The siren song of mobile gaming has drawn a couple of more video game veterans. Vince Zampella, the co-creator of Titanfall and the Call of Duty franchises; and Larry Pacey, the former product head of slot machine maker WMS, are teaming up to form mobile game startup Nuclear Division.
In an exclusive interview with GamesBeat, Zampella and Pacey said they are forming a new mobile gaming platform company in order to test the waters for some new ideas in game development. It’s a big deal, since one of the game industry’s most talented console game makers is recognizing the value of the fast-growing mobile gaming business.
Zampella will continue his main job as head of Respawn Entertainment, the developer of the smash sci-fi hit Titanfall first-person shooter for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC. His role in Nuclear Division is more as an investor, adviser, and board member, Zampella said. Nuclear Division will be based in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, near Respawn’s headquarters.
“Larry is someone I’ve worked with for a long time,” Zampella said. “He got me my first job in the industry.
From 2001 to 2013, Pacey held various roles at WMS, the maker of networked casino slot machines. His final role was executive vice president of global products and chief innovation officer. Scientific Games bought WMS for $1.5 billion in the fall, and Pacey has served as an adviser to Scientific Games since then.
“There is this whole other marketplace in mobile that can take advantage of innovative creative content,” Pacey said. “The two of us are starting a new venture to create this.”
Zampella said he considered doing the venture as part of Respawn, but he decided that the mobile gaming content wasn’t a good fit for his studio, which focuses on console games. Titanfall debuted in March as the No. 1 console game in the U.S., and it’s an early bellwether for the Xbox One-PlayStation 4 console generation.
But mobile is growing so fast, it’s “silly to ignore,” Zampella said.
“It’s a device that I play on because I always have it with me,” he said. “It always connected. You’re engaged with it. There’s something you can do with that. I’m not saying one is better than the other, in terms of console versus mobile. It’s a different gaming experience. Both interest me.”
Pacey added, “Mobile is where the eyeballs are at.”
Nuclear Division is working on technology for a new platform as well as a couple of games that will take advantage of it.
“We have been talking about what kind of products we would make if we were able to pursue that channel,” Pacey said.
Zampella said, “This is something I believe in very strongly. I look at Larry’s passion and drive, and it syncs up closely with what we want to do. This is a model of gaming that is growing and that I am interested in.”
Nuclear Division isn’t describing its games yet. But it will focus on new opportunities to build community across multiple games. It includes new solutions and services that go beyond being a game studio.
“The goal is to build the kind of product that Vince and I know,” Pacey said. “It is based on things we like, and is more for the core gamer. If you look at our careers, we like to find new players experiences that are differentiated and unique.”
The idea got going last year and Nuclear Division began recruiting its employees in January. It has less than a dozen people, but it could grow to about 50 employees over time, Pacey said.
“Everyone we are hiring is experienced in mobile,” Pacey said. “So far, mobile gameplay hasn’t been for the core gamer. As devices get more powerful, it’s possible to bring core content to this platform. It’s becoming attractive for a lot of reasons.”
It may be a year or so before Nuclear Division’s games start coming out.
“If you look at where we came from, developing games with small teams, this is the way to get back to that,” Zampella said. “You can get back to the core of what matters to you and the values of what makes a game great.”
Asked if he will switch to mobile games, Zampella said that is not likely.
“I would apply learnings from this back to Respawn, and I think that would help future-proof both of these companies,” he said.
Register for GamesBeat's upcoming event: Driving Game Growth & Into the Metaverse