Interview: Playdigious discuss porting games to mobile and the importance of controller support

Interview: Playdigious discuss porting games to mobile and the importance of controller support
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Playdigious is well-known in the mobile realm for creating fantastic ports of indie darlings. If you're unfamiliar with their work, the team has previously released mobile versions of Dead Cells, Dungeon of the Endless, Streets of Rage 4, and Evoland 2, among others. Wherever possible, Playdigious also integrates controller support in its ports, giving us even more options for how we play.

We recently had a chance to interview Anthony Martino (Business Developer) and Laura Saada (Head of Production) about the company's mobile porting efforts. Together, we discussed how games are selected, the challenges involved with porting to mobile, and the importance of offering controller support wherever possible.

According to your website, Playdigious only publishes "a handful of games per year". Can you talk us through the process of selecting these games?

Anthony Martino - We try to only focus on titles that make sense for us. Obviously, we are looking for successful titles as it's a necessity business-wise. But we always take into account the will of the leads to work on a title to make sure that, in the end, we're all happy to work on these titles so we can commit to the best quality possible.

We aim at creating high-quality ports for mobile, and for that it is crucial for us to select games that we want to engage with and are a perfect fit for the platform.

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Do you ever reach out to specific indie games about mobile ports, or is it always the other way round?

Anthony Martino – As we are in the process of being known for our good work some studios are looking at us to port and publish their games. But it's also very important for us to be proactive in the search of the best new partners as it's the main way we can be sure to work on the titles we want to. It's comfortable to be solicited but it's important for us to also look into the new gems and keep track of what is trending in the indy space, it helps us keep our balance between what we want to do and what we should do.

Playdigious has a particular focus on indie games. Is there a specific reason you went down this route rather than offering porting services to AAA titles?

Anthony Martino – We have the feeling that it's in our DNA to work on indy titles as we are very close with a lot of indy studios. On the other hand, AAA games would need us to commit much more to less titles and that's a risk we'll be able to take once we have grown a bit. In the end, we'll always work on indy titles, but we want to keep the door open for some AAA titles that could be exciting for the team.

On average, how long would you say it takes to port a game to mobile? What are the broad steps from choosing a title to when it's available on the App Store or Google Play?

Laura Saada – That really depends on the game, it can be just a few months to more than a year.
First, we need to evaluate the User Experience and technical parts: is it doable? From there, we think about how to adapt the UX (UI and controls) to fit on mobile devices with touch controls. We work on a very rough build that can run on mobile devices (without any UX) and then test our theories concerning the UX and iterate depending on games and what we need to do. Do we need to put more of our focus on performances, controls, UI, all of that, etc? We try to take the time needed to make sure the game gets to the quality it deserves.

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What are some of the main challenges you face when porting to mobile? Or does it entirely depend on the game?

Laura Saada – Every game has their own problems, but the two main challenges when porting a game to mobile are Optimization (performance) & User Experience. Not only do we need to make sure the game is actually playable on most mobile devices, but we also need to adapt the control scheme and UI to ensure a good game feel too.

Considering that there's a lot (a LOT) of different devices out there, it is never easy to accommodate everyone.

Is there an area common across all game genres that usually needs more optimisation for mobile than any other, such as the UI?

Laura Saada – Definitely the User experience as a whole: with touch controls, the controls can become the UI. We also need to make sure players understand how the game works. If there's no UI, how to move the character or if there's a new button, what does it do, etc... the player might feel lost very quickly and that requires a lot of testing before getting to something good. But it's also something we learn through experience, benchmark and games already released.

Throughout the porting process, how involved is the original developer?

Laura Saada – Depends on games and developers, we like to keep them informed of where we are, what we have etc. Sometimes we have a lot of freedom and just send them builds from time to time to get their feedback and other times, we work very closely with them. It's always a relationship based on trust, a partnership, we have the same goal. And as premium mobile games are very specific, especially in terms of publishing, and a lot of developers don't want to go there, they come to us for help, and we do our best to meet their expectations.

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You took great care when creating the touch-screen controls for Dead Cells, giving players plenty of options. How do you approach adapting these fast-paced games to ensure they play well on mobile and cater to different preferences?

Laura Saada - A lot of tests and iterations! Taking PC/console controls and making them enjoyable for mobile is a delicate task where you have to make concessions and think of creative solutions. Dead Cells was a particular challenge in that sense. and it wasn't easy to translate all the controls to touch, especially as your controls become your UI in that case. We wanted everyone to have a solution that works for them, so we let players decide for themselves!

There are several games you have published that support controllers, including Dead Cells, Streets of Rage 4, and Dungeon of the Endless. Why do you think it's important to offer players the option to play with a controller?

Laura Saada – Yes, every player is different and if we can offer more options, more power to them. Mobile devices are awesome like that, you can just get it out of your pocket, and there you go, you're playing your favorite game. But sometimes, touch controls are not what players prefer, or what they're used to, that's ok. And for them, if controller support can be an option, why not add it?

Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen brings both a love of games and a very formal-sounding journalism qualification to the Pocket Gamer team.