What is Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS)?
Backend as a Service can be a confusing term. In GameSparks, it means providing developers with everything they need from the server-side on a pay as you go basis. There are a number of key things here. The first is the scope of what a Backend as a Service should offer. Effectively, it should give the developer a full set of server-side components so that they can plug their game into it easily saving a lot of development time. Secondly, it should give the developer control over the server-side components so that they can do whatever they want and not be limited by our interpretation of what a particular component should do. It should be flexible, allowing them to build on what the core offering already provides. Next, it should abstract the server and underlying network tiers so that the developer does not have to worry about scalability and finally, it is about making a sophisticated server-side capability affordable and tied into the success of the game in question.
What services should game developers expect from BaaS?
GameSparks provides an end-to-end server side capability to games developers. At its core, our platform offers developers with the building blocks they need to create the server-side of their games: cloud data to create metadata and runtime collections, cloud code to build their own logic and server-side rules, messaging and push notifications, binary data storage, localisation and finally, analytics to track game performance and optimise as required. On top of the core offering, we provide a set of social features which are integrated into other third party networks; leaderboards, player chat, multiplayer etc. We also provide a set of features around managing economies; virtual goods, currencies, segmentation and achievements.
We provide developers with a comprehensive set of SDKs for the key games devices, platforms and game engines, including (but not limited to) Unity, Marmalade, UnrealEngine, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8, and C++. This broad compatibility helps studios deliver cross-OS and cross-platform reach.
Finally, all of this is done through an online Integrated Development Environment (IDE) which provides the developer with the integrated tools to configure, build, test and then manage all of the server side components of their game. Our tool is the most advanced on the market for games and we are often referred to as ‘the Unity of the server-side’.
How important are social features for a game?
There’s quietly been an architectural revolution in the way games are made, particularly in the mobile sphere, but with similar trends in the console and PC space. Essentially this is about games becoming dependent on server-side components (even if they continue to be heavily client-oriented). There are a number of drivers for this. Partly this is about the increasing importance of social (including multiplayer) to drive engagement, retention and acquisition – rather than talking about social games as a distinct category, it’s more useful now to think about the trend being towards all categories becoming more social. But it’s also about the evolution of business models, where in-game revenue streams (like advertising and the sale of virtual goods) have become more important. And about the need to cope with a fragmented distribution environment, now that there are so many different platforms and stores, some of which are walled gardens and all of which set version control and release overhead challenges. And it’s also about a mindset shift from product thinking (where the target was unit sales, and the game is largely in its final form at release) to service thinking (where the target is active customer relationships, and where the game evolves significantly post release).
Why is good back-end technology important for game developers?
These architectural trends make life more difficult for the developer. They have all the challenges they previously had about making a great game. And now on top of that they need to get on top of new server-side disciplines that are increasingly vital for success. Good backend technology becomes very important – it’s not just about delivering the server-side features, it’s about how that’s achieved. You need reliable, scalable, flexible, well-maintained server-side tools, without distracting too much time and resource away from the tasks that matter most – making and managing great games.
Do developers get this? The more established certainly do. It makes things much harder for the indies though as it means they need to have server-side skills as well as client-side – and many of them do not have this experience. GameSparks exists to help the indies and level the playing field by bringing enterprise grade server–side capability to them on an affordable basis.
Build or Buy?
Games developers are generally very smart people and love to do everything themselves. However, companies, more generally, tend towards self build when there is an absence of the right products & services at the right prices. The supplier ecosystem has developed over recent years. There are strong backend offerings for games developers and all studios – large and small – should give some of these services real consideration. In GameSparks, we have an offering tailored for the Indies which is about bringing them a lot of functionality at great prices and making it simple for them to use. However, we also deal with a lot of the larger publishers and larger studios which have a significant internal server-side capability. We have developed our offering specifically for these companies by offering dedicated clusters and opening up our platform so that they can use bits and pieces of it to augment their existing backends that they may have started building themselves. Its no longer one or the other. For complex games with huge player bases running into the many millions the costs of server-side technology can run high not to mention the cost of development and the amount of time it takes. Most companies should look at what they can get from an external supplier now especially as they can be integrated with existing internal capabilities.
For companies that do go ahead and develop their own backend they need to think about the burden of ongoing maintenance. Using a 3rd party can help with both lowering the ongoing maintenance cost and giving access to new functionality on an ongoing basis at a lower cost. In GameSparks we are constantly evolving the platform and adding in lots more features and functionality. It would be hard for an internal company to achieve this rate of change and do it for the prices we charge.
The games industry is going through significant changes that give rise to the need for more sophisticated backend tools to help developers make their games more social and to operate them more successfully. Previously these tools did not exist but now they do. Platforms, like GameSparks, have now emerged to provide developers with a suite of tools to help them build and run the server-side components of their games allowing them to focus on the game play itself. Whether a studio is large or small there is an increasing reliance on server-side components for managing payers, making the game more social and optimising the in-game economy. Developers need to choose wisely, however, as games can be demanding on backend resources and many of the first generation generic application platforms are not up to performance demands that today’s games require. Try GameSparks right now for free to see how it can transform your game with these capabilities.