In this edition of Game Theory, we talk to Don Lim, Manager of Com2uS USA about developing cross-platform games for Android devices, keeping their quality high, plus a sneak peek at some of the fun titles Com2uS will release in the coming months.
APPOLICIOUS: Com2uS was a gaming pioneer for both iOS and Android devices. From a gaming perspective, we would love your take on how each platform serves users today.
DON LIM: Both platforms are amazing and still rapidly expanding. For iOS, you see more users willing to pay money for apps upfront, and a more concrete set of specifications for gaming. Android can give a wider range of users the ability to game on the go, and the more open nature of the platform means you can reach more users with different tastes and range of play styles. However, at Com2uS, we are trying to bring both these platforms together with our titles. For example, Homerun Battle 3D is cross-platform so users can play against friends or foes from everywhere. Tiny Farm for Android is coming out in October, and that will feature the same servers for iOS and Android, as well. We have plans for all our online match-up games to serve both platforms simultaneously, to bring the platforms together.
APPO: What opportunities and challenges exist marketing Android games that you don't find with iOS and The App Store?
DL: The amount of Android users is very attractive to developers. The idea of having that market untapped with your games makes the Android marketplace very appealing. However, the Android market remains fragmented. This is the challenge, as device, software, and user fragmentation makes it trickier to develop for this marketplace. We are pushing to publish on the Amazon Appstore and other markets, such as the Vodaphone 360, in the last quarter of this year. However, each of these markets requires separate development and testing, so it can be a lengthy and difficult process.
APPO: How do you go about quality control testing across multiple Android devices, form factors, and partner carriers?
DL: We have a great QA team in Seoul, and they are amazing with testing our games efficiently and across all platforms. The troubles that arise from Android testing is rooted in its fragmentation: with such a large number of devices and versions, we have to test a lot more than we would with iOS titles. This means a lot of time consumed by our team because of the fragmentation. If a device has too low specs, we usually can't support it. We have to target certain devices and versions to make sure our games can be played by the widest range of Android hardware; we try to support all OS from 1.6, and even have optimized Homerun Battle 3D for 2.0 and higher. If a device is too old, we sometimes find we must drop support for it. Hopefully users will update their devices frequently, because the Android platform advances quickly, as does its hardware. The trouble with spending too much time and energy on testing and optimizing for Android, for example, is that sometimes the plan can backfire. For example, we optimized Homerun Battle 3D for the Xperia PLAY's buttons. However, that phone didn't sell as well as predicted, so we have to make sure to weigh the benefits in the future with hardware specific optimization.
APPO: Tell us about how you approach developing and marketing for Android tablet devices.
DL: Com2uS, as a developer embracing Android, is asked to make games for Android tablet devices quite often. Up to now, we haven't had enough resources to focus a lot on the tablets. We have an eye on that market, and we are seeing how the market opportunity grows. We're excited to see how the tablet sales during the holiday season go, as well. But to really test the waters, we are working on an Android tablet version of Tower Defense. Originally developed for the iPad, now we are in the process of scaling it back for Android. Once we see how that release goes, we will decide about our Android tablet line-up.
APPO: What goes into choosing what games hit which platform and when?
DL: It truly depends on the game type. Generally speaking, free games and free to play games are what we focus on for release to the Android market. Historically speaking, Com2uS has focused on iOS versions of our mobile games first. It used to take around three months to port to Android, but as our developers get used to the process and the version updates, that time has been reduced to one month. We try to get our Android versions our games out within a month of iOS release now.
APPO: Com2uS just released its first social game, Tiny Farm, in the App Store. When do you anticipate bringing this to Android and what is your longer-term approach to social gaming?
DL: Tiny Farm is doing well on iOS, and we are very excited to see it hit Android in October, as it is currently being ported. As mentioned above, the servers for both platforms will be the same, so users can play with anyone who has Tiny Farm. We have another social game nearing the end stages of development right now as well, Derby Day. It's a race horse themed social game that we are very excited about and we will introduce it before the end of the fourth quarter for both platforms.
APPO: What other new Android titles (either original Android games or games ported from iOS) can you tell us about that are in the works?
DL: In addition to Android Tiny Farm, we also have Puzzle Family and MiniGame Paradise lined up and ready to go for Android. Both of these titles feature twitch mini-games and MiniGame Paradise even has a pet collection and interaction feature that is sure to be a hit with Android gamers. If you aren't familiar with these games, Puzzle Family has eight different mini-games that can be very challenging to master, and the graphics are crazy and bright. MiniGame Paradise is adorable, but tricky as well because the mini-games to unlock can be difficult as well; users do best to get all the different cute characters with their own special strengths to master each game type.
APPO: Describe the three biggest things in the mobile gaming space currently keeping you up at night.
DL: 1. Distribution: How to acquire more users for our titles. Especially with Android fragmentation and the rapid growth and spread of the mobile market, which can be carrier driven. How can we hit all of these potential users? For example, the addition of Amazon getting in on the mobile distribution bandwagon means we have another way to get our games into players' hands. And it gets larger and more fragmented every day.
2. Engagment: How to increase users' time spent on each app, and how to keep them in the app. As games gain momentum and popularity, people become accustomed to small bits of gameplay here and there, and as a developer, you want to find out how to get them to spend more time engaged with your game.
3. Monetization: How can we give users a product that they want without nickel-and-diming them? Although games are our passion, the trend of free games means we need to make money somewhere, so we are constantly thinking of ways to benefit the user and also keep our games monetized.