Ditching a career in medicine to start a LAN-based events company isn’t the most traditional way of getting into the games industry, but over the last two decades Multiplay founder Craig Fletcher has managed to turn his family-run firm into one of the biggest and most renowned event producers and game service providers in the world.
Based out of Southampton, Multiplay started out hosting a small series of LAN events known as Insomnia. Today, Insomnia is the biggest gaming festival in the UK, and following a buy-out from GAME in 2015, it’s since gone on to host the servers for Respawn’s Titanfall 2 and Ready At Dawn’s Deformers. It’s also just launched a new rental arm for gaming hardware – a move that events director Andy Smith (pictured far right next to events director Paul Manuel) tells us has been a long time coming for the company.
“We have run both our own and third-party events for many years,” he says. “With this comes expertise and knowledge in not only the best products for each sort of activation, but also what is really important for event organisers. We have actually always carried out this kind of service and decided that now was the right time to openly market the fact we do. Whether it is part of a fully-fledged ‘white label’ event such as Minecon or dry hiring out kit to product launches, our most valuable asset is our staff who have a wealth of experience and expertise in tech.
“We have the capabilities to take a job from initial enquiry right through to break down following the event, with all the knowledge that covers every single element in between. Our team is also wonderfully flexible and can quickly adapt to ensure that the client gets everything they require – after all, no event is the same. We are a gaming company at our core and always will be, but this arm of the business is open to the whole events and exhibitions industry. We have already serviced some big name events outside of the gaming industry, and look forward to our next challenge.”
Indeed, having just won the contract for the UK’s Brick Live event, those names don’t come much bigger than Lego: “Being involved in world class gaming events is becoming something of a habit and is central to our future strategy,” Smith continues. “Minecon has also gone from strength to strength since we’ve been involved and it is currently the world’s largest single-game convention.”
Of course, the jewel in Multiplay’s events crown is still Insomnia, which just celebrated its 60th show in the UK (dubbed i60) and its second outing in Ireland: “Insomnia went from an annual footfall of roughly 65,000 a year to around 140,000 in the space of 18 months and we’re hugely proud of that,” says Smith.
“Being involved in world class gaming events is becoming a habit and is central to our future strategy.”
Andy Smith, Multiplay
“i60 was arguably our finest event ever, it embodied the evolving nature of gaming events but in a way that perfectly suited our audience. The best talent was there along with the largest Easter LAN event ever and the world-class Call of Duty World League eSports tournament. We also managed to introduce a new theme this time – music – that proved to be hugely popular. We will continue to add new themes to each show and rotate them through events, ensuring that, while gaming is at the centre of all we do, we have something for everyone."
SERVING A PURPOSE
Building communities around physical events isn’t Multiplay’s only speciality, though, as the company’s server hosting business has also formed the backbone of many online communities as well, including Tripwire’s Killing Floor 2 and Bohemia’s DayZ. However, as most developers and publishers have traditionally done their own hosting, Multiplay’s digital director Paul Manuel tells us that breaking into this part of the industry was far from easy.
“Part of the challenge has been making sure people know we exist and that there is now an option to fully outsource server hosting and live-ops to a specialist gaming company,” says Manuel.
“Over the last two years, we have been laser-focused on bringing a unique proposition to the enterprise market. Server capacity planning is an age-old problem for multiplayer game launches – scaling games quickly, reliably and without breaking the bank is not easy. Still today, hardly a week goes by without a game hitting the news for server issues. Our goal was to solve that problem once and for all, and now I believe we have.”
Enter Multiplay’s hybrid cloud orchestration service, created especially for the release of Titanfall 2: “It was the first title to be launched on our cloud orchestration platform,” Manuel continues.
“We can now automatically scale globally, across bare metal servers, and multiple clouds including Google Cloud, AWS and soon Microsoft Azure. Titanfall 2 has been a major success story in respect to the server hosting and without doubt has raised Multiplay’s profile.”
Indeed, the next company to coming knocking at Multiplay’s door was the team behind 2015’s PS4 exclusive The Order: 1886, Ready At Dawn, who wanted a partner for the launch of its next title, Deformers.
“Our approach with Ready At Dawn was no different to how we win most of our business,” says Manuel. “It comes down to two things – firstly, the Multiplay team is not only deeply passionate about games, but we have 15 years of experience of hosting hundreds of games and a highly consultative approach where we put the developer’s needs first.
“Secondly, our technology stack is built for purpose. We only host games and that’s precisely what our platform is built to do. Having access to bare metal and multiple clouds all via a single API means developers no longer have to choose one tech over the other. They get the best of both worlds, blending the affordability of bare metal, with the scalability of cloud.
“Games don’t always need to be launched in a blaze of glory, they can steadily grow through continuous iteration and new content. From Multiplay’s perspective, we get just as excited launching a new IP as we do managing an established title. In either case, our job is the same; to ensure that the dedicated servers are the furthest thing from the gamer’s mind. We want them to enjoy the game, free of lag, exactly how the developers intended.”
The flexibility of Multiplay’s toolset is another reason why partners from around the world are attracted to this UK company.
“The exact same features used by Respawn for Titanfall 2 are made available to all our customers,” explains Manuel. “Thanks to the way we have structured our API, the integration steps into our systems are relatively simple. How simple or complex the developer chooses to make the matchmaker however is entirely up to them.
“Where we do like to focus, however, is assisting the developers with pre-launch testing. Their matchmaker is just as important as our game servers, so we want to see it forced through a series of eventualities and stress test situations to ensure the whole chain holds up end-to-end. For a large launch, we are very hands on and would likely set up a war room alongside the customer.
“Games don't always need to be launched in a blaze of glory, they can steadily grow through continuous iteration and new content.”
Paul Manuel, Multiplay
“We’re not pretending to be ‘the cloud’ – Google, Microsoft and AWS are doing a perfectly good job of that. What we are doing is deep exploration into how to best harness the cloud, knitting the clouds together to create a single fabric for game servers, and providing developers with a toolset that massively simplifies the adoption of this infrastructure.”
Despite having won so much success in recent years, Smith says Multiplay isn’t one to rest on its laurels. The company is already in discussions with “a number of partners” over what new events it might introduce to the market over the next 12 months, and the digital division is only set to go from strength to strength as more publishers and developers choose to extend the life of their titles with substantial online components.
“As our digital services business continues to solidify its growing reputation, our events team is expanding its horizons to look at exciting new challenges for us to get our teeth into,” says Smith.
“Insomnia will continue to grow and bring more ground-breaking content to our legions of gaming fans, but we’re also looking to put the Multiplay stamp of expertise on other UK events. As long as our partners are committed to delivering world-class experiences and are truly focused on their respective communities, then we’re game.”