Thursday, June 23, 2011
Our First Game Is Out For the iPad. Hooray!
Last week, Avadon: The Black Fortress HD for the iPad went live in the iTunes App Store. The reaction to it so far has left us stunned. Literally. Like, jaws dropped, walking around in a daze.
The genesis of the iPad version was a few months ago, when I said, "Hmmm. I have a few weeks free on my schedule. I think I'll port Avadon to the iPad. That'll be good for a laugh!" I've long known that there was a demand on the device for old school gaming, free of ads, in-game purchases, cute animals, zombies, and farming.
But, it turns out, the demand was far greater than I'd ever guessed. My fan mail since the release has been very instructive. Gamers weren't just disappointed by the lack of deeper games on the device. They were downright irked.
But that is the Magic Power of the Indie developer. Find an underserved market and serve it.
Writing and releasing my first device for iOS has been very instructive. In case anyone is interested, here's a few comments on Spiderweb Software's first game for portables.
Learning To Code For a New Platform.
Apple has done an amazing job of making developing for iPhones and iPads accessible. The sets of commands to program the device (i.e. the API, called Cocoa) are very clear and not too trying to learn. The development environment, XCode, is free. There are several good, free game engines for the devices. (I used a heavily modified version of the open source engine iPTK.)
There are also excellent books available on the topic. I leaned most heavily on Beginning iPhone 4 Development. I found iPad Application Development For Dummies to be unusually poor for a Dummies book, but its chapter on Provisioning (a tricky, vital, and neglected topic) is easily worth the cost of the book.
A Decent Port. But Just Decent.
Avadon originally came out for Windows and Mac. I was really determined not to half-ass the port to the iPad. I put a lot of thought into how to best adapt an old school, Western-style RPG to a touch screen. It's not something people have spent a lot of time doing. I think I came up with good answers to a lot of the questions, and the game overall plays really well.
However, there are a number of places where the UI could be better. This isn't because I was lazy or wanted to dump shoddy work on the market, but simply because this was my first iOS application. So have mercy. Our next game for the iPad (out, let's say, next April) will be better. It'll take some doing to modify the engine, but it'll get done.
Avadon HD is also a fairly demanding app. All of those icons eat up RAM, and the first generation iPad doesn't have a lot. It's playable, but it will be pokey from time to time. It runs great on the iPad 2, but I don't take a lot of satisfaction in that. The inconsistent performance on the iPad 1 is, simply, a failing on my part.
The Apple Approval Process.
Took a week to get my app approved. No rejections. No hassles. No complaints.
The Eternal Pain of Pricing.
It hasn't all been love and group hugs. Some of my fans have been seriously furious that we sell Avadon for Mac and Windows for $25 and the iPad version is $10. Like, "I will never be your customer again. Die in a fire." furious. I don't normally explain my decisions about pricing, but this merits a few words.
The same game is almost always priced differently on different devices. If you look at the prices charged for, say, Peggle, Plants vs. Zombies, or Angry Birds on different platforms, you'll find a huge variety. Angry Birds on the iPhone? One dollar. On the Macintosh? Five dollars. That's a five times difference!
There are a variety of reasons, all of them out of my control, for why I feel it is appropriate to charge less for the iPad version:
1. It has fewer features, due to the limitations of the device. Most notably, it is stuck at 1024x768 resolution and there are no keyboard shortcuts.
2. Since it is being sold by Apple, it is subject to the rules of their system. Most notably, there is DRM, and we can't give refunds through iTunes. Games bought directly from Spiderweb have no DRM and a Money Back Guarantee.
3. When you buy Mac/PC Avadon from us, you get a registration key that can be used to unlock an unlimited number of copies, over both Mac and Windows. A registration over iTunes isn't quite so liberal.
4. There is no ability to mod the game. This matters to more people than you might think.
But the main reason Avadon HD is $10 is, to be honest, that is the only possible price. Any more expensive, and it will cost way too much for an app. Any cheaper, and we're charging too little for what is still an old school niche product with a limited audience. If you try to look at it from our perspective, I think you will see that we didn't have a lot of options here.
One More Disappointment.
We are going to release all of our new games on the iPad. No question.
However, we currently have no plans to write games for the iPhone. After long thought, I came to realize that we just can't figure out how to write the sort of in-depth games we like to do on that screen size. Again, this is a failing on our part. I'm sure some intrepid developer will find a way to make it work. (Hear that, young Indies? That is the siren song of a market for you, all wrapped up with a big, red bow.)
Also, since most Android devices don't have a screen big enough to support our games, we are very unsure how soon we'll be supporting that platform. We are in wait-and-see mode.
And finally, many thanks to everyone who reads this who has supported our games. At the end of the day, I'm just a guy in a basement trying to earn a living and feed the kids. I am grateful for every sale. Plus, they make it possible for me to write more games. Lord knows, by this point, I'm too old and cranky to learn how to do real work.
Soon, we will release the first screenshots and information for Avernum: Escape From the Pit. For Windows and Macintosh. And the iPad!