Last month we were invited to tour the office of Aurora Feint Inc, developer of the recently released Android version of Open Feint. While there we were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to conduct a pair of one hour interviews with some of the top men that work there so we could ask them questions about their software as well as more general questions about developing for the platform.
What follows is the start of our talk with Steve Lin (Vice President, Operations) and Jakob Wilkenson (VP of Engineering). This interview has been altered from the original recording for the purpose of readability.
Read the other parts here:
What’s the default phone that you recommend to developers
We’ve been telling most developers, in terms of baseline, “Take a look at the Droid” because it has the largest install base, so make sure it runs on the Droid first. It’s got the right aspect ratio and the processor and everything is pretty common.
It’s been in the media recently the difference in screen size between a phone and a tablet, how do you tell your developers to handle that?
We haven’t had a lot of questions about tablets yet. It’s sort of like the iPad iOS, “well I guess we have to make it bigger”. I think people are keeping that in mind that they’ll have to go larger. The biggest question we have is, the difference between MDPI and HDP. A lot of people want to know what the baseline device is for a MDPI and what they should do for HDPI. Some people are handling the 854 resolution by either doing a side letter boxing or games like Fruit Ninja where they just stretch it a little bit. In general we’ve been saying “Target HDPI”. You can see in the Google data the amount of usership that’s hitting the Marketplace, it’s definitely becoming the majority of handsets. Also, it possibly won’t necessarily run on an MDPI screen depending on the game obviously, something like Symbolism will run, but you have, like, Jet Car Stunts, that’s going to be pretty ambitious to run on a slower device.
What sort of games are you playing around the office?
The truth is that Jet Car Stunts has been probably sucking a good work month out of this office. As soon as we find something which is a competitive game. We’re all hard core gamers, as soon as I beat somebody else’s score in a game that we both like, “it’s on” until we can’t spend anymore time on it without it getting ridiculous. Jet Car Stunts has definitely been a big one, some of the more casual ones such as Bird Strike, people have spent a lot of time on. Fieldrunners has sucked up a lot of time from this office. What’s interesting is that I actually returned my iPhone 4. Well, I couldn’t make a call so that was kind of a problem, so I have a touch and an iPad which I use to play games, but I’ve actually been out of the iOS directly for a little while. I’m not downloading a new game every day, but the one I do play is Robot Unicorn Attack. It’s basically Cannonbolt with a robot unicorn and it plays Erasure in the background as you run through.
It’s good to hear that the games you’ve been playing the most are the games you expect to see come over to Android.
Yeah, that’s the thing. Whenever we find something cool on iOS, my first question to the developer relations and business dev teams is “Get them to release this on Android,” because I want to play it on a regular basis.
(Jakob jumps in) For me, 90% of my iPhone gaming now comes out of our free game of the day program, every day I spend five minutes because I don’t look at our list of upcoming games normally so I spend five minutes and I log in and sometimes there’s an okay game, yesterday was an awesome game and I sat for an hour and a half in the office and just played it, it was called Solomons Graveyard.
Do you advise developers on app pricing?
One of the things we emphasize with developers is price parity, because that’s something we definitely had an issue with. When we saw “Why is it $4.99 on android and 99c on iOS,” part of it is to recoup development costs but these gamers talk to each other and and you’re charging X dollars more, just charge the same and you’ll make up for it in volume. I think you’ll see that with everything we’ve released so far, it’s been the same price.
How much is Jet Car Stunts on iPhone?
Under $5 seem to be a pretty sweet spot for these type of games.
I think in general only the big publishers try to launch games that are more expensive than that, like EA or Gameloft, those are the only guys who try to sell a game for $10.
With bringing a game like Madden to Android, how would that work? Because with Madden, you need a lot of buttons…
We get a lot of questions on what interfaces to use, not everyone has a trackball. We’ve been telling everybody just develop like you’d be developing on an iOS device, don’t count on the buttons being in the same place, like some have home and menu all swapped over, so focus on the touchscreen and accelerometer and if you have a specific device in mind, like the tablets, then I think those should be on a case-by-case basis. There have been a couple of articles about how there’s a lot of interest in Android tablets and I guess the question is “How many people are going to end up buying them?”
If there was a developer who’s never made games for the iPhone or Android and came to you and said “I want to use OpenFeint and I don’t know what platform to develop for,” what would you give them as advice?
I would say technology-wise they are very similar to develop for. If you haven’t been working on either before. but have some experience in game development, they both support c++ which is what most of all games are made from, so the technology is very similar. Android has the big benefits of the openness of it, you’ don’t have to pay $100 to get an Apple account, you don’t have to follow their 250 rules to submit to the marketplace and then have it rejected because you had an icon that looks like iPhone in your game. So it’s definitely a lot easier to get to the market on the Android and it’s not as crowded either. The iPhone has some really great success stories but the thing is still that for every single successful game there are thousands of games that just didn’t make it and some of those are really good. The flip side of that is on the iPhone you can have one of those games and like most people, we’re excited by our own games and think that we’re great at what we do, and most people picture themselves as having one of those games that’s really going to make it and bring in millions of dollars. That’s kind of what we as game designers do. I think that’s one of the reasons people go with the iPhone. I think for us what we will be recommending is that iOS right now is easier to develop for in the sense that you don’t deal with the fragmentation, that’s right now by far the biggest issue for an Android developer. When you start developing you have to be able to test on these different devices and then deal with it but that aside I think that if you’re a casual game developer, an indy game developer getting your game on Android is just going to be easier. What we’ve tried to do is simplify the process. We’ve been talking to our developers in our documentation, putting out recommendations because people look at the market and see hundreds of devices all over the place. But I think that if you look at common features across the board, it’s actually not that fragmented, there are different resolutions, but there are only really two main resolutions you want to target, they’re all going to have capacitive touch screens for the most part, they’re all going to have accelerometers. You’re probably going to have data and here is the list of the different OS breakdowns that you don’t get if you target a 1.6 device. If you’re willing to make hard decisions and cut out a large amount of our potential users, that significantly simplifies things.
And so ends part four, tomorrow we’ll continue with Steve and Jakob for the final part of the interview.