Moving to Mobile Games: Q&A with Demiurge Studios’ CEO, Albert Reed

There is an incredibly strong community of game developers and studios in and around Boston with a few shops standing out as staples within that community. We all know the big boys – Harmonix, Turbine, Irrational. Then, there are the Indie folks – Owlchemy Labs, Fire Hose Games, and a bazillion others. Demiurge Studios falls somewhere in the middle. While it is an independent shop, it stands out in its history of stability and longevity in the industry, doing business for over 11 years and with some of the biggest names in games…right here in Central Square.

I’ve worked with Demiurge Studios for a few months now and am still getting to know the team, but what I have learned is that they are an innovative, creative and hungry bunch. For years the studio carried a work-for-hire model, partnering with larger studios and publishers to contribute to some stellar ‘AAA’ console andPC titles. That worked well – and actually still does. But, CEO and Co-Founder Albert Reed and his team of Demiurgers are ready for the next best thing.

For Demiurge, this means a transition from a primarily console studio into a mobile game developer, and publisher, focusing on licensed mobile games. I sat down with Albert to talk more about the studio’s transition and what he thinks others in the industry can learn from their experiences:

When and why did Demiurge Studios decide take on the challenge of mobile game development?

We started making mobile games in 2008 shortly after the release of the original iPhone. The App Store fundamentally changed the mobile game business allowing us to deliver games to customers without the carriers getting in the way. The business back then was $0.99 games and that model proved to be way to hit-driven for our tastes.

The rise of free-to-play and the game-as-a-service model that comes along with it has once again fundamentally shifted things. We can now engineer successful products and create customer relationships that build long-term value.

With many developers having already or looking towards also taking this leap, what did Demiurge learn from the process?

The hardware on smartphones has improved at an astonishing rate – it’s allowed us to smoothly transition the same techniques we honed doing home console games to the mobile platforms and actually given us a competitive advantage. The same engine we used to ship Shoot Many Robots on Xbox 360 and PS3 is now running on iOS and Android.

As mobile game customers become more discriminating, they’re starting to demand the same production values and quality experiences that “core gamers” in the console market have come to expect from us.

The greatest challenge for us was adapting to building services. Learning to provide a continuous series of updates has been a fascinating challenge. The upside – subscription-like revenue rather than hit-driven spikes has wonderful promise.

Demiurge has had success with its own original IP, Shoot Many Robots. Can you tell us more about that experience, what you learned and how you plan to apply that knowledge to future licensed mobile games?

Shoot Many Robots was really two projects – developing an entire world and setting for a game and then building our game on top of that. It’s a richly rewarding journey but also incredibly labor-intensive. It taught us what it means to be an IP-holder and I think we now have a greater appreciation for our IP partners’ perspective. It taught us the huge value that existing brands bring to the table in driving down our average customer acquisition cost too.

You recently announced a couple new advisory board members for Demiurge. Can you tell us a little bit more about them and their areas of expertise?

Certainly! As our business expands to include free to play and mobile development, we looked for experts who augmented our existing team. Daniel James pioneered free to play at Three Rings with their MMO, Puzzle Pirates. That game was years ahead of the competition and now we get to draw on all of that experience. Paul’s been doing mobile games for twelve years most-recently at Zynga and before that lead the design effort on some of the seminal PC games of the 90’s including Thief. He’s been advising the design team here at Demiurge on our current mobile projects. Daniel and Paul are also both accomplished founders who have had recent successful exits!

What is the future of mobile games? What can others in the business look forward to 5 years from now, in your opinion?

The iPhone made “gamers” out of tens of millions of people who never owned an Xbox or PlayStation. Today, those same people are buying tablets and phones that cost as much as our home consoles do! Five years from now, these players are going to be sophisticated, demanding consumers who want the deep, engaging experiences. In return, they’ll start spending more like today’s console gamer. We’ll see more than 100 million people spending $20+/month on games. That spend will make today’s $9B/year mobile game market seem tiny.

Elicia Basoli is a communications and PR consultant serving the video game industry. Born-and-raised in Massachusetts, she is particularly passionate about the New England games community working for a number of local developers and contributing to the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Games Circle, the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute and the Boston Festival of Indie Games. Follow Elicia at @EliciaBuzz or learn more at