GamesBeat: As far as the imagination of developers, if I have a four-person team, and I’m thinking about making a pretty big game, traditionally I wouldn’t be able to even try to tackle any kind of large play space. How do you enable that, even with such a small team?
Narula: You’re outlining an important problem there. A few things are holding back small teams from building that kind of awesome game. The first is that normally, when you put a single-player game together, in a short time you can bash out some really rough gameplay to see what the experience could be like. You can find the fun, which is what developers want to do.
Doing that for an online game is almost impossible. You have to spend months building infrastructure before you can even start on gameplay that involves other people and allows you to find the fun on a scale that makes any kind of sense. We take that problem away. People are doing that right now. You can start finding the fun in an environment that has many people in it and has a lot of sophisticated stuff going on in the back-end to take care of things for you. You can begin prototyping more advanced ideas very quickly.
You also have to build out all the content. The kind of content you need to build often requires a larger team, which makes things more expensive. We can’t totally eliminate that problem. Creating art and building worlds will always take a lot of people. But we can make sure that if you do grow your team and do those things, you’ll be using those assets to do things that matter to the game. You can make art on top of proven gameplay.
We take over the financial risk of trying. You can bash out a game in month or two, like Lazarus, which is live right now. It’s a four-person team. They’ve had one programmer for most of its development cycle. It supports 3,000 users simultaneously in the same massive battle. They’re iterating and throwing in assets at the same time. They’ve made some modifications to the game to reduce the amount of content they have to build, but what they’re doing technically is very sophisticated and beyond what a small team could normally do.
We can’t take away the content problem, but we can allow people to innovate in other areas where it’s previously been very difficult. It’s a bit like what Unity did. We’re great admirers of Unity. They democratized one aspect of game development and allowed a generation of developers to innovate more quickly. We’re doing that for sophisticated online games. But more than that, we’re also enabling even the biggest devs to do cool new stuff as well. Some of the partnerships we’re going to announce are with larger, more traditional game developers.
GamesBeat: As far as all of the prep time, how have you guys spent your time to get to this point? It seems like you have some very good game companies trying it out, but only a few right now.
Narula: There’s much more going on than we’ve been able to announce yet. We’re hoping to increase the amount of public information and release things like dev diaries and examples of what people are doing. While we’ve been in development up until now, it’s been difficult for people to do things without a lot of support from us. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve been heads-down making this possible.
We also felt it was important to do something we could launch and release, something people could touch and feel and look at code with. When you think about things like new types of gameplay and crowd infrastructure, it’s difficult to just imagine what that could be like. We wanted to create something that let people see what that could be like. When we announce more studios and partnerships, you’ll see a lot more information about that very soon. You’ll see there’s quite a lot of traction already.
GamesBeat: It does seem like you’re in a space where it’s difficult work. Shinra Technologies shut down. MaxPlay couldn’t really get off the ground. What kind of lessons do you take into account there?
Narula: For us the play is a lot bigger than just gaming. We’re making an operating system that enables applications in all kinds of areas. The second thing for us is timing. A lot of what we’re doing wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago. It’s stuff we’ve built from scratch or that takes advantage of new developments that have just happened very recently.
A lot of those services, while very ambitious and cool in what they were trying to do, I think suffered from two flaws. One, they tried to do rendering remotely, which makes it very difficult to build games that people can play, because the rendering is remote and then being streamed in. We don’t do that. We have a conventional game engine running locally, doing the rendering locally, and creating the same game experience for everyone without latency in interaction.
Also, they made it very difficult for developers to build in those environments. Building in a distributed system is very challenging for lots of people, even if they’ve been doing it for years. We’ve tried hard to integrate existing engines so that people can develop very quickly. There’s always the issue of cost, too. We’re hoping that the Google partnership and other things we’re going to announce soon as far as pricing make this very attractive to developers.
GamesBeat: Where do you think your customers will be? Are they going to be playing games on PC, on console, on phones?
Narula: What’s cool is we’re completely platform agnostic. We have VR games in development, like HelloVR. We have mobile games in development. We have PC games in development. Console is pretty straightforward. You can even mix gameplay experiences. If we’re successful in changing the way people look at these types of games, we can find our way into a situation where every platform is just one view into a persistent world you engage with.
You can put on your VR headset at home and wander through an amazing landscape, and then when you leave the house your phone is showing you updates on what happens in that environment. When you get to work you can pull up your browser and follow the interactions in a Twitch stream kind of way and interact with the world in a spectator mode. All of that is possible with Spatial today, and we have a diversity of developers working on different kinds of games.
I encourage you to check out Lazarus, because it’s so strange to us. We never imagined that someone could make a game like that. We didn’t create this technology to support a 2D shooter, but someone’s made a 2D shooter with SpatialOS that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
GamesBeat: As you guys get through the engineering part, have you changed things much, or do you think you’ve kept the same vision along the way?
Narula: If anything, the vision has become even bigger. We see how many different kinds of developers are willing to embrace it. Now we’re very keen to see how we can take this even further. We have some awesome new things in mind, like additional engine integration, and others that we’re working on. We want to broaden this out more and more. We’re also seeing how we can help ecosystem partners and carve out a greater space for everyone by being a point of integration. Like we’re doing with engines and services, we become a great way for developers to access those things and bring them into their world.
I wish we’d gotten here sooner. There’s probably more demand than we can conceivably deal with right now. We’re trying very hard to scale.
GamesBeat: Remind me how you guys are going to make money.
Narula: It’s usage-based. We’ve put this on our site and we’re going to announce more details soon. Basically, you’ll pay for usage. You won’t need to buy servers or pay anyone else. You’ll just pay for usage. We’ll be very clear about this with developers. You’ll be able to plan very easily what your game will look like. Our costs will go down over time for lots of reasons. Even now it’s cheaper to use us than it is to build your own infrastructure in many cases.
The cost is also tied to instantaneous usage of your world. Unlike other systems, where you’ll have to rent a bunch of servers and maybe no one will play, with SpatialOS you only pay for exactly what’s happening right now. You can get it down to a very low cost depending on your type of game. Lazarus is cost-effective and it’s made by a team of four people. Worlds Adrift, which is also made by an indie studio, can be cost-effective. That should give a good indication of what’s possible for even an ambitious project like that.
Worlds Adrift is in continuous alpha right now. It’s going to stay live, we think, or have very rapid alphas. They’ve announced that they’re going to be launching to early access in Q1 of next year. They’re completely on track. Lazarus is in open development and live as well, and they’re likely to be announcing alpha very soon.