Games made for cell phones have had a rough ride the last few years. For a while there it was all about "free-to-play" games that were anything but. Sure they cost nothing to download, but they spent all their time trying to trick you into coughing up cash like a sleazy conman. That's about to change. A bunch of big name game creators are coming together and they want to make mobile gaming hardcore again.
"What we thought was lacking was a HBO of mobile games," says Robert Bowling, once part of Infinity Ward’s Call Of Duty team, now A&R man for The Label.
"For me when I’m looking for a guaranteed premium television experience, the best talent, a proper budget, I go to HBO. They’ve become a trusted source for the best content from the best creators. I don’t feel like that exists for games on the mobile platform."
So The Label, backed by FunPlus, wants to create that space, a place that Bowling compares to the great valley in animated dinosaur classic The Land Before Time. Premium games at premium prices where players can go, spend money, and know they’re getting a mobile game that will deliver. It's a great pitch, but what really sells The Label as more than suit-speak is the game creators already lined up to publish their new titles through the service
"What makes The Label special is that these developers would not be releasing the games they are on mobile without us," says Bowling. "These games literally would not exist on the platform."
Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac are considered indie classics already, and their maker Ed McMillen is bringing his new game, Bumbo, to The Label.
"We are bringing Bumbo to The Label because it's near impossible to make money off an app without using questionable pay-to-win tactics that usually go against your games design/artistic integrity. The Label seems to be a great attempt at bringing fuller games to a platform flooded with shallow pay-to-win designs," he says.
Also polishing up their new game for The Label is Asher Vollmer, who created Threes!, a game that turned simple addition into a crippling habit. His new game is Guildings, and he's just as hyped about bringing it to the Label.
"The mobile marketplace is desperate for a unifying force that players can form an emotional connection with. The Label has positioned itself to be that force. Their high bar of quality and love of play is what distinguishes them from the rest of the mobile publishers out there."
Also confirmed for The Label are Otherside from Mark Rubin (he was executive producer on Call Of Duty at Infinity Ward), Golf vs Evil from Tim Garbos (the guy who made Progress To 100 and Keyboard Sports) and 5LINES from Will Stallwood (creator of Tailwind, Fractal, and Pulse). Those games will be released this Fall, and Bowling is already on the hunt for more. The FunPlus IndiePlus Contest which has been running since 2015 will become part of The Label’s search for new game creating talent.
"We already know who the guys we know and love are and we’re going to be making games with them," says Bowling. "Here’s the chance to find some hidden gems. The next Ed McMillen, the next great creators and work with them to develop their ideas and release them alongside the known names. It’s going to add the diversity and edge that really makes you the next HBO."
Back in December Super Mario Run proved premium mobile games could sell of they’re offering premium fun, and there's no reason that mobile's indie gaming portfolio couldn't rival that of Steam, if only the people making the games can charge decent prices and afford to live off more than ramen. The Label makes that a real possibility.