PlayFab's Gwertzman: 'No one should have to build their own backend' - MCV

PlayFab's Gwertzman: 'No one should have to build their own backend'

We find out more about what's included in PlayFab's new Free Tier service and why the backend firm is making these tools available to all
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PlayFab, a provider of backend services for games developers, has just launched a Free Tier, giving studios unlimited access to many of those aforementioned services.

With so much emphasis on live game operations in today's market – particularly on mobile and PC, but increasingly on console as well – studios need to be able to ensure their title runs smoothly. But the infrastructure required to support such titles can be daunting for developers whose main goal is to create games.

PlayFab thinks its Free Tier is the answer. We caught up with founder and CEO James Gwertzman to find out more about what's included in this new service.

Why is PlayFab launching a Free Tier? What does it include?

Successful studios that don’t yet have a backend for their game sometimes worry that they can’t afford one. The Free Tier is our answer to that. We’ve taken a few of our most useful features and are offering them for free to anyone in the game industry who wants to use them. We know that using a platform like ours will help our customers boost their engagement, monetization, and retention.

Our new Free Tier includes receipt verification, real-money purchasing, authentication and server-side player and title data. These are the basic building blocks of an effective live game operations strategy.

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How will these tools help developers monetize their games and retain their audiences?

Players have figured out that games with no backend can be easily hacked. One of the most common types of fraud is to present fake receipts that the game has no way of verifying. Our receipt verification services patches that hole by ensuring that purchases are real and unique.

With our cross-platform authenticated logins and our server-side player data, you can let players enjoy your game across multiple devices and have their gameplay data travel with them, helping with retention.

Server-side title data is great because it makes it so much easier for developers to tune their games after launch and roll out new content without forcing players to update. But if you have to recertify each time you make a change, you’re just not going to take advantage of that. Server-side title data eliminates that hurdle and lets you build that relationship with your players.

What limits are there? What’s missing when compared to your paid tiers?

With the Free Tier, you get the basic building blocks: authentication, receipt verification, real-money purchasing, and server-side player and title data. For developers with no backend at all, these features provide immediate benefits.

Then, one of the great things about the Free Tier is that additional tools can easily be integrated into the platform when developers are ready – before, during, or after launch. To get the full benefit of having a live game, you also need all the other features we provide in our paid tiers, including virtual currencies and virtual items, leaderboards and friends lists, advanced analytics, multiplayer support, custom server-side game logic, and more. At no point does a developer need to tap into these paid features, but they can add a layer of sophistication and directly impact engagement.

Also, while the Free Tier is ALWAYS free – no matter how many players a game has – we do have some limits around data storage: User data is limited to 10 key-value pairs at 10kb each, and global title data to 10 key-value pairs at 1kb each. There’s still a lot you can do with that, however. We also limit API requests to 10 per player per minute, but that’s way more than enough for most games.

Live game operations is such a new field that many developers don’t really know how to create an effective live games strategy. There’s way more information out there today on topics like building AI or tuning a graphics pipeline than there is about operating your game post-launch. 

What plans do you have to build on the Free Tier in future?

One of the places where we’re making a big investment today is in education. Live game operations is such a new field that many developers don’t really know how to create an effective live games strategy. There’s way more information out there today on topics like building AI or tuning a graphics pipeline than there is about operating your game post-launch.

You’re going to see us publish a lot of helpful information in coming months on live game operations best practices and how to use the features in our Free Tier to operate your games more successfully – then how to upgrade if you’re ready to use more sophisticated features.

Also we’ll continue to listen very closely to the game development community. The whole idea of the Free Tier was inspired by our developers. I expect we’ll continue to evolve this tier based on the experience and needs of our first wave of adopters.

What support will be available to Free Tier devs? How will PlayFab be sharing their experience?

Anyone using our Free Tier will have access to free support via our web site. We have an active set of forums where we answer questions, and developers can submit tickets if they think they’ve found a bug or have a confidential question. And of course we also have full API and SDK documentation, step-by-step guides and sample code.

We’ve also found that there’s a significant gap in knowledge when it comes to live games operations, so in addition to a lot of hands-on work helping developers with our platform – we’re also working on a larger education initiative headed up by experienced professionals focused on industry best practices.

How does PlayFab’s Free Tier fit in with the ongoing democratization of games tools?

We’re very proud to be part of the overall trend of making the latest and greatest technology available to everyone, especially small indie developers who are driving so much creativity and innovation in the industry today.

Almost no one builds their own game engine from scratch anymore, and we don’t think they should have to build their own backend either. When developers are freed from having to spend time and resources reinventing the wheel, they can focus more energy on the game itself, and on creating their live ops strategy. And because these tools are now available to so many people, it means the next great game could come from almost anywhere.

Almost no one builds their own game engine from scratch anymore, and we don’t think they should have to build their own backend either. When developers are freed from having to spend time and resources reinventing the wheel, they can focus more energy on the game itself.

Why do you think we’re seeing so many tools being made available for free?

I really think it starts with the massive switch to cloud-based services. Once you’ve solved certain problems and created scalable solutions, the cloud means you can offer them to customers for very little additional cost. And if you’re in an industry that’s constantly evolving like games, there’s so much to be gained by having a ton of people using your service, even if they’re not paying you. We’ve already learned so much by working with our current developers, and we look forward to that continuing.

Monetization and retention is increasingly difficult in the mobile games space. What advice would you give to developers? What’s the secret to success?

Monetization and retention are actually straightforward, once you have the right strategy and tools. Start with the basics: Build a high quality experience. Know your players, and know how they’re actually playing your game. Know where they’re spending time in your game, what they enjoy the most, and tune and tweak the experience to focus on those areas.

Of course, to do that, you need to know what your players are doing, and have the tools to engage with them – to segment players, run in-game events, create offers and promotions, effectively to market to your own players. That’s where a service like PlayFab comes in. We give you all the tools you need, in a single solution.

Anything else you’d care to add?

We think every game should have a backend, even small indies. That’s really what the Free Tier is all about – we want more game developers to discover all the great things that they can do when they have a secure and flexible way of interacting with their players, and not be scared about whether or not they can afford it.

Also, I just want to say how thrilled we are to be working with Hyper Hippo, the developer behind the hit PC and mobile game AdVenture Capitalist. They’re our first major adopter of the free tier, and we’re really enjoying working together.

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