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Porting mobile games to the web, consoles, & pc

October 11, 2021
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Your game is doing well on the App Store or Google Play and it may seem like everything is fine. At some point, though, your revenue may stop growing as user acquisition becomes increasingly difficult and expensive. It seems like the mobile market is tapped out. An effective way to increase new user inflow and generate more revenue is to port your mobile game to web browsers and PC. Not only does this save on the cost of creating a new title, but you can reach out and engage new players with a minimal amount of effort. Benefits of Porting Mobile Games Upscaling and porting your game to new platforms requires far less time and money than developing a new game from scratch. Your only real obstacles are maintaining the integrity of visuals and creating a smooth user interface without touch screen controls. Once that’s done, you can let the quality of your game speak for itself. Here are the main benefits of porting your mobile game to web browsers, desktops, consoles, and PC:
  • It increases your audience and profits. Think of it like opening new territories and introducing locals to a product they haven’t seen before.
  • It’s cheaper and faster than developing a new title. A new game could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and several months to produce. Porting is usually faster and cheaper.
  • It’s less pressure on your development team. You won’t need to design a whole new concept or create new assets, just upscale and convert what you’ve already worked on.
Option 1 – Developing a Web Port Web applications are a kind of software that are stored on a server and launched by users in a browser. This could be compared to streaming services like Netflix — users simply open an app and start watching Stranger Things without having to worry about the technical requirements or free space on their gadgets. Web games are usually developed with HTML5, JS or WebGL. Adobe Flash once represented the lion’s share of web games, but it has lost favor over the past decade and will no longer be supported after 2020. The popular game creation engine Unity also no longer supports its Web Player. Below are some of the benefits and caveats involved in turning your mobile game into a web game. Large Potential Audience All web games need to run in a browser, so they aren’t restricted to a specific platform or architecture. This allows for universal compatibility with all sorts of devices, including mobile phones, tablets, PCs, laptops, and smart TVs. Moreover, such games don’t need a powerful device, so even owners of low-spec phones and computers can run these apps. Developing a web-version of your game makes it easier to add cross-gaming support, which is rare for native apps. This way, users of two different platforms can play together. Easy Maintenance If you develop a game for iOS or Android, you are dealing with two separate versions of the game. You need to upload your title to the designated storefronts and support them individually. The same holds true for updates and patches. With web-based games you create a universal build that users can open in a browser, whether it’s on a PC or a smartphone. This method works well when you embed via iFrame. To release a game on several websites you only have to upload it once. Some platforms do require you add their API into your game. In this case, you will have a different version for each platform, though it still requires less tweaking than creating totally separate platform builds. Cheaper Development As mentioned above, web games are less demanding in terms of maintenance compared to native apps. You will spend fewer man-hours on quality assurance, fixing bugs, and making updates. You also don’t have to worry about performance quirks on different platforms. Better Promotional Opportunities Since your app is not limited to just a couple of stores, you can publish it wherever you like. Places such as your own website, web game aggregators, or social media networks are all viable options. There are hundreds of good quality portals that can help promote your game. For many developers, the more platforms they spread to, the better. Shareability Web games require no installation and are therefore easier for new players to try out. If a user shares a game on their social feed, followers can instantly start playing. No downloads, no installation, just click and play, then they’re hooked. Where to Release Your Web Game With mobile games you know the two main platforms — iPhone/iPad and Android — are your only real targets. With web portals there are a host of other options and considerations. Fortunately a few platforms do rise to the top. Facebook Facebook has 2.45 billion monthly active users, with around 700 million of them engaging in game related activities. This includes watching game videos, participating in relevant communities, or playing the games themselves. There are only around 6,000 games on Facebook’s web platform at the moment, compared to 350,000 for Android and 900,000 for iOS. That means the competition is much lower than it is on the mobile storefronts. Plus, new games appear on Facebook at a much lower rate — in 2018, there were only 5,000 titles. There are three ways users can play games on Facebook: on the website, in the Facebook app, or via Gameroom. Gameroom is a desktop application that is used to launch Facebook games. Think of it as a customized browser that is used solely for games. Facebook shared a case study following the release of two mobile games on their platform, Warhammer 40K: Freeblade and Pirates of the Caribbean: Tides of War. Both games showed improved retention rate and revenue on Facebook’s platform. Porting Pirates of the Caribbean: Tides of War also proved to be a successful enterprise itself, with the retention rate going up by 30%. Facebook offers free hosting for gaming clients. This decreases expenses, as you are no longer required to have a server of your own or work with third-party hosting platforms. New apps also receive an initial visibility boost, getting featured for a couple of days in order to collect ranking metrics and see how the audience welcomes the game. Third-Party Websites You can also make your game available on third-party websites or release it on browser game aggregators. Both can host your game themselves, or you could sign an agreement that lets you host the game on your server and the third-party site simply launches the game from there. One such platform is Kongregate. At the time of writing it features over 126,000 free games and 14.1 million monthly visits, according to SimilarWeb. The website also hosts a ranking competition in which the 15 top-rated games get a cash prize ranging from $250 to $1,750. This may not be much for big companies, but it could appeal to indie developers. Similar to Facebook’s initial boost, Kongregate will spotlight new releases with a minimum of 1 million impressions. If a game keeps attracting players, it will be featured in the Hot New Games list. Releasing a game on Kongregate comes at a price, though. There is a 70/30 revenue split in favor of the developer. Kongregate’s share covers fees, taxes, billing, customer service, and chargebacks. Kongregate also takes half of the ad revenue that accounts for $1-2 eCPM for the developer. Depending on the game, publishing may take just a day or two. You will also have to install three APIs to be able to work with the platform. Your Own Website You can always set up your own website and server to host your games. This can have several significant advantages when compared to publishing on a big company’s store or an aggregator. As this is your realm, you can play by your own rules. There is no need to follow any guidelines (which can be a real pain in the neck), or use someone else’s API. You can choose the payment systems that you prefer and place ads in and outside the game. Most importantly, there is no revenue split as there would be when releasing a game on someone else’s store. With great independence comes great responsibility. The biggest burden with this method is you’ll have to work to attract traffic to your site, as you can’t take advantage of marketing or discoverability provided by a platform. It’s a trade-off, for sure, but often a worthwhile one. Option 2 – Developing a Game Client Port A game can also be ported to another platform by releasing it via a game client. This type of porting is more demanding than working with web games. If you develop for PC and consoles you will have to create a different build for each platform. Each build and each update should be quality assured and separately uploaded to a specific storefront. There can also be added expenses to worry about with this method. When releasing an app on a digital store, developers have to share a fraction of their revenue with the store holder. The percentage will vary depending on the store’s terms. Stores take these cuts to cover various expenses, including authorization, CDN, promotion, and payment systems. You may also have to pay a publishing fee. Drawbacks aside, there are some significant benefits to developing a port for game clients. We’ll cover those in detail below. It Can Save Time and Money If you develop a game using a universal engine like Unity or Unreal Engine 4, it’s relatively easy to compile a PC build. You will have to make sure it is playable on a bigger screen than the mobile devices you work with before, of course, but otherwise it’s largely a straightforward process. Releasing a game for PC doesn’t require any special certifications. Even if your engine supports exports to consoles, though, you will need specific licenses for systems like PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. This process requires you register as a developer with the platform owner, get a dev kit, and test your game before submission. Even with licensing fees you’ll find that porting your game to consoles is faster and cheaper than developing from scratch. Expanded Audiences According to Newzoo’s most recent report, PC generated $35.3 billion in 2019, nearly half of the mobile market. The console sector was a bit higher with $45.3 billion. By releasing a mobile port via game client you can tap into this enormous audience with ease. A Chance to Enhance the Game If you are thinking of porting a premium game from mobile to PC or consoles, this might be the perfect opportunity to add improvements and release the version as an official upgrade. Not only will it look and sell better next to games made for those platforms, but you may get additional sales from your mobile audience who want an improved experience on a bigger screen. Best Distribution Platforms for Mobile Ports There are hundreds of digital platforms you can port your mobile game to. Not all of them are suited for your releases, though. We’ve collected a few of the best candidates below. Note that large platforms like GOG, Epic Games Store, Origin, and Uplay are not on this list, as they have regulations or approval processes that makes it difficult or impossible to publish a ported mobile game to their platform. Steam If your game isn’t a typical mobile game and you think it can fit in with native PC titles, Steam should be your first choice. You’ll find everything from indie to AAA titles on Steam, along with a healthy selection of mobile ports such as Lords Mobile and Bloons TD 6. The latter even made it to the list of the top 100 games on Steam. The platform has a huge user base, as well. As of April 2019 the total number of Steam accounts was at 1 billion with 90 million monthly active users (recent findings on SteamDB indicate that there are just 667 million registered accounts, however). To publish a game on Steam, all you need to do is register with Steamworks Distribution Program and pay a $100 fee. The platform holder takes a 30% cut of your sales, but apart from that there are no fees to worry about. Microsoft Store Developers can quickly and easily release ports and games on the Microsoft Store, a client that comes packed with most modern Windows devices. The store features casual games alongside big titles like Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 4, making it the perfect home for mobile ports. As of March 2019, the Microsoft Store was available to 700 million desktop users. The revenue share split is much more favorable when compared to other platforms, sitting at 85/15 in favor of developers. You will need to sign up as a developer to publish on the Microsoft Store. This costs $19 for solo developers and $99 for companies. Indie Stores You can also submit your game to indie-focused stores such as itch.io or Game Jolt. These stores feature both web and downloadable games and feature everything from game creation tools to experimental content, game jam releases, and high-end indie titles. Don’t expect massive revenue if you submit to indie stores. Their audiences are small and often interested in niche products, which your game may not fit. The barrier to entry is shockingly low, though, and the revenue split is usually far less than any of the larger channels. Game Jolt actually lets you set a revenue split yourself, the only requirement being it stays less than 10%, and itch.io doesn’t have any mandatory fees. Advice for Porting Your Mobile Game Regardless of where or how you port your game, there are some things you should keep in mind during planning and development. Do Your Platform Research Even if you develop a game with a universal engine like Unity, which supports development for 25 platforms, you must consider the platform you are developing a port for and the game itself. There’s no such thing as a one-click port, no matter what the engine insists. The platform you release on may have rules and regulations you have to follow, which could mean you have to revise gameplay, controls, or other aspects of the game. Upgrade the Visuals Mobile games are designed for smaller screens. They have a tiny interactive area and are almost always played with touch screen inputs. The UI will be designed with these restrictions in mind, but when you port to another platform, you’ll suddenly have more screen space and the freedom to change that UI. Take advantage of this when porting your game so players can enjoy the added real estate. Mobile releases also tend to have worse picture quality compared to PC or console titles. If you’re planning to publish on powerful devices, it’s better to enhance the visuals as much as possible for release. Higher resolution textures and more graphical effects are a good starting point. Rework the Gameplay What’s fun to play on the bus or while waiting in line might not be fun to play sitting on a couch in front of the TV. Before porting your mobile game, consider how well the gameplay will translate to the new medium. Is it a popular genre among console or PC players? If not, will it have a broad enough appeal to succeed? Free-to-play games are not always welcome among PC gamers. One-third of Lords Mobile reviews on Steam are negative, yet it has nearly 5 million ratings on Google Play with a 4.1 star rating. One of the most criticized aspects in the PC port was that users couldn’t sign in using their existing Google accounts and had to start from scratch. Think of adding cross-platform support if you want to avoid this situation. Adapt the Controls How will users play your game? Mobile releases support touch controls, which is not an option on PC or console. The new version should be adapted to analog controls, such as a mouse, keyboard or controller. Keep in mind that the Nintendo Switch does have a touch screen, though, which can make this a promising platform for certain mobile ports. Enlarge Text Text can be found in menus, item descriptions, interface elements, or pop-up tips. You want everything to remain readable on the new platform, and that often means changing the text size so players can see it on a larger screen. This can also bring up issues with the UI. An instruction might say “tap here” or “swipe left”, both of which refer to touch screen controls. If users have to press a button instead, make sure you change those tips to read “click here” or “press X” instead. Consider Cross-Platform Gaming Think of introducing a cross-gaming feature to your online title when designing a port. This will allow users on different platforms to play with each other, creating one large community instead of multiple, smaller, fragmented ones. Fortnite has famously done this to enormous success. Monitor Expenses and Workload Although a game port requires a smaller budget than a new project, the development and post-release processes will still rack up some costs. If you opt for client-based porting, you will need a quality assurance team to test each version. The same will need to be done for technical support, as issues may vary from platform to platform. To decrease pressure on the development team, it’s best to release a game on one platform at a time. Hire Professionals There are third party teams that specialize in adapting mobile ports to consoles and PC. They’re experienced with all of the ins and outs of the process, often have certifications and SDKs you’ll need, and can make the release go much more smoothly. Conclusion If you’re looking to reach new users and grow your revenue but are not ready to invest a huge sum of money, porting is a fantastic option. Web ports allow you to reach every browser on Earth and give you more freedom than publishing on a digital store. It’s also much simpler and less time consuming to update the game. Publishing games on Facebook may boost your audience as well, though this largely depends on the genre. If PC is more your style, stick with Steam, and consider both the Microsoft Store and various indie publishing markets. Make sure you adjust your game to adhere to all of the new rules and regulations of these platforms, then sit back and watch your audience grow.
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