On porting indie games
So, as of our announcements yesterday, you can (or will be able to within the next couple of months) play Thomas Was Alone on:
- PS Vita
- XBox One
- Android mobiles and tablets
hehe, that list makes me giggle every time. It’s a bit silly. It’s very long. And it’s for a rectangle game from nearly two and a half years ago. That general sense of amusement is what led to the Curve trailer we released yesterday, a trailer which openly mocked the silliness of porting this game to ‘next gen’. But a few indies have, in good faith, asked why we keep porting the game, and I thought a quick answer was a good idea.
Quick answer: Money and fame
Ok, too quick. Needs nuance.
If you’re reading this, chances are you are super engaged with videogames as a medium, as an industry and (dare I say it) as an art form. You probably follow me on twitter, or you’re reading the Polygon opinion piece quoting this (that’s happening to my blog posts a fair bit recently). You are, let’s be honest, a nerd. A player of games. A ‘gamer’. It’s probably likely you are even trying your hand at making games.
You are a tiny minority of people who play videogames.
Most people who play videogames own one or maybe two devices on that list above. They don’t read blogs. They don’t know the names of any game developers. They buy games that look interesting, maybe googling a review first, maybe watching a youtube video. They are not engaged with the chatter around their hobby. They likely think a ‘gamergate’ is an exciting new peripheral from logitech to prevent children from leaving their playrooms.
Every time we port TWA we get a new range of players experiencing it for the first time, telling their friends, or finally buying that game their friend recommended last year. In fact, every time a port is released, every other platform has a sales bump from the increased chatter. So while, to you and I, TWA is a known (and a bit old) game, to every casual xbox gamer, it began existing when it was announced yesterday.
From our perspective, it seems odd ‘why would I buy a 4th copy of a game?’ to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of players, TWA is only just becoming available.
The benefit? Money and fame. I get some extra cash to spend on Volume, and I increase the number of people to whom ‘from the creator of Thomas Was Alone’ will mean, well, anything at all.
You’ve convinced me of the idea, I’m an indie, how do I get this done?
It’s tough. You can do it yourself, which takes a lot of time (yes, even in Unity.. ports always take a ton of time to get right, if you have even basic quality control standards) time you could spend making the next thing, which is infinitely more interesting.
My solution with TWA was to make the desktop versions myself, and then farm out all the ports to two other companies, Curve and Bossa. Their teams work on the game full time to carry it over, only needing my involvement to approve builds or come up with new content (DLC, new interface items etc).. they deal with the crap while I get on with Volume, it means these ports take very little work from me.
Obviously, if you’re bringing in other companies to do ports, that costs money. I can’t talk specifically on this subject, but options are available if you’re interested.. revenue splits, platform funding (if your game is big enough that platforms see the value in bringing you across) or even cash from previously existing versions. Shop around, and you should be able to find deals that work for you. My only tip is: be careful who you work with. Make sure they’ve been through the process before, and if they have, ask other devs how it worked out. FWIW, the companies I mention above get a big gold star from me :)
And finally, the nice side effect of collaborating with other companies on ports are the relationships that can be built, and help with future projects. More on that topic soon!