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With the release of iOS 7 upon us and a whole plethora of juicy new features for consumers and developers alike to enjoy, we took the time to ask some popular game developers just how they feel about it and what features they're looking forward to getting more intimate with.
Look and Design of iOS 7
The look of iOS 7 is a huge change for many, which explains why so many pivotal apps are changing their appearance; to make sure it ties into the new style of doing things. How about with games, though? And do game developers appreciate such a significant change?
For the most part, it's been considered a positive change from those we questioned. Andrew Smith of AppyNation and Spilt Milk Studios explained, "I like it! I’m a fan of refreshes – and although when I first saw the new look I wasn’t completely sold, since using it in studio on the betas it’s won me over." Stephen Morris of Greenfly Studios reinforced that view, emphasizing that the "redefining of the experience... it certainly feels fresh and more efficient."
Some apprehension was felt, though. As Richard Brooks of Rodeo Games explained, "a veteran iOS user may find it a little jarring at first," pointing out that, "the new look will split the room," from his personal experience of showing it to others. Ben Britten of Tin Man Games felt the same, pointing out that some people will love it and others will, predictably, hate it.
It's not all plain sailing though, as Martin Linklater of Curly Rocket explained, "to be honest the colours are a little garish for my tastes. Maybe in iOS 8 Apple will tone it down a little. It's not quite got the subtlety that Apple is known for." Aaron Fothergill of Strange Flavour felt the same, diplomatically pointing out that he's "getting used to it."
Even those who weren't a fan had to admit that they, for the most part, appreciated the cleaner interface.
More positively, few issues have been encountered thus far. For the majority of the people we asked, covering developers such as Hello Games, Hammer & Chisel, AppyNation, Spilt Milk Studios, Strange Flavour, and Green Fly Studios, hardly any issues were reported. The only few problems that did occur related to third-party tools, although noticeably Ben Britten of Tin Man Games found no issues with Unity3D. There were some early day problems with Rodeo Games's Warhammer Quest as explained by Richard Brooks, "The devices we were testing with were crashing a lot and it was very difficult to get anything working. Warhammer Quest didn't work at first due to some bugs in the iOS 7 main libraries, so we just had to sit back and wait. After about 4-6 weeks these were dealt with and are mostly good now."
It's a pretty positive sign for developers that iOS 7 should prove quite beneficial in the long run, given the limited issues that have been encountered so far.
Arguably most significant of all for many game developers is the introduction of official controller support. How do they feel about it?
"For us, this is the biggest new feature of iOS 7." explained Aaron Fothergill, "The fact that they’re a standard is the important bit as we can actually design them into our game with the standard features in mind, so we can do it properly. We’ve already got test code in SlotZ Racer, Any Landing, and Apple Dash and we’re just waiting on controllers being available for us to actually test with and perfect the controls before we release games with them in and then we’ll be considering MFI controller as integral design parts of all our games."
Simon Renshaw, of PUK fame, has similar thoughts. " I love that its possible to play iPhone games on the big screen with Apple TV mirroring, latency is an issue though, as is battery life, so I kinda hope we'll see a controller bundled with a magical iPhone-charging HDMI cable!" Martin Linklater also thinks that the controller could be the "real killer feature," at least once adopted more frequently.
Hello Games' Sean Murray explained that "touchscreens are great for lots of games - like, I’m really proud of what we managed to do with the touchscreen design with Joe Danger Touch. There are some games that just benefit from buttons and thumbsticks though, and as a gamer, my thumb just feels comfortable sat on a nice analog button. Having officially supported controllers could be fantastic for broadening gaming on iPhones even further than it is today, bringing in the controller snobs like me! We're working on making something of all this right now, something that makes use of both touch and controller. We're throwing ourselves into it completely... I think people will be surprised how well it works."
Consider us fascinated as to what this will mean for Joe Danger on iOS!
Andrew Smith is keen, but as he points out "[it's] hardly going to sell the games to more people. The vast majority of iPhone users and gamers are perfectly happy with good touchscreen interfaces, so we’ll be happy to continue to provide those!" Greenfly Studios feels the same way, with Stephen Morris explaining "our mobile games are currently more focused on the casual consumer but it doesn't mean we're not open to exploring the new niche!".
Richard Brooks also found such support less than essential, pointing out that Rodeo Games' titles are "designed entirely for mobile and tablet devices with touch screens and implementing controller support would make them worse." A fair point indeed. Jason Citron expressed similar views, explaining how Hammer & Chisel is "laser focused on building original high-quality games for tablets. A big part of that is taking advantage of the unique interaction a large touch screen affords."
With so many of the best developers doing a great job of providing touch-based interfaces, is there really a need for controllers after five years of perfecting touch controls? Perhaps not, but it'll be fascinating to see how things develop.
Revamped Game Center
For the most part, the revamped Game Center has been quite appreciated by those we asked. Andrew Smith puts it well, "it's really neat!" although does admit, while inventing a new word, that the icon is a little un-game-y. Stephen Morris particularly loves that there's a way to combat cheaters at last, which means "we can focus on providing consumers fun and realistic challenges." Like any self-respecting iOS gamer, Sean Murray explained "Seeing insane hacked scores on any game makes me sad. I’m... going to really appreciate the added security for score and achievement data, because it’ll hopefully mean there isn’t so much leaderboard hacking."
Richard Brooks points out what we've all been thinking in terms of old Game Center's looks, "I'm glad they've gotten rid of the horrible green felt style though!" because as Simon Renshaw says while describing the old interface as archaic looking, "what young person recognizes the connection between a black jack table and their favorite shooter?".
So, it's a fairly positive change for iOS 7 and some of its finest game developers. Understandably, there's some apprehension as is always the way with such a significant change, but the future is looking pretty bright. In particular, it'll be fascinating to see what comes of controller support, as well as the new and extra shiny Game Center.
Thanks to Curly Rocket's Martin Linklater, Strange Flavour's Aaron Fothergill, AppyNation/Spilt Milk Studios's Andrew Smith, Greenfly Studios's Stephen Morris, Rodeo Games's Richard Brooks, Laserdog Games's Simon Renshaw, Hammer & Chisel's Jason Citron, Tin Man Games's Ben Britten, and Hello Games's Sean Murray for taking the time to answer our questions.
No one really likes in-app purchases, do they? Sure, sometimes the flexibility is great when they're done well, but far too often it all feels a bit cynically done and to the detriment of the player's bank balance. How good would it be to have a new system that aims to make things much clearer and much fairer? That's the idea behind Play Nice, a system set up by UK-based developer, Strange Flavour, and set to be a particularly eye catching part of their forthcoming game, Any Landing.
We had a chat with CEO and Lead Coder, Aaron Fothergill, to learn more.
148apps: How did the idea for Play Nice come about?
Aaron Fothergill (AF): We dipped our toes in the freemium games market a few years ago with the free version of Flick Fishing, which went on to earn far more than the paid version had when it was at the top of the iPhone games chart, so it was pretty obvious to us just how profitable freemium could be. The problem was, we also saw some of the crazy side of freemium and noticed a trend in other games that was causing the press to start kicking up stories about games designers "deliberately targeting children" or "iPhone gamer gets sudden $3000 bill" and so on.
As with a lot of other game designers, our initial thought was that it's really a parenting issue. The controls are in place to restrict your children from auto-buying consumable content and Apple even tells you to set the parental controls. However as the issue grew, we realized that we weren't thinking the 'Apple way'. Rather than the industry needing to teach players how to work their phones. If we don't want players to accidentally run up huge bills while still having the benefits of consumable IAP, we need to redesign how we use consumable IAP to suit the way they play.
From that, we first thought of a simple cap, but realized there were issues with that and the way IAP works and then developed it into what we've now got for Play Nice where we can set an upper limit we think is a fair amount players can spend on the game, but where any consumable purchases up to that point are actually deducted from the top price, so you don't lose anything by trying a consumable item first. (Actually, because of the way the IAP system works, you actually save a few pennies by buying the consumables first)148apps: How long has the system been in development for?
AF: On and off for about a year, mostly using our upcoming Any Landing game as a testbed. It was planned for release in June originally, but then I went to WWDC and saw a lot of shiny new code things I wanted to play with and of course that took us back a few more months.
148apps: What challenges have you guys faced in its implementation?
AF: The biggest challenge was working out a way to use the current iOS IAP system to get the specific effect we want in a way that's not confusing to players (the whole point is that it's meant to be transparent and fair) and not cause issues in approval.
The other issue is actually in balancing the game itself, as when you've bought the 'full' IAP package, that effectively gives you whatever power ups you want and would drastically change the game's balance. So a lot of time has gone into making sure that it actually works well as a game.
148apps: Are you concerned about there being any difficulties getting through Apple's Approval process?
AF: We are. The method is a bit of a jumble under the hood and while it's not doing anything technically bad as far as Apple's rules are concerned it could look like it's trying to abuse the system. Because of that I've kept Apple support in the loop to check we're not doing anything that could be construed as dodgy. It still has to go through approval of course, but we've done quite a few unusual new features in the past on iOS, so I'm confident that we can keep everything within the rules.
AF: This is one feature I'd actually be quite happy if other devs copied it. Once the actual workings of it are out there, it's pretty obvious (if slightly fun to implement) so we'd be happy if other devs wanted to give it a go.
148apps: What's your opinion of the conventional in-app purchase system? Are there any titles that you think use it well or particularly badly?
AF: In itself, it's a useful system. There's a lot of confusion about IAP, especially about consumable IAP (which is the one that is easiest to abuse) and non consumable. For instance, if you wanted to do a 'shareware' type game on iOS where you unlock the rest of the game after playing demo levels, that's entirely practical with a non consumable IAP item. (the only rule is you aren't allowed to call anything a demo, as Apple doesn't allow demos on the App Store).
What consumable IAP does well (and where Play Nice aims to improve) is it lets you design a game where the skilled players who like to put a lot of time into their gaming can play through the entire game without paying for anything extra to speed the game up or make it easier, but players who really want to play the game but can't afford as much time, or aren't quite as skilled, can purchase upgrades to adapt the game to the way they want to play. This is one reason why freemium is so successful. It doesn't pitch one game at everyone with specific skill levels and free time, it allows players to choose how they want the game to play. Two of my favorite examples of this are The Blockheads (by Majic Jungle Software) and Nimble Quest (by Nimblebit) which both have an optional non consumable purchase that effectively doubles how fast you play (in The Blockheads it halves the time everything takes to craft and in Nimble Quest it adds red gems that effectively double the rate you collect gems). Both use consumable IAP in a reasonable and entirely optional way that doesn't force itself on you.
The abusive part is where games focus entirely on being nearly impossible (or actually impossible) to play unless you keep spending money on consumable IAP. They're effectively targeted at the same people that would be spending a fortune on gambling games, i.e. children and the surprising number of people with compulsive issues.148apps: Do you think the freemium model is here to stay?
AF: Absolutely. Developers can't make a living on just the paid model and the big developers are making a lot of money on freemium. There's nothing actually wrong with IAP itself (or freemium for that matter), but some publishers are really going to have to be careful to balance making crazy amounts of money with the risk destroying the system that makes all that money by triggering potential legislation that restricts or bans it if it's seen as too abusive.
The Play Nice concept has certainly piqued our interest. Anything that helps make things clearer for gamers has to be a good thing. We'll be keeping a close eye on Strange Flavour's work and Any Landing's progress. Thanks to Aaron for taking the time to answer our questions.
Strange Flavour, the developer of such games as Slotz Racer and Flick Sports Fishing, both released by Freeverse, want to send a message to the Japanese government about its sponsorship of the illegal whaling industry. Here's a note from them:
With Japanese government sponsoring illegal whaling in the Antarctic whale sanctuary, Strange Flavour no longer feel that they can trade in a country where tax money from sales of their games is sponsoring the illegal extermination of endangered species.
Recent attacks with military acoustic weapons and metal projectiles on Sea Shepherd crew and their helicopter as well as multiple attempts to ram the Sea Shepherd’s ship the Steve Irwin have shown just how violent the illegal whalers are prepared to be.
As such, Strange Flavour Ltd. will be donating all their proceeds from their games, including the best selling SlotZ Racer and Flick Sports Fishing from the Japanese iPhone app store to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
“While donating our proceeds from the Japanese App Store is very minor in the scheme of things, we’d like the Japanese government to see that the antics of its illegal whaling industry are both embarrassing Japan and its people and causing it to lose face in a world where modern nations are realising the need to protect the environment and work together to avoid the extinction of critical species. All we can do is show our disgust at the illegal whalers and the government that wastes its tax payers money in propping up their loss making industry.
We hold our Japanese gamers in the highest respect, so we decided to do this rather than penalise them by removing our games from sale in Japan.” - Aaron Fothergill, Managing Director Strange Flavour Ltd.
A very good cause. Here's hoping that it brings a little more light on this issue.