Sandy Duncan Interview: App Publishing Process
March 2, 2011
In this section: Publishing Apps, YoYo Game Store: Approval, Process, Publishing Agreement, app performance, support for serious developers, giving access to runners to third parties.
Sandy Duncan: When publishing we try to choose games which we know aren’t pushing the limits of Game Maker to the extreme because we don’t know how far we can take the runner. The runner was originally based on Game Maker 7, the guys have gradually added most of the Game Maker 8 features but it’s still essentially based on the Game Maker 7 C++ runner.
Porting an App is not a difficult process, we take a game and run it on top of a C++ runner on a Mac or Windows machine and if it loads and runs, even if it has got a few errors, we can be pretty certain it is candidate for publishing.
Game Maker was written solely with PC in mind so there are some areas which don’t behave as expected when we try them on different platforms. These include issues such as how many sprites you are displaying on the screen but there aren’t many games which we look at and think would be very problematic.
One of the biggest struggles at the moment is in-game physics, games very heavily reliant on physics such as Jesse Venbrux’s Mubbly Tower wouldn’t be great candidates at the moment.
We would normally work on about 6-8 titles at a time but this will grow once we open the store.
The store is where people can start thinking of their game commercially rather than just being another game on the website. We’ll be able to publish games [to PC] that use physics or have other non-portable issues but we’ll still expect these games to be of a reasonably high standard.
Some of these games that enter the process will then be considered for publishing elsewhere, we are limited to publishing about a game a week but this is A LOT compared to traditional studio. If we really wanted to we could add a team of about 4 or 5 people and that would be enough to publish another game every week.
As to whether or not the 500 games by 2012 figure will be met it depends on your definition of a game. You could say we’ve done about 30 games already because Simply Solitaire on 3 platforms could count as 3 games, so there is some artistic license in that figure. We could get to 2 or 3 games a week, certainly on Windows we could publish 3 or 4 games a day because we are not “polishing” and won’t need to worry too much about technical issues because the games already run on Windows. In theory for Windows we could have the games submitted one day and published the next.
[ Earlier sneak preview of the YoYo Game Store submission process ]
One of the concerns we have about the store is that when it opens there will be a huge influx of games. The store has been done for 18 months but this is a reason for it not being available at the moment. We want to make sure that when we do open the store we are able to cope with the number of submissions we receive, we don’t want to disappoint people by making them wait months for an answer.
The feedback we give on submitted games will depend on what is submitted, if a game looks really good but is fatally flawed we won’t just give a no, we’ll tell them “we like the game, but you are going to have to do some work here”. We are prepared mentally to do this but I don’t think we have the hands on board to open at the moment, one of the reasons why we are looking to hire another Game Maker programmer alongside Andrew is to help review the games for us.
Firstly we’ll get games on the YoYo Store and then we think 3-4 weeks would be reasonable for a game to appear on a third-party App store. If you submit a game to Apple it takes roughly a week, the Mac App store takes about 2-3 weeks for them to review it, I think to do it within a month would be a reasonable turnaround. Obviously this will depend on the number of games we are influxed with at first. The expectation is that everyone will send something in but that a lot of games can be quickly rejected, we really don’t know how overwhelmed we will be, but it has stopped us throwing the switch until we are sure we are absolutely ready.
Android phone and iPhone games [in Game Maker] are identical, yes there is GameCenter support but that is handled in the runner so if you’ve got highscores we can just send them somewhere else. A minor concern might be advertising but in reality we don’t touch the game, we’ll spend more time testing and that’s about it.
The problem with Android is that there are just so many different things you have to test, you have to draw a line somewhere but testing does take a while. We’ve been surprised that some of the more expensive Android handsets we’ve bought don’t have the performance that some of the very cheap ones have had. The phone that’s impressed us the most for the money is the Orange San Francisco.
On Android it’s easy to push the games out, the problem is you just don’t know what errors to expect. Everything is isolated in the runner so if you have a problem on one handset you tend to solve it for them all, there were archtiectual things with Android that left us gobsmacked, we couldn’t understand why we got some slowdowns in the games. It turns out that it was just the way multi-tasking works on Android, it’s different from the way it works on iOS. It’s now solved though.
Prison Ball uses the same 3D that you have within Game Maker, so it’s isometric 3D, so we now support this. The guys are always adding support for features to the runner, it still isn’t quite at Game Maker 8 yet but it’s very close. There was a bit of a philosophical discussion between Mike and I about whether we should ever use tilt. There are other games [besides Sync Simple] that would definitely benefit from it, I think Skydiver is one. Tilt is supported on both Android and iOS.
Sandy Duncan: Definitely, and the same on iPhone as well. We’re still learning, we’ve had some very very interesting advertising revenue from some games that’s made us realise that ad supported games are viable.
I’d probably say at the moment that commercially nothing is viable on Android, piracy is really high, people even pirate the free games! They upload the apps to their websites and get paid from the ads on their website, we don’t even know if they rip our own ads out of the games and insert their own.
We see some weird statistics, we use AdMob for most of our ads at the moment. On the Android version of Simply Solitaire we get the same number of impressions as we do on the iPhone version and yet the game has had five times as many downloads on iOS as there been officially from the Android Marketplace. It’s a good reason to have adverts in the game because then it doesn’t matter where the game is downloaded from.
We’re still trying to understand pricing. Google’s terms and conditions make it easy for you to buy a game and then reject it. I’m not exactly sure what happens on your handset if you do that, I don’t think you lose the right to use the game. About a third of people who download a game request a refund. The problem is that when Google refund the customer they refund them the $1 they paid but we only get paid $0.70. So actually we lose $0.30 when you ask for a refund because they deduct the $1 from our $0.70.
If you factor in advertising iOS is on another planet [in terms of revenue]. Solitaire has been our big hit so far, in fact the cumulative downloads for Simply Solitaire are getting up towards a million. We won’t issue specific figures for other Apps, particularly where other people are involved but we did that one ourselves as an experiment.
It was rather a strange one that it did so well for such a simple game, people seem to like the “arts and crafts” style of it so we bought out a version of Poker Squares. The game was already on the website but we’ve added our whole look and feel to it. This was an interesting discussion because there was a game on the website that gave us an idea and we did an awful lot of work to that particular game but we are still sharing the revenue with the guy who created it because he gave us the inspiration.
We’ve paid out our first months revenues for up to the end of December. We’ve certainly given out more money than we would have if we’d run another competition and in the current month it’s way beyond the competition. We aren’t looking at millions of sales for most of the games but everybody’s got some money out of it. If you’re somebody 18 years old sitting in Australia and somebody’s just sent you a cheque for a few hundred bucks I think you’ll be pretty happy. I don’t think anyone so far has been disappointed.
We will get hits, there was no reason why Simply Solitaire should have been one. The thing we’re not doing is spending any money on marketing, we push press reviews and we’re relying on virality to be the key essence. There are ways you can spend money to promote games, if you look at TapJoy or MobClix. You can basically pay people to download your Apps from the App Store, if you hit the top 20 when someone picks up their phone and wants to buy a game 99% of the time that will be one of the top games.
We want developers to stay with us, we are going to help [more serious developers] in any way that we can. Good developers will get help from us before they finish their game. It costs us £2,000-£3,000 every time we do a game, that money could often be spent before the game got to us because then we wouldn’t have to do anything to it. We have already helped one developer spend some money on graphics for his game and the game went from a very interesting prototype to something I would call quite sensational.
The thing we’ve come to understand is that Game Maker is no barrier to creating wonderful games. AngryBirds could have been done in Game Maker.
Is the answer to license our [porting] technology to third parties? Possibly. At the moment our method of distributing Game Maker is a $25 or free download from the website. We love the fact that literally millions of people worldwide can pick up Game Maker, we’re getting 5,000 downloads of the Lite version a day on average. About 80% of people never use it, I don’t think people expect a blank canvas when they open the IDE for the first time.
The problem we have is that if we come up with a solution it has to work for everybody. We want to make money from the games and we don’t want to be associated in the publishing world with Catch the Clown coming out 10 times a day. At the moment we just don’t have an answer.
For now if we open up the store it means that for the better developers who are prepared to give up 50% of their NET revenue with NO RISK, we’ll do everything – the marketing, the finishing of the game, we’ll get it published, it’s actually quite a good deal. We know for a fact that if you go to a publisher like Chillingo they’ll give you about 50-50 if you’re lucky.
I’ve got an open view towards people’s attitudes on this but I think 50-50 is a decent commercial deal especially when we take all of the risk. I think the people who are complaining [about the revenue share deal] are not experienced in getting games published. They are very lucky if they get a substantially better deal than that.
We’ll figure out a way of solving [portable runners] for everyone but right now I’m more concerned about getting 40 or 50 Catch the Clowns a day submitted to the App Store, Apple would block Game Maker – we can’t afford for that to happen. Android is similar, we don’t want YoYo Games or Game Maker to become associated with that kind of game.
Game Maker will maintain its roots as being an accessible tool to everyone. There will always be some kind of free version and some kind of very low price for the basic Pro version but we are increasingly finding that we are attracting professionals.
Russell is at GDC this week, we’ve been approached by 3 or 4 very large games companies who want to understand how we get games published on different platforms and how they can work with us. We believe it can extend all the way into being a professional tool.
This is an edited transcript and is not a word-for-word account of the interview but it accurately reflects portions of the conversation that took place.