Danganronpa. I really had a good time with that game! This got me thinking next, where did that game come from? Who ported it to Linux? It was not the usual suspects. The opening credits gave me a hint. Abstraction Games. That did not help much, since I had no clue whatsoever who they were and what they did. After some brief search, it appeared that they are based in the Netherlands and porting a bunch of games on multiple formats, including Mac and Linux. Curious about them, I reached Ralph Egas, CEO of Abstraction Games for some more information. While you may not have heard from them, they have been around for quite a while:
Ralph Egas (RE onwards): 10 years ago I started Abstraction Games as a sole proprietor with the idea to create my own games. Erik (CTO, shareholder) joined me in the off hours and together we created our first game for Wii U. Chillingo sent out a mailing asking anyone who had something for iPhone to respond as they were looking to publish more content. We responded and 2 weeks later we had done a port to iPhone. Both the Wii U and the iPhone versions weren’t financially successful but it did spark huge interest from Chillingo in porting their iPhone backcatalog to other platforms. We hit it off with iDracula, then Sneezies and finally Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. All royalty based, so with Angry Birds on PSP we actually made some decent money. From thereon we realised porting was a very viable business to be in and we’ve been doing that ever since, progressively with bigger clients on bigger games.
They are not a large team so far, so I was wondering how they handled multiple platforms: did they have a few folks specialized in some areas of expertise?
RE: Very adhoc and any programmer can do any platform. We drive a very lean and mean operation and reduce overhead and idle time to an absolute minimum. That’s part of our success.
Good. Now you get the picture. But that still did not answer the question of why they were able to port Japanese games to the platform. After all, Japan is a console world. Over here, PC games are relegated to darker, obscure areas of underground stores, and about everyone pretends the PC market does not exist locally, which is somewhat half-true. So, imagine Linux gaming! That’s a whole different level of non-existence. Like, when I asked about the perception of Linux/SteamOS among japanese publishers, this is what Ralph has to say:
RE: That it doesn’t exist 😉
So, what happened in the case of Danganronpa. Why was such a port possible in the first place? As I found out, it was a series of coincidences.
RE: We first got in touch with Spike Chunsoft through Hotline Miami. After we had done the successful port to PlayStation platforms, Devolver (the publisher) engaged with Spike to create a disk based version for the Japanese market. We were asked to facilitate development needs and in effect we built a nice relationship with them. Later they came back to me asking us to port Danganronpa because of their Japanese devs being clueless about the PC market as in Japan that simply doesn’t exist, at least not for videogames. The port was a great success and they were very happy with sales performance. As a result we’re still working with them, now on other Japanese titles.
Spike originally did not seem to care about supporting all platforms on Steam, so we have Ralph to thank for his good work on pitching why it was important to support all three platforms:
RE: I remember convincing them that Steam is very fond of doing all 3 platforms for every game, especially since they have their own Linux box basically.
Abstraction Games went on to port King of Fighters XIV for Windows, another success in getting exclusive console titles to the PC format.
RE: SNK we met through our agent and naturally we used our Spike Chunsoft success story to convince them to work with us. It still took about a year to get to a green light and all the paperwork done, but in the end we were commissioned to do the KOF XIV port. Again a very successful project and SNK has again engaged with us on their next title. Some weeks back we visited Japan, particularly 10 game companies that are likely to have similar interest in getting their portfolio to western market and PC in particular. I think we made a great impression, so it’s very likely we’ll be able to build our business in Japan further!
Coming back to the Linux world, What worked for Spike did not seem to work as well for other publishers.
For SNK the port of King of Fighters XIV was Windows-only. Here we face the hard reality of business size. And not just Linux, Mac is pretty much in the same boat:
RE: Mac is already too small for any publisher, let alone Linux. That is, for a cross-platform orientated pub/dev. For Mac it’s possible to go for exclusive software but games generally don’t cut it. SNK has US people and those are very western market savvy.
Based on his recent trip to Japan, Ralph does not seem to get any hint, any whiff from the publishers based there that more Linux ports would be coming or even considered.
RE: Honestly, I wouldn’t hold my breath. The business climate for games on Linux is just not interesting enough to warrant spending time and energy on for most companies. It’s basically opportunity cost people need to consider.
So, they manage to secure and port Japanese games, they can port to multiple formats including consoles… but what you get from them is not limited to that: they seem to care genuinely about the quality of their ports:
RE: Well, for one we can do any platform. We also take great pride in looking a lot further than just making stuff work. On launch day we get on community hubs to track issues and fix them almost on demand. Our clients don’t ask for this, but we do it because happy consumers means our client is going to be happy as well. Apart from the platforms you mentioned, the fact that we do console tells a lot about who we are because consoles are notoriously hard.
Apparently the business climate has been good for them. They do not need to look proactively for game contracts so much anymore.
RE: They reach out to us and we get more requests than we can handle. Might be different next year, you never know but I actually don’t have to go out and expose ourselves actively to get us a new gig.
Logically, since they can’t handle as many ports as they would like to, they are looking to expand and hire more folks… In case you are interested, you can apply for vacancies on their website.
RE: We’re looking to hire 10 Senior Programmers and 5 Creatives (Art, design, audio).
Now when it comes to actual porting to Linux, it seems like that have a pretty decent QA process, as well as external contractors to support them.
RE: We have an internal QA team of 4 people. Upon every milestone we hand off our build to an external QA party that test in bulk in a few cycles. Our internal QA team handles communication and makes sure our devs get the right bugs to fix.
The typical issues they face on Linux… you may have guessed them by now.
RE: Distros ;). Fragmentation is tough, then there’s the various library versions that have to be embedded. Also, bugs that are no bugs but actually wrong drivers on the user end then make their way into our bug tracking systems.
I will leave you with Ralph’s view on the Linux gaming market.
RE: It’s very small and not that interesting from a business standpoint, but it’s cool 🙂
Good to know we are cool. Thanks Abstraction Games for what you do, and keep trying pitching Linux/SteamOS to Japanese publishers!
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