Building for larger screens and better game experiences
How Gameloft has taken their games beyond mobile — part of the Apps, Games, & Insights podcast series
Authored by Maximiliano Rodriguez, Platforms Operations Director at Gameloft. Listen to his talk on how to take apps and games beyond mobile on Google’s Apps, Games, & Insights podcast.
Gameloft started 20 years ago, with a focus on mobile. I have been with them for the past 15 years, after starting my journey as a beta tester. At the time, mobile was the new thing and the team behind Gameloft saw it as the future.
Gameloft’s early successes included Asphalt, which was written in Java and one of the first racing games that you could play on mobile. Block Breaker was another early success. We also had a number of simulation games as well, such as New York Nights where the player is a character from small-town America looking to make it big in the Big Apple.
20 years ago, we got excited about having a small screen in our pocket. Today, the screen is becoming ubiquitous: you can even have a screen on your fridge.
While people may not want to play games on their fridge, they want to on the platform that makes sense for where they are. So they might play on their Android device while commuting home and then, when they get home, switch to a Chromebook to play from their sofa.
Mobile remains at the core of Gameloft today, but we are now taking our products to these new screens, including tablets, desktop computers, and consoles.
In this post I will reveal some of the strategies we implemented to take our games beyond mobile.
Creating a level playing field
A big challenge in creating a single game that spans mobile, computer, and console platforms is ensuring that players on one platform don’t gain an advantage. For example, does being able to interact with a game controller on a console make it easier to play than through touch on the screen on mobile?
Interestingly, this is not a new issue. Several years ago we had a game where we started to see comments in the forum saying things like “I just got beaten by someone in two seconds, that’s impossible.” When we investigated we found that some people had figured out how to run the game on PC-based emulators, using the APK, effectively cheating so they could win. And, back then it wasn’t easy, they had to configure everything — the PC, mouse, keyboard — to match the touch actions in the game.
At the time we couldn’t stop people doing this, so we had to do something to bring the game back into balance. We could detect where people were playing and so we separated these communities, so players on mobile played players on mobile and players on emulators played players on emulators.
We empower our teams to work towards having a single community in a single game across multiple platforms, but we often still have to segment them to ensure play is fair. However, we also have examples where we have merged communities at player request, particularly with some of our MMORTS titles.
Adapting to the big screen
Making a successful move to bigger screens is all about adapting the game correctly, in fact, the greatest success is when you plan for the option to address multiple screens right from the beginning.
For example, if a graphic artist creates game content with only mobile devices in mind the graphics will be relatively low resolution. Then, when it comes to addressing larger screens it may be necessary to start from scratch, to create high-resolution graphics for the larger screens. So, if you know that large screens are in the plan it makes sense to start with the graphics of the resolution needed for larger screens, and then optimize assets for mobile.
Similarly, when creating the UI, you shouldn’t anchor content to specific points on the screen. Rather, let them dynamically resize. But again this is something you need to consider from the very beginning.
Whether building from scratch or adapting a game, the game designers need to consider how the game will be played. Devices with a bigger screen might give players access to a game controller or a keyboard and mouse: it’s no longer just a touch screen. In addition, the bigger the screen the more time people spend playing. This has an important impact on KPIs as more time spent playing means greater opportunities to increase the average revenue per paying user.
You also need to allow time for this extra work — our experience was that it took longer to build for multiple screens than we expected, particularly for the first project.
But the good news is, once you can develop for mobile you don’t need any special skills to develop for larger screens, at least in our experience.
Launching and distributing
When Gameloft started, it was necessary to have close links with phone manufacturers and telcos, because they were the folks delivering apps either on device or through their own stores. As a result, we created a division specializing in distribution.
We have retained that model even into the era of Google Play. We publish many of our games ourselves. However, for some regions or countries we have different versions of our games and use distributors to publish them. This is because those distributors have a broader reach or a better perspective on the market than we do.
We still work closely with telcos. For example, we might deliver them a premium version of the game for their store that elsewhere we distribute as freemium. Incidentally, this is another example of where we end up splitting player communities.
When it comes to releasing a multiplatform game, from a marketing perspective, it’s ideal to synchronize the game’s release on all the target platforms. However, sometimes factors, such as the scope of the game, resource constraints, or technical issues, can result in the releases being staggered. Where the gameplay can’t be balanced across platforms, and platforms have their own communities, synchronized releases become less important.
At the moment we are treating Chrome OS as an Android platform because that’s what it is. This means that we aren’t making any adaptation to the games except the usual changes needed for the larger screen. So, when we create a game for mobile we immediately consider it for Chrome OS and Android TV: it’s just using the same ecosystem and even the same APK.
Now you may be thinking, how is this different from games being played on emulators, after all, a Chrome OS device has more power and input options than most mobile phones. The key difference is that we control the user experience and can ensure that it is balanced across the different platforms.
The biggest change we are likely to see in gaming is streaming. We have developed a couple of games for a streaming platform and are testing the market. There are still technology challenges to overcome, such as network latency and server performance. Also, the variations in infrastructure between countries means there’s some distance to go before you could deliver a game globally.
I was in a retail store recently and saw a child playing a game on a Smart TV. From the distance, it was clear that the game was Asphalt. As I was watching, the child’s father appeared, and asked, “what are you playing?” When the child said Asphalt the father said, “Asphalt. That rings a bell. I used to play that a very long time ago on my phone.” This made me very proud of our evolution to multiple platforms and multiple screens and how we have remained relevant across generations of game players.
Our move to embracing multiple screens is because we want to bring gaming experiences to everyone. It shouldn’t matter if that person is on a mobile device or console, playing a game should be just as enjoyable. That means supporting as many screens and form factors as possible. And, if you want to see how we have done it, check out Asphalt 9.
Find out more
Hear Maximiliano Rodriguez from Gameloft talk to Google about how they took their games to larger screens and new platforms in more detail on episode 7 of the Apps, Games, & Insights podcast.
What do you think?
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