Getting into the Store

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Learning Windows 8 Game Development

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Learn how to develop exciting tablet and PC games for Windows 8 using practical, hands-on examples with this book and ebook

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by Michael Quandt | October 2013 | Games Open Source

In this article by Michael Quandt, author of Learning Windows 8 Game Development, we will learn the following:

  • Getting a Windows Store account
  • Creating your game/reserving a name
  • Windows Application Certification Kit
  • Creating packages for the store
  • Screenshots and icons
  • Game ratings
  • Submitting to the store
  • Common issues with certification

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

This all starts by visiting https://appdev.microsoft.com/StorePortals, which will get you to the store dashboard that you use to submit and manage your applications. If you already have an account you'll just log in here and proceed. If not, we'll take a look at ways of getting it set up.

There are a couple of ways to get a store account, which you will need before you can submit any game or application to the store. There are also two different types of accounts:

  • Individual accounts
  • Company accounts

In most cases you will only need the first option. It's cheaper and easier to get, and you won't require the enterprise features provided by the company account for a game. For this reason we'll focus on the individual account.

To register you'll need a credit card for verification, even if you gain a free account another way. Just follow the registration instructions, pay the fee, and complete verification, after which you'll be ready to go.

Free accounts

Students and developers with MSDN subscriptions can access registration codes that waive the fee for a minimum of one year. If you meet either of these requirements you can gain a code using the respective methods, and use that code during the registration process to set the fee to zero.

Students can access their free accounts using the DreamSpark service that Microsoft runs. To access this you need to create an account on www.dreamspark.com and create an account. From there follow the steps to verify your student status and visit https://www.dreamspark.com/Student/Windows-Store-Access.aspx to get your registration code.

If you have access to an MSDN subscription you can use this to gain a store account for free. Just log in to your account and in your account benefits overview you should be able to generate your registration code.

Submitting your game

So your game is polished and ready to go. What do you need to do to get it in the store?

First log in to the dashboard and select Submit an App from the menu on the left. Here you can see the steps required to submit the app. This may look like a lot to do, but don't worry. Most of these are very simple to resolve and can be done before you even start working on the game.

The first step is to choose a name for your game, and this can be done whenever you want. By reserving a name and creating the application entry you have a year to submit your application, giving you plenty of time to complete it. This is why it's a good idea to jump in and register your application once you have a name for it. If you change your mind later and want a different name you can always change it.

The next step is to choose how and where you will sell your game.

The other thing you need to choose here are the markets you want to sell your game in. This can be an area you need to be careful of, because the markets you choose here define the localization or content you need to watch for in your game. Certain markets are restrictive and including content that isn't appropriate for a market you say you want to sell in can cause you to fail the certification process.

Once that is done you need to choose when you want to release your game—you can choose to release as soon as certification finishes or on a specific date, and then you choose the app category, which in this case will be Games. Don't forget to specify the genre of your game as the sub-category so players can find it.

The final option on the Selling Details page which applies to us is the Hardware requirements section. Here we define the DirectX feature-level required for the game, and the minimum RAM required to run it. This is important because the store can help ensure that players don't try to play your game on systems that cannot run it.

The next section allows you to define the in-app offers that will be made available to players.

The Age rating and rating certificates section allows you to define the minimum age required to play the game, as well as submit official ratings certificates from ratings boards so that they may be displayed in the store to meet legal requirements. The latter part is optional in some cases, and may affect where you can submit your game depending on local laws.

Aside from official ratings, all applications and games submitted to the store require a voluntary rating, chosen from one of the following age options:

  • 3+
  • 7+
  • 12+
  • 16+
  • 18+

While all content is checked, the 7+ and 3+ ratings both have extra checks because of the extra requirements for those age ranges. The 3+ rating is especially restrictive as apps submitted with that age limit may not contain features that could connect to online services, collect personal information, or use the webcam or microphone. To play it safe it's recommended the 12+ rating is chosen, and if you're still uncertain, higher is safer.

GDF Certificates

The other entry required here if you have official ratings certificates is a GDF file. This is a Game Definition File, which defines the different ratings in a single location and provides the necessary information to display the rating and inform any parental settings. To do this you need to use the GDFMAKER.exe utility that ships with the Windows 8 SDK, and generate a GDF file which you can submit to the store. Alongside that you need to create a DLL containing that file (as a resource) without any entry point to include in the application package. For full details on how to create the GDF as well as the DLL, view the following MSDN article:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/hh465153.aspx

The final section before you need to submit your compiled application package is the cryptography declaration. For most games you should be able to declare that you aren't using any cryptography within the game and quickly move through this step. If you are using cryptography, including encrypting game saves or data files, you will need to declare that here and follow the instructions to either complete the step or provide an Export Control Classification Number (ECCN).

Now you need to upload the compiled app package before you can continue, so we'll take a look at what it takes to do that before you continue.

App packages

To submit your game to the store, you need to package it up in a format that makes it easy to upload, and easy for the store to distribute. This is done by compiling the application as an .appx file. But before that happens we need to ensure we have defined all of the required metadata, and fulfill the certification requirements, otherwise we'll be uploading a package only to fail soon after.

Part of this is done through the application manifest editor, which is accessible in Visual Studio by double-clicking on the Package.appxmanifest file in solution explorer.

This editor is where you specify the name that will be seen in the start menu, as well as the icons used by the application. To pass certification all icons have to be provided at 100 percent DPI, which is referred to as Scale 100 in the editor.

Icon/Image

Base resolution

Required

Standard

150 x 150 px

Yes

Wide

310 x 150 px

If Wide Tile Enabled

Small

30 x 30 px

Yes

Store

50 x 50 px

Yes

Badge

24 x 24 px

If Toasts Enabled

Splash

620 x 300 px

Yes

If you wish to provide a higher quality images for people running on high DPI setups, you can do so with a simple filename change. If you add scale-XXX to your filename, just before the extension, and replace XXX with one of the following values, Windows will automatically make use of it at the appropriate DPI.

  • scale-100
  • scale-140
  • scale-180

In the following image you can see the options available for editing the visual assets in the application. These all apply to the start menu and application start-up experience, including the splash screen and toast notifications.

Toast Notifications in Windows 8 are pop-up notifications that slide in from the edge of the screen and show the users some information for a short period of time. They can click on the toast to open the application if they want. Alongside Live Tiles, Toast Notifications allow you to give the user information when the application is not running (although they work when the application is running).

The previous table shows the different images you required for a Windows 8 application, and if they are mandatory or just required in certain situations. Note that this does not include the imagery required for the store, which includes some screenshots of the application and optional promotional art in case you want your application to be featured.

You must replace all of the required icons with your own. Automated checks during certification will detect the use of the default "box" icon shown in the previous screenshot and automatically fail the submission.

Capabilities

Once you have the visual aspects in place, you need to declare the capabilities that the application will receive. Your game may not need any, however you should still only specify what you need to run, as some of these capabilities come with extra implications and non-obvious requirements.

Adding a privacy policy

One of those requirements is the privacy policy. Even if you are creating a game, there may be situations where you are collecting private information, which requires you to have a privacy policy. The biggest issue here is connecting to the internet. If your game marks any of the Internet capabilities in the manifest, you automatically trigger a check for a privacy policy as private information—in this case an IP address—is being shared.

To avoid failing certification for this, you need to put together a privacy policy if you collect privacy information, or use any of the capabilities that would indicate you collect information. These include the Internet capabilities as well as location, webcam, and microphone capabilities. This privacy policy just needs to describe what you will do with the information, and directly mention your game and publisher name.

Once you have the policy written, it needs to be posted in two locations. The first is a publicly accessible website, which you will provide a link to when filling out the description after uploading your game. The second is within the game itself. It is recommended you place this policy in the Windows 8 provided settings menu, which you can build using XAML or your own code. If you're going with a completely native Windows 8 application you may want to display the policy in your own way and link to it from options within your game.

Declarations

Once you've indicated the capabilities you want, you need to declare any operating system integration you've done. For most games you won't use this, however if you're taking advantage of Windows 8 features such as share targets (the destination for data shared using the Share Charm), or you have a Game Definition File, you will need to declare it here and provide the required information for the operating system. In the case of the GDF, you need to provide the file so that the parental controls system can make use of the ratings to appropriately control access.

Certification kit

The next step is to make sure you aren't going to fail the automated tests during certification. Microsoft provides the same automated tests used when you submit your app in the Windows Application Certification Kit (WACK).

WACK is installed by default with Visual Studio 2012 or higher version.

There are two ways to run the test: after you build your application package, or by running the kit directly against an installed app. We'll look at the latter first, as you might want to run the test on your deployed test game well before you build anything for the store. This is also the only way to run the WACK on a WinRT device, if you want to cover all bases.

If you haven't already deployed or tested your app, deploy it using the Build menu in Visual Studio and then search for the Windows App Cert Kit using the start menu (just start typing). When you run this you will be given an option to choose which type of application you want to validate. In this case we want to select the Windows Store App option, which will then give you access to the list of apps installed on your machine. From there it's just a matter of selecting the app you want and starting the test. At this point you will want to leave your machine alone until the automated tests are complete. Any interference could lead to an incorrect failure of the certification tests.

The results will indicate ways you can fix any issues; however, you should be fine for most of the tests. The biggest issues will arise from third party libraries that haven't been developed or ported to Windows 8. In this case the only option is to fix them yourself (if they're open source) or find an alternative.

Once you have the test passing, or you feel confident that it won't be an issue, you need to create app packages that are compatible with the store. At this point your game will be associated with the submission you have created in the Windows Store dashboard so that it is prepared for upload.

Creating your app packages

To do this, right click on your game project in Visual Studio and click on Create App Packages inside the Store menu.

Once you do that, you'll be asked if you want to create a package for the store. The difference between the two options comes down to how the package is signed. If you choose No here, you can create a package with your test certificate, which can be distributed for testing. These packages must be manually installed and cannot be submitted to the store. You can, however, use this type of package on other machines to install your game for testers to try out. Choosing No will give you a folder with a .ps1 file (Powershell), which you can run to execute the install script.

Choosing Yes at this option will take you to a login screen where you can enter your Windows Store developer account details. Once you've logged in you will be presented with a list of applications that you have registered with the store.

If you haven't yet reserved the name of your application, you can click on the Reserve Name link, which will take you directly to the appropriate page in the store dashboard. Otherwise select the name of the game you're trying to build and click on Next.

The next screen will allow you to specify which architectures to build for, and the version number of the built package. As this is a C++ game, we need to provide separate packages for the ARM, x86, and x64 builds, depending on what you want to support. Simply providing an x86 and ARM build will cover the entire market; 64 bit can be nice to have if you need a lot of memory, but ultimately it is optional, and some users may not even be able to run x64 code.

When you're ready click on Create and Visual Studio will proceed to build your game and compile the requested packages, placing them in the directory specified. If you've built for the store, you will need the .appxupload files from this directory when you proceed to upload your game.

Once the build has completed you will be asked if you want to launch the Windows Application Certification Kit. As mentioned previously this will test your game for certification failures, and if you're submitting to the store it's strongly recommended you run this. Doing so at this screen will automatically deploy the built package and run the test, so ensure you have a little bit of time to let it run.

Uploading and submitting

Now that you have a built app package you can return to the store dashboard to submit your game. Just edit the submission you made previously and enter the Packages section, which will take you to the page where you can upload the appxupload file.

Once you have successfully uploaded your game you will gain access to the next section, the Description. This is where you define the details that will be displayed in the store. This is also where your marketing skills come into play as you prepare the content that will hopefully get players to buy your game.

You start with the description of your game, and any big feature bullet points you want to emphasize. This is the best place to mention any reviews or praise, as well as give a quick description that will help the players decide if they want to try your game. You can have a number of app features listed; however, like any "back of the box" bullet points, keep them short and exciting.

Along with the description, the store requires at least one screenshot to display to the potential player. These screenshots need to be of the entire screen, and that means they need to be at least 1366x768, which is the minimum resolution of Windows 8. These are also one of the best ways to promote your game, so ensure you take some great screenshots that show off the fun and appeal of your game.

There are a few ways to take a screenshot of your game. If you're testing in the simulator you can use the screenshot icon on the right toolbar of the simulator to take the screenshot. If not, you can use Windows Key + Prt Scr SysRq to take a screenshot of your entire screen, and then use that (or edit it if you have multiple monitors). Screenshots taken with either of these tools can be found in the Screenshots folder within your Pictures library.

There are two other small pieces of information that are required during this stage: Copyright Info and Support contact info. For the support info, an e-mail address will usually suffice.

At this point you can also include your website and, if applicable to your game, a link to the privacy policy included in your game. Note that if you require a privacy policy, it must be included in two places: your game, and the privacy policy field on this form.

The last items you may want to add here are promotional images. These images are intended for use in store promotions and allow Microsoft to easily feature your game with larger promotional imagery in prominent locations within the store. If you are serious about maximizing the reach of your game, you will want to include these images. If you don't, the number of places your game can be featured will be reduced. At a minimum the 414x180 px image should be included if you want some form of promotion.

Now you're almost done! The next section allows you to leave notes for the testing team. This is where you would leave test account details for any features in your game that require an account so that they can test those features. This is also the location to leave any notes about testing in case there are situations where you can point out any features that might not be obvious. In certain situations you may have an exemption from Microsoft for a certification requirement; this would be where you include that exemption.

When every step has been completed and you have tick marks in all of the stages, the Submit for Certification button will unlock, allowing you to complete your submission and send it off for certification. At this stage a number of automated tests will run before human testers will try your game on a variety of devices to ensure it fits the requirements for the store.

If all goes well, you will receive an email notifying you of your successful certification and, depending on if you set the release date as ASAP, you will find your game in the store a few hours later (it may take a few hours to appear in the store once you receive an email informing you that your game or app is in the store).

Certification tips

Your first stop should be the certification requirements page, which lists all of the current requirements your game will be tested for: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/hh694083.aspx.

There are some requirements that you should take note of, and in this section we'll take a look at ways to help ensure you pass those requirements.

Privacy

The first of course is the privacy policy. As mentioned before, if your game collects any sort of personal information, you will need that policy in two places:

  • In full text within the game
  • Accessible through an Internet link

The default app template generated by Visual Studio automatically enables the Internet capability, and by simply having that enabled you require a privacy policy. If you aren't connecting to the Internet at all in your game, you should always ensure that none of the Internet options are enabled before you package your game.

If you share any personal information, then you need to provide players with a method of opting in to the sharing. This could be done by gating the functionality behind a login screen. Note that this functionality can be locked away, and the requirement doesn't demand that you find a way to remain fully functional even if the user opts out.

Features

One requirement is that your game support both touch input and keyboard/mouse input. You can easily support this by using an input system like the one described in this article; however, by supporting touch input you get mouse input for free and technically fulfill this requirement. It's all about how much effort you want to put into the experience your player will have, and that's why including gamepad input is recommended as some players may want to use a connected Xbox 360 gamepad for their input device in games.

Legacy APIs

Although your game might run while using legacy APIs, it won't pass certification. This is checked through an automated test that also occurs during the WACK testing process, so you can easily check if you have used any illegal APIs. This often arises in third party libraries which make use of parts of the standard IO library such as the console, or the insecure versions of functions such as strcpy or fopen. Some of these APIs don't exist in WinRT for good reason; the console, for example, just doesn't exist, so calling APIs that work directly with the console makes no sense, and isn't allowed.

Debug

Another issue that may arise through the use of third-party libraries is that some of them may be compiled in debug mode. This could present issues at runtime for your app, and the packaging system will happily include these when compiling your game, unless it has to compile them itself. This is detected by the WACK and can be resolved by finding a release mode version, or recompiling the library.

WACK

The final tip is: run WACK. This kit quickly and easily finds most of the issues you may encounter during certification, and you see the issues immediately rather than waiting for it to fail during the certification process. Your final step before submitting to the store should be to run WACK, and even while developing it's a good idea to compile in release mode and run the tests to just make sure nothing is broken.

Summary

By now you should know how to submit your game to the store, and get through certification with little to no issues. We've looked at what you require for the store including imagery and metadata, as well as how to make use of the Windows Application Certification Kit to find problems early on and fix them up without waiting hours or days for certification to fail your game.

One area unique to games that we have covered in this article is game ratings. If you're developing your game for certain markets where ratings are required, or if you are developing children's games, you may need to get a rating certificate, and hopefully you have an idea of where to look to do this.

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Learning Windows 8 Game Development Learn how to develop exciting tablet and PC games for Windows 8 using practical, hands-on examples with this book and ebook
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About the Author :


Michael Quandt

Michael Quandt has been working with games, from XNA to DirectX to Unity, as a hobbyist and professional for four years. He has spoken at local game development conferences and workshops while working with Microsoft Australia as a Technical Evangelist. Since then he has contributed to the translation of multiple major franchise games to the Windows Store platform, and continues to work with local developers and students to get them involved in game development and bringing their best to the Windows platform.

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