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Full Steam Ahead: Bringing Tiny Rails to PC

In early 2017, Tiny Titan Studios decided to bring its mobile title "Tiny Rails" to Steam. Producer Glenn Stanway explores the process and challenges in bringing an Android/iOS game to PC and Mac.

Tiny Titan Studios has been producing retro-inspired mobile games since 2014. Android and iOS were ideal platforms to allow us to hone our craft and build our brand and we’ve earned dedicated and passionate players on both Google and Apple devices. We’ve very grateful for the success our games have had in that space. With that being said, though, I think it’s fair to say we’ve never considered ourselves to be a “mobile studio”; we’ve always wanted to branch out on to other platforms as opportunities presented themselves.

In early 2017, we began that journey, launching a Greenlight campaign to bring our mobile title, Tiny Rails, to Steam. As I write this in mid-August, we’ve just launched the game to Steam Early Access, and in retrospect, getting the game greenlit may have been the easy part. Over the next couple of blog entries, I’m going to take a look at the process of bringing our mobile game to PC and Mac, taking a closer look at what went right, what went wrong and the numerous lessons we learned along the way.

Part One – Getting the Greenlight

Tiny Rails was originally inspired by an idea from Tiny Titan CEO Jeff Evans in early 2016. During the two-hour drive to nearby Toronto, where Jeff was to board a plane bound for San Francisco and that year’s Game Developers Conference, he and I were spitballing game ideas. Jeff mentioned he’d had an idea for a pixel-art train game, where the player could watch a train travel the world and discover new places. I returned to the office after dropping him off at the airport and ran the idea past one of our coders.

Development on the game began in earnest later that spring, and by summer, we had a working prototype in which you could indeed watch a little, customizable train travel through beautifully rendered, parallax scrolling backgrounds. Was it fun to watch? Absolutely, almost hypnotically so. Was it a game? Well... we were pretty certain that it could be. Thus, we began the challenge of finding gameplay to marry to our tech demo.

Eventually, the game grew into a light management sim with a unique take on gameplay, allowing a player to approach Tiny Rails as casually as they wished. We worked hard to strike a balance between too much active gameplay and not enough, attempting to create a game that could cater to a player in a very unique way.

The game was launched on Android and iOS in December 2016, supported by rewarded, player-initiated ads and in-app purchases for a premium currency that was designed to reduce build and leveling cooldowns and help earn the player premium items and collectible cars. We had a very successful launch and the game quickly became a consistent earner for us. We learned a lot during this period, not the least of which was how universal the appeal of trains is, transcending the boundaries we’ve historically seen for player locations and demographics. With this audience in mind, we began to envision a Steam version of the game that could still fulfill our original “fun-to-watch” goal while appealing to a completely new player base.

We launched a Greenlight campaign in mid-January after some preparation and research, and, supported by our strong community of social media follows, found ourselves approved within ten days. We peaked at #35 in the Top 100 and were blown away by how quickly our game was approved. Greenlight has, of course, become a relic of the past at this point (we were approved about two weeks before Valve torpedoed it), but we’d found ourselves trying to undercover the mysteries of how our game was performing just like every other indie developer before us who’d staked their Steam claim. It was vindicating to see success so quickly given the horror stories we’d been subjected to.

After getting over the initial excitement of getting a mandate to produce our first Steam title, we were able to assess some lessons we’d learned. First and foremost, it was driven home to us that the Steam community really doesn’t like mobile ports. Whether stigma or not, some users decided that they hated our game or that it wasn’t “a Steam game” without so much as a second thought. We’d briskly cut a refreshed trailer for our Greenlight campaign, but we hadn’t considered the fact that a number of mobile game elements were still very visible in that trailer; in spite of any promise we made regarding the removal of those features or grand schemes we had for new ones, those pictures spoke louder than words for a number of players. While the decision didn't ultimately cost us getting greenlit, in retrospect we would probably have made a different choice.

Our game had a 61% yes vote to 33% no, with 5% voting for "ask me again". A great number of those no votes were of the "keep this mobile trash off of Steam, there's no place for it here" variety. The 5% undecided were primarily users who seemed cautiously optimistic, but were wary of our plans to make changes in light of what they were presented in the campaign itself.

What that told us was that we needed to make sure the optics of the Steam version were different than those of the mobile game. Promo art needed to be reconsidered and the language we used in describing the game had to be carefully rethought. Most importantly, the community resoundingly told us that Tiny Rails on Steam could not feel like a mobile game, and determining how to address that would take us into the late spring and beyond.

In the next update: making a free-to-play casual mobile game into a premium computer title and the challenges that presented. Some were obvious. Others were less so.

Oh, one last thing: ultimately, we have launched on Steam as of August 8th, and you can find our store page here:

http://store.steampowered.com/app/614630/Tiny_Rails/

We'd love to hear any feedback you have on the game, and how our process of making it might inform your opinions. More next time!


Glenn Stanway left behind a lengthy sales career in November 2015 to help his friend make video games. He had no industry experience, just a creative fire and a desire to change his life. His blog follows his adventures in the world of game development.

When he's not learning about making games, Glenn fronts a 90's rock cover band, The Spoonmen. He also produces and edits podcasts and is an associate producer for the upcoming documentary project, Box Art: a Video Game Documentary.

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