There is growing agreement amongst many mobile app and game developers that writing your own backend is a huge drain on your time, resources and mental energy. While developers always love to learn new things, the reality is that building, launching and operating your own servers is a significant undertaking and a massive distraction when trying to prove a new game concept. Game development is challenging enough already without having to learn new technologies and worry about how your infrastructure will cope should your game take off and start generating big download numbers.
There are countless blog articles and opinion pieces that cover the key arguments for using a backend-as-a-service (or BaaS), with faster time to market, less operational overhead and reduced complexity being the main advantages. However, when searching for a BaaS provider for your next game, it’s important to recognise that many of the services available are general purpose in nature and may not necessarily be the best choice for game development.
Here are the top reasons why game developers should always select a BaaS that is specifically designed around the needs of game development.
Games Have Unique Scaling Requirements
Mobile games, especially those utilising the free-to-play (F2P) model, have a non-typical growth curve, usually generating a sudden spike of traffic on launch followed by a sharp decrease with a long tail depending on the games eventual success. In contrast to the majority of mobile apps that are written for specific audiences or are available as companions to existing services, games are globally mass marketed and tend to appeal to a much broader audience with every game a potential breakout hit. Here’s how the scaling curve of a successful mobile game might look in comparison to how most software and services traditionally scale.
Writing a backend to support this kind of dynamic growth is challenging. A reliable Game BaaS will be designed around the ability to not just support high player numbers, but to support them quickly with zero downtime.
Games Need Support for Common Mechanics
Select any random sample of top mobile games from the App Store or Google Play and you are guaranteed to find a significant cross-over in key features. Virtual Economies, Social Leaderboards, Messaging and Gifting have all become genre-spanning staples of successful mobile games and there’s a good chance your new title will include at least some of these systems.
Although you can implement these features yourself with most general purpose BaaS providers, you really shouldn’t have to. After all, the biggest advantage of using a BaaS is to save time, not give yourself even more work. You should look for a Game BaaS that provides the features you need out-of-the-box so you can get on with development of your game rather than jumping through hoops trying to customise a general purpose platform.
Games Are Increasingly Run as Services
The ability to self-publish app updates makes it simple for mobile developers to iterate quickly and release improvements to their products. Games take this principle one step further with many F2P games run as services, delivering new content and events on an almost daily basis.
When picking a BaaS for your game, you need to look beyond the features you need right now and start thinking about how you will run your game during the live phase. Sending out the occasional push notification simply won’t cut it. You should consider how you will distribute new content to your players, run live events (like a weekend sale, for example) and perform more subtle, “behind the scenes” updates such as game balancing based on player feedback. For games that are very content-rich, releasing updates via a content delivery network (CDN) reduces friction to the player experience and simplifies the release process. Check out Cloud Content Delivery for more info on end-to-end content management in games.
Make sure that the Game BaaS you adopt provides you with the tools you need to perform these tasks quickly and effectively without the need to go through app re-submissions. Otherwise, if you find yourself with a hit on your hands, a lack of effective live phase support could prevent you from sustaining that success and realising the long term potential of your game.
Games Have a Highly Variable Lifespan
The games industry has always been hit driven and the emergence of mobile and F2P has only served to further reinforce this. It’s entirely possible for development of a F2P mobile game to be cancelled after a disappointing soft launch with poor KPIs. On the other hand, successful F2P games can have a life span of many years while continuing to maintain high player numbers. There are also a large number of games that fall somewhere in the middle, with studios working sporadically on original IP titles to incrementally improve KPIs before seeking out a publisher.
What this means for game developers is that the BaaS you select should be flexible enough to support these extremes. Be wary of services that ask you to commit to upfront payments or contracts. Trying to predict player numbers in advance is pretty much impossible and a recipe for disaster. At the other end of the scale, you should also be careful when looking at providers that offer seemingly generous free tiers but make it difficult to predict costs once your game starts attracting more players.
A dedicated Game BaaS should provide you with enough flexibility to cancel your usage of the system at short notice as well as a transparent, clear and predictable pricing model that allows you to easily understand how the price you pay will scale should your games succeed.
Games Need Analytics to Succeed
Most non-game apps monetise through either premium fees, subscriptions or are provided as a way to access other revenue generating services. In contrast, the majority of mobile games now adopt the F2P model where commercial success is almost totally dependent on developing an active and engaged player base that will return to your game on a regular basis.
This means that in addition to including game mechanics that encourage repeated play and high retention, you also need to take an active role in measuring player behaviour and making changes to your game based on the data you collect. This is essential to maximise long term revenue. You could of course integrate a separate analytics solution for this purpose, but if you’re using a BaaS to save time you really shouldn’t have to. This is especially true in the early stages of mobile game development where your top priority should be to launch early and receive feedback as soon as possible. Failing fast is vital.
A dedicated Game Baas will provide you with an integrated analytics service with direct access to the most important KPIs for games, including retention, player numbers, revenue and conversions.
For any game developer starting a new mobile project, there is a huge and sometimes overwhelming choice of BaaS providers available. By following our advice you can narrow down the available options and select a service that is going to maximise your chance of success while limiting the risks.
ChilliConnect is a dedicated Game BaaS that addresses all of the key requirements detailed above. You can sign up to ChilliConnect for free.