In just over a week, Alto’s Adventure — the hit iPhone game about snowboarding and chasing llamas — will make its long-awaited debut on Android devices. While the game will feel largely the same no matter which platform you play on, the Android version will be different in one key regard: you won’t have to pay for it. Alto’s Adventure is — and will remain — a $2.99 game on iOS, but for the Android release, the developers have decided to go with a free-to-play model that they believe better suits the platform.
"We think we’ve been able to find a balance that lets us treat players in a fair way," explains Ryan Cash, from developer Snowman, "where they can still get the same premium experience you get on iOS, but without needing to pay upfront."
"Players are going to get the same experience on Android."
Cash and the team at Snowman partnered with Noodlecake Studios to handle the Android port. While Noodlecake is best known for the quirky and addictive Super Stickman Golf games, the studio has also made a name for itself by helping developers bring popular iPhone games to Android. For Alto, while the game will be structurally the same as on iOS, it will include both opt-in video ads and a single in-app purchase that will double the number of coins you collect, features inspired by successful free games like Crossy Road. "The biggest thing we wanted to ensure was that the actual gameplay wouldn’t change with the shift from paid to free," says Cash. "The gameplay and structure are entirely intact, so players are going to get the same experience on Android that they’re getting on iOS."
According to both Cash and Noodlecake’s Ryan Holowaty, one of the main reasons they decided to make the game free on Android is piracy. "Piracy on Android is a much bigger issue on the platform especially in the case of premium iOS titles that charge more than $0.99," Holowaty explains. When Noodlecake ported iOS game Wayward Souls to Android, for example, the studio found that only 11 percent of installed copies of the game were paid for. The studio even uploaded a special version of its game Shooting Stars on a number of torrent sites as an experiment, one that couldn’t be completed if you were playing a pirated copy.
"iOS and Android are two very different ecosystems."
There were also factors outside of piracy that contributed to the decision. "It made sense to us because of the state of mobile gaming and the reality that the vast majority of players do not pay for games," says Holowaty. "In addition, Android has a much larger install base than iOS internationally, and games that release in countries like China and Japan are basically free-to-play only at this point. So to really capitalize on the market internationally, it made sense to have a free version."
Alto’s Adventure isn’t the first popular mobile game to shift from a paid release to a free one. The developers behind puzzle game Threes, for example, released a free version more than a year after the game debuted. The free version launched on both iOS and Android, and is available alongside the original paid version, which you can still buy. But Alto is something different, because while the game will be free on Android, it’ll remain a premium, paid release on iOS — at least for the foreseeable future. "There’ll always be a few people out there complaining, but for the most part I think players on iOS will be okay with our decision," Cash says. "The game only costs a few bucks on iOS, so it’s really not a huge deal. iOS and Android are two very different ecosystems, so it’d be almost foolish to approach them the same way."
It’s unclear whether or not the free-to-play mechanic will be a success — there have been several high-profile free mobile games that managed to earn very little despite being popular. Holowaty says that there’s plenty of room to tweak the Android version if this proves the case, including potentially offering a single in-app purchase that makes the game identical to the iOS version, essentially making it a paid game. The goal, as with Threes, isn’t simply to make money, however: it’s to introduce Alto’s Adventure to a much larger group of players, one that doesn’t typically pay for mobile games. Cash says that he’s "excited about the ability to reach a larger audience."
The Android version of the game has been in the works for some time — it was originally announced way back in September — but the wait is almost over. Alto’s Adventure will be making its long-awaited Android debut on February 11th. The success of the game on iOS means that Snowman has freedom to experiment with the Android release, as the studio seeks out new ways to stay profitable without compromising its games.
"It’s in our players' best interest that we publish our games in a way that’s sustainable for us," says Cash, "so that we can continue making new things."