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The announcement follows last week’s 90% drop in prices for Azure PlayFab Party, which adds game chat and data communications to games. Microsoft acquired PlayFab three years ago and has been working to make its services more efficient.
PlayFab general manager James Gwertzman said in an interview with GamesBeat that the new pricing option is based on feedback from developers, who wanted more ways to develop their games and pay for services in the long lead-up to profitability.
In contrast to the previous $99-a-month plan, the new option has no minimum fee. Developers can choose to pay for only what they use, making it easier for game students and others to launch games.
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“Our engineers have been steadily making it more efficient for us to run ourselves,” Gwertzman said. “We’re already big by internally running chat for all of Xbox. And so by taking advantage of the efficiency of scale of that, and making it more efficient for us to run, we have an opportunity to drop the price pretty dramatically.”
Microsoft has been tweaking the prices for its Azure PlayFab service fairly regularly. Earlier this year, the company shifted to usage-based pricing. Before that, it had pricing based on monthly active users. On November 1, it will add the new pay-as-you-go plan with no monthly commitment.
This plan is an ideal choice when projecting future usage is difficult, Gwertzman said. As a game starts growing, developers can upgrade to the PlayFab Standard or PlayFab Premium plans, which reward higher usage with discounted rates.
Microsoft has made its Plan Recommendation calculator available to all customers so they can gauge which plan is best. Developers can access the Plan Recommendation calculator from within Game Manager by clicking the Update Account/Update Pricing buttons on the “My Studios and Titles” homepage or by clicking Change Plan on the Studio Settings page. Microsoft has also updated the Plan Selection page to allow developers to switch to any plan in the new pricing model.
“I see PlayFab as an onramp to the rest of Azure,” he said. “We’re making PlayFab even easier for game studios to use … for onboarding. You can now use PlayFab in a frictionless way.”
The long game
Gwertzman wants Azure to become the best cloud provider for game creators, beating out the likes of Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. PlayFab is one of the services inside of Azure and boasts customers like Hello Games, maker of No Man’s Sky. As Microsoft integrates Bethesda, which it is buying for $7.5 billion, PlayFab will likely provide services for more than 20 game studios under the Xbox banner.
“We’re able to leverage our experience in our internal studios to create services that then hopefully meet needs of the broader community,” Gwertzman said.
It’s not easy to figure out the percentage of revenues a developer will pay someone like PlayFab. Across the whole industry, cloud gaming services usually cost developers about 6% of revenue, Gwertzman said. Paying that fee can make sense for developers that want to offload lots of services and monetization tasks to PlayFab and concentrate on making their game, Gwertzman said.
But offering a pay-as-you-go plan is a way to help studios of all sizes get access to the services they need to grow their games. Microsoft doesn’t charge customers until their games go above 100,000 players.
“It’s not just for small guys, as we’re also simultaneously making a big push for bigger studios,” Gwertzman said. “If you’re a big studio, or if you’re a game developer inside of a big studio, and you’re working on a new project or you’re in the middle of a project, we want you to take a hard look at Azure.”
One result of the Azure PlayFab integration is that PlayFab’s services are now offered broadly via the larger corporation’s sales force. Gaming has become a vertical target for Azure services, alongside verticals for retail and manufacturing.
“Microsoft is continuing to focus more of our cloud investment on gaming, and gaming is moving from a side thing to being a core part of the overall cloud investment,” Gwertzman said. “This is a big deal because we’re taking it to the companywide level, where gaming is one of the top-priority industries.”
Microsoft helps game companies get onto different platforms and has aggressively pursued a cross-platform games strategy for the benefit of game developers, Gwertzman said.
“It was an easy decision for us to make the Xbox support cross-platform play,” he said. “It turns out it is not so simple on the technology side. We’ve been investing in the tools and services you need to be cross-platform. PlayFab Part is one example of that. We support Sony, Nintendo, and even Stadia. iOS has its challenges, but we support every major gaming platform. Our vision is still all about empowering game creators. We don’t ever want to be in the position of creating friction or barriers.”
To flesh out communities, PlayFab also has to figure out things beyond multiplayer, such as improving inclusivity and reducing toxicity, Gwertzman said.
“How do you monitor for harassing behavior? How do you optimize matchmaking so that players are having the most fun matches and not getting their butts kicked every time they go online?” he said. “That’s where we have a lot of investments with Xbox Live.”
As for challenges like game discovery, Gwertzman said moving into platforms such as Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass helps PlayFab get noticed by players. PlayFab is also exploring other ways to get noticed, such as performance marketing and user acquisition.
Gwertzman said he is excited about game technology being used to make films — like the use of the Unreal Engine to make The Mandalorian — as it’s one more community to focus on.
“I believe we’re already past the game services era,” Gwertzman said. “I think we’re now into the games community era, where games are trying to become communities and they’re trying to become ever more complete experiences for the players. If you look at Fortnite, you look at Flight Simulator, you look at Minecraft, these are not big games. These are games that are literally part of your life. And they’re all-encompassing. As games have become communities, the need for cloud services only grows.”
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