For game developers, the holiday season is a most wonderful time of the year when they really reap the rewards for their hard work. Games generate roughly half of developer revenue across phones, tablets and PCs, and, earlier this week, “Minecraft” and “Candy Crush Saga” arrived on the Windows platform. Roughly $100 million in Windows Store gift cards are expected to be available for consumers to buy Windows and Xbox apps, games, music and video content across 41 markets. Some of those hardworking companies – Game Insight and JoyBits – share their experience about why Microsoft has been and is the go-to place for developers looking to stand out during these crowded weeks.
Just as players climb to dizzying heights in “Cloud Raiders,” Game Insight, an established global developer of mobile and social games, has also ascended at impressive speed to the top of the Windows Store in the past 12 months. Besides “Cloud Raiders,” two more of their games are in the top 10 selling games for the U.S. Windows Store: “Big Business Deluxe” and “Airport City.” Game Insight already earned millions of dollars in revenue from Windows Store with free-to-play, real-time strategy titles using in-app purchase options. They also have had more than 10 million Windows Store installations since the Lithuanian-based company arrived on the platform almost two years ago.
CEO Anatoly Ropotov – a fan of Microsoft platforms for more than 20 years, and who did the coding for some of the games that were adapted for Xbox Live Arcade, including “Bejeweled” by PopCap Games – says there’s a lot about the Windows gaming space that appeals to his company.
“Windows Store is a pretty open platform that has a lot of space for new developers to come in and find niches and genres others haven’t released. The growth of the platform and its velocity show that it’s not a quick fad, it’s here to stay,” says Ropotov, who attributes the company’s speedy success to investing in Microsoft’s cross-platform tools and monetization resources. “Once we discovered the Stores were coming to Windows, we decided to take some of the in-house C++ games that we had developed on other platforms and add support for Windows Store. We’ve paved this road and created a showcase product of free-to-play games on Windows and Windows Phone that could work for other developers out there.”
“Typically we see developers generating almost two-and-a-half times more revenue during the holiday season than the rest of the year,” says Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president of Developer Platform Evangelism and chief evangelist for Microsoft. “Gaming is a key category that end users care passionately about, across all device types. We see a higher amount of downloads for games than any other type of app, making it the No. 1 revenue generator across all platforms. We love to see this type of organic customer enthusiasm and that’s why we put money into things like gift cards and Store merchandising aimed at further stimulating momentum.”
One of the things Microsoft has done coming out of the last holiday season, Guggenheimer says, is to talk with publishers more holistically about the Windows and phone game opportunity, instead of just focusing on one game at a time.
“Now when we talk with the top game publishers the conversation is more along the lines of, ‘Hey, let’s collaborate to bring a full portfolio of your games to the platform in the same timeframe,’” says Guggenheimer. “And we’re going to see a wave of those portfolios this holiday. This multi-title approach allows publishers to more quickly gain expertise in developing on the platform and start generating revenue, while allowing our Store to deliver more popular titles to our customers, sooner.”
It’s also helped that Microsoft has provided tools to minimize the work and maximize the ease in porting games from other platforms to Windows and Windows Phone. The common development platform introduced with Windows and Windows Phone 8.1 has also made it easier for developers like Game Insight to create games that span Windows devices. Build once and deploy seamlessly across phones, tablets and PCs.
“For developers today, the world is noisy and complicated. You have the iOS platform, multiple versions of the Android platform, and for Windows, we used to have a different platform for Windows tablets, PCs and Windows Phone,” Guggenheimer says. “By bringing these platforms together, it enables developers to reach multiple Windows devices with one code base versus two or three different code bases.”
Additionally, “Windows 8.1 brings in-app purchasing in line with other platforms, providing consumables and a way to create more than 100 in-app buying opportunities, which is critical once you build an app that will run for years and have new offers every month,” says Ropotov.
For developers transitioning from Windows 8, that opens up all kinds of great opportunities.
“If you look at Windows 8.1, one of the other things we’ve done to improve the developer experience is add support for top middleware providers, like Unity, that developers use to target multiple platforms,” says Guggenheimer.
Taking advantage of this, Game Insight’s portfolio of more than 35 games uses a variety of middleware, including Unity. On the Windows and Windows Phone platform, the number of Unity-based titles has increased 10 times in the last year.
“As we have released the first C++ game titles, more and more technologies have started to support Windows, which has led our teams to easily roll out Windows, as well,” Ropotov says.
And Microsoft has opened up even more of those opportunities with Unity, by porting their toolset to Windows.
“Game devs want to reach as many end users as possible,” explains Guggenheimer. “What most successful game developers do today is use this middleware framework to target multiple platforms at the same time.”
Windows and Windows Phone also provide unique opportunities like Live Tiles, Cortana integration and push notifications to give players more opportunities for engagement and more opportunities for developers to reach them.
“I’ve been really amazed with Windows Phone,” says Ropotov. “Even the lowest-end device has fluid user interface transitions and feels really snappy, making the whole line of devices really enjoyable. We optimize our games for low-end devices, since we strive to provide a consistent experience for all players.” As a result, Game Insight has been able to make inroads in countries such as Vietnam and India, where players are part of its reach to more than 250 million people around the world.
Even when they don’t use middleware, game publishers are increasingly experiencing noteworthy success creating games for Windows platforms.
“From day one, when the studio came together, we always used Visual Studio as the foundation of our development, and now everything we do is C++, so it’s always been a Windows house,” says Paul Baldwin, CEO of JoyBits, which has enjoyed almost divine blessings on its “Doodle God” series of games.
The company released a number of their games on Windows Store before iOS and Android, and supported unique features of the Windows platform such as Live Tiles and connected gameplay. The launch of four games on Windows 8 and Windows Phone built a strong brand recognition and following. As a result, JoyBits managed to get more than 5 million downloads from the Windows Store, getting 1 million downloads in a month with a single new game – “Doodle God: Planet,” which is its highest-rated game on any platform. Daily downloads are reaching more than 120,000.
“It’s our most successful game. We added a visual layer to puzzle building. See the volcano on the planet, rotate it, zoom in and zoom out. Planet mode was a huge technology jump for us,” says Baldwin, who adds that their foundation with Windows made it easier for those kinds of leaps. “When Windows 8 came out, it was truly easy for us to take ‘Doodle God’ and port it over to Windows 8 — it took less than an hour for our team to get it up and running. We also got it up and running on Xbox One.”
These are just a few of the successful developers who have found a welcoming environment with Windows and Windows Phone – thanks to a compelling combination of developer benefits.
“Making it simpler to reach our phones, tablets and PCs all at once has made it much easier for game publishers to reach and engage more Windows users,” Guggenheimer says. “We also work with them one-on-one to make sure we do a great job helping them to successfully get their apps to the Stores, and we put a substantial amount of promotion behind their applications as we go through the holiday season.”
There’s only a few more weeks to take advantage of the holiday boost, so for developers, now is the time to take it to the next level, with plenty of power-ups from Microsoft to help every step of the way.
Lead image caption: A collage of games from Game Insight.