Interview

Why the Asphalt series always made sense for Nintendo hardware

"The game’s performance on Nintendo Switch surpassed all our expectations."

Why the Asphalt series always made sense for Nintendo hardware

One of the many great things about media is that it can sometimes take on a second life. A film's premiere is vitally important to the project overall, but physical media sales and streaming rights can sometimes save it from the brink. A song can be distributed to little or no fanfare whatsoever, yet by appearing in the right piece of content at the right time, it can reignite an entire band's career.

The same applies to the world of video games, as many developers launch their product on one specific market, only to find better success on another much further down the line. One of these, in particular, refers to the porting of games to the Nintendo Switch, which has increasingly seen rapid rewards reaped for those that make the journey.

With all that in mind, welcome to our new Switching It Up series, where on a semi-regular basis, we will be interview developers and publishers about the rigorous process of porting games from mobile, competitor consoles or otherwise, to the Switch ecosystem.

This time, we spoke with Gameloft product marketing manager Raluca Grigorovici and lead developer Zsolt Somogyi for Asphalt 9: Legends on Nintendo Switch.

Why did you initially decide to give Asphalt 9: Legends a Switch port?

Raluca Grigorovici: Gameloft has actually released an Asphalt game on nearly every console introduced by Nintendo since the DS, so it was only natural to publish an Asphalt game on the Switch. At Gameloft, while we are known for our mobile games, we have always been open to bringing games to console platforms and have a history of doing just that.

We wish to reach gamers of all types! Moreover, we discovered an unoccupied niche of free-to-play racing games on the Nintendo Switch that Asphalt 9: Legends was a perfect fit for. We also had the game’s community supporting this decision, as some players were asking us to port the game to Switch, even before we started doing so.

Since 2004 (outside of the Wii U), we launched an Asphalt game on every console introduced by Nintendo...
Zsolt Somogyi

Every piece of the puzzle fit together nicely, creating a perfect opportunity for us. This also allowed us a chance to introduce features that don't quite work for a mobile game, such as split-screen racing.

Were any other platforms considered alongside Switch?

Raluca Grigorovici: At Gameloft, we are always exploring new platforms and options to bring games to. Of course, we're on mobile devices but we're on PC, Mac, console and even subscription services like Apple Arcade as well. We're always evaluating new platforms for all of our games.

How did the partnership and platform agreement come about with Nintendo? Walk us through the steps.

Zsolt Somogyi: Gameloft has actually been a long time partner of Nintendo, especially with the Asphalt franchise. Since 2004 (outside of the Wii U), we launched an Asphalt game on every console introduced by Nintendo, starting off with Asphalt GT, which was available on Nintendo DS when the handheld launched in 2004.

We were also big supporters of Nintendo when they launched WiiWare then DSiWare. In 2008, Gameloft was there at the release of WiiWare with a game called TV Show King. We ended up launching more than 20 games for WiiWare and DSiWare between 2008 and 2010.

We also launched Asphalt for the 3DS, along with a few other titles for that platform. So becoming a publisher for Nintendo Switch was a natural step in our relationship with Nintendo, where we were able to work with our already established counterparts to make this port happen.

What challenges did you face porting or publishing the game on Nintendo Switch?

Zsolt Somogyi: The rendering and graphics part was a surprisingly smooth adaptation, it pretty much worked right out of the box. We had to change a bit on how we work with the console's storage space, but the real challenge was handling the online components of the game. The performance of the game was really good from the get-go thanks to the game’s specialised engine.

Grigorovici discussing the Asphalt community in a meeting.

On the Nintendo Switch, we run at the highest detail level of the mobile version. We had to optimise a bit for three and four-player split-screen. All in all, though, it was a smooth ride.
Our biggest concern and effort was keeping up to date with the mobile version.

Was the handheld/console hybrid a factor that made porting to Nintendo Switch more appealing?

Raluca Grigorovici: The entire team was excited to port a game over to Switch, mainly because it presented a new challenge. It was a lot of fun testing the game too! We had a friendly competition going on in the office back in 2019.

Zsolt Somogyi: Nintendo Switch was (and still is) one of the best portable consoles in the world, besides the fact that you can also use it in "TV/Docked Mode", with proven success. Porting a game to the console was an obvious opportunity that we didn’t want to miss.

Can you describe the key differences between creating games for mobile and for Nintendo Switch?

Zsolt Somogyi: The Nintendo Switch player base can have different expectations in contrast with the casual player. They expect longer game sessions than on mobile, so you need proper controller support. Nintendo Switch lacks mobile data, so players want to have at least some parts of the game working offline.

Nintendo also puts a big emphasis on quality. Every update is thoroughly checked on their end as well, so developers can't do fast iterations as they can on mobile platforms.

Asphalt 9: Legends is actually in the top 20 most-played games on the Nintendo Switch in Europe.
Raluca Grigorovici

Has been in the Switch ecosystem diversified or built your audience/player base in a positive way?

Raluca Grigorovici: Definitely! First of all, releasing Asphalt 9: Legends on the Switch allowed us to reach and learn about a different type of audience, something that is always exciting. The challenge is to think of innovative ways to approach Switch players that are not yet playing Asphalt 9: Legends on the console.

The console’s audience has different characteristics, demographics, and values than the average casual mobile player, showing more compassion and understanding of the process of developing a game. They also appear to be more involved and dedicated to the games they play and the communities built around them.

Second, we built a two-way street of communication between the players of Asphalt 9: Legends on the Switch, and the game team on the official Discord server. Alongside our beloved community manager, Stefania Mois, plenty of game developers join discussions initiated by the players themselves. That way, we get to know the game’s player base up close and personal.

Would you say launching on the Nintendo Switch has been a success so far?

Raluca Grigorovici: Yes! The game’s performance on Nintendo Switch surpassed all our expectations. Asphalt 9: Legends is actually in the top 20 most-played games on the Nintendo Switch in Europe. The game occupies 19th place as announced by Nintendo of Europe just last month, putting us in some very prestigious company.

Has the launch reignited the title in some way? Are sales/downloads performing better on the Switch?

Raluca Grigorovici: Asphalt 9: Legends on the Nintendo Switch has been an amazing success. Since launching in October 2019 on Nintendo Switch, the game hit one million installs within a week, four million by early 2020, and currently sits at over 8.4 million downloads worldwide.

Asphalt 9: Legends running four-player split-screen on Switch.

Asphalt 9: Legends has been a major success for us on all platforms it is released, but comparing the player base to install ratio of other platforms, the Switch version is doing very very well.

What can we expect from Asphalt 9: Legends and the Asphalt series in future?

Raluca Grigorovici: We love how well-received Asphalt 9: Legends has been on the Nintendo Switch from players, and as a long-running 15-year-old key franchise for Gameloft, we envision an exciting future for the franchise that we will support for years to come. More will be announced!

Features Editor

Matthew Forde is the features editor at PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @MattForde64 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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