Slant Six Games opens up about its move from mainstream to mobile

Developer Slant Six Games has been primarily known for its work on AAA gaming properties, but it’s now shifted trajectories and is working on a series of original games for mobile devices. We recently got to sit down and talk with Managing Director Brian Thalken and Game Director Tuomas Pirinen about what this new direction means for the studio.

The company was founded in 2005 and worked for about five years with SCEA, originally in conjunction with Sony Bend on Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror and then moving on to the popular SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals franchise, like SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Confrontation and its subsequent downloadable content for the PlayStation 3.

Recently, Slant Six was commissioned by Capcom to develop Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. During that game’s development, the company’s ranks swelled to around 150 employees, but the staff is down to 75 or so now that Operation Raccoon City has shipped.

Expanding from AAA to mobile markets

According to Thalken, Slant Six’s pivot to focus on mobile doesn’t mean the company is leaving AAA game development behind. “I can’t say that we’ve left it altogether for sure,” he explains, but there are a couple of major factors that mean Slant Six won’t have any regrets about leaving mainstream games behind.

Conservatively, the budget for a AAA console game can run $20 to $30 million (by comparison, it cost almost $45 million to make God of War II for the PS2 back in 2007).  Thalken tells us the recent economy has made it much harder for third-party developers to work on franchise titles for big-name publisher because, “their budgets for console titles dried up a bit.”

As a result, shifting to work on mobile and social platforms makes a lot of sense for an independent developer because the barrier to entry is just so much easier. Likewise, every mobile game will feature Facebook and Twitter integration to improve the potential for virality.

Jumping into the deep end

Slant Six isn’t so much testing out the waters of the mobile market as it is cannonballing into the deep end of the proverbial pool. Last week, the company had the global launch of its first iOS game, The Bowling Dead, which is being published by Activision Mobile. There are three other games in development, including Galactic Reign for Windows 8 Mobile and Strata Scavenger for iOS and Android.

Even though the company is working on mobile titles, a core part of its development philosophy is to make titles with high-end production values. The Bowling Dead certainly embodies this with stunning visuals created in Unity.

That said, Slant Six’s future games will most likely be built via its proprietary Hexane engine; when production on The Bowling Dead started in August, Hexane hadn’t fully been ported over to mobile platforms. That said, Prinen tells us the company is staying somewhat technology agnostic because, “Unity’s great for some things and our own in internal tech is great for others.”

Activision is an interesting distribution partner for mobile developers, mainly because it doesn’t have as big a user network as other groups like Zynga or EA. However, Prinen says Activision has proven invaluable between the QA assistance it’s provided and because it’s been so hands-off  when it comes to direction. “Since we were new to the space, it was just good to talk to somebody that had gone through all the hoops,” he says. “It was good to find a publisher who let us be creative without insisting on creative control.”

Even though mobile is a brand new direction for Slant Six, Thalken is enthusiastic about the potential the market holds. “The biggest challenge is that for many many years we’ve been in the console world,” he explains. “Mobile is like the Wild West. Rules are being written as we go along … We are in charge of our own destiny here.”

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