Keflings dev NinjaBee on the 'crazy potential' of Windows 8, and the cross-platform appeal of Xbox One
'Tons of devs' love cross-platform, says Bascom
As this interview goes live, the web is still abuzz with Xbox One talk.
No doubt, Microsoft would have loved the idea that its new console would still be trending at the top of Twitter two days after its reveal.
However, the vast majority of tweets about the machine are anything but positive. Xbox One – or Xbone, as it's being referred to – is the internet's latest big joke.
Such territory is nothing new for Microsoft, however.
The firm's mobile platform – Windows Phone – faced similar ridicule before sales began to pick up, and the Redmond giant's attempts to evolve its desktop offering with Windows 8 have been met with a far from favourable response from some quarters.
So why would a developer of any kind choose to jump aboard the good ship Microsoft? And why is A World of Keflings studio NinjaBee confident consumers will soon see Windows 8 as a "solid gaming platform"?
We caught up with project lead Ben Bascom to find out how the game is performing on its new home, and where he sees Xbox heading next.
Pocket Gamer: You enjoyed much success with A World of Keflings on XBLA. What made you decide to bring it to Windows 8?
Ben Bascom: First and foremost, we wanted to help out the players who wanted to join in the latest Keflings experience but didn't have an Xbox 360.
We've always made a special effort to support the PC crowd. In this case, Windows 8 was the perfect opportunity. With the big push for tablets, we dedicated a lot of time on touch support.
When we committed to making this game for Windows 8, we didn't see it only as a Windows 8 title but a game which will also exist on Windows 9, Windows 10, Windows II Special Champion Edition, etc. So, we saw it as a long term investment.
There are going to be a whole lot of people who will use Windows and they're going to want their Keflings.
We also have an established Keflings fan base. Naturally, we want to expand that into simple Kefling world domination - "the same thing we do every night, Pinky!"
What is Windows 8 like to develop for? And what is Microsoft like to work with?
Windows 8 as a gaming platform was still a path in development while we were working on A World of Keflings. This always brings up certain challenges.
What will the certification process be like? How do we deliver our game to Microsoft? We have a fair amount of experience as a company working on platforms that are still in development - especially with Microsoft.
So, we went into it with our eyes wide open. Everyone wants to tell you that their platform is easy to work with - they give you their best sales pitch.
Like any sales pitch, you have to work off your previous experience and say, "Well, we know it's in development and we know the floor is going to be changing beneath us." So, we plan accordingly.
There are a lot of great reasons to work with Microsoft. For our first time releasing a game on Windows 8, working with Microsoft was a good option. We had people assigned to work with us and provide us with the support and answers to questions that we needed.
Of course, just as working with any publisher, it's not all roses. Publishing through Xbox Live is still an option for us in the future, but we want to try out the self-publishing route next to see what kind of clout that Xbox Live tag really has on game sales.
Despite impressive sales – 100 million units in six months - Windows 8 seems to be getting a mixed reaction from the press. What are your opinions of it as a platform?
Windows 8 has crazy potential to be a solid gaming platform. There will be some teething issues with the big changes that have been made to the OS. Most of us are naturally resistant to change.
During the development of A World of Keflings for Windows 8, I took the opportunity to upgrade my OS from Windows 7. At first, the new paradigm took some getting used to. However, as I get more familiar with how things work, I'm becoming converted.
As a gamer, I'm also really excited to have a game portal built into the OS.
The suggestion is there will be greater ties between Xbox One and Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. As a developer, is this an attractive prospect?
I love the cross-platform approach.
There are already a number of games out there which make use of cross-platform technology.
Fusion: Sentient – and this is a shameless plug for a game I worked on - is a perfect example of this. It was built for Xbox Live on Windows Phone and is the companion game to Fusion: Genesis which lives on XBLA.
It was a really tricky undertaking to get those two titles to communicate and, ultimately, it was expensive.
If Microsoft can make this whole process easier in the future, game developers will be able to effectively take advantage of cross-platform gaming.
I don't stand alone on this. There are tons of devs out there who would make cross-platform experiences if it weren't for the difficulties and costs involved in implementing them.
How has the game been performing on Windows 8 so far? Is it performing better on PCs or tablets?
The game has performed better than our previous Keflings title did on PC. I think some of this can be attributed to its existence as an Xbox Live title on Windows 8.
Unfortunately, I don't have the data available to answer your other question. However, we made a big push to optimise the experience for even low end tablets. I suspect the game appeals equally to both PC and tablet gamers.
You launched with Xbox Live billing. Some developers have expressed frustration – both on Windows 8 and WP8 – that indie games without Xbox Live just don't get discovered by gamers. Do they have a point?
That certainly weighed heavily in our decision to publish as an Xbox Live title. With that, we expect a certain amount of visibility to gamers.
Gamers can purchase our game knowing it has gone through extra certification to meet a higher level of quality.
That's not to say non-Xbox Live titles don't meet that same level of quality, but everyone knows it can be hit-or-miss. Who hasn't downloaded a game that they played for less time than the download itself?
I believe there's a successful route to self-publishing on Windows platforms but Windows 8 and WP8 devs are still feeling it out. By comparison, visibility on iOS and Android is terrible with the flood of games that consumers have to wade through.
A lot of lessons can be learned from the successful developers on those platforms.
What would you like to see Microsoft do to better promote Windows 8 to gamers?
A big part of this would be about coaching gamers that Windows 8 is a viable gaming platform. A lot of people still don't think of Windows 8 as a platform where they go and buy games.
They should also update the Windows 8 game store live tile. It's static and colourless. It has to compete with all of the animating tiles surrounding it and it just doesn't stick out.
I know that's part of their metro style but it just breaks down as soon as people start pinning other tiles around it.
Thanks to Ben for his time.
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