Presented by Beamable
“Shots on goal” is my main advice to game developers: it’s a hard-won lesson I’ve learned from shipping my own games to millions of players. The more creative iterations you give yourself on a game project, the better your chance to earn an enduring audience.
Since I shipped the Beamable Live Ops platform, it’s given me the opportunity to connect with thousands of other game developers. The patterns I’ve seen reinforce that time invested towards creativity and experimentation is critical. At the start of 2023, these conversations tend to involve these three trends:
- How to focus teams on the most valuable aspects of game development
- The impact of generative artificial intelligence breakthroughs
- The importance of building customer networks based on long-term lifetime value
In this article, I’ll review some of what I’ve observed and share my perspective on meeting the challenges of 2023.
1. Full-stack productivity
Recent months have seen an astonishing flurry of generative artificial intelligence breakthroughs. The buzz is warranted because AI will speed important aspects of game development, while introducing novel forms of player interaction. All of this is transpiring against a broader trend of acceleration across most disciplines within game development. By focusing on creative output — without getting bogged down on undifferentiated technologies and implementation details — smaller teams can build games faster and dream bigger.
Technologies are improving up-and-down the technology stack, from the 3D engine down to the cloud-based infrastructure used to deliver live games.
On the 3D graphics front, there have been amazing leaps forward with real-time ray tracing. NVIDIA’s latest ray tracing demos present a view into what future games will look like as hardware-based ray tracing reaches the consumer. Unreal 5 features Nanite and Lumen, which enable complicated geometry and lighting on already-available consumer devices. The improvements in player experience are obvious; what’s less apparent is how shifting to a more physics-based model for 3D graphics frees developers to work on higher-value content, eliminating annoying and time-consuming steps during the development process.
Likewise, developers who aspire to create online games for millions of players no longer need to deploy their capital building and scaling custom backends. Platforms like Beamable give you all the benefits of a comprehensive Live Ops platform, while making the process joyful for your development team: developers use drag-and-drop tooling inside their favorite game engine, and leverage their investment in familiar game development languages.
2. Generative artificial intelligence
You’ve already seen and heard about generative AI: graphics coming from tools like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion; the text generated inside ChatGPT; or programming tools like GitHub Copilot. Although the outputs are not usually immediately shippable, they’re nevertheless accelerating ideation and iteration at a number of studios. Most efforts are at Level 3 or below, but most studios ought to consider how they’ll level-up their generative capabilities in the coming year.
These productivity enhancements continue a long trend from game development in procedural generation, and the dynamic nature of AI may lead to creating more interesting content in the cases where procgen has reached its limits.
AI can enhance productivity, but it will also become a part of the core loop of many games: products like AI Dungeon have already done this. I also expect to see more generative tools integrated into modding tools. All of this will unlock new ways for players to express themselves while playing. Because most of this will feature novel game systems — much of which won’t be quite right the first time (or the second, or the third) — it is the studios who focus on rapid iteration and creativity who will succeed.
3. Building an audience to last
Many game developers have felt the increasing difficulty of acquiring the right customers. Many factors have been at work: power concentrated in a small number of effective distribution channels; the continuing impact of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) changes, which made it harder to profitably acquire customers through mobile performance marketing; and the ever-increasing number of choices that players have to choose great games and other forms of media.
Some studios reduced their mobile marketing budgets, and others left mobile entirely. Others turned to emerging business models, such as subscription-based “Game Pass” models that work for some studios — but also places much content in a long-tail that’s frequently harder to monetize. A few bold studios set out to build blockchain games, with the lure of funding, and access to new customer populations, and new economic models. Others doubled-down on community-building, using social technology such as Discord to form hubs for their players to connect with each other.
The common thread through most changes with customer acquisition is the realization that customer relationships cannot easily be delegated to someone else: not to an app store, a game distribution network or even to many publishers. Building a game requires one to understand how to make entertainment based on deep insights into an audience’s tastes and expectations. This is learned through constant iteration and a willingness to engage directly with a game’s community. Furthermore, games benefit enormously when the community sticks around for a long time.
For publishers who already have deep networks of customers and many games to offer them, it is critical to implement systems that take advantage of your content fortress: for example, implementing cross-promotion to leverage data across owned-and-operated games.
For developers focused on individual games, it is more important than ever to form a direct relationship with customers, enabling live operations staff to take actions to message, launch events and structure experiments for the community.
For everyone, an authentic connection between the game development process and the players who will pay for the game is an attempt to learn, to experiment and to cultivate a paying audience who will last.
In the new era, publishers will deploy technologies that aggregate and improve customer relationships across all their products. The advantages are numerous: by having a platform to truly own their customer relationships, developers reinforce their brand, leverage data across their network of customers, and implement cross-selling, cross-game currencies, loyalty programs and custom game launchers.
The key in all this is empowering individuals: it must be easy for live operations staff to take actions within their games; and it must be easy for game developers to add live functionality into the games they’re building. Achieving both goals is challenging, because the former is about capabilities and user interface; the latter is about workflow and engineering simplicity.
Perhaps that is why these platforms have often involved multi-year, capital-intensive development efforts (such as Blizzard Activision’s Battle.net). Fortunately, there are now platforms that make it possible for any game publisher to launch their own Battle.net.
2023 is going to be an exciting year for gaming as we see these trends take hold and open up new frontiers of creativity. Let me know what you think; as a game-maker myself, I’m excited to tackle the challenges of our ever-changing industry. That’s why I created Beamable: to build games efficiently, to focus on creativity and react to change more rapidly.
To learn more about how Beamable can help you assemble your own Live Ops ecosystem for one game or one thousand, stop by Beamable Private Cloud.
Jon Radoff is CEO at Beamable.
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