This article was originally published on Medium on August 9, 2021.
We recently announced that AccelByte — which provides backend and tools for developing and operating live service games — closed our first ever funding: a $10M round led by Galaxy Interactive with participation by NetEase, Krafton, and Dreamhaven. We are very appreciative and thankful of the trust that our investors have in our team and long term vision.
We believe the future of the games industry will be stronger and better served by having many strong independent game studios. We hope to contribute to that vision by making triple-A quality backend platform tech and tools accessible to these studios.
Game teams within a large games studio or publisher often have access to scalable backend platform technology and tools. Large games studios and publishers invested a large amount of money over many years, and employed hundreds of online backend and tools engineers in central technology teams to build such platforms. The same large online team that builds, deploys, and operates this tech has also had years to become battle-hardened by the experience.
Unlike game teams that are part of large studios and publishers, independent games studios often don’t have access to this technology, or the engineering teams required to extend/customize, deploy and run it.
Since AccelByte started nearly five years ago, we have been developing and iterating our backend platform tech with our early customers and adopters. We have learnt a ton during this time. Some of the biggest lessons include:
- From the scalability point of view, backend platform tech is only as strong as its weakest links. It is extremely important to look at scaling holistically, from game clients to databases. We believe it is critical that backend tech is developed and deployed with strong collaboration with game teams.
- The complexity of scaling backend platforms from one title to multiple titles (within the same IP or new IPs) is often overlooked. By the time a title is successful, it is difficult, resource intensive, and time consuming to modify the tech it’s built on or adopt new tech. Doing so will also negatively impact the speed of delivering new features and content for existing titles, and potentially players’ experience as well.
- Backend platform tech should be customizable and extensible to fit the game. This allows the game client to stay ‘thin’ and nimble, and positions game teams better when it comes to iterating on player feedback and delivering new features and content.
- Migrating from one backend platform to another is difficult and time consuming, even during development. Migration effort and complexity for a live game grows exponentially.
- Games studios should have dedicated owned deployments (both for development and live players) that are extensible, customizable, and on the game studio’s time table. Game studios must own and have direct and timely access to their player and game data.
One of our key principles is that our solution has to be flexible enough to fit the game. To achieve this keeping in mind the lessons we learnt over the years, our solution has a few key qualities.
- It starts with a comprehensive set of features that not only covers game features such as cross-platform identity, profiles, progressions, matchmaking and other game features, but also publishing capabilities.
- The backend platform tech has to support multiple titles and enable crossover between titles.
- Each game studio should have its own set of deployments, not shared with other game studios.
- And last but not least: the backend has to be customizable and extensible.
Our backend platform tech is designed from the ground up to allow for additional features to be built on top of the platform. There are a few ways to extend and customize our platform:
- Through configuration, the game team can customize features like leaderboards, matchmaking, and cloud save.
- With server SDKs, game teams can build additional features on top of our existing platform features and capabilities. An example use case would be a unique progression system that is built using our server SDKs, that leverages the platform’s entitlement, identity, profile, and other features.
- Our platform tech consists of a foundational framework with multiple modules built on top of it. By forking our modules’ source code, game teams can customize at the source code level on modules that matter to them (without needing to worry about the underlying framework). A game team with unique cloud save requirements can fork our cloud save module code and use that at a starting point to build their unique cloud save feature.
We also believe that our backend platform tech needs to be accessible, affordable and helpful as early as possible in the game development life cycle. To that end, we are adding capabilities like bring-your-own-server, crash reporter, profiler, build distribution, and others. These capabilities need to be integrated with the rest of our platform tech, such that:
- An engineer can start their game server on her machine with debug mode, connected to our game server managers. QA can seamlessly start the game, connected to this debug-mode game server to help test a certain feature, identify and fix bugs.
- The crash reporter must support both game client and game servers. Furthermore, for each crash, the report should include information such as the players’ profile, progression, level, and even telemetry data and video leading up to the crash.
- The profiler must include not only resource consumption (CPU, memory, etc), but also the average length of play time, the cost of running the game servers, and information on how certain optimization efforts can reduce server cost.
- And more…
Finally, we believe we can be more helpful by providing professional engineering services to help game studios customize and extend our backend platform tech. We are also starting to look at partnerships that will see our partners adding more capabilities to our solution that will benefit our customers. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like to explore partnerships with us!
Success for us means making our tech accessible and affordable especially during development, working collaboratively with game studios early in their game development lifecycle — which hopefully means that our customers can put as much resources directly into the game itself. Working with game studios early will also ensure that the game can scale, both in terms of player count as well as faster iteration for releasing new features. With the game’s success, more successful games can be built, which hopefully result in strong, lasting independent game studios.
And we won’t stop here. We are working on ideas to allow our game studios customers to federate, because independent game studios supporting one another is key for the long term health of the game industry. Please reach out if you have ideas or would like to work on this! :-)