New Star Soccer supremo Simon Read speaks
New Star Games is an exciting beast – a tiny one-man British indie developer that’s making an name for itself through designing deep, involving sporting games that are produced with loving care for the player experience, combined with a great understanding of the difference that a well-thought-out control system can have on mobile gaming. That’s part of what makes New Star Soccer great, but the other part is more personal — the thrill of bonding with a player who grows and develops as you choose, evolving relationships with managers, team mates and the press as you go. Never underestimate the sheer joy that taking your formerly glorious team from the grimy depths of the Scottish Third Division back to European glory can have on a bankruptcy-sick Rangers fan.
Citizen Game spoke to Simon Read, New Star Games’ own rising star, about his story.
I understand that you didn’t take the most traditional path into the industry, coming up through QA and design and so on. Tell us the story of New Star Games, how it began and how it grew.
Programming was just a hobby for me, and I have always been passionate about football games. I started working on a little game called World Cup Manager back in 2002 then decided I wanted to create a career-based football game, something along the lines of the 8-bit classic ‘Footballer of the Year’. New Star Soccer was born and it has evolved into the current version over the last 10 years. After the launch of New Star Soccer 3 I was able to quit my ‘real’ job and start working for myself.
As a one man studio, how do you deal with the enormous time and financial pressures that you’re under when developing? Do you ever feel that you are overwhelmed by the amount of money and time that big studios can throw at competing projects?
No not at all. I think opportunities for indies are greater than ever before. You can use middleware languages like Monkey that allow you to produce cross-platform games. You can use a retro-styled design to keep the budget down, and you can reach millions of gamers through app stores, Steam, etc. The challenge as always is creating something unique and interesting.
How has your experience of the community impacted on the way you make and maintain games? As a player, it seems that we are very fortunate that you continually bring out new updates to the existing game, is this the way you’ve always worked, or is it something that changed with the move to mobile?
I like to get a game out as early as possible, listen to feedback and then improve it through regular updates. Engaging with the players is very important for any game designer and I hope fans of my games feel that they are contributing to the project. Generally I will update a game for around six months before deciding to move onto something new.
New Star Soccer started life as a PC experience, before moving to iOS, where the media attention really blew up. Can you tell us anything about how the reception differed between the audiences? And what was the experience of going from developing for a very open platform to a very closed, curated one like?
There is a hardcore following of NSS fans so sales are always great when I launch a new version, but these days it’s really hard to survive just targeting PC and Mac if you don’t get on Steam (NSS was initially rejected by Valve but will hopefully appear on the portal soon!). Launching on mobile is very different and I actually I quite like the closed nature of the iOS app store. It means you don’t have to worry too much about compatibility across different devices and there really is gold in them thar hills if you have a great product.
Personally, I’m very impressed with the way you’ve managed to port the full game experience for mobile user, concentrating on using the strengths of a handheld device, while attempting to work around sections of gameplay that would be difficult to control, or wouldn’t translate properly. Can you reveal some of your thought process, how you go about approaching a project like that?
You have hit the nail on the head – you need to target the strengths of the device. If a touchscreen game uses a virtual control stick then it has already failed in my eyes. It’s also important that you can have a rewarding play session in around 2 minutes, which you’ll notice most of the big app store hits achieve. New Star Soccer combines this two minute sweet spot with the incredibly deep career aspects of the game, so you can play it for short spells and squeeze in a couple of quick matches or play for 2 hours and complete a season, get promotion, transfer to a new club and so on.
I’m really pleased to see that New Star Soccer is now available for Android, as well as iOS. What can you share about working on Android, and were there particular difficulties you had to face when launching the game?
Compatibility on Android is tricky due to the sheer number of devices out. There are still some problems with certain devices, mainly graphical glitches, but hopefully as Monkey matures these things can be ironed out.
Talking of Android, a lot of devs often cite rampant piracy as a reason that they don’t want to release their titles on the Google platform. Did this inform your thinking at all? How do you address the question of piracy generally?
Piracy is a big problem. I should have gone down the free-to-play with in-app-purchases route on Android (as it is on iOS) but there wasn’t an easy solution for that at the time of release. Despite the piracy I will continue to target Android devices as it can still be a lucrative market, just don’t expect to see any ‘paid apps’ from New Star Games in future!
What plans do you have for expanding into new areas? Will you stick to sports that are popular in the UK, or expand into things that are popular in the US?
I can’t see myself making New Star NBA/NFL/NHL/MLB simply because I don’t have any knowledge or passion for those sports. I think it is very important for indies to stick to creating games they really want to play themselves! There are other sports I am interested in though, and I do have an idea for a new kind of football game.
And finally, as a big fan of Super Laser Racer, are we likely to see more projects like this in the future, or are you concentrating more on the sports franchises for now?
I have a soft spot for Super Laser Racer but for the time being I will be concentrating on mobile sports titles.