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Industrial Toys: An Interview with Founder Alex Seropian

Alex Seropian talks about bringing core games to phones and his career in the games industry.

In Their Own Words

EA: So the first question, why join EA? Why bring Industrial Toys into EA?

Alex Seropian: We started the company six years ago, to go after core gamers on mobile. In that time the market has changed quite a bit, and it’s gotten a lot more competitive. We’ve been looking for a partner to help us reach that audience, and EA’s the best partner that we could imagine.

You mentioned that the mobile market has changed over these six years, in what way do you mean?

When we started, it felt like the mobile game industry was beginning to hit its stride. There weren’t a lot of big incumbents, so there were a lot of opportunities to experiment, to try new things, to work quickly with small teams.

Industrial Toys is able to produce high production value, fantastic experiences, but over time more and more people have entered the mobile space and competition has grown, making the value of a strong, experienced partner like EA a great advantage.

What do you see on the horizon in the next 5 years?

The audience continues to grow and we’re seeing more sophistication in mobile games, and more depth. I think that trend will continue, and we’ll see more players spending time on mobile.

Today there’s a whole generation of players whose point of entry into video games is a mobile phone. That audience is exciting because they’ve grown up with all the foundational mechanics that have made mobile games what they are.

It’s interesting you say that about folks whose first gaming experience is through mobile. Have you experienced that with your kids?

Totally, I have three kids. I distinctly remember one day I had my laptop open to Google Images or something. My daughter came over and was trying to scroll the screen with her hands. Kids today have a different tactile experience than we did.

What games are your kids playing now?

My son is all-in on Fortnite. It’s interesting, I had this conversation with him about what he and his friends are up to. When they’re not together, they’re playing Fortnite on PC. But when they’re all together, the phones are out and they’re playing Clash Royale.

What’s his reasoning behind that?

He said, “none of us really want to play [shooters] on phones, because they’re not as good.” I think that really draws a line under where they’re finding value in social engagement. When they’re together, they still want to be playing something together, so they choose a new game.

Playing experimental games sometimes means getting wet.

That must’ve been interesting for you since you’ve designed a whole lot of shooters within your life. Now with Industrial Toys, there’s a history here of bringing shooter experiences to mobile. How have you grappled with that challenge?

On every project I’ve ever worked on, I’ve always tried to find the soul, the unique angle. I’m never satisfied with trying to replicate the solutions other folks have already done. There’s a genre [in shooters] that’s exceptionally popular, and there’s a device, cell phones, that are used universally. Yet the two have never been combined in a meaningful way. It frames up the challenge very nicely. We’ve approached it a few different ways in previous titles, and what we’re doing right now is really exciting. 

I think we’ve gotten to a place where we have an elegant solution for making an FPS work on a touchscreen. And when I think from my son’s perspective, I know he has this expectation for what an FPS really is. Delivering something that’s a little different but still captures the essence of an FPS is… my son is the person I’m doing this for.

So does he understand what you do and think it’s really cool? Or is he at an age where it’s, “eh it’s still Dad.”

*Laughs* It can be like that sometimes.

For those who know you, they’ll often associate you with shooters—you founded Bungie, now your work with Industrial Toys. But that wasn’t always the case right? You started your career with Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete, you did Stubbs, you did Hail to the Chimp. What brought you back to shooters? How would you describe your love of the shooter genre?

I’ve always loved shooters. The player feedback loop is really immediate and strong. Yet if you do it right, you can produce mechanics that have a vast skill curve to them. You can have players that are good, great, and just unbelievable. It gives the games a lot of mechanical depth, which I think is a lovely foundational ingredient. Then, depending on what you want to do with that depth, you can mix another genre in, you can build exciting and unique rules for multiplayer—the genre is very fertile.

I’ve always gravitated towards FPS just because of the mechanical purity at the foundations of those games. But yeah, I’ve done other kinds of games too. I just love the craft of making games.

What do you want people to understand about Industrial Toys?

We’re trying to build the best core gamer experience on mobile. We’re not trying to build a console game on mobile, we’re trying to build a mobile game that’s made for core gamers. We have a high bar for excellence. We’re very supportive of our team and we like to take creative risks, and we strive to do it in as professional a way as possible.

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