How Two Startups Are Joining Forces To Fix the Mobile Silo Problem

By Trevor Gilbert , written on May 1, 2012

From The News Desk

For most small game studios, designing for the iPhone and Android is a major pain point.

Double Fine, the studio that made waves in February for its insanely record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, has found a clever solution via a partnership with Zipline Games, a Seattle-based gaming company that offers a mix of cloud optimization with a cross-platform framework for game developers called Moai.

In February, Double Fine kicked off a seemingly endless series of articles on the "most money raised on Kickstarter ever" with its plan for an adventure game. The company was originally looking to raise $400,000, but ended up raising over $3 million. With all of this unexpected money, the company improved its bonuses for Kickstarter backers with the promise to create versions of its promised game for iOS and Android, in addition to the original plan of titles for OS X, PC, and Linux.

Normally, when a studio decides to port a game to another platform, it needs to rewrite most of the game. Technologically speaking, Android and iOS are entirely different, so unless a studio designs a game from the ground-up to be cross platform compatible, it's a major headache.

When a studio doesn’t plan this from the beginning, it quickly becomes an untenable mess. The company effectively finds itself running two internal and distinct teams at the same time, both moving at different paces for different phases of the project. There are two versions of the game running on the same back-end, one for the Java-based Android games and one for the C-based iOS games. As the game is updated over time, the two teams continue to diverge and manage increasingly different code-bases.

This is an annoyance for major companies like Zynga and EA, but for smaller companies like Double Fine, it quickly becomes unmanageable. And it's at this point that Zipline saw its market opportunity, with its Moai platform.

Moai provides studios with a common framework to work based off of the popular gaming scripting language Lua. With Lua and Moai, developers can write the game once and connect it to a single server, running it on all platforms with minimal cross-platform conflicts. I'm oversimplifying it a bit, but that’s the product in essence.

Moai is an open source project, so developers can use it free of charge. However, Zipline maintains this framework as a gateway drug of sorts for its for-profit, cloud-based management software. The backend allows developers to monitor how games are doing and to push out new in-app purchases in real-time, with in-depth analytics for each game and user, all without the need for going through the App Store or other channels, simplifying the process of improving games.

The platform-framework combination is so effective, in fact, that Zipline has seen a tangible amount of success with a test game that it released, Wolf Toss. The game was created to show off what Zipline's tools are capable of but have ended up being a nice side revenue stream for the company.

Because of this platform-framework success, it is a natural fit for Double Fine to pair up with Zipline. The two companies are now working closely together to finish off Double Fine’s game, which will not only help to speed up and simplify the Double Fine’s production cycle, but will also provide Zipline with a high-profile case study for other studios to look at.

Double Fine also announced the partnership in the following video, which is part of its ongoing documentary series for Kickstarter backers.

"Picking the right engine is one of the most important decisions a tech team can make on a game," says Double Fine Tech Director Nathan Martz. "We knew that DFA would need an engine that 'just worked' on both mobile and PC, was really focused on 2D gaming, supported a scripting language that was super fast and flexible, and that gave our engineers full source code access... When we looked around, Moai fit that bill perfectly."