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Pat Toulouse is first and foremost a 3D artist and Unity developer, but he also established Ratrod Studios in Canada, and has since enjoyed huge success. His Drift Mania series has accrued 6 million downloads on Windows and Windows Phone devices, twice the number of downloads on any other platform over the last few months. Toulouse has always believed in the power of Unity and cross-platform development, but now, having seen the tremendous potential for success on Windows platforms, he has ported all of his other titles to the Windows stores. In this interview, he openly shares his strategy for cross-platform success and his plans to leverage the universal apps and new features of Windows Phone 8.1.
What makes you such a strong believer in Unity and cross-platform development? Why did you decide to expand your game titles to Windows and Windows Phone?
When Unity first launched, it offered an array of options for more creative game development that were not available anywhere else. Since then, Unity has evolved into a multi-platform gaming engine that competes with the big names such as Unreal and FarCry. Unity succeeds because it listens to indie developers and supports us with great resources and platform partnerships. Being able to publish to multiple platforms helps us to maximize our revenue and our reach. In a few years, apps will all have to be multi-platform, and with Unity, we’ve gotten a head start as a cross-platform development studio.
Drift Mania Screenshot
Developing a new title can take six months to a year, so spending a few days porting the game to Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone is totally worth it. When Unity and Microsoft partnered, it was exciting to see the Windows and Windows Phone stores open to us. Overnight, we were able to reach millions of Windows customers worldwide. Our first Unity title to hit the Windows Phone Store was Drift Mania Championship 2. Now, our titles are each rated 4+ out of 5, and since the beginning of the year, the Drift Mania series has been downloaded 6 million times, more than twice that of any other platform. The Skateboard Party 2 series has been downloaded one million times in less than six months—that’s why we’re betting on Windows and Windows Phone.
Best of all is that porting from Unity to Windows is efficient. The first time we did it, it took a little effort to figure out the different steps and get familiar with the platform and tools. Now, however, we can generally port a title to a Windows Phone within a few days and to Windows 8.1 within a week.
Microsoft treats us well. We pay a low fee for a developer account, and in return, we get to use Visual Studio, and we get great support throughout our development process so we can really polish our end product. Microsoft has also provided us resources to help us start advertising via pubCenter, and that has helped us to increase our revenues and generate profits from our free versions. Microsoft’s start-up programs, like BizSpark, have been key, too.
Skateboard Party 2 Screenshot
What excites you the most about Windows Phone 8.1?
New features in Windows Phone 8.1 mean I can imagine more development possibilities. We’ll use the word flow keyboard to provide users more flexibility, and we’ll link our Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 apps so our fans can purchase the game on one platform and use it on all their other devices. And they’ll also be able to share data and in-app purchases from one device to another. This converged app model is good from a development and business standpoint, too: it will help us streamline development and maximize our game exposure since a title purchased on one platform will automatically become available on the other. With individual volume control, our users will be able to set the volume levels of their ringtone, media playback, and game independent of each other.
We are thrilled that our customers will be able to auto-update their apps because we’ll be able to get our updates and content to them more quickly. More users will upgrade to our latest version, meaning we can deliver a better user experience.
Finally, we’ll take advantage of the Live Tile improvements so players can preview their game progress in their device phone menu and receive notifications of upcoming in-game events, leading to better user engagement.
What advice do you have for developers?
I encourage developers to create partnerships. I have extensive experience in advert gaming, so I try to tie our titles in with big brands. They help promote our games, and in return, our games help promote their brands and products. It’s a win-win, and we stand out from the other apps by being more authentic.
We’ve experienced our highest growth on the Windows Phone platform. Developing or porting an app to Windows will allow developers to expand their user base and reach millions of additional customers worldwide. By leveraging new features like the universal platform, it’s easy to develop once and publish across Windows.
The app market is full of surprises and things don’t always go as planned. It’s important to limit the scope of your first few projects and test the market to gauge the response. Then listen to the audience, build new features, and integrate new content and functionality.
You can follow Ratrod Studios on Twitter @ratrodstudio