Indies, Bring Your Games to Windows 8

On Saturday night I got into a conversation with Christer Kaitila (indie game dev and author of The Game Jam Survival Guide), Paul Pridham (developer of Punch Quest), and a few other iOS developers who were voicing their frustration over the difficulty of making money on iOS. It’s no big surprise to anyone following the iOS indie game scene that making a profit doing Freemium is worse than the odds of winning the lottery. What caught my attention about this conversation was a recent post I had read on The Verge about Punch Quest being a “financial flop”. While this Twitter discussion was going on, I was also checking out a post on TechCrunch about how developers need to “get your ass to Metro (Windows 8)”. While I am still getting settled into my new role at Microsoft as a Windows 8 Game Evangelist, I can’t help but wonder how I can help disgruntled indie developers port their iOS games over to Windows 8. During this conversation a few things came up that I wanted to clarify about the Windows Store and how Microsoft is working hard to make it even more appealing for indies to call home.

Here are some of the big topics I saw getting thrown around on Twitter last night or that were emailed to me privately:

Are there free tools?

For iOS developers, Xcode is free and totally integrated into the iOS/Mac workflow. As indie developers, having access to a free tool chain is a big “must-have” that I keep hearing, and I’m happy to say that Microsoft has the same, if not better, available for Windows 8 developers. You can get a free copy of Visual Studio Express to make Windows 8 games here. Not only is it free but, once you start developing for Windows 8, you can say goodbye to provisioning, signing, and all the other headaches you may have experienced on iOS. Submitting a Windows Store app is a clear, transparent experience. You can actually start the submission process from within VS, and the site clearly walks you through exactly what is happening during your app’s review. Here is a great post by Keith Peters about his first app submission and here is a post on how my app failed approval over a missing privacy policy (which is a common oversight) and how to easily fix it. So, not only are the development tools free and the submission process easier, you can choose if and when you want to upgrade to the Pro or Ultimate version of Visual Studio, which does cost money but offers a lot of value for it. At no point are you ever locked into upgrading or paying for the tools. The only thing you need is a copy of Windows 8 ($39.99 for a digital upgrade) and a computer that can run it.

I don’t want to pay a developer fee or app store tax!

This is another hot topic and, unfortunately, there isn’t much I can do to help, besides state the reality that this is the way all development platforms are moving, with the exception of Linux of course. A huge rift in the Windows game development community revolves around the new Windows Store, the fees associated with developing for it, and the fear that indie developers, who have been making Windows games for free, think they will have issues self-distributing their games. One of the loudest voices against the Windows Store is Gabe Newell from Valve, who also runs Steam, a game store on Windows, which in his eyes is now direct competition with the Windows Store for apps on Windows 8. I don’t want to get too much into this since I see both sides of the argument and have been a longtime Steam fan with over 100 purchased games from there (which all still work perfectly on my upgraded Windows 8 Alienware), but what I hate to see are indie devs used as pawns in the middle of this battle. Here are some facts about the fees you have to pay to publish on Apple’s App Store, the Windows Store, and Steam:

  • Windows 8 registration is $49 for individuals or $99 for corporations a year. iOS is $99 a year and Steam Greenlight is a $100 one-time donation to be listed.

  • The Windows Store and Apple’s App Store both take 30% of the app’s sales. On the Windows Store you are also offered the opportunity to go down to 20% based on the volume of sales you do, which you can read about here.

  • All “app stores” have some kind of approval process. No surprises here except that with Steam Greenlight you are at the mercy of the community to vote up your game. In the Windows Store, your game will be approved as long as you follow the certification requirements outlined here.

As you can see on paper, the Windows Store appears like a much better opportunity (assuming you can give into registration fees and “app store taxes”), but there are a few more things you may need to take into consideration, especially if you are coming from iOS.

Can I use C++ for Windows 8 games?

The short answer to this is yes. I have to admit that I don’t know much about C++. I did it years ago and dabbled a little while I was trying to pick up Objective-C, but I can’t preach to you about how great it is on Widows 8 until I do some development with it on my own. That doesn’t mean that I can’t point you in the right direction. I have been following Mike Kasprzak’s progress on porting over his C++ game to Windows RT (which is the version of Windows that runs on ARM devices). He has put together a great post on his own Windows 8 C++ Notes, which I would suggest taking a look at. I am going to be posting more resources on this since I am hearing about it a lot and it’s something I really want to dig deeper into in order to help out game developers.

What about HTML5 games on Windows 8?

This is probably the number one reason why I joined Microsoft, which was to help promote porting over Web-based HTML5 games to Windows 8. The good news is that if you can get your game to run in IE10 then you can easily package it up for the Windows Store and start monetizing your app. I have been a big proponent of ImpactJS, and here is a post I did on how to port an Impact game over to Windows 8, which may also work as a high-level guide to getting any HTML5 game working as a Windows Store app.

What about IAPs (In-app purchases)?

Of course the Windows Store supports IAPs. You can read more about how to do it here. Also, check out my post on Freemium Games and Windows 8 Monetization to learn more about the ways you can help make money on Windows 8.

What about OpenGL and WebGL?

I’m hearing a lot of requests about this from iOS developers lately. I’ve only been at Microsoft for two months, so I need to dig a little deeper into the plans to support these two very popular 3D APIs. That being said, Windows 8 and Windows RT naturally both support DirectX out of the box. Most of the developers I have been talking to have abstraction layers on top of their graphics APIs and are making DirectX ports, which may not be ideal. I’d rather be upfront so you can determine the level of effort you would need to make in order to port your game over. I’ll continue to create posts updating this topic as I learn more about what options are available to indie developers.

You can still submit “classic” Windows apps to the Windows Store (by simply posting a URL to where to buy your own game) and at least get some exposure right now. You could also publish an x86 version of your app and, while it won’t run on the new ARM devices, like the Surface, you will still have a foot in the door with the four million plus users who have upgraded since Windows 8 was launched a little over a week ago.

What can you do to help?

As an Evangelist for Microsoft, my job is to help you make the best possible games and apps for the Windows Store. If you need assistance, you can reach out to me on Twitter, Skype (jessebfreeman), or email me directly via the form on my about page (which goes to my personal and Microsoft email btw) and I’ll do what I can. I have been working one on one with developers since I started and, if you are in the NYC area, I can offer even more support since we can set up some office time to review your app or go grab a drink to discuss what you need. Just keep in mind my focus is NYC, NJ, and the surrounding areas in the northeast, but I want to make the Windows Store the best gaming platform out there, so if you have an amazing game that isn’t getting the exposure it deserves on iOS and you want to port it over to Windows 8, don’t be afraid to reach out to me.

Additional Links

The last thing I wanted to add are a few links to get you everything you need in one place.

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