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What is Games as a Service?
Games as a Service is a different way of thinking in the games industry and relates more to how games are developed, deployed and operated than it does to how they are played. Game architecture is changing with more and more of the logic moving to the server as this gives developers a new level of agility that is vital for them as they navigate the ever-more complicated world of devices, markets and business models for their games.
The term is mis-understood, much like the related term, Cloud Gaming. It has ended up meaning so many different things to so many people. Outside of games, the ‘as a Service’ terminology is well understood and rapidly becoming a mature model. At a recent Microsoft Cloud Gaming conference, Rob Fraser, CTO of Microsoft Azure UK shed some light on this. The term encapsulates a server-side deployment model where functionality is centrally hosted and made available to the masses via easy to use interfaces (APIs and SDKs). However, it encapsulates more than software deployment, it also encapsulates the business models that underpin how it is provided. The ‘as a Service’ term implies a utility model where people pay as they go and pay based on what they use. All of this is extremely relevant to both how consumers play and pay for games today and also how Games as a Service solution providers (like GameSparks) sell to the game development community.
That is quite a general cross-industry compatible view of Games-as-a-Service though. It’s worth diving deeper and looking more specifically at what it means for game developers. It is becoming increasingly rare for developers to be able to design and build a game, distribute it through stores, charge a premium price and then walk away onto the next project. For one thing, in-game monetization is a complex area and difficult – if not impossible – to get right first time for all players and for all markets. Most people are accepting of that point at this stage. Therefore, unless there is a publisher to take on the burden of running the game, it is really left to the developer to operate it on an ongoing basis and optimize it across player types and markets.
Optimization of a game is something that requires several building blocks to be put in place:
- Analytics:- The ability to see exactly what is going on in your game and to convert this data into actionable insights.
- Server-side configuration:- The ability to action changes in the game without having to go through the expensive release process.
- Content management:- The ability to manage the games content from an administrative console without having to modify the game executable itself.
There are more, but these are the absolute minimum building blocks required. Additional capabilities should encompass player management and eCommerce for in-game monetization optimization.
Years ago, adding this capability to an average indie development studio would have been cost prohibitive as a potentially significant server and network infrastructure would have had to been purchased upfront. Consider this – back in 2000, the server capacity required to support Candy Crush would likely have cost between £5 – 10M. It’s not just the cost aspect though. Most companies don’t have the skills required to set this kind of infrastructure up and manage it. Thanks to companies like Microsoft with their Azure cloud offering, you are no longer faced with this problem. Solutions like Azure democratize server-side power and make it available to everyone on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Cloud services are impacting most industries not just games but are they enough? The average game developer does not really want to be faced with capacity planning, server configuration, tuning, patching, database programming, load balancer configuration, firewalls, routers, denial of service attacks, monitoring, 24 x 7 support etc. A solution like GameSparks removes all of this from the game developer and handles it all. GameSparks exposes a development and game management interface to the developer that makes sense for games allowing them to adopt server-side game development and run their game as a service post launch. GameSparks has been called ‘the Unity of the server-side’. It runs on Microsoft’s Azure and extends all of the incredible benefits that platform brings as well as adding on a whole lot more in the areas of analytics, dynamic content management, player management, eCommerce, social integration, multiplayer, in-game monetization etc.
In order to adopt the Games as a Service paradigm, a developer needs nothing more than Unity and GameSparks. GameSparks provides an out of the box integration with Unity which is quick and easy to set up (under 10 minutes). Once the Unity SDK has been configured, the full set of GameSparks functionality is available via a simple to use API. Simply put:
Finally, from a players perspective, they should generally be none-the-wiser that the game they are playing is being run on a cluster of backend servers but building a game in this way does open up a whole set of enhanced game features that could impact players a great deal. Multiplayer and deep social integration are probably the best two examples and games have only scratched the surface of how this will evolve over coming years. Ultimately games are social entertainment and there is a lot of yet untapped success lying in wait for those that design for this.