Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The iPhone question

In case you haven't heard, iPhone and Facebook games are, like, huge.  And whenever I am interviewed for an article or a website, or I get into a design discussion with a fellow gamedev, the question inevitably gets asked: "Dude, why don't you port your games to the iPhone or iPad or Facebook?" 

It's a reasonable question.  iPhone and iPad games are earning bagazillions of dollars.  For some, anyway.   But me?  I have no intention on going there.  At least not yet.  There are several reasons for this, which essentially boil down to:

1 - I am not a programmer by trade.  I muddle through by using middleware tools that are specifically geared to make my types of games (point-and-click adventure games) on the PC. There are no middleware tools for making these games on the iPhone.

2 - So there's no middleware.  Why don't I go and make some?  Well, yeah.  I guess I could, but that would cost quite a bit of time, effort and money. Not only that, but once the tools are made we'd have to completely program the games from scratch, which would also take quite a bit of time, effort and money.

3 - Even assuming I could manage #2, I would have to sell the game for 99 cents after spending all that time, effort and money. Which is absurd.

4 - As I said a few posts ago, I am a coward.  Even though I sell PC games, I earn enough to live on. It's asking a lot to risk everything for such an untested (for me ) market.  I like being able to pay my mortgage and eat.  I'd rather spend all that time, effort and money on something that's proven, rather than something I have no experience with.

5 - Couldn't I just make a small game to test the waters?  See #1 and #2.

So that's the gist of it. It seems perfectly logical to me, but whenever I voice these reasons I am met with skeptical looks.  Apparently I am crazy for not jumping on the bandwagon.  Do iPhone games mean instant success?  Certainly not.  Unless you are Apple, or a major developer, or extremely (extremely!) lucky, it's a gamble like everything else.

True, the PC market has been neglected while major developers move onto greener pastures, but it certainly isn't dead.  It's just hungry, and indies like us are in a good position to feed them.  The iPhone market doesn't need our help.  It is well-fed enough. 



  1. I completely agree with you, Dave!

    A HUGE fan of yours,

  2. I totally get where you're coming from Dave! While I am a programmer, it would still take a while to get up and running on these new platforms, and where am I going to find that time!?

    If someone paid me to port a game to these platforms I could probably figure it out, but I can't afford to pay myself to port my own games at the moment. Go figure.

    Some people really don't understand when you say you have NO TIME to explore these options. I've got 2 kids and a family to support as well, nuff said.

  3. The thing you don't seem to be taking into account is that you can sell your AGS-like middleware engine to other hopefuls as a way to offset your costs. Between that and the modest returns your unique games might bring to the iMarket, you might just break even.

  4. I am a somewhat average coder too. I had a game ported on iPhone, The Goalkeeper, and the sales were so poor even compared to PC/Mac (which was 6 years old on those platforms!) that made me shut down apple dev account.
    Those platforms are really RANDOM for success, especially for niche games.
    I have other coder porting my latest VN games like Vera Blanc, but I would never spend time myself to do any port anymore.

  5. I can see where you're coming from and I completely understand. Just because the iPhone/iPad are there, it doesn't mean you have to develop for the technology. It's like the whole resurgence of 3D movies, anything and everything is being shovelled out in 3D now because the technology is there.

    That said, I am actually working on my first iPhone game with a friend. I don't expect to make any money out of it, i'm just doing it for the experience and buzz I still get from making things move around on screen. I'm not a professional coder either, although I do enjoy coding, and the lack of middleware tools does mean i'm trying to speed-learn objective-C and build a game at the same time. I used Unity on my degree so that was an option, but given that the Apple tools are free, it was the more expensive of the two. That, and Apple could just turn around and reject "non-native" games.

    Another reason not to develop for the iPhone is: do your games really need to be on iPhone? Don't get me wrong, I love your games (although I have a bit of catching up to do, sorry), but I don't think every game is an automatic good fit for the iPhone just because it has a touch screen. Although it's an exciting device, i've found it quite limiting considering that most of the games are quick fixes, played on the go. Even a full length game on the iPhone would have to make allowances for that. The developer of Scrivener on the Mac wrote a wonderful piece ( outlining his desire to stay away from the iPad for much the same reasons as i've just stated.

    I would like to see some point n' click adventures on the iPad - I guess that would make it "point and poke" - but I would imagine the userbase to be quite a niche. I do find the multimedia rich book applications that some publishers are pushing to be very exciting, but at the same time, who's going to let their 5 year old nephew play with their £600 iPad?

    Personally, I have no problem with you not developing for the iPhone/iPad if your heart's not in it.

  6. I'm completely with you there.

    Even if you are an experienced programmer, programming for iOS or Facebook is completely different from typical PC-game development. For the former, you'll need to use Objective-C - an almost esoteric programming language probably used by noone except apple. For the latter, you'll have to make a web-based game.

    Then there's a lot of cheap crap on both platforms, and it's probably difficult to compete with cheap crap if you're doing more sophisticated games of higher quality (probably even niche) - which is what most Indies seem to do. Even if not, 5$ is considered expensive for an iPhone game - how can one go any cheaper than 5$ with a decent game?

    I don't think it pays off either, even if you're a programmer.

  7. @habit79:

    Thanks!! :)

    @Joe Larson:
    That's an interesting idea (and something we're going to probably do with another engine my wife and I are developing), but I can't imagine many people would be willing to pay for the privilege of making an adventure game on an iPhone. I'm not sure it would sell enough to justify the cost and time spent making it.

    We're kind of in the same boat, and judging from what I've seen you are doing just fine!

    @jack norton:
    The randomness of it all is what scares me. I've read some "here's how much I made!" threads on the indiegamer forum, and it's terrifying to see how proud some devs are when they make a few hundred bucks in a month. That's fine if you are doing it as a hobby, but when it's your fulltime gig? No.

    Although, I will say that visual novels like Vera Blanc are infinitely more suited to the iPhone format than point-and-clicks! I imagine they are easier to program as well, but what do I know? :)

    Unity is amazing! The ability to just push a button and have it run on almost any platform is almost magical. Although the prospect of working in 3D is a bit overwhelming. Incidentally, I now have the image of Stallone's Rambo programming away on a mobile device and it is going to make me laugh ALL DAY.

    Even $5 is a ridiculous pricepoint! I sold the Shivah for $5 and that was a short, low-budget, low-res game that I was originally going to release for free. Spending much more on a game only to sell it for much less seems a bit self-defeating.

  8. I'd be happy with just a Mac version. ;)

    Seriously though, I agree with Rambo: "I don't think every game is an automatic good fit for the iPhone" I really like my iPhone, but for obvious reasons (size, mainly, but also the different input methods), playing games on it is not the same experience as playing games on my real computers.

  9. I'm working on #1 - just recently added tentative support for Linux. If a few wrinkles can be ironed out then it opens the door to other Mono-compatible platforms, including Macs and potentially iPhone/Android.

  10. Clarvalon:
    Is this XAGE you are talking about? Porting an AGS game directly to the iPhone without having to remake it from scratch would certainly be a boon! Although I'm not sure how point-and-click would work. iPhones are more poke and drag.

  11. I think the dialog puzzles would work great on iPhone, but the environment puzzles would need some rethinking. I played Phoenix Wright: Ace Attourney on the iPod Touch and the court scenes worked flawlessly with nice, big buttons and menus, but inspecting the crime scenes (i.e. pixel hunting) turned out to be pretty awkward.

    Dave, you may want to check out the MI2 remake on iPhone if you get the chance. I hear the interface is pretty well implemented.

  12. Have you checked out Unity 3D ? It is feature rich and has the options to build for PC, MAC, Android and iPhone.

  13. Yep, that's right. I haven't given too much thought to the interface just yet, as I need to get things up and running first. By far the simplest handheld platform to target will be Windows 7 Phones, though iPhones remain a possibility. If only Macs weren't so crushingly expensive.

  14. I think, not targeting the IPhone and Androidmarket at this time is a good descision. While the market in numbers is growing on both platforms the prices for games there are very low.

    In addition screens of the devices are very small compared to a monitor. I think normal point and click will not work there.

    If I think about playing one of your games on such a small screen with sound only comming from the phone`s speaker I don´t belive its the same experience.

    So continue to work on Desception allready and don´t waste your time with thinking about IPhone and stuff ;-)

  15. I too like what Clarvalon has been doing with XAGE. It looks like that could eventually be a usable platform for Adventure games on the iPhone (and other platforms).

    Another thought on problem #3 is to split the iPhone version of the game into 3 parts and sell each part for $2.99 or even two parts for $4.99. That's definitely a bit more work to do that, but it could potentially be a way to get enough from the sale of your game.