Developing Minds Want to Know: Q&A with Mike Inglehart of Hothead Games

by Brad Spirrison

Hothead Games is a mobile gaming powerhouse. In the past few years, the firm has developed some extremely popular games for the iOS and Android platforms, including the Big Win Sports series, Sea Stars, and Machinarium. The Big Win games are immensely popular all over the world, which is a testament to their success as a game development firm. The games combine card-playing, real-time strategy, and social gaming with a console mentality to produce a truly unique sports gaming experience.

Mike Inglehart, Creator and Lead Producer over at Hothead Games, was kind enough to answer some questions about app development, mobile games, and the future of his industry.


Key Company Facts

Name and Title: Mike Inglehart, Creator and Lead Producer

Company: Hothead Games

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Primary Apps/Platforms: On iOS, the Big Win Sports series (Soccer, Hockey, Football, Baseball), Sea Stars, Kard Combat, and more (plus a bunch of games on Android).


APPOLICIOUS: What inspired you to become an app creator?

Mike Inglehart: It was fate and good timing! I came to work at Hothead to get a chance to create and build new IPs. Once I arrived we started to make the switch from downloadable console games to the booming world of mobile. I got my chance to dig in and generate mobile game concepts right away and, to be honest, it has been a very exciting, empowering, and insanely fun experience. Each day is better than the previous.

Check out this reel of some of Hothead's hit games:

APPO: How long have you been developing apps, and what is the most significant difference between now and when you began?

MI: I have been developing apps for a year and a half now, and I feel quite grounded even though the amount of knowledge you can absorb in the mobile market is quite astounding. Being able to ship products quickly improves my learning at a very fast rate. As a company we now understand the mobile gamer, in-game economies, compulsion loops, marketing strategies, and it’s encouraging to see the knowledge put into action with each new game we release.

APPO: What apps (outside of those that you develop) inspire you the most and why?

MI: A building game that really inspired me recently was My Singing Monsters. By using music and charm instead of the normal building resources, they created a compulsion loop around wanting to know which musical monster you will receive next to help build out your band. It is easy to take something and mimic it, but slight inventive twists such as singing monsters can truly bring something different to the player. I think it is important to always understand what you want the user to feel and focus on that emotion.

APPO: Where do you see the most innovation in the app sector?

MI: Innovation seems to come from various places and catch the market by surprise. That is the beauty of the mobile market. As the technology changes with each new device, more opportunities arise and there seem to be new and exciting ways to use your device for everyday tasks and of course during gaming sessions.

APPO: How do you harness that innovation in your own titles?

MI: It is important to look at as many apps and games as possible, both high and low quality titles. Successful innovation though tends to be a very small percentage of an idea, so I try not to reinvent the wheel completely but instead look for that elusive nugget.

APPO: In such a crowded space, explain how you generate awareness and drive downloads to your applications.

MI: There are lots of avenues outside of straight marketing spends that can drive awareness for your products. Building an ecosystem of players can work wonders for new apps, which is what we have achieved for our Big Win Sports games. We are also very active in the social communities and create meeting places for our players on Facebook and Twitter – Hothead Games now has 140k followers on facebook.com/BigWinSports. We stay very active in those spaces, making sure we talk to our audience, so our players know that we are really listening and that we care about their experiences.

APPO: What are the biggest technical constraints that exist today in the app sector?

MI: Coming from console, you have a lot more memory space in a boxed product or even as a digital download to make your game. Smaller file sizes in mobile that allow players to download games over their carrier’s network is a huge challenge, as we need to keep games small but ensure a high level of polish. This can be a delicate balance.

APPO: How do you (or will you) make money from your application?

MI: We release our games for free, so we have designed them in a way that gives the players a choice of playing for free or buying in-game currency to further enhance their experience. We also provide players the option to obtain premium currencies through other incentivized actions so they can try out certain aspects of the game.

Sea StarsAPPO: What advice do you have to those working on their first applications?

MI: Keep it simple. You will learn a lot from your first iteration and find out if you have the basics right for your target audience. You can always add features and update so start small, learn quickly and adjust the app and release updates. You may need to drill in a few different places before you strike oil, so keep at it.

APPO: Where do you see the app sector one year from now? Five years from now?

MI: A year from now we will see an even bigger population of players in the mobile space with higher powered devices, paving the way for even higher quality mobile apps. Five years from now is so difficult to predict. When the studio opened in 2006 we had no idea we would be making mobile games four or five years later, so looking into the crystal ball is a challenge. I imagine new social mobile platforms, similar to GREE and Mobage will show up and maybe even Facebook will get in on the act. Whatever happens, mobile is really just getting started and I am happy to be designing and producing Hothead’s latest chart- topping games.

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