Game postmortems are usually a very interesting peek behind the curtain of game development and a useful teaching tool for other developers trying to navigate the troubled waters of the App Store. When that postmortem is about a game as great as Crashlands ($6.99) and comes from developers as open and smart as Butterscotch Shenanigans (BScotch), then it becomes a must-read for many. How did the game do? According to BScotch, Crashlands has been successful enough to allow them to make plans for growing the studio and making games for at least a few more years (which is great news for gamers). However, the most interesting part of the postmortem for me was the issues they had to face when developing a truly multi-platform game that looked and played almost the same on both PC and mobile.
According to BScotch, a surprising problem the game encountered is the way PC gamers perceive mobile games. Since the game was made to be as similar as possible on both platforms, many PC reviewers and gamers presumed it’s a game that has sacrificed plenty in both form and function just to fit on mobile. Because of that perception, some reviewers seemed determined to dislike the game and even blamed features they didn’t like on the developers making concessions to fit the game on mobile. BScotch admits it underestimated its ability to overcome this bias, and now feels it might have to launch its next title on Steam and then mobile simply to avoid having to deal with PC gamers’ bias regarding what mobile games really are.
Crashlands in a way ended up being an interesting litmus test on the way PC gamers and PC reviewers look at mobile games. There’s often a misperception that mobile games are just “maimed" versions of PC games, games whose developers had to chop away various parts simply to fit on mobile. That line of thinking ends up leading to arguments along the lines of “if the game was on PC, it would be better." And don’t think that this was just BScotch’s impression; there’s a growing number of mobile developers who quickly learn that if they want to avoid being stigmatized, they have to first launch their game on PC and then bring it over to mobile, even if the two versions of the game are effectively identical. It’s quite disappointing, to be honest, that there is this misperception about mobile games at a time when we’re seeing developers doing fantastic work on mobile.
The other mistake was that the developers (unintentionally) made a game that looked a bit too much like Don’t Starve, even though the two games are quite different. They didn’t like that their game wasn’t as unique as it could be, and from now on plan on designing games as different from existing games as possible. That bodes well for us because BScotch is a very creative studio, so putting its creativity towards making new experiences on mobile could lead to great things, I hope. However, it worries me a bit that they are going with PC first because the way players interact with mobile and PC is different (touchscreen vs mouse and keyboard). When a developer is working on a single vision for both platforms, like BScotch did with Crashlands, those differences don’t really matter; however, when they work on one first and then the other, it might end up affecting game design decisions.
Finally, not all went wrong with Crashlands; the Beta test was extremely helpful in making the game better, building the tools you need to develop your game is often time well spent in the long-run, and committing to your project even if it takes over your life usually can lead to success. So, some great info here that offers gamers a look on how the games they play are made and helps them, perhaps, realize how challenging it is for developers to put a good game into gamers’ hands. Still, what stuck with me was the PC/mobile perception problem and how it might actually affect development of mobile games. In their attempts to deal with PC gamers’ perceptions about mobile games, mobile game developers might end up making unnecessary concessions in terms of gameplay and UI that go against their original vision simply to avoid the stigma. And in case you don’t believe such a stigma even exists, I suggest you check out the comments on the original story here.