NaturalMotion Games’s CEO Torsten Reil spoke at last week’s Gaming Insiders Summit. In a presentation titled “Building a next generation games company,” he spoke little about the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and more about the history of NaturalMotion Games and how the company is trying to prepare itself for further success down the road. The company has seen numerous successes and failures, but the one constant has been Reil’s commitment to innovate and adapt.
NaturalMotion’s big break came in the form of their Euphoria physics engine, originally used in Grand Theft Auto IV, as well as later games. The company also began development on various pay to play games, from the Backbreaker series to mobile versions of various board games, such as Jenga. Releasing these pay to play titles wasn’t really delivering the results that Reil and his team were hoping for, which lead to the 2011 release of NaturalMotion’s first free to play game, My Horse. It was simply a game about taking care of (and interacting with) a horse.
NaturalMotion Games company logo 2013
While My Horse wasn’t the breakout success the company was hoping for, it taught Reil and his team some lessons about what players want out of their experience. Most importantly, players want to have some sort of emotional connection with what they’re playing, especially a sense of ownership. This led to the team brainstorming ideas of how to implement this into a game. It eventually led to the creation of NaturalMotion’s mobile hit CSR Racing. Reil explained how there were already quality mobile racing games at the time, such as Real Racing 2. However, none of the existing titles could pass the “Starbucks test” of being able to complete a race while waiting for your drink at a coffee shop.
This test is what fueled the creation of CSR Racing‘s drag racing style. The limited selection of drag racing titles on the App Store and the wide number of real cars available in-game made CSR Racing a hit. The title landed over 12 million downloads in its first month, shooting to the top of the App Store’s charts. The emotional connection came through car ownership. With dozens of real cars featured in the game, players could keep playing until they finally had enough money to purchase their dream vehicle, and then spend more time customizing it with upgrades and visual changes.
Building a game with this kind of depth and connection was one of Reil’s four ways to grow as a company. This investment of time and resources goes a long way. Reil explained that the team made a point to put extra emphasis on polishing CSR Racing, spending a total of four months simply in the polishing stages. Another incredible feat was spending six weeks working on the post-race results screen, from designing it to deciding what pieces of info should be shown. NaturalMotion also went through 95 different App Store icon designs before setting on one. This all aims to enforce Reil’s belief that the right amount of polish helps the product sell itself.
“CSR Racing landed over 12 million downloads in the first month after its release.
The second point Reil drove home was that companies should strive to find blue oceans. There are plenty of game genres that are underexplored and even more that can be redefined. In the case of CSR Racing, the racing genre is nothing special, but the limited selection of quality drag racing games was enough to give the game a huge boost in popularity. Reil doesn’t feel it’s impossible to succeed when making a game that falls perfectly into a popular style or genre, but called it a “fool’s game” as it’s more of a gamble than anything.
Of course, jumping into a blue ocean is a risk itself, but taking risks is something Reil stressed as well. Reil showed a video of NaturalMotion’s Clumsy Ninja, originally shown at an Apple event last year. As Reil was speaking, most of the crowd was entertained by the way the ninja interacts with the user and vice versa. This seemed to prove Reil’s point that making a game that’s out of the ordinary is a risk, but it can engage the audience.
Finally, after a company has found success, they should use it to create franchises. Reil took that moment to announce the release of CSR Classics earlier that day. Reil explained CSR Classics as being similar to the original, but based around collecting and restoring classic cars. Based on his explanation, he seemed to understand that there’s an audience who will prefer to play with classic cars, and others who prefer modern cars and will stick with the original game. It also creates a new point of entry for new potential fans of the series.
“CSR Classics was released earlier this month, and builds upon the CSR Racing franchise
Reil concluded his presentation by reminding companies to invest in technology and communication, two often-underutilized areas. NaturalMotion’s success in both mobile games and the Euphoria engine is hard to deny, and their continued success looks more than likely thanks to Reil’s plan and leadership.