Guest Post: John Griffin of Gamesparks talks about the future of the cloud
2013 has so far seen the emergence of some pretty strong endorsement for the cloud when it comes to games. Peter Warman, CEO of the highly rated NewZoo, boldly declared in February that “Someday all games will run in the cloud’. I agree with this. I am not sure when exactly it will apply to 100% of games but I am sure 2014 will be the year that most games convert. Many of the larger games studios of course already architect their games on the cloud. In fact, if you look at a game like Candy Crush, the device executable is only a tiny part of it. Most of the smart stuff is done in the cloud or on the server-side. Its a mindset shift that games developers need to adopt. Companies like King think data centre when they think game. Most of us need to do the same. Here’s why …
(please note that in most cases I am using ‘the cloud’ to imply server-side but stick to referring to the cloud for reasons that should become clear at the end)
#1: It costs less
These days a game needs to launch across a lot of platforms – particularly if mobile. A game that has to launch across iOS, Android, Windows etc on tablet, smartphone and now the whole plethora of open consoles appearing on the market will end up having lots of versions of the core game client-side code. In fact many of the games developers we work with have up to 15 different versions of the same game. This is a versioning nightmare and not to mention unmanageable in the medium term. It makes complete sense to reduce the amount of game logic that happens in the client and transfer it to a single instance on the server that interfaces with them all. Of course there are lots of ways to minimise the overhead of the versioning issue such as source code control systems like Perforce and Git. Game engines like Unity also allow you to write once and run across devices. Sure these can work … but combined with the other key reasons, the best solution is to move as much of the game logic to the server as you can. This is really just following the architectural shift towards multi-tiered systems that has already occurred in many other verticals.
#2: You cannot run your game as a service if it is not in the cloud
There has been a strong paradigm shift towards thinking of games as a service (GaaS) rather than as a product (GaaP). Why? Its less risky for both publishers and developers … They are less orientated around trying to build instant hits and gambling huge amounts to support the initial launch. Rather they take a long term view and take a good game concept, get it out as early as possible and build player numbers over time making sometimes (but hopefully minimal) fundamental changes to the game in response to feedback from players. There are other reasons for this shift too though. Basic technology changes make this shift possible. Digital convergence generally speaking has played a big role. GaaP to GaaS is the key way the games industry is evolving to the changing digital landscape (always-on fast connections, device capabilities, penetration leading to huge player volumes, etc etc). Ultimately, to sustain a games business the games have to make more money than they cost to build and operate (and yes – to market). Of course I realise this is stating the obvious but it needs to be stated plainly as it seems to get overlooked by so many people so frequently.
The business models underpinning the games industry are evolving so fast it is hard to know what works in every circumstance. Freemium? F2P? Subscription? Which one is right for you? If you embrace cloud-based gaming you don’t have to hitch your wagon to only one of these models. Cloud-based systems allow you to play with these models a lot more. I don’t advocate designing great gaming experiences without having a strong idea about how to go to market but I do strongly recommend you build in the ability to tweak it or alter it as you go forward in response to what your player base tells you. There are no hard and fast rules around this. What works for one demographic in one country for a particular genre of game may not work elsewhere. There are so many variables at play that its hard to predict with any certainty. Publishers play the game that VC’s do … they bet on several and hope and pray the good bets cover the bad bets. Its not a good idea to just take a punt and hope for the best.
When you run a game as a service, you are now in the business of building an audience and trying to make more money from them than it costs you to get them to your game. Once you have players playing your game you need a lot of capabilities in order to be successful at this. You need to understand how players are playing the game. You need to understand their preferences and their buying habits and be able to respond to this. You need to give them new and engaging content. You need to enable them to engage socially with their friends. It is only when these things are done properly will a games company successfully sustain and grow its player base. You cannot achieve this without having your games based on some server side capabilities such as player management, in-game commerce and storefront management, dynamic content management, analytics etc.
Like what you’re reading? There are two more very interesting points to be read over on Gamesparks official web page: http://www.gamesparks.com/cloud-based-games/
I’d like to thank John Griffin for allowing me to share this post and his knowledge surrounding this ever growing aspect of modern video game development.