PlayFab wants to shake things up in game development, and it is starting by shaking itself up.
Today, the company is making its basic backend services available to game developers for free. PlayFab offloads the work of creating infrastructure for connected online PC and mobile games, allowing developers to focus on making the games themselves. The company hopes this service will become very useful as the $91 billion game market gets more and more complicated.
Previously, PlayFab charged for the backend service, based on how many players a game had. Now it will instead launch the PlayFab Services Marketplace and take a cut from the transactions as developers adopt third-party services available in the market.
“This is the most significant change we’ve made as a company,” said James Gwertzman, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We’re like Salesforce for games.”
Gwertzman said 24 third-party services are already available in the Services Marketplace. PlayFab has done the heavy lifting of integrating those services into its backend infrastructure so they are available for game developers to tap in their games. The integrated third-party partners include Kochava, Innervate, and Appuri.
Thirty live games use PlayFab, including Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech. That mech-battler uses the Innervate service to boost retention and engagement of players.
“BattleTech is one of the biggest games we’ve ever made. We wanted to focus our resources on game play and design, and not on building a backend from scratch,” said Jordan Weisman, CEO of Harebrained Schemes, in a statement. “PlayFab offered everything we needed, not just the operations tools and multiplayer support, but also integrations with services like Innervate which we are using for our community web platform.”
The PlayFab backend service is designed to combat “SDK fatigue,” or the chore of having a game’s engineers continuously update software development kits for third-party services (such as analytics) for a connected game. PlayFab takes the SDKs and pre-integrates them into its own backend. It adds them to its Services Marketplace. Then developers can use them with a simple click on a dashboard menu, Gwertzman said.
“Developers don’t want to become systems integrators for SDKs,” Gwertzman said.
He said the Services Marketplace will make game developers far more productive.
“A great community site is a lot more than just forums,” said Adam Lieb, CEO of Innervate, in a statement. “Before PlayFab, integrating with a game’s backend was the most expensive and time consuming part of launching a new site, keeping it out of the reach of most developers. But with the PlayFab Marketplace, our team was able to do a one-time integration with PlayFab’s platform, and now can seamlessly deliver community tools for any game built on PlayFab in just hours. This allows us to open up the benefits of higher player retention and engagement to a much wider group of developers than we could ever afford to reach before.”
PlayFab also has enterprise services available for larger game companies, and it charges for that service. Gwertzman said that between revenue from those larger enterprise companies and the cut from the services marketplace, PlayFab can be profitable.
As for why the company made the basic service free, Gwertzman said that developers who believed their games would take off quickly thought the fee paid to PlayFab, based as it was on numbers of users, would be too expensive.
“We took the friction out of the equation,” Gwertzman said.
On top of that, Gwertzman said, “We want to be competitive with the world’s best backends. Like Machine Zone or Supercell. The only way we can do that is to scale.”
PlayFab has customers who have about 1 million day active users and 20 million registered players to date.