31
Jan
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Though you may not have heard of them, Zeboyd Games is something of a darling in the world of indie gaming. After scoring hits with the quirky neo-retro RPGs Cthulhu Saves The World and Breath Of Death VII, the two-man studio made it big by landing a contract with webcomic giant Penny Arcade. The third game in the series, On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness III, abandoned the 3D style of the previous entries for a sprite-based, pixelated throwback to 16-bit gaming goodness. Zeboyd's entries in the PC and downloadable market have garnered near-universal applause.

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When the games started racking up sales on Steam and XBLA, demand for Android and iOS versions skyrocketed. After all, the relatively simple visuals and controls should make for perfect mobile fodder, right? Cthulhu Saves The World hit iOS and Android in late June, to the joy of indie gamers everywhere. It's too bad that the joy didn't last long. Reviews quickly filled the Play Store, citing baffling controls, poor memory management, and random crashes on Android devices from nearly every manufacturer. I was one of the excited throng who purchased the game on the first day it was available, only to find that I couldn't play the 20+ hour RPG for more than 10 minutes without suddenly being kicked back to the homescreen.

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As it happens, Zeboyd Games had neither the resources nor the expertise to port their games to platforms that differed too widely from the PC. So they enlisted the help of a little-known mobile developer, Tinkerhouse Games, for the Android and iOS versions. I wanted to give both Zeboyd and Tinkerhouse the benefit of the doubt - after all, I heartily enjoyed BOD7 on the PC, and I'm always the first to applaud when a developer resists the siren song of free to play and in-app purchases. After contacting Tinkerhouse directly stating my problems, I patiently waited for an update. Then I waited some more. And some more. After an initial stability and interface update a week or so after release, there was nothing from either Zeboyd or Tinkerhouse for months.

I received a polite but useless answer to my email on September 20th, four days before another Android update. The game still crashed constantly on my Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7, and since Tinkerhouse has apparently stopped caring about my and other gamers' complaints, the title has stayed off my radar ever since. Play Store reviews seem to be improving, with the continuing theme that the game is a lot of fun for those who can get it to run for more than a few minutes at a time. It still has a startling number of 1-star ratings. Naturally, I didn't give the Android version of Rain-Slick 3 a second glance, since it's from the same development and port team. It's currently got a 4.0 rating on the Play Store, but I'm not risking three dollars just to see if my poor experience with the first game can be replicated.

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Yesterday, Zeboyd Games announced that the fourth Penny Arcade game would be exclusive to Steam and XBLA, since the mobile versions have sold poorly. A quick glance at the Play Store confirms this: between the two Tinkerhouse port titles, both games have been downloaded less than 5,000 times on Android. Even with poor ratings, this is a bad showing for a company with a dedicated following, especially with the relatively huge branding power of Penny Arcade behind them.

But here's the thing: the Zeboyd/Tinkerhouse games were bad. Really, really bad, in a way that their current ratings on the Play Store don't reflect. They're poorly ported cash-ins of successful games, which has always been a recipe for gaming disaster, and Tinkerhouse's seeming lack of interest in supporting their products hasn't done Zeboyd any favors. The Android versions of Cthulhu and Rain-Slick 3 aren't even mentioned on the developer's website, which shows just how interested they are in creating a quality product. The really frustrating thing about the whole situation is that all of Zeboyd's titles really would make great mobile games, if only someone was committed to creating solid versions of them.

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We've all heard the arguments of low paid sales and difficulty with multiple Android hardware configurations, but if game developers aren't even going to make the effort, they've got no one to blame but themselves. Yes, the studio is a small one, but they've also managed to pull in massive PC sales with games that could be made on a shoestring budget. If the creators aren't interested in hiring talented mobile developers, or even outsourcing to talented mobile developers, is it any wonder that the end result is bad games with bad sales numbers? 

So long, Zeboyd. Don't let the door hit you, Tinkerhouse. We'd be happy to have you back, just as soon as you're ready to sell games that are worth buying.

Source: Joysiq

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • mgamerz

    I like how my brother is one of the app reviewers.

    • http://mavi222.deviantart.com/gallery/ Mavi

      "A Google User" ? My brother is there too then! :3

      • FrillArtist

        I think he means Jason Perez.

  • Brandon Walters

    As a Warmachine and Hordes player, I know too well that Tinkerhouse has fallen short of the mark when they were asked to make the War Room app. It's much better now, but it was poorly optimized and left a bitter taste in many a player's mouth.

  • http://profiles.google.com/ottermann Jason Heiken

    Rain Slick 3 works great on my Kindle Fire. Cthulhu seems to run fine on my Droid 3, but I usually only play for 10-15 minutes anyway, so maybe I'm just lucky.
    My only complaints about RS3 are the controls. They seem a little, oh, whats the word....."I hate the player" - ish.
    But that just might be me and my 44 year old, arthritic thumbs.

  • http://twitter.com/Defenestratus Defenestratus

    Tinkerhouse has a HORRIBLE history of crashing apps. They were the ones that made the Android port of the Warmachine army builder app. It was quickly scorned by that whole community as the buggiest "game" on the market.

    Stay away from Tinkerhouse IMO.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rob.mahon Robert Mahon

    Test on the worst hardware, if it doesn't work on that, flag it as not running on that hardware. There's nothing wrong in enforcing a minimum hardware spec to save support/customers.

    • GazaIan

      Sometimes it's not even about hardware power, but just general architectural differences between processors. It's the reason GTA works so fine on Tegra 2 and 3 CPUs, but can run worth a damn on Snapdragon CPUs.

      • marcusmaximus04

        Less CPU, more GPU. I've yet to see any problems arise from differences in the CPU's in my own games; everything comes down to different GPU capabilities.

        • Dave

          Your right, mobile CPU's universally suck, and the GPU's often have crappy drivers. I good developer learns to workaround all that. See my comment above on a good way to do that...

          • marcusmaximus04

            Hm? I was just pointing out where the common issues lie, not trying to make a statement about current hardware or complaining about it. I've been quite able to solve the issues I've come across in my games, thank you very much.

  • Matthew Fry

    It's sad that Zeboyd confused customer disinterest because it is clearly a poorly made port with disinterest in the mobile sphere. I understand why they wouldn't hire new developers (after all it's just a couple of guys) but why not use the funds you have to learn the mobile gaming platforms and build it yourself? That initial investment could lead to eventual cross platform game development from the start and happier customers/more cash in your pocket.

    • joeljfischer

      Probably because they have one developer who only knows one platform (XNA). The amount of time it would take him to learn iOS, Android, and Mac development, plus port every game he makes himself would triple development time (at least). That, as his tweets stated, would prevent him from making new games.

      I understand his position, and really, the PC is the best place to play his games. They're stable, look pretty good, and very hardware friendly. It would be nice to have them on mobile, sure, but I'd rather have 3x as many Zeboyd games on PC.

  • Robert Boyd

    If we choose to release mobile games in the future, we will almost definitely develop the mobile versions ourselves. It's easier to ensure a quality port that way and you can succeed with fewer sales since you're not paying someone else.

    • Cuvis

      I hope this whole debacle doesn't sour you on mobile. Your games are great, and are really well-suited to the mobile platforms; you just need to take a more careful hand in porting them. I'm glad you mentioned that ensuring a quality port would be a priority for you if you should return.

    • Jeremiah Rice

      Thank you for weighing in. I'm glad to see that you recognize your problems on mobile are more than just a simple lack of demand. Ppleas keep up the good work otherwise - I can't wait to play your next Steam release.

    • http://www.stevenmattera.com Steven Mattera

      In case you are interested Cocos2D is a great free library for iOS. (http://www.cocos2d-iphone.org) I haven't done any games for Android, but I would assume there should be libraries like this out there.

  • Matthew Christy

    O_o Hm...that's a shame to hear. I play both of those games one my TF101 and they seem to run just fine. I saw a lot of the unhappy reviews and I figured it was gripes on a new game. I bought both on launch day, partly because I wanted to support the dev but mostly because I'm a sucker for the old skool feel the games have. Only complaint I had was Cthulu's background had a render glitch but it was fixed in like the first update.

    Dang...now I feel guilty. These are 2 great games, I wish they worked as well for everyone else. Even if you don't get these for android please drop them a few bucks and give them a try on Steam they are all well written(dialog/story) and great for nostalgia's sake.

  • HopelesslyFaithful

    i dont know how anyone can play these...i remember playing games on my gameboy as a kid and i liked it since it was the only thing that was portable but still hated it for just boring games.

  • fred

    The biggest problem I found was just getting the damn games off the android market in the 1st place......since my phone apparently wasn't compatible even though it met the specs. Eventually got a tablet and bought Cthulhu....then sideloaded it to my original phone. Guess what.....runs fine on the phone and crashes on the tablet. This is why sales were poor. Also these guys are PC developers...they should understand compatibility testing.

    • Dave

      Compatibility testing is very difficult to do on Android. I suggest they put some obscure testing code in the Play Store then go around a big city to all the retail and carrier stores and test on any android device available. I've never found had any complaints about doing that and some bored employees have even helped. You just have to learn how to tune-out all the background noise of ranting of parents that come in the carrier stores with bill-shock...

      • http://twitter.com/RvLeshrac RvLeshrac

        Compatibility testing is pretty easy on both Android and iOS. You release the product, collect the dumps the same day, then work out at least the major issues.

        No one cares if the thing they bought off the Android market doesn't work immediately. They *DO* care, however, if you don't get it updated within a day or two.

    • http://twitter.com/RvLeshrac RvLeshrac

      Tinkerhouse, a company with only five products released, all of which are on Android or iOS, "are PC developers"?

  • http://twitter.com/Alteris101 Alteris

    oh well. their loss. *shrug*

  • Strat

    Tinkerhouse are renowned for being terrible developers. They did War Room for Privateer Press, which is a botched coathanger abortion of an app.

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