James Gwertzman spent eight years at PopCap Games, much of it in China, as the game industry went through many changes. The Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies developer’s own struggles to adapt to the new free-to-play game business spurred the idea for a new company, according to Geekwire.
Gwertzman’s PlayFab, a Seattle spinout from online game company Uber Entertainment, will provide the back-end infrastructure that mobile and online game companies need to support their free-to-play titles. The company is in the midst of raising a $2.5 million investment round.
PlayFab will provide services like data storage, friend lists, leaderboards, custom game server hosting, and in-game purchasing. Gwertzman told GamesBeat at the recent Game Developers Conference that most game studios don’t want to handle these tasks, which are critical to a 24-hour service but are very difficult to learn. PlayFab will offload the back-end work for its customers so they can concentrate on designing games.
Gwertzman, a 15-year game industry veteran, said, “I’m thrilled to be back in my own venture again.” PlayFab will focus on mobile, console, and PC online-game services.
The startup got going after Gwertzman gave a talk at a conference about why games fail on the back end. Uber executives heard him and thought that they could spin out their back-end services division as a startup. While PlayFab is just a couple of months old, Uber has worked on the technology for three years. Uber is one of the shareholders of PlayFab as well as a paying customer.
On the mobile side, PlayFab competes with rivals such as cross-platform service OpenKit (which provides social features for mobile games), whose team OpenFeint investor Peter Relan financed.
“We’re the only backend-as-a-service with great support for Steam on PC,” Gwertzman said. “If you look at the titles coming up from Uber Entertainment, we are hosting the back end for both.”
The titles include real-time strategy game Planetary Annihilation on the PC (which was one of the biggest Kickstarter campaigns in 2012) and multiplayer tower-defense game Toy Rush (which independent partner Tilting Point is publishing). PlayFab is also providing services for developer Edge of Reality’s LoadOut multiplayer shooter, which launched two months ago and hit the top 10 on Steam in its first week.
Gwertzman previously created another game studio, Sprout Games, that he sold to PopCap. He also founded developer Escape Factory.
PlayFab has four employees, and it is beginning to hire new folks.