In less than a decade, Future Games of London has grown to become one of the most successful mobile games developers in the world. As well as releasing the likes of Pool Bar and Litle Raiders, the Exmouth Market-based studio has found global success with its Hungry Shark series.
The game is of the "easy to learn, difficult to master" mold – players drag a shark through underwater locations with a touch, gobbling up sea life (and the occasional human) in quest to remain well-fed. Certain fish require more powerful sharks to eat, while aggressive rival predators occasionally attack. All the while, the game serves up missions and challenges to complete while filling your shark's belly.
After launching in 2007 with shorter, episodic bites of Hungry Shark, the studios' Hungry Shark: Evolution, released just over three years ago, has proven a hit in English-language territories and Asia. In China, the game has racked up 46m downloads to date – a not-insignificant 3.4 per cent of the country's 1.357bn strong population – and won Player's Choice awards in the Middle Kingdom. Now, FGOL has just launched its latest title, Hungry Sharks World, and is hoping to crush its previous records.
The new game boasts multiple maps to play in, themed around Dubai, the Arctic, and a Pacific Island resort; more sharks, including a massively powerful Megalodon to unlock; customisable outfits (yes, really) and more social features, allowing players to share their couture sharks. There will also be live events serving up a platter of fresh events daily, and everything benefits from a 2016 visual makeover of colourful animated characters and settings.
For Future Games of London, the launch is the biggest in the company's history, reflecting the two years it's spent in development. "We're looking forward to a big launch with it – we had a huge amount of pre-registrations," managing director Ian Harper tells WIRED.
Harper also says that the growing development times of mobile gaming is indicative of the maturation of the industry, and indicative of increasing quality. He says, "the market seems to have become less excited over the past couple of years in terms of changes in the chart, but that's also [because] games are now lasting much longer, and a sign that bigger and better [mobile] products are being built. It's going to be very exciting to see what people will be able to build in future."
"I think it's a question of the bigger the audience is, the more effort you have to put in to retain that, spread it, and grow it," Harper adds. "If you want to be at the cutting edge of 3D graphics, you need to invest more than before, but that's not the whole market, it's not where [everyone] needs to be. You can certainly have much lower cost productions that have equal chance in the market. There are so many people making games and putting them out there, they can't all be spending huge amounts of money."
After being bought by Ubisoft in 2013 and expanding to its current size of 55 staff – it started with just seven – FGOL has its sights set on conquering another field altogether - animation. The first short arrived in July 2015, and the studio has plans for many more, with the ambition of scaling up for longer episodes or specials.
"We're just developing the idea at the moment," says Harper. "If you know the history of [Ubisoft's Rayman spinoff] Rabbids, they broke out from games with some fantastic viral videos back in the early days of the internet, and they've now gone for their fourth full series on Nickelodeon. We'd love to be able to do something like that – we'll see how far we can get it. At the minute, our challenge now is to make sharks funny, and standalone in the TV format. If we can get that right, maybe we can take it another step."
At present, there are a trio of Hungry Sharks Shorts available, adding a slice of character to FGOL's carnivorous cast. As to whether Angry Birds' path from mobile game phenomenon to feature film is a path the studio would like to follow, Harper says only that "we would love there to be a Hungry Sharks movie one day."
Hungry Sharks World is available to download on Android and iOS now.