Today, beloved iPhone snowboarding game Alto’s Adventure makes its long-awaited debut on Android. Last week, Sage Solitaire, an addictive digital reinvention of the classic card game, made the same jump. In both cases, the original developer isn’t the one behind the port; instead they enlisted the help of Noodlecake Studios, a tiny company in the Canadian prairies that’s made a business helping mobile developers bring their hit iOS games to Android. The studio also develops its own games — Noodlecake is behind the wonderfully addictive Super Stickman Golf series — and serves as a publisher, helping other developers with everything from tech support to dealing with platform holders like Apple and Google. Not bad for the only professional game studio in Saskatchewan. "A lot of people think we’re bigger than we actually are," Noodlecake’s Ryan Holowaty says.
Noodlecake was founded in 2011, and started with just two people. Jordan Schidlowsky and Ty Haugen had worked together for years at a local software company in Saskatoon, and had watched the rapid rise of mobile gaming with growing interest. They pitched a few game ideas internally at the company, but the bosses weren’t interested, so eventually the two set out on their own. Over the course of the next year they slowly brought over people from the software company to fill out the studio. Now, Noodlecake is comprised of 10 people (an additional six people work at a separate software consulting firm that operates within the studio). Incredibly, none of the original staff had any experience making games professionally. "When we initially got into game development, it was a business decision more than a passion decision," Holowaty explains. "It just so happened that all of us came from a gaming background. But it was a pure business decision at the time."
At first, the team toyed around with various ideas for its first game, working on prototypes that didn’t really go anywhere. At the same time, they were playing around with building a tool for simulating physics in a game. "It turned out that it was more fun than what we were working on," Holowaty says. The experiment eventually morphed into Stickman Golf, a modest success that did well enough to warrant a bigger and better sequel. The follow-up Super Stickman Golf on iOS was much more successful, helping to make a name for the studio. But the process of porting the game to Android proved to be "a nightmare." Schidlowsky, Noodlecake’s tech lead, struggled through the process, and afterwards found himself determined to never go through that experience again. So he went to work building a tool that would make the porting process much simpler.
"It was a pure business decision at the time."
The project proved successful, but once the tool was finished, the studio had to make a decision. Holowaty remembers thinking "We’ve got this tech, and we can use it internally, but we should be leveraging this somehow because there’s going to be a ton of developers who want to use it." They thought about licensing the tech, letting other game developers pay to use it, much like companies like Epic and Unity do with their popular game engines. But then they had another idea. "We started strategizing using it as a way to release titles on Android for other developers," he says, "but the catch would be that we’d put it underneath our publishing umbrella."
It turned out that other developers didn’t need much convincing. When Noodlecake first started approaching people about the idea, the studio offered to essentially do all of the work, handling the technical side of the port and then sharing revenue with the original developer after the Android version was released. "Pretty much everyone we pitched that to said ‘absolutely,’" Holowaty says. The first game Noodlecake published on Android was Trainyard, an early iPhone puzzle game from solo developer Matt Rix. From there the business grew, with Noodlecake porting popular games like Framed, Punch Quest, Qwop, and Wayward Souls.
For many developers, working with Noodlecake is the difference between having an Android version and not. The challenges of Android development — the bigger range of devices to support, the issues with piracy, etc. — can be too much to deal with, especially for teams of just a handful of people. "I’m a one-man band, so the time requirement to issue fixes, deal with support emails, and test on devices is a serious impediment to getting my own work done," says Sage Solitaire developer Zach Gage. "And if I can’t work on new things or finishing projects, that’s a big problem."
"If I can’t work on new things or finishing projects, that’s a big problem."
Today Noodlecake’s business is split pretty evenly. Half the team currently works on the porting and publishing side, while the other half is focused on finishing the much-anticipated Super Stickman Golf 3, which is expected to launch sometime this year. In addition to simply porting games to Android, Noodlecake’s publishing efforts have expanded over the years. The studio now helps smaller developers release games on both iOS and Android, leveraging its business and technical knowhow, assets that a lot of smaller game developers lack. In the case of Alto’s Adventure on Android, the studio even helped transform the game into a free-to-play title to better suit the platform. The studio currently publishes a new game every two or three weeks, and is pitched new ideas constantly. "I can’t even put a number on the amount of submissions we get every week," Holowaty says. "We get everything from games that we look at and are very impressed with, to one guy making some really basic Flappy Bird rip-off."
The landscape of mobile games changes rapidly, and over Noodlecake’s relatively brief five years of existence, the company has already seen seismic shifts, like the change from paid games to free-to-play. So even though the studio’s present very much remains in mobile, Noodlecake is also looking to expand to new platforms in the future. "I wouldn’t be surprised if you see the Noodlecake logo pop up on Steam or PS4 in the next year," says Holowaty.