Mobile, which arrived with a pre-iOS wave of mobile gaming startups.

Then there are first-timers who unexpectedly strike a chord — studios like Chrome Gekko and the eighth-grader who temporarily knocked the free version of Angry Birds out of the top spot with a game called Bubble Ball.

The iOS platform is also fiercely international: Chart fixture Texas Poker is run by Kama Games out of Vladivostok, Russia (yes, a city in Siberia). Australia has a couple good studios like Firemint and Fruit Ninja-maker Halfbrick Studios. A handful of Slovenian developers are behind, Outfit7, the talking animal characters empire that surpassed 60 million downloads in January. A game we reviewed the other day came out of Hanoi, Vietnam. There’s Finland’s Rovio. This could go on and on.

But every year, incumbents assume more of the top 10 slots. Right now, Silicon Valley venture capital dollars are lining up in such a way that this relatively egalitarian environment may not exist a year from now.

For example, Andreessen Horowitz just led an $18 million round behind San Francisco-based TinyCo (formerly known as Brooklyn Packet) and Sequoia Capital led a $5 million funding round for another Silicon Valley developer Pocket Gems. Zynga is also scooping up mobile startups to break into the space, most recently with its purchase of Words With Friends-maker Newtoy. Giants like EA and Gameloft can also muscle their way in with app fire-sales and well-recognized IP from their console and PC businesses.

At the same time, there are now around 10 or so pay-per-install advertising networks like Tapjoy, W3i, Flurry or Mdotm that let developers buy downloads or essentially pay their way into the charts. The hope is to get the visibility and the so-called “organic lift” that comes when consumers download what’s right in front of them.

I should stress that by less egalitarian, I mean that while the top developers should always have to have engaging game design and highly-orchestrated marketing campaigns, the days may be limited for one-man breakouts like Tiny Wings, the work of a single developer named Andreas Illiger from the Northern German city of Kiel. Illiger appears to be outselling Rovio’s Angry Birds for a thirteenth consecutive day in the U.S.

Silicon Valley has long had a me-against-the-man ethos; it’s about disrupting powerful incumbents and staid, inefficient industries. Yet the eight- and now even nine-figure valuations mobile developers are starting to attract may serve to exclude talent from more remote parts of the world from getting to the top.

It will become increasingly expensive to produce a top-selling title as venture-backed companies spend their way up the charts. Two months ago, we were hearing that the cost of breaking into the top 25 through a pay-per-install network was about $20,000. Now it seems to be running around $30,000. We might see what happened on the Facebook platform where a handful of entrenched and largely Silicon Valley-based incumbents dominate through multi-million dollar spends and aggressive cross-promotion.

Android’s Tim Bray wrote a post last week suggesting that there isn’t enough money in mobile gaming for venture investing to make sense and that will be thousands of mom-and-pop, lifestyle businesses. But Marc Andreessen, in joining TinyCo’s board and leading an $18 million round in the company, is effectively taking the opposite side of that bet.

It’s easy to see where both are coming from. With a Facebook board seat, Andreessen saw how the platform matured and is betting that mobile will assume a similar trajectory. On the other side, Android has intentionally kept its ranking system opaque, making distribution difficult to predict and manage — which in turn makes the platform challenging to build a business upon. Unlike iOS, it’s not based on only raw downloads. Among other factors, it considers how long an app remains installed, which favors older applications and can make it hard for new ones to break through. It’s not even clear that Google, which has a tendency to commodify everything, would even really want a heavyweight to emerge.

Neither vision is necessarily mutually exclusive; you can have a world with corporate blockbusters and indie darlings.

However with more VC money pouring in, while all apps may have an equal chance at getting to the top, some will be more equal than others.

Germany’s Tiny Wings Dethrones Angry Birds & Other Rising Apps

In order to stay on top of emerging developers, here are rising apps and launches of note this week:

Andreas Illiger, a developer from the medium-sized Northern German city of Kiel, has dethroned Rovio’s Angry Birds (at least temporarily) as the top paid app with another ornithological-themed title. TinyWings is a beautifully-illustrated physics game where players help a tiny bird fly up and down hills and across dozens of islands.

The launch and subsequent success of the title caused some consternation when it was revealed that the app was essentially a polished version of a physics game called Wavespark from Portland-based Nathan McCoy. McCoy is on an unusual personal mission to launch one completely new game every Sunday, and so he chose not to take the time to perfect the title — a decision he now somewhat regrets.

Mika Mobile: The married team of Noah and Kelli Bordner launched another hit game Battleheart, which is an RPG that has four adventurers fighting against a host of monsters and bosses. After being featured as Apple’s Game of the Week, Mika Mobile dropped the price of its app to 99 cents. The company says the game, which now costs $2.99, was downloaded once every two seconds through the weekend.

Playfirst with Egg vs. Chicken: The San Francisco-game publisher released Egg vs. Chicken, a genre mash-up (pictured right) between tower defense and Match 3 games about a week ago. The title now sits in 18th place in the U.S. among paid apps.

And here are launches this and next week:

Firemint’s Agent Squeek (next week): The Melbourne-based company behind Flight Control and Real Racing gave a sneak preview at Agent Squeek. The company didn’t reveal too much about the game, except to say that it’s a “spy-inspired tale of intrigue, stealth and misplaced cheese.”

Redrover: This isn’t a mobile-exclusive company nor is it a game, but a couple VCs had mentioned it up to its launch yesterday. Essentially, it’s a mobile and social network for parents who are looking to organize playdates or share advice.


RedRover iPhone

View more presentations from RedRoverApp.

Ning’s Mogwee: The build-your-own social network company Ning has shifted focus from free networks to paid ones this year. It just launched an app totally unrelated to its core offering called Mogwee, which is a chat app that lets you have instantaneous private conversations on the fly.

Photorocket: Seattle Photorocket is entering the super-crowded space of mobile photo-sharing with an app that eliminates the need to register or log-into the service or even click an “upload” button. Unlike other pure mobile plays, Photorocket extends across Windows, Mac and iPhone.

Kairosoft’s Hot Springs Story: Japanese developer Kairosoft launches another simulation game where players can manage a Japanese spa or inn. In the $3.99 app, players need to make the most attractive inn possible to lure movie stars and writers.

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