To mark 10 years since Apple launched its App Store for iOS on 10 July 2008 and brought about a new era of mobile gaming, we’ve reached out to a selection of game developers, old and new, who have experienced the evolution and found their home on iOS devices. Today we speak with Philippe Dao, Asmodee Digital’s CMO, about the developer’s work in board game adaptations and how the App Store has evolved.
You’ve come to specialise in adapting board games to the App Store. Why do you think they make such a good fit?
At Asmodee Digital, we make great games for all types of players and we are very confident in the growth of digital board games on mobile… and the App Store which reaches various users and is a perfect place to distribute our different games. In fact, the App Store is our #1 platform in terms of revenue and we are ranked #1 in the board games category (by number of paid downloads on iOS) with great games like Ticket to Ride, Pathfinder Adventures, Pandemic, and Splendor.
In other words, Asmodee Digital is already the industry leader for digital board games (as is parent company, Asmodee for boardgames worldwide), and we’re quickly uncovering the secrets to untapping new opportunities for existing board game IP. Understanding the growth of the tabletop market, how that relates to digital, and how to create new experiences based on beloved IPs is something we do best. Pivoting from direct 1-1 translations to complementary experiences based on the original tabletop games, not just on mobile and PC, but new platforms, is the topic at hand.
Part of this means translating physical to digital games, but our bigger objective is making something ‘new’.
How do you go about finding the right board games to adapt? Are there common factors that tie the successful adaptations together?
Actually, there are various factors that lead successful adaptations: storyline, replayability, challenge, awareness of the board game franchise. Moreover, when adapting a board game to digital, there are unique challenges to overcome, aside from the typical ones that come with building any game like game design, user interfaces, multiplayer experience, game economy, and the business model. There are also challenges like creating a solo mode, modifying rules of the physical game, re-balancing the AI, etc.
Let’s take the UI for example: After making a few games we identified a few best practices for how to quickly optimize the most common flows,from the main menu to a multiplayer game for instance, or how to display a lot of elements on a small screen, how to make an efficient chat feature, how to design a lobby, etc… There is a constant need to analyze player behaviors if we want to have a good UI in a digital board game.
Regarding the IP, it is really important for players to rediscover in the digital adaptation what they love in the physical one (the story, the universe, the strategies…) and to benefit from the digital support. For that, we first identify the pillars of the game (or even the brand when the game is part of a bigger brand). These pillars are the ones we will also use in the digital adaptation, ensuring that we will be faithful to what the game is in the physical universe. This identification goes through various tests like reading feedback from the community, analyzing the artistic style, balancing gameplay mechanics, etc.”
In Jaipur, the digital adaptation offers the opportunity to create an ambiance with the soundtrack, and to create the campaign mode that comprises all kinds of variants to the base game’s rules.
To put it another way, not all board games can be adapted to digital. For example, games requiring lots of verbal interactions between players can be hard to translate. Also, board games that use real-time gameplay or interruptions can be tough to adapt for online gaming.
On the other hand, turn-based games often translate well to digital. The beauty of our job is that when we consider a board game for adaptation, we are already in front of an experience with a flawless game design. Designing physical board games is in fact extremely difficult to do, because unlike in the video game space, there is absolutely nothing to help the players: no automatic points counting, no preset set up, no verification of players’ actions, no interactive tutorial, etc. All of these things are performed by technology in a video game. So the original design must be extremely well thought-out, clean, simple, and readable. This makes our job comparatively easier when coding a game. The hard part is more about squeezing the user interface into the small screen of a phone or tablet, and developing an AI that plays the game very well – our AIs are not allowed to cheat!
How has publishing through iOS changed in the time you’ve been launching games on the platform?
With thousands of games launching every week it becomes harder and harder to get premium visibility on the App Store. However, the fact that more than half of the game downloads comes from players who have used the App Store search engine compensates for the lack of premium visibility for small developers.
How empowering do you feel publishing games on iOS has been to indie game makers?
Having direct relationships with the App Store teams definitely helps indie developers to successfully publish. We speak from experience!
Do you consider the App Store to be a relatively meritocratic platform where good work will rise to the top regardless of origin?
Yes definitely. Although it is more and more difficult for indie publishers to emerge on the App store we believe the App Store still offers every single publisher the opportunity to work its way through and become successful.
What trends have you been interested to see emerge and decline on iOS over the years?
The premium business model has declined over the years to the benefit of the freemium model. We are watching these developments very closely along with other models like subscription based games and games with a good track record of advertising monetization.
Are there any particular releases on iOS that you consider to be paradigm-shifting moments?
Are you concerned about preservation of games on iOS at this point with the operating system changing frequently?
Maintenance and the continuous change of operating system on iOS has always been a challenge for most developers but this is also true on other operating systems. On iOS users tend to upgrade their OS more often and quicker than on any other platforms which is a good news. Over the years we have learned to anticipate the yearly iOS changes too.
How would you summarise the impact of the iOS app store on gaming?
We believe Apple has revolutionized the gaming industry with the App Store. The adoption of smartphones globally has led to mobile gaming to surpass console gaming. Apple has also democratized the development and the publishing on a global scale through its platform. After 10 years we still see new developers emerging from the AppStore with an innovative game topping the charts.
Check out our App Store timeline highlighting the biggest releases of the last decade of iOS releases in games™ 201, on sale now