Jeff Vogel never pulls any punches. So when the longtime indie success story released the Avernum 2 role-playing game recently on iOS — then yanked it days later — we knew he’d have some pointed things to say.
He didn’t disappoint. Here’s the story of why you won’t be able to get future Spiderweb Software games on iPad despite the company’s successful sales for tablets in the past. Also, a suggestion: Better move fast if you want the company’s older works on the platform (Avernum, Avadon, Avadon 2).
GamesBeat contacted Apple for this interview as well and didn’t receive a response.
Oh, and he dropped a teaser about the new Avadon game, too.
GamesBeat: You’ve been developing for iOS for a while. Why stop now?
Jeff Vogel: So the most important thing to realize about Apple products is that they are designed to become obsolete fairly quickly. Apple engineers constantly change up the hardware and software. In my repeated experience, any device more than a few years old loses the ability to run the new operating systems.
Programming for Apple devices has, for the 20 years I’ve been doing it, been a continuous hassle. Apple constantly makes the old code obsolete, forcing programmers to relearn and revise everything constantly. Sometimes, these changes lead to better devices and software. Other times, it’s just obnoxiousness with no gain for developers or users. It’s just something you learn to live with, until you give up.
And Apple doesn’t care. Why should they? In 2014, 500 games came out on iTunes a day. A day. I suspect that Apple would be ecstatic if 90 percent of game developers disappeared overnight. See also: Steam.
Apple is merciful in one way, though. Usually, when they make a huge change in how their devices are programmed, they let the old code work for a few years to help developers keep up. The problem with Avernum 2 HD is that this didn’t happen this time.
GamesBeat: Why did you pull Avernum 2?
Vogel: For iOS 8, the current version, Apple made huge changes in how programs make a window and register events — touches, rotated devices, etc. I developed the game and tested it on iOS 8.2. Everything was fine with the older system. I submitted the game, and it passed testing and was ready for release.
Then, a few days before release, iOS 8.3 came out. It caused a wide variety of massive breakages. The thing didn’t work, and it broke in completely different ways on different devices.
I couldn’t find a way to work around the problem, and, even if I did, I couldn’t release the game in good conscience. For all I knew, 8.4 would break everything, or 8.5, and I couldn’t be sure that I could always fix the code, as Apple is determined to make me use entirely new code.
So I’d need to get a whole new game engine. It’d take weeks to find it, learn it, port the game, and get it tested. The likely sales didn’t justify the effort and hassle. Remember, I’m competing against 500 new titles a day. So I gave out.
I suspect a lot of developers have disappeared over the last few years. They just didn’t get noticed like I did.
GamesBeat: Why did the iOS change affect that game in ways it didn’t for your earlier ones, which are still available?
Vogel: I have to get boring and technical. The new game is a 64-bit app. The earlier games are 32-bit apps. They use an older code base that was frozen by Apple and still basically works. However, I expect, any day now, that Apple will obsolete all 32-bit apps. They already require all new submissions to be 64-bit.
If I could make Avernum 2 HD 32-bit, I’d have a solid working version in about an hour.
The moment they make noises about 32-bit app support being entirely removed, I will remove all of my iPad apps from sale permanently. I do not want to rip people off.
GamesBeat: What about Mac OS? You’ve been supporting Apple desktops since the beginning.
Vogel: For Windows, Microsoft is all about backward compatibility. I can still use code I wrote for Windows 20 years ago, and it’s fine with only minor tweaks. Code I wrote for the Mac 20 years ago became obsolete and unusable about 10 years ago. When developing for Apple products, you usually end up having to redo a ton of stuff every few years. If you’ve ever wondered why Windows has such impenetrable dominance in the corporate environment, this is a major reason.
Happily, for the Macintosh, Apple can’t make things obsolete quite as mercilessly as it does on iOS, because a lot of businesses use Macs, and big business hates uncertainty. So I’ll probably develop for the Mac for a long time to come.
Also, I prefer to work on Macs instead of Windows. This is a personal preference. I don’t get into passionate arguments about whether Windows or Mac is better, as I am no longer 19 years old.
GamesBeat: What about Android? Any future plans?
Vogel: Android is really hard to develop for. There’s a million different devices, and something will go wrong on many of them. Lots of coding and support hassles.
Here’s the important thing. I’m only one guy. I’m pretty smart. I can hold a lot in my brain. However, I can only maintain mastery of a certain number of things. I would love to release games for Android and Linux, but I just don’t have the brain space.
GamesBeat: So why did you originally decide to release games for the iPad?
Vogel: Because I think iPads are really really cool. I still do. They’re neat and magic. Also, there is a ton of money in it. So, so, so, so much money. Infinite money. That’s why so many games are released for it.
I’m just not big and savvy enough anymore to get a good chunk of that money. The real money goes to free-to-play money-drainers and simple puzzle games — that are also free-to-play money-drainers. The games most popular on the platform just aren’t the sort of games I write.
GamesBeat: Is there anything that would woo you back to developing for that platform?
Vogel: Honestly, someday, I may wake up and have a weird urge to dig into new code and do something techie and funky. Then I’ll get an iOS engine and play with it and see if I can get it to work. If it works and I believe it’ll keep working for a few years, I may jump back into the platform for fun. It’ll never make as much money for us as it did in the early days, though.
It might happen. But not for quite a while. For a long time, I’m going to be pretty jazzed about writing Avadon 3: The Warborn. [That’s the first time Vogel has publicly announced the new game’s title –Ed.]
GamesBeat: What does this mean for Spiderweb and mobile platforms in general?
Vogel: It doesn’t mean anything for mobile platforms. Nobody cares about me.
For me, it just makes me really sad. I loved being an iOS developer. I though it was really cool, and quitting made me respect myself less as a developer. But, well, I saw no way to release a game I could believe in. Again, I don’t want to rip anyone off.
GamesBeat: How do you expect people to react?
Vogel: I’m sure some developers are going, “Wow, this is is such an idiot. And a noob. And a loser. He is such a suckier developer than I am.” And it’s probably true. My main expertise is design. I’m not a great coder. I learn enough to get the thing running reliably on my target platform, and then I’m off to do the next huge job. It’s a small family business. If we could afford to hire an iOS person, it wouldn’t be a problem at all.
But as it is, sometimes a thing you want to do is too much hassle for the rewards. Part of being in business is recognizing those moments and making ugly choices.