Opening Windows: What Microsoft's new partnership with Marmalade might mean for devs

Opening Windows: What Microsoft's new partnership with Marmalade might mean for devs
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

August 13th 2014 at 11:00AM

A look at how the recent deal aims to make it easier for creators to put their games on Windows platforms

To say the app stores of the world are a little crowded is something of an understatement. The costs of running a studio and creating a game have dictated that many developers can only afford to make mobile games, and yet the chances of success are slim thanks to the oversaturation of Apple and Google’s marketplaces.

However, Marmalade Technologies – creators of the cross-platform development kit of the same name – is quick to point out an arguably overlooked alternative.

“Microsoft has been invigorated by its new CEO,” explains Marmalade COO Donald Beatson. “It has become a serious mobile company by acquiring Nokia, and its latest Windows 8.1 platforms are very competitive.

“We’ve just finished upgrading our feature set for developers wanting to publish to the Windows Store, and with our recently announced Marmalade Free, all Marmalade developers can now publish to both the Windows Phone Store and Windows Store.”

The middleware firm has also struck a deal with Microsoft to publish ten games made with Marmalade, and plans to use that as a springboard to encourage more of its clients to publish for Windows using the Marmalade SDK.

It’s a good fit for Microsoft, which is going to great lengths to reach more studios, indies and students to grow its platforms.

As these make up the majority of Marmalade’s customer base, Microsoft UK’s indie game dev marketing lead Andrew Webber is confident that more apps will be ported to Windows.

“Microsoft wants developers to expand their skills by innovating and differentiating games on our platforms,” he says. “Through initiatives such as Greenshoots, Ventures and BizSpark, we aim to help businesses grow and prosper. Their success is our success.

“We are currently in talks to host Marmalade porting labs. Marmalade has been extremely supportive in offering to provide training materials and resources. It will also be collating all details on a dedicated Microsoft landing page on madewithmarmalade.com. This should be a one-stop shop for all developers interested
in porting their games over to Windows.”

BEING SEEN

The partnership is already paying dividends for some of Marmalade’s customers and developers, who are relishing the chance to quickly and effortlessly bring their games to
a more promising market.

“Probably the biggest opportunities for games on the Windows platforms is the increased chance of being discovered as they aren’t as crowded as other app stores,” says Sports Director CEO Roger Womack. “For premium apps like Football Director there is also trial mode, which allows users to play
the game for a short period before buying.“

Paul Norris, creative director at Mad Fellows, adds: “Although the current install base is smaller than the other mobile marketplaces, Windows Phone is growing rapidly in popularity. It’s far less crowded and much easier to gain traction and get your game noticed now. There’s an opportunity to make a killer app that could be front and centre as the user numbers increase.”

Norris goes on to explain that another advantage is the Windows devices available – ranging from Surface tablets to various models of Nokia phone – all operate in a much more comparable way than the more varied spectrum of Android phones.

“Nokia’s range of Windows phones includes great, cost effective and therefore very popular models,” he says. “Creating a scalable product that will perform well on these phones and take advantage of the power of the high-end devices will dramatically increase your global install numbers.”

James Mintram, director of Lemon Moose Games, agrees: “The Windows Phone platform offers great devices with a minimum specification, and fragmentation is minimal – this really helps when trying to provide a premium experience for customers.

“The Marmalade Hub is also a very useful tool for keeping all of the related metadata and project settings together for a project. When you consider that there are numerous configurations generated for all the various Windows Phone and Windows 8 device configurations per project, having a central place to manage all of those eases the burden.”

The Hub is just one of the benefits these developers have found working with the Marmalade SDK and its various complimentary tools.

“Our programmer prefers to work closer to the hardware with C++ and finds that new ‘managed’ coding environments remove too much control and performance,” says Norris. “Marmalade means we get high performance across all platforms and tonnes more flexibility.”

Womack adds: “Marmalade makes it easy for C++ developers to support any platform with minimal changes. Most helpful are the graphics, audio and touch input APIs which meant we had to change very little of our code and graphics.”

Working with these developers as part of the Microsoft partnership has also identified a number of potential improvements for the Marmalade SDK, something the firm is currently working on.

ALL SHAPES AND SIZES

As part of their partnership – and their own ongoing plans to attract more developers – both Microsoft and Marmalade have been quick to offer support to these studios and the waves of others now investigating the opportunities of the Windows platform.

For Microsoft, Webber says the key is to be flexible: “With the convergence of gaming across mobile, tablet, desktop, console and the web, our platforms support a range of monetisation strategies for freemium, premium and ad-supported games. There is also the ability to secure data analytics and insights from Microsoft Azure that also offers data storage, offload computation to cloud and authentication.

“We also have great partnerships with many third-party game engines, such as Marmalade, that allow developers to easily port or develop new games for our platforms using tech and frameworks they already know and use. Lastly, developing on and for the Microsoft gaming platforms means maximum code re-usability and the ability to span across different form factors for Xbox, PC, Windows RT and Mobile.”

The efforts of the two firms have not gone unnoticed by developers.



“Marmalade and Microsoft have been very supportive,” says Womack. “We have had technical support from Marmalade, and pre-submission advice from Microsoft on the unique features of the OS to use to get the best chance to provide users with a good experience.”

Norris adds: “Microsoft is very actively working alongside devs – its team has offered us a high level of support and guidance.

“When we were developing SineWave [formerly known as Salvage], access to Live was not available to us. Without a direct equivalent of Apple’s Game Center, we found certain features difficult to implement. We were using Azure for all of our cloud systems and this turned out to be an effective workaround for many of our Live limitations.”

Mintram agrees, adding that the Marmalade SDK was invaluable in overcoming some of the hurdles releasing on Windows presents to studios: “The largest barrier is a technical one. Without frameworks like Marmalade, developers are exposed to the details of implementing large portions of platform-specific code.”

The partnership may be new, but Microsoft and Marmalade have already helped many developers bring their titles to Windows and Windows Phone. Going forward, Marmalade’s Beatson hopes to continue working with Microsoft to help populate the promising platform as it continues to grow.

“Microsoft and Marmalade both have hugely innovative and fast-moving technology teams, so we’ll keep our engineers talking to each other and continue to align our roadmaps and product releases,” he says.

“We’ll continue to encourage more and more Marmalade developers to publish to the Windows Phone Store and the Windows Store. What we’d all love to see are some great games from talented developers coming to Windows, thanks to being made with Marmalade.

“Every developer we talk to tells us that their biggest challenge in releasing a successful app in today’s market is discoverability, getting their app in front of the consumer. So having your app available for millions of Windows users in more than 200 markets worldwide on truly competitive hardware will help maximise your chance of success. And of course, thanks to Marmalade’s powerful cross-platform technology, getting your app on Windows has never been easier.”

You can find more information and documentation about developing gamesfor Windows using Marmalade at developer.madewithmarmalade.com. Download the free Marmalade SDK from madewithmarmalade.com/download