When I started as an “indie” developer my target was mobile games. Mostly because I could download the tools for free, try the games for free, and distribute the games fairly easy. It was just a fun thing to do, writing the games in Java and uploading them to my Sony Ericsson F500i – we are talking about 2004 here!
The limitations of mobile devices was awesome, these tiny 128×160 pixel screens, crappy sound, small file sizes, and low processor speeds. Perfect for my old-school inspired pixel-art games. My games were a perfect fit for these devices and the market agreed with many people buying my Orangepixel games and I could slowly build my business from that by releasing a lot of games in a lot of short development cycles (a month at most).
The mobile scene changed quickly, from these crappy phones to ipod-touch, iphones, android smartphones, and the current market.. all that in just 10 years time. Next to my Java code I also learned object-c and ported all my Java code over to Object-C for the iOS versions of my games. I’ve written about that in previous posts so I won’t do that again.
Changing the core
In all those years I mostly used my own “framework”. I never called it an engine because it’s basically a bunch of classes that take care of the important things. Porting these classes once to another platform or language is most of the work to get my games running on other devices. So I had games on android, iphone, blackberry, chromebooks, web-html5, etc.
Last year I decided to take the risk and start working with LibGDX as the “engine” underneath my framework. First few games I did ports of the android version to run on the libgdx version just for PC releases, but my last few games are now fully written in LibGDX for PC,android and iOS release.
I call it a risk because running a business based on the work of an open-source project or 3rd party engine is simple risky. Luckily even the latest release is stable enough to survive for a few more years, so it’s a small risk..
Last year was also the year I decided to fully push towards the PC games market. With my backlog of games I quickly got three games released on Steam, learning as I go by tweaking and improving the games, finding the bugs and problems people have with my games on their PC, and basically improving the “framework” for future releases.
I was lucky to have three games available that did good enough on mobile to use them for experimenting on PC. This allowed me to try out different price points, try different marketing tricks, and try various bundle or PWYW sites and see what the results are. I could easily have the games show up in Steam sales or Humble store sales, and meanwhile grow the awareness that OrangePixel was now also available on PC (windows+osx+linux).
I learned that PC gamers want options in their menus. They want to tweak things, change resolutions, change input settings, change game settings where possible, and like statistics and other data screens. Usually I shy away from all those things because I like to build the experience, I like to keep things simple and quick: “press button to play” is my preferred menu system. But I will change this view and accommodate the gamers, because it’s not hard adding those things to my games.
One major problem was a small but vocal group of players calling my games “mobile ports” even tho all three of these games have been designed, developed and released on consoles with controller support from day one for platforms like ChromeOS, AndroidTV, Ouya, Gamestick, PS Vita and even 3DS.
In my opinion the only reason that they are looked at like this is that the games have been released on mobile first, so I will change that and release on PC first. In combination with more options in the menu’s it seems to already pay off with Space Grunts.
The main thing I learned tho, is that I can probably earn more money on PC. Right now I’m still making most of my income from the mobile (premium and ad-supported) versions -and that’s even after 10 months of not releasing anything new. But my PC income has been quickly growing and having bundles, sales, deals, pre-orders, and early-access mean I can stretch those sales for a couple of years per game.
Even tho I am still surviving with paid-games on mobile, that market is rapidly changing. Besides that, the prices of mobile paid games are at around $2.99, but on PC I can ask the value the games have and that’s closer to $10 (which is like $1 per development-month if you think about it). It will mean I can sell less copies to still survive as developer, and hopefully allowing me to create bigger and more interesting games in the process.
It’s also very likely that my audience is mostly playing on PC, with many of my games simply being easier to control with a keyboard or controller and many “retro loving” gamers being older and having more feeling with sitting behind a PC at night to play a game or two.
Don’t get me wrong tho, mobile is still a market that I’m not about to leave. I’d say 75-80% of my income is still from mobile, but I hope to see that change in 2016 as I plan to release bigger and more PC tailored games. I’ll release games on iOS and Android for as long as it’s possible and viable, since the tools will allow me to write-once and release on all markets, but if the paid-market on mobile keeps shrinking, PC will be my go-to platform.