Interviews

Canadian Developer Series – Interview With Ryan Holowaty of Noodlecake Studios

We’re continuing our Canadian Development Series with the Saskatoon-based indie publisher Noodlecake Studios. We sat down with the studio’s COO, Ryan Holowaty, to hear his thoughts on the service and how the publishing arm approached the new premium games marketplace.

On launch day, Noodlecake Studios released Possessions, The Enchanted World, and Towaga: Among Shadows. Apple Arcade gives users unlimited access to over 100 games, including the aforementioned for $5.99 CAD/month. In case you’ve missed it, we’ve been sitting down with some of the talented development and publishing studios that have added their games to Apple Arcade. So far, we’ve talked to Capy Games, Klei Entertainment, and Snowman. We were delighted to sit down with Ryan and get his perspective.

Steve: Noodlecake Studios is no stranger to iOS games and the mobile market. What was your first reaction to hearing about Apple Arcade?

Ryan: It was really exciting! As you said, we’ve been around for a while and have seen trends in the App Store come and go. One of the underlying trends is that some of the more unique, smaller, more premium experiences were getting overlooked. Apple said they were creating this service and highlight these unique and different experiences and was looking for interesting games. It was something that as a studio, we’ve always tried to put out there. We try to work with our developers and tell cool stories, but inevitable always have a conversation on how to monetize a game and sometimes they weren’t designed to be played in any other fashion other than premium. Monetization wasn’t the thing they were worried about, it was more about making games.

When Apple announced the service and it turned into a thing of saying: “Yes! This is exactly what we need to tell these stories and get these games out to everybody.” All in all, we were excited about the opportunity to work with Apple and so far it’s been a great avenue for these developers to get their games showcased in a way they weren’t going to have before.

Steve: The studio has brought three fairly unique and different games to the service on launch day. Can you touch on what went into having three titles ready for launch day?

Ryan: That was a timing thing on our side. We’re always working with developers that are on varying states of development and it just so happened that we had some titles that were close enough to what the launch window was going to be and was able to get them ready. We put our nose to the grindstone and worked it out. It was a circumstance of timing that we had some on the backburner that we had been working on before Apple Arcade was a thing and some after the fact. All of which luckily lined up with the launch of the service.

Steve: Apple Arcade can give many games of all sizes more exposure. Was Noodlecake confident that each of their games would get the appropriate amount of eyes?

Ryan: That’s something we were hoping for. Apple is very good at highlighting titles. Being a brand new service, that was what was most interesting for us. We didn’t know what the store was going to look like until launch but we knew we were going to be apart of a small group of games. 100 games sound like a lot but in reality, when you compare it to the App Store, it’s a drop in the bucket. Being a part of a service launch is something we have never been able to do before, so that was exciting in and of itself that it was worth the effort. Everything that Apple provided on top of that in terms of featuring our titles was just gravy. We were glad to get an invite to the party.

Steve: What I appreciate from all three of your games is that they are all textbook “pop-in-and-play” experiences. It doesn’t matter if I have five minutes of free time or 30. Every time I play, I feel like I’m progressing, especially with Possessions. How important is that aspect to Noodlecake when they’re looking at a game?

Ryan: I think that’s just part of mobile development in general. Understanding how people use the platform, there are times for extended gaming experience and that’s one of the neat things about Apple Arcade. They are grabbing titles that are quick pop-ins, longer narrative-driven games, and everything in between. There’s something for everybody. When we do our development, we do look at whether it’s something you can get a sense of progression in a single play session, whether it’s completing a puzzle in Possessions or The Enchanted World or it’s beating a phase in Towaga: Among Shadows. We want you to feel like you’ve made progress even though you don’t always have the time to sit down and dedicate an hour to a game on your phone. We try to give you a meaningful five-minutes in all of our titles.

There’s an interesting story behind Possessions. The creator was living in a more class-based society than we do here. His family was more poverty-stricken when he was young. When they started to move up when they became a little more well off, he didn’t know what that meant. As a kid, you don’t know as your parents are moving up in society. The only way he understood that was the fact that they were getting more stuff in their house. So he took that idea. That narrative in the game takes that little bit further and questions whether those possessions in the house are more important than those around you. He took that concept of having a house with nothing and then adding things to it was drawn directly from his experiences as a child.

Steve: Apple Arcade is quite an accessible service. Have you been hearing anecdotal stories of how people have found your games, or experiences while playing your games?

Ryan: We’re starting to see some of that. The interesting side of Apple Arcade that’s coming around that we’ve been seeing is the family aspect. When Apple was discussing the service and all it was going to provide, as a new father myself, something I started to think about more was showing my kids these experiences and how that’ll happen.

We make free-to-play games and one of the issues that we run into is parents not locking down credit cards properly. Mishaps will happen from time to time with children and in-app purchases. The nice thing about Apple Arcade that we liked was that it gives this avenue of having the subscription and the great family-sharing aspect, which is awesome. That allows any subscriber of any age to jump in.

If you’re a parent or a kid, you can all play together and have your accounts. We’re seeing people online and on Twitter saying various things like: “Oh, this is the thing I’ve been looking for for my family. This is what I’ve been looking for for my kids to use.” They don’t have to worry about seeing inappropriate ads because some bad ad network is serving ads. It’s something we always have to manage from an administration aspect on our titles. I’m happy our games can be apart of that.

Steve: Apple Arcade has been available for some time, have you been able to pinpoint any trends that you’re able to take as feedback to your developers?

Ryan: It’s a bit different in some regards because, with some of the privacy settings, we’re not tracking analytics like we would in a free-to-play title. Because of what Apple Arcade is and the way it’s positioned, we’re still going to use it as a platform to tell interesting stories. If we get a cool game and it doesn’t necessarily hit those five-minute play session marks, we might help adjust it. In reality, we want the developer to tell the story they intended. I think Apple Arcade is here to help promote that.

As I mentioned, the one thing I am seeing is that because we didn’t know all the games that’d be launching, there’s a huge variance in styles. We’re seeing people talk about all of them in different capacities and it’s opened up our eyes of what kind of games can be on Apple Arcade. There’s a lot of potential in a game you may have thought would have been a free-to-play title, but feels so much better because it isn’t. Some are more story-driven, narrative games. It widened the gate of what we could bring to the service.

Steve: That’s a great segue for me to ask if there’s there a particular genre you’re hoping to launch on the service next?

Ryan: There’s some interesting stuff that we’ve been looking at as a hole in the catalogue, or an opportunity for us. I think we’ve been talking about how fun it would be if more couch co-op games and party-style games were available. There’s also an opportunity to look at more high-casual titles. It doesn’t have to be some high-end, engrossing experience. It could be a more simple idea, just executed very well. If we look at a game that is supposed to be a free-to-play game but is of very high quality, we can look at it and see if it’s a fit for Apple Arcade. I don’t think we’re going to be too selective, in our approaches when we pitch to Apple. It’s a matter of sticking to our guns. If it’s something that resonates with us, we hope it’ll resonate with them.

Steve: From the sounds of it, you seem to be taking a more natural approach.

Ryan: Exactly. We’re not going to be like: “Okay, guys! Get on the phone and find us a casual title and a party game!” If we find something and if a developer has an idea that could fit that mould, we’ll talk to them about fleshing it out.

Steve: As a gamer, what games on Apple Arcade are you playing at the moment?

Ryan: In a good way, it was an overwhelming launch. There was so much to play. So I got pretty deep into What The Golf? I like to check out our peers and what they’re working on. I was looking at the Snowman titles like Skate City and Where Cards Fall. We’re buddies with Rac7, so we had to play Spec and Sneaky Sasquatch. I had seen early prototypes of Grindstone from Capy years ago so I was super excited to see that it saw the light of day! So I jumped in and played the heck out of that. We’ve worked with Zach Gage, who has Card of Darkness on there, so I was playing that. We’ve friends with the publishing team at Devolver Digital so I wanted to see the titles they were bringing in. It was a matter of sorting through all of our friends first. Every week there’s always something crazy coming from a studio I know and respect. It’s cool to see this group of devs together and be a part of it.

Steve: That’s funny you say that because as we’ve been conducting this series, a lot of the studios and people we talk to all seem to navigate towards looking at what their close peers have been making.

Ryan: Yeah, like I said, having seen Grindstone years ago so I was wondering if Capy was ever going to release it and suddenly there it is. So it was cool that we were all in this thing together but didn’t know until it happened!

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Interviews

Steve is based in Toronto, Ontario. His enthusiasm and adoration of the video game industry go back to the days of SNES. Find him on Twitter and join in on the escapades.

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