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Interview with Alto's Odyssey developer Snowman founder Ryan Cash
With last week’s release of Alto’s Odyssey on Android, Snowman has once again let Alto loose on the slopes more than five years after Alto’s first adventure.
We spoke with Snowman founder Ryan Cash and Android publisher Noodlecake’s Ryan Holowaty about the challenges of moving between platforms, monetization strategies, and much more! Check out the full interview below.
Android Authority: First of all, congratulations on the success of Alto’s Odyssey. What made you decide to release a sequel after so many years?
Snowman founder Ryan Cash: Thank you so much! For me personally, I always wanted to explore the idea of an Alto game set in the desert. We had actually started brainstorming ideas for this long before Alto’s Adventure even launched in the first place. An uncle of mine had always talked about the one time he went sandboarding when he was traveling, and I’ve also always personally been fascinated by deserts. We had come up with the idea for wallriding when we were working on Alto’s Adventure, but decided to shelf it for the time being as we already had a lot on our plates.
After Alto’s Adventure launched we decided we wanted to take some time to take a step back before working on something new, to really try and find the reason and the personal story behind a new adventure. We didn’t want to treat a followup as a forgone conclusion, and also didn’t want to make an “Alto’s Adventure 2.” We very much treat Alto’s Odyssey as another game in the Alto series, rather than a “sequel.”
AA: It seems like your focus was on perfecting the Alto’s formula rather than releasing an entirely new title. What was your goal with this release?
RC: Our goal with Alto’s Odyssey was essentially to make another great Alto game. We didn’t want to stray too far from the original (like the old saying of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”), but at the same time wanted to provide existing Alto fans with fresh things to feel and explore. There were also some places we felt could be expanded upon – for instance there’s a lot more scenery in Odyssey. At the same time, we wanted to make sure that if Odyssey was someone’s first experience with the Alto series, they could just as easily jump into Adventure and find something new.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Overall a big challenge for us was making sure that the game felt new and exciting for existing players, but also just as accessible and approachable to people that had never played an Alto game.
AA: Sequels are hard, especially when they follow hugely successful titles like Alto’s Adventure. What lessons did you learn from the first release, and how did you incorporate them into Alto’s Odyssey?
RC: I think a big thing we learned from the first game was approaching game-making with a bit of a healthier approach. We grew the team from the first one, bringing on Eli Cymet as a producer here in Toronto, and Joe Grainger, another programmer on the team based in the UK with Harry. We also had two different composers work on the soundtrack too. We had Todd Baker leading the original score and sound design, and then we brought back Torin Borrowdale who had created the Zen Mode music in the original game.
We gained over 35 million users with Alto's Adventure on Android.
Here in Toronto we also had Jason Medeiros, a designer and developer at Snowman, help with some design and engineering challenge. When we were working on the first game our good friend Andrew Schimmel had helped us come up with goals (and test them), but he wasn’t working at the company. We have since hired him and was able to have him help in a bigger way with Odyssey.
AA: You’ve stuck to the premium on iOS, free-to-play on Android strategy again with Odyssey. Previously you noted piracy and differences in markets as reasons behind the decision. Do you feel that the mobile market has changed since then? If so, how has it changed?
RC: I’m not sure that the market has changed too much (besides [free to play] getting even more dominant), but another realization I’ve had is that Android represents all countries and demographics, whereas with iOS devices they’re generally a middle-to-upper-class device.
It was important for us to go F2P again for Android as we had millions of fans that had enjoyed the first game that probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the follow-up if we had gone premium. Aside from that, I’ve just heard that premium on Android is even harder nowadays than when we launched in 2016.
Ryan Holowaty, Head of Noodlecake Publishing: If anything piracy has become worse on Android since the fist launch and player expectations of “mobile games should be free” are still on the rise. This is true even on iOS, but it is much more apparent on Android where developing countries like China and India are starting to gain a middle class. These players usually do not have credit cards and only small amounts of disposable income for gaming so they are really pushing F2P as the only option.
And as Ryan mentioned, we gained over 35 million players with Alto’s Adventure. To suddenly go back to paid would have be alienating the majority of the largest install base the game has. Regardless of the monetization methods, that alone didn’t sit well with anyone.
AA: Alto’s Adventure is monetized in a number of ways, including ads, in-app purchases, and even a shop for physical goods. Which has proved the most successful on Android? Any other plans for Odyssey?
RH: The monetization of Alto’s Adventure has been evolving since the launch. In early 2016 when we released it, F2P still rubbed a lot of players the wrong way because of some nefarious practices being used. Our goal on the offset was the try and launch a version that had some video-based rewards that were entirely opt in only and that was it.
Die hard Alto fans wanted more opportunities to spend.
Essentially it was the same game but if you wanted to gain some coins or maybe revive after a crash, you could. But we never forced anyone’s hands. That felt the best to us and Snowman and was in line with the premium Alto brand.
Over time player expectations began to change and in some cases, die hard Alto fans wanted more opportunities to spend. For example they wanted to revive more than once after a crash and actually purchase coins instead of earning them all. So we slowly started rolling out these changes into Adventure as a test case knowing that Odyssey would most likely launch with all of them as long as they felt right.
Because of that, initially the ads were the large bread winner financially because they really were the only option. But as more choices to spend got introduced, the numbers have evened out. In fact I think the selection of IAPs performs better than the ads do now by a small margin.
AA: Market differences aside, if you could choose, would you opt for a premium or ad-supported model with in-app purchases? Why?
RC: I think we’d always err on the side of premium, so we don’t have to think about monetization when we’re designing a game. That being said, we are attracted to the idea that free-to-play games can reach much wider audiences. It’s pretty cool to reach millions and millions of players, something that’s incredibly hard to do when you’re charging up front.
AA: It took Alto’s Odyssey five months to come to Android after the iOS launch. This is an improvement over the almost full-year gap between the iOS and Android versions of Alto’s Adventure, but it still kept Android users waiting. What are your goals for your next big game release? Will we see a day where Android and iOS users can enjoy these games at the same time?
It's hard to release on Android and iOS simultaneously as a small team, but we're getting better.
RC: For us as a small team I think we’re definitely getting better at this, but there are also some other factors at play. In the case of Alto, we have to make changes to the game for the Android version, and after launching on iOS there’s always things that need attention (critical bugs, small updates etc.), so it’s really hard to be doing both at the same time, even with the help from Noodlecake.
I can’t really comment on our future titles, as every game is different, but I can definitely say we’re doing our best!
AA:Finally, is there anything that you’d like to say to fans of Alto?
RC: Thank you so much for playing. Seriously. Without you guys we wouldn’t be able to do what we love, and your support means everything to us. And to our Android fans especially, thanks for sticking with us and being patient while we bring the game to your platform.
Alto’s Odyssey is available now on Android, and can be downloaded from the link below. If you’re still not convinced, check out our Alto’s Odyssey review for more details about the follow up to the smash hit Alto’s Adventure.