Presented by Beamable

Games were once a product, but now they are a live experience. And while “games as a service” aren’t entirely new, the realities of the market have changed dramatically.

First, the market of players has changed. Whereas once players expected frequent crises as games go live and struggled with demand, there are now far more players, and they all expect reliability and stability. Second, it’s become harder to build a live services team. Athough capital has poured into game development, these dollars chase after an increasingly scarce supply of LiveOps, DevOps, and server technology expertise — and the broader market of SaaS and cloud-based infrastructure vendors compete for the same talent pool.

In many ways, the state of LiveOps in 2022 mirrors what a lot of game studios struggled with a decade ago, when 3D engine technology was still making its way into most peoples’ hands. We used to code with DirectX, and you’d hire people with expertise in matrix math, quaternions, and shader graph programming. The problem then was not about simply providing APIs to this technology, but the complexity of the workflow. The 3D engines that succeeded figured out that it was about simplifying the workflow and democratizing access to the technology — not simply providing low-level SDKs.

One can also find this technological innovation outside of games. Web-based content management platforms replaced coding websites from scratch; off-the-shelf platforms like Shopify largely replaced coding an online store from the ground up.

Yet there are also substantial differences: LiveOps for games is simply a lot harder to create an improved workflow for. Not only do you have the complexity of a 3D engine providing the experience-layer to the player — you have a wide variety of content, target platforms, data systems, code and player segmentations. You have major disconnects in debugging, deployment, monitoring, and authoring environments. Tools simply haven’t evolved at the rate of innovation that games themselves have advanced — which has turned too many game development teams into full-time systems integrators.

Most established game studios have taken on these challenges by investing in tooling, authoring pipelines and dashboards that streamline parts of the process. But the challenge is always that the problems exist at a lower level.

Adopting a first-principles approach

A first-principles approach to LiveOps is needed to help game companies return to the joy and simplicity of operating their games — shifting their technology and creativity efforts back towards the things that matter: amazing experiences, unique features that players love, novel social experiences, great storytelling, and so forth.

The following principles can shift developers away from the “Move Slow and Break Things” mode of game development, towards “Move Fast and Scale Things.” Ideally, these principles are incorporated from the earliest stages of a game project’s development:

  • Native authoring. Allow developers to create content in the native environments where they work (Unity developers code all game behaviors in Unity; game designers work inside spreadsheets, etc.). The authoring environment ought to be supported by visual tooling (such as prefabs in Unity) that allow off-the-shelf live services components to be readily integrated.
  • Integrated workflow. Shift from ad hoc “do-it-yourself” workflows towards integrated systems for the entire DevOps lifecycle which connects the authoring process directly to deployment, processes for setting up development workstations, versioning, and production.
  • Serverless. Game teams should not need to provision hosts, set up load balancers, configure networking — either for development, test, or production environments.
  • Microservices. Microservices can scale elegantly within a serverless environment, provide isolation between formerly interdependent components — and if built around the right technology, can provide integrated debugging, easy developer-machine, integrated versioning and deployment through the entire game’s lifecycle. Microservices can also provide a more composable architecture that lets games benefit from the creativity of others, both on your team and across the wider ecosystem of game development.
  • DevOps to NoOps to LiveOps. The focus should not be on the backend workflows and systems integration involving various components and steps. Automation should “just work.” Teams are more powerful when they can shift their focus to LiveOps: the management of player experiences and relationships, social systems, content updates and events. Dashboards and monitoring systems ought to instantiate as live modules like guild systems, purchasing environments, and leaderboards are deployed.

Developers who succeed will leverage the above principles to become more agile and capital efficient: focusing on creativity instead of plumbing; iteration instead of integration; “learning at scale” instead of reacting to scale.

The coming years are an exciting time for game developers. More games are coming to market than ever before. Games are being created with more sophisticated economies and social systems; some are even becoming “creator economies.” Games that were previously thought of as single-player are also adding social structures to amplify their communities and marketing efforts.

And game-adjacent “metaverses” are springing forth that build atop the same technology stack that game developers have familiarized themselves with over the years. In a market that will be defined by intense competition for customer attention as well as developer talent — it is those who master fast, efficient, and effective practices who will succeed.

The workflow that game engines brought to game development a decade ago sparked a renaissance in the games industry as a whole. Today’s LiveOps technologies will power a similar acceleration of the market for games built around live services.

Beamable is a Live Services platform that implements a “Build Fast and Scale Things” approach to LiveOps. Learn how Unity developers can get started with a single line of code in the Beamable Technology White Paper.

Jon Radoff is CEO at Beamable.

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