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Thomas Was Alone out now for iPad — and its creator thinks indies still belong on iOS

Above: Thomas Was Alone is now out on iPad.

Image Credit: Mike Bithell

It’s tough out in the world for an indie game on iOS. If you’re not free (Flappy Bird), already popular (Candy Crush Saga), or Minecraft, you tend to not do great on iPhone or iPad. But this isn’t preventing developer Mike Bithell from releasing his game on the platform.

Thomas Was Alone, Bithell’s minimalist PC, PlayStation 3, and Vita platformer that stars a variety of geometric shapes, is available now on iPad for $9. It brings with it all of the action of the original as well as the beautiful narration by radio host Danny Wallace. Bithell partnered with Bossa Studios, which did the PlayStation ports, to get Thomas Was Alone on the iPad. This included making the touchscreen controls work.

It is nearly two years old now, but Bithell told GamesBeat why he worked with Bossa to bring Thomas Was Alone to Apple’s tablet.

“Every day, I get a message of someone [that's] like photographing a 4-year-old playing Thomas Was Alone for the first time on the console or someone sharing it with a partner who isn’t into video games, and it just felt like all those people are playing games — just on the iPad,” Bithell said. “So we said, let’s see if it’s possible [to release it on iPad].”

Bithell originally wrote off the idea of porting the platformer to the device. He was worried about the controls, which are kind of important to a game like this.

“It’s a traditional platformer where you run around and jump, and I assumed that wouldn’t feel very good on a touch device. I’ve played many bad platformers on iPad, so I ruled it out,” he said. “But Bossa Studios just did a really good demo with it and convinced me that this does work on a touchscreen.”

With the port sorted out, Bithell also considered the current gaming landscape on mobile. Where indie games were once some of the highest-profile, best-performing releases on Apple’s smartphones and tablets, free-to-play casual experiences like Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga have taken over and dominated for months. When the occasional indie game does break through to the top of the most-downloaded charts, it’s almost always free and strange. Flappy Bird, an arcadey app that has players trying to navigate a clumsy fowl through obstacles, is the best example of this.

Yet Bithell thinks the iPad is still great for what he is releasing.

“I think it makes a lot of sense for people like me who’ve maybe made a game that became a hit elsewhere,” said Bithell.

Since debuting in 2012, Thomas Was Alone has surpassed over a million in sales, and it is already trending on Twitter this morning following its iPad debut.

“It’s got name recognition. It’s got some respectability,” he said. “So I think for someone in my position, iPad makes a lot of sense. It’s been proven that there are players on iPad that want to pay for games still. But I wouldn’t want to do this with a new game or something that no one’s ever heard of. I imagine that’s very, very challenging.”

While Bithell is hoping for the best, he doesn’t really know what to expect.

“I’m waiting to see what happens,” he said. “We thought it was worth the time and energy to get it done, so obviously I’m hoping the game takes off, but I just don’t know the space.”

The developer doesn’t really know what the game will need to sell before he’ll consider it a success. It’s unlikely to crack the top-grossing chart, which is nearly all free-to-play games with in-app purchases and then Minecraft, but he says that a top-five placement on the paid-games download chart would make him happy.

“I know the people over here, on PC and console, like my game,” said Bithell. “They put a certain amount of value on it. But does that translate? Does that work on the iPad? I don’t know, but I do know the one thing: We have a good game. We’ve stayed true to what made the original successful, so we’ve done everything we can. Now we just wait and see.”


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