Thinking of porting to console, but not sure if it’s worth it? Welcome to the club! This is something that every developer, indie or AAA, has to deal with at some point. There are projects where the platform just makes sense, such as mobile games that are clearly… mobile. Good for tablets and phones, but not ideal on a PC or console platform. You wouldn’t play Cut the Rope on console, right?
But other games? Well, you could say they have potential to do well cross-platform, simply because of the target audience, or even some mechanics.
So, when answering whether it’s worth it to port to console, consider all the variables first. The answer to the porting dilemma might just be hidden in the specifics.
Consider Potential Obstacles
First thing’s first: read up on some previous cases of developers porting from PC to console. You might find that it’s a bag of unexpected outcomes.
For instance, remember the dead-in-the-water Hawken? It had to be saved by Reloaded Games in 2015. When they went about to porting it, they ran into some pretty annoying issues. Their timeline goes like this:
- July 2015 – initial code merge for PS4
- November 2015 – problems with UI (it had to be structured to handle more than ActionScript 2)
- December 2015 – started a UI rebuild, because they couldn’t get a console controller input. This led to a rehaul of the UI framework, which took a long, long time.
Think of it this way: 80% of the work is making a game that can run on a developer’s PC. The other 20% is ensuring that the game runs on everyone else’s PC. So, assuming you’re porting from PC to console, you’ll have to focus on that 20% two-fold.
Here’s a small example: say you’re porting a PC game to console. You have a fully developed, functioning game already. You need to do more than just take the game code and replace the libraries, add controller support, and recompile (if only it were that easy!). Sometimes the code base won’t compile. Other times the game will crash or glitch when the code runs on the new platform. Maybe it might work for one console, but not another.
All the tediousness of making the game playable (the final 20%) that you had to take care of the first time, when first creating your game, you’ll have to deal with again. And this time, it might be worse.
This means you need to consider a few things:
- Whether you have it in you to potentially rebuild an entire framework, deal with glitches, and crashes.
- Whether your publisher will put up with potentially waiting for a grueling amount of time.
- And whether your budget allows for it, accounting for multiple time loss and mistakes.
Be Honest About Your Overall Success
This is a tough pill to swallow, but if your game isn’t all that successful on PC, you might want to hold off on porting it to console. The common argument against this is that if your game wasn’t that successful, then surely it’s because of the platform. That perhaps by porting it to console, it might finally get the success it was supposed to get.
Well, that’s just not good logic. Here’s why: Because you’re basing the potential success of a game on hope rather than cold, hard facts. When you first launched a game on PC, you thought it would sell well, right? Then it didn’t, and now you’re sitting there going, “But it will on console, it will finally sell!” It’s a cycle.
Instead, consider porting a game that is already a proven success. Chances are console players have heard of the successful PC game and will want to play that over the unknown port that hit the PSN or Xbox store recently. People like what they know, it’s safer for them to purchase. At the end of the day, it’s all about money.
To illustrate, consider Darkest Dungeon. The game did very well on PC. Good sales, high ratings, and everyone talked about it. This led to a PS4 console and Vita port that also did well. Overall, the game has sold over a million copies. And yet, despite everything being in their favor, their Steam sales still led by a large margin. This was in large part due to the fact that the game had been out for a while before it got ported, it was on Early Access. Also, the last time they spoke about their sales, the game was relatively new on the PSN store, so sales were just beginning to roll in at 50k.
Let that sink in . . . sales were beginning to roll in with 50k downloads. That’s not a bad starting point.
Pinpoint Your Motives
Finally, think about the why. Why does anyone do anything? People work to get money and survive. People date so they don’t feel so alone, and so they can find someone that gives life new meaning. Everything in this life has a reasoning behind it, and the choice of porting a game is no exception.
Especially considering all the hassle and investment of time and money.
If you want to port a game because you think you got your target platform wrong the first time around, get other people’s opinions first. People who aren’t loved ones, because you want honesty. You could be right about the platform, but that might be wishful thinking.
If you want to port because your sales are low and you’re hopeful of better sales, don’t (see above). But if your game has high sales already, it won’t hurt to port it and get even more sales. It’s better than letting a game die, or just targeting a fraction of the players by limiting yourself to a single platform.
Now, if you’ve been getting questioned about any potential ports, hounded on your dev blog about it, and hinted at by coworkers and other industry professionals, you might be onto something. If enough buzz and interest is around you, it might be wise to jump on the chance.
Whatever you decide, know that it will be difficult, time-consuming and annoying. Only port if it’s a wise business move. There needs to be a high potential for a return on investment.
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