A crash course in porting your game to mobile
Porting successful PC and console games to mobile has become common practice.
Vampire Survivors is the latest example in a long line of PC hits triumphantly making the leap to smart devices. Poncle’s title was downloaded a million times in just one week when it launched in December.
Shortly after, the studio revealed that it had planned to bring Vampire Survivors to mobile sooner, but couldn’t find a business partner who agreed with its monetization approach, so ultimately decided to go all out. do it internally.
While this particular story has a happy ending, it illustrates the challenges of successfully porting a game to mobile, which Poncle spoke about.
This turned out to be the topic of a PG Connects conference in London last week, from Playdigious CEO Xavier Liard. His company is behind ports of hit mobile titles including Dead Cells, Cultist Simulator and Mini Metro.
In his talk, Liard looked at the different avenues available to developers wishing to bring their game to mobile, and addressed the questions they need to ask themselves before making the leap.
The different distribution options on mobile
Looking at the mobile opportunities for a successful PC or console game, Liard identified three options:
“Traditional” release on the AppStore and/or Google Play (as a paid title, or with a “free trial and pay to unlock full game” model) Mobile subscription services Third-party retail stores
He particularly leaned into the “new opportunity” presented by subscription services and third-party stores, quickly focusing on the release in China as well.
Liard said that there are about three categories in which each game falls into Apple Arcade: original, awesome or classic.
Understanding these categories is key to understanding if your title can fit on Apple’s subscription service. “Originals” are new games that are released on Console/PC and Arcade at the same time. The “big ones” are games that were already successful on the App Store before heading to Arcade about a year later. The “classics” are games like solitaire and the like.
“If you have a successful paid game on [iOS]you should definitely try to get into the ‘big ones,'” Liard advised. “Your game is [then] both a paid game and an Apple Arcade game so that’s huge, and there’s no impact on the paid version, you don’t have a revenue drop for the paid version, so you have both, it’s really the best thing to do.”
Xavier Liard, CEO of Playdigious
Netflix’s communication about its gaming subscription service has been a bit hit and miss, Liard said, with gamers not really (yet) aware of the games being offered on the platform.
From a technical standpoint, releasing on Netflix is ”a little weird,” he continued.
“For the games published by Netflix, you have to do a free version, and inside the free version, you have to add the Netflix login. So basically, you can find the game directly on the app store, even if you don’t have a Netflix account, but when you want to play the game, the login system will ask for your Netflix ID, you can subscribe if you don’t have an account and so on.
“So it’s a smart game to keep existing users to stay on Netflix but also have some users say ‘hey I want to play this game so let’s start a Netflix subscription so I get the movies but also games “.”
Liard said he “couldn’t say too much” about Netflix’s business model for mobile games, but added that “it’s not really game performance based” but more “discussion dependent than you can have with them”.
“There are a lot of indie games that have reached Netflix Games,” he continued. “They’re quite selective but it’s something that can be quite interesting to follow.”
More discreet than its Apple counterpart, Google offers its own subscription to mobile games, Play Pass.
“The big problem with mobile is fragmentation, especially on Android”
“It brings a significant portion of our revenue to indie games,” Liard said. “So it’s definitely something to watch. There’s a lot of competition, but it’s still good extra revenue. And you don’t have that in conflict with your traditional pay-to-play.”
When players find your game on Google Play, they’ll have the option of either paying for the game directly or subscribing to the service (if your game is in Play Pass) and playing through it.
Again, Liard couldn’t go into too much detail on revenue shares because neither Apple nor Google want to disclose their business models, but he said that “like most subscription services,” he’s based on usage.
“Basically, the more people play your game, the more revenue you earn,” he said.
Mobile third-party distribution
Stores outside of the App Store and Google Play can present interesting opportunities. Liard mentioned options like the Samsung or Huawei app stores, but also things like the Korean store One Store, Bemobi, or Gameloft’s own store.
Sometimes it’s worth turning to lesser-known avenues, like phone carriers having their own stores in emerging countries, or Jpay, which is an app store approved for the US prison system.
“It’s a tiny little [market]but ultimately robust and super interesting,” Liard said. “It’s not millions but it’s still revenue.”
The Playdigious CEO also touched on the Chinese market, which he says is “tough” but can be quite lucrative if you manage to get started in the country.
“If you want to sell a game in China, you have to work with local distributors who have government approval,” he explained. “It takes about two years if you’re lucky. For example, we’ve ported and released Dead Cells. And in China, we’re working with a company called Bilibili. Google Play isn’t available in China, so you have a lot of different stores.
“[Bilibili] has its own store where people can download games, and they also have some kind of YouTube video [platform]. So it’s very useful because they’re both acquiring and [promotion]. We’ve sold two million units of Dead Cells in China at around €3-4, so that’s pretty interesting.”
Liard added that in some cases “you have to modify the game to comply with the Chinese government”, and again warned of difficulties along the way, with approval for international games sometimes frozen for months. in a row.
“It’s very stressful, you shouldn’t bet everything on it,” he said. “But the Chinese market is huge.”
Porting your game: ask yourself the right questions
Now that you’ve identified the avenues you could take to release your game on mobile, take the time to assess if your game is ready for it, when you should, etc.
“My recommendation is to see what makes business sense first,” Liard said. “The first thing is, how much money could this project make? You can kind of do a cost estimate, set goals, and then try to launch Apple Arcade and Netflix Games first, because you can discuss [it] and see if what they offer covers your [estimates] and gets your margins safely.
“Especially if it’s your first project, I’d say it’s best to go to Apple Arcade and Netflix Games [first] because you don’t have to deal with distribution and so on, you just have one relationship and that’s it. However, it is quite difficult to get into it to be honest. But if you have a really good game, I think it’s something you should watch.”
Liard said another big question you should ask yourself is: is it technically feasible?
“Especially if it’s your first project, I’d say it’s best to go to Apple Arcade and Netflix Games [first]”
“The big problem with mobile is fragmentation, especially on Android. There’s such a [variety] devices, shapes, etc. So if your game is on Unity it might be easier, but even with Unity you will have some issues.”
He continued: “Technically, one of the challenges is RAM memory space. On Nintendo Switch you have 8 GB, on mobile phones it is common to go below 2 GB. [or] you have optimization issues. If your game is on Nintendo Switch, there’s an 80% chance you can bring [your game] on mobile, and you just have to look at the memory.”
The diversity of mobile devices can also increase quality assurance costs, Liard added.
“There’s a new operating system coming out all the time, so it’s not like [when] you release a game on Nintendo Switch, and then you’re done,” he said.
New iOS and Android versions released frequently mean you should check back regularly to ensure your game is still running smoothly and is of high quality across the board.
On the marketing side, Liard said the approach should be much the same as promoting a console and PC game, although mobile is “more influencer-oriented.” He also mentioned Google Play’s “pre-register” option, which he says can “provide a huge boost.”
“You shouldn’t be afraid to price the game below [the PC/console price] […] People don’t buy a [mobile] game over €10”
Finally, the last questions you need to ask yourself are: when to go out and at what price?
“If you don’t have Apple Arcade or Netflix Games, the best idea is to release the mobile version between nine and 18 months after the PC release,” Liard said. “You shouldn’t be afraid to price the game below [the PC/console price]. Let’s say your game costs €20, it’s best to price your game at €9 – people don’t buy a [mobile] game over €10.”
For Apple Arcade, Liard recommended developers start the conversation with Apple before the game is released.
“If your game is already released, it’s much more difficult to get on Arcade. If it’s already released, you have to enter the ‘super’ category, which means you must first release your game on iOS, wait for success, and then convince them to enter this section. But if your game hasn’t been released yet, you can release it as “original” and that’s very interesting.”
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