Today a majority of games, including PC, Console and now VR, are online in some capacity. As players now expect some form of multiplayer interactivity as standard, the way games are created has to accommodate this, becoming progressively more complicated by the day. Working on gameplay is only one part of a very intricate jigsaw of the development process and because of this, developers must put a great deal of thought into how their games are supported behind the scenes.

FreeBlade

The heightened importance of social interaction within modern games as the impetus for driving active long-term customer relationships through engagement, retention and user acquisition has forced games to be heavily dependent on an ever expanding list of server-side components. To tackle this, developers are faced with two possible strategies: building and maintaining their own server from the ground up, or enlisting the help of a Backend-as-a-Service such as GameSparks.

Leading BaaS solutions ease the development process by providing developers with one single integrated tool to build all of the server-side components of their games. By doing all of the heavy lifting on the on the server-side, GameSparks facilitates social and multiplayer, meta-game and achievement systems, and the capabilities needed to manage and optimise a game post-launch, such as analytics, live game operations, segmentation and much more.

Although it is possible for a developer to build their own server-side tech from scratch, all studios, from the smaller indie to the triple-A giants, are constrained by time, money and attention. Dedicating an infrastructure team and multiple server developers could be seen as an inefficient use of resources, especially when you take players focus into consideration. Server-side components are utterly essential to a successful game, but in most cases are invisible to players and, if executed well, go unnoticed during the game experience.

GBR tech writer Rita Turkowski chatted with the folks from Gamesparks after GDC regarding their competition and what the impending closure of Parse might mean for GameSparks. Ellie Lawson, PR for Gamesparks, weighs in.

RT: How is GameSparks different from the competition?

EL: There are numerous service offerings in the BaaS market, most of which provide basic functionality such as push messaging and in-app purchases. However, GameSparks offers the most complete set of back-end tools, supplying developers with a one-stop-shop to build and manage the entire server-side of their games.

Many competitive services are highly prescriptive, leaving developers with little flexibility to tailor their services to meet the specific requirements of their games. At GameSparks, we never make developers’ decisions for them. We provide a highly-customisable toolkit which contains first-class features such as Leaderboards, Challenges, Realtime, Social Network Integrations, Economies and Player Management that can all be managed – if required – just through configuration. The power of GameSparks is that all of these features can then be extended and customised with server-side code. Developers can also create their own custom API if they require functionality outside of these first-class features.

GameSparks is currently the only contender to provide a powerful Test Harness that enables developers to test and debug all configuration alterations in a completely isolated sandbox before making any changes available to end users.

Post-launch, GameSparks also offers a comprehensive suite of Live Game Operations tools. Our analytics allow publishers and operations staff to monitor and tune a game in real-time, so maximizing player engagement, retention and ultimately monetisation.

RT: Who do you perceive is your closest competitor?

EL: The biggest opposition for GameSparks has always been self-supply, with developers questioning whether to build or buy. Although it is possible for a studio to build and maintain their own back-end from the ground up, after weighing up the time, talent and financial costs, it is often not an efficient use of resources.

Those wanting to build and maintain a back-end independently would have to employ an infrastructure team, as well as a whole host of developers, diverting talent away from more player focused tasks. GameSparks has dedicated over three years and an ever expanding team to constantly care for and expand the rich feature-set that we have to offer. When you consider the benefits of employing a comprehensive third-party solution such as GameSparks, the decision between build or buy is no longer difficult.

In addition to our broad feature set, GameSparks is the only multi-cloud BaaS, delivering complete peace of mind to all users. By hosting games on both Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (and soon Google Compute Engine), GameSparks is entirely dependable, reliably providing constant uptime and security whilst easily scaling alongside any game’s player base.

To top this, GameSparks is also leading the way in terms of global coverage. Our services are deployed in a number of geographic regions, including the recent addition of mainland China. Having several geographical regions increases the efficiency of customer’s games. Giving users the option to position their games in the most appropriate place according to their player base accelerates both speed and performance, ensuring a great game experience for players.

RT: Has there been any impact on GameSparks with the impending closure of Parse?

EL: The closure of Parse was a shock to many and may have caused significant disruption with some beginning to question the robustness of the sector, and although we’re sad to see Parse leave, we see their departure as an evolutionary moment for BaaS.

Parse helped to create the roots for the BaaS market. However, the sector has since continued to mature. App and game development requirements are becoming more extensive all the time and demand is increasing for a more flexible and comprehensive toolset. The impending closure of Parse has opened a window of opportunity for its users, driving them to migrate to a more powerful and fit-for-purpose BaaS that is capable of meeting their demands as well as unlocking functionality that was previously unattainable.

There are numerous contenders in the BaaS sector, yet many prescribe the way in which developers are able to use their tools. The GameSparks platform is inherently flexible and entirely customisable, allowing its customers to mold and build upon all core functionality using the powerful custom Cloud Code tool to create anything imaginable. This, along with best-in-class support systems and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) deployment from both Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure allows GameSparks to scale comfortably and reliably with any game’s player base, meaning developers enjoy peace of mind as their thoughts become a gaming reality.

GameSparks

GBR Insight: While we see a mini-plethora of back-end cloud services available to game developers not wishing to develop and support their own back-end (see here for a good list), GameSparks has an opportunity to grab significant market share from developers wanting to use their customer Cloud Code tool and independent development sandbox for back-end feature sets not yet imagined and/or implemented by similar services.