Today I have Bruce Morrison from Man Up Time Studios. They are the developers behind Merchant to the Stars and Merchant Beyond the Stars. I always enjoy spending time with game developers. Hope you do too.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself , you company, how you go involved in mobile gaming.

A.  I’m a game maker.  I got my start with Freeverse in the early 2000s.  I designed and produced a few games for the Mac and Xbox 360.  When the iPhone came out, I was in the right position to head up a team to make games for it.  I had 4 titles ready on Day 1 of the app store, and I’ve been making iPhone games ever since.  After leaving Freeverse, I worked for DeNA and Nexon before heading out on my own.  I founded Man Up Time officially in 2011.

Q. Tell us about your games: specifically the Merchant series.

A. Before Man Up Time, I did Wingnuts 2 for Mac, Marathon: Durandal for Xbox 360, MotoChaser for iPhone, Flick Fishing for iPhone, Top Gun for iPhone and Warpage for iPhone (to name a few).  At Nexon I did Apoc Wars for iPhone and Android.  My first solo indie gamea Free to Play endless runner/shooter with a Contra design.  After that I helped bring Pathways into Darkness back to the Mac (it wasn’t playable on modern hardware).  Then I did Merchant to the Stars with a friend of mine, Mark Levin.

While working on that game, I got the itch to do a spinoff that was set in outer space, and Merchant Beyond the Stars was born as a sequel.  The Merchant games have been a design that Mark had wanted to do for years at Freeverse.  After ngmoco closed the studio down, Mark took some time off, and developed the systems that would make Merchant work. There’s a lot of procedurally generated content that might not be obvious to players.  All the Weapons, Heroes, Stories and Missions are procedurally built.

Q. The game is free but do players need to make purchases to get deep into the game?

A.  Absolutely not.  I started with the base of Merchant to the Stars, which never had any IAP, and built from there.  Instead we tried to figure what a premium currency could do.  So we outfitted it to complement the existing systems.  It’s basically an impatience purchase.  Don’t want to wait, this will do it now.  I know that can seem obvious in Free to Play games, but we made sure the game work without IAP.  The entire IAP system was one of the last things to go into the game, so it was all built and tested without any IAP.

Q. As a developer, what is the best way to do games: free with in-app purchase, paid, or freenium?

A.  I’m not sure.  If I had my way, I would only do premium games.  I don’t like Free to Play, but it’s what the industry has settled upon.  It’s foolish to not do Free to Play (unless you have a hell of a brand, or something that just hasn’t been seen before).  4 times the number of people have played Merchant Beyond the Stars than Merchant to the Stars and the game isn’t a week old.  There’s no audience in Premium for a niche title.  You have to go Free and Cast a wide net to find the players.  And even then, it’s touch and go.

Q. As a developer what frustrates you the most about mobile gaming?

A.  That a $5 game is a Premium experience.  When I was doing Mac games, a $5 game would be seen as Budget, and not worth your time.  Now suddenly, it’s a luxury.  If players would of accepted spending $5 for a game, we’d be in a much much different world.  Most of what is free to play, wouldn’t be free to play, but would be a robust experience without ads or trying to nickel and dime the player to death.  So if your reading this, consider buying a good game at $5.  There’s very little software in this world that isn’t worth $5.

Q. Where do you see mobile gaming going in the next few years?

A. Mobile is maturing, and the tech specs are rapidly closing in on the PC. We will see it become another platform, the market will get saturated, and people will continue to struggle to gain adoption.  I’d like to see a return to premium titles, but it’ll take some major enhancements to discovery, the largest challenge.  For me, I’m just going to keep making the games I want to make, and if the players are good to me, I’m going to be amazing to them.

Thanks again Bruce for the time and look forward to see what Man Up Time Studios brings us in the future.

Larry Sullivan

Larry has been writing Android and iOS app reviews for about 4+ years. In addition to app reviews, he conducts developer interviews, reports on new apps, and general mobile news. In addition to his own blog, App Review Central, Larry is a contributor to numerous other Android and iOS app review sites.

Larry Sullivan