The folks at Gamespy recently rolled out a new set of services to indie developers that allows them to access all of their online capabilities for free. We knew there had to be a catch so we reached out to them to see what the deal was. Thankfully Todd Northcutt, the VP of GameSpy had all the answers for us which you can read below.
Could you give us an overview of GameSpy Open? What was the inspiration behind creating the service? Why offer these kinds of services to developers?
GameSpy has been offering online-enabling technology and services to developers for over a decade now. The online experiences offered by games like Battlefield, Mario Kart, Command & Conquer, Red Dead Redemption and 1,000 others were built on a foundation created with our technology. They ranged from features like leaderboards to multiplayer to cloud-based saved games to sharing user-generated content in-game (see Civilization V’s mod browser as an example).
GameSpy Open takes all of those services that we’ve traditionally offered to our AAA partners and makes them available to any developer, large or small.
What drove the GameSpy Open shift is that when we looked around at the changing landscape where games from Dungeon Defenders to Fruit Ninja to Angry Birds are finding AAA-caliber success. Independent game development is crushing it – and will continue to do so for a very long time. We foresee a day when the majority of games that move the cultural needle are produced by independent developers – and GameSpy Open is here to help accelerate that trend. Once the barriers to entry (from tools to build the games to the services for hosting them) fall, they will never rise again.
We recognized early on that adding deeper online functionality - which gamers now expect in every game - presented a big hurdle for the independent developer to overcome. We wanted to take that particular barrier to entry down. Making a great game is hard enough!
What are you doing to attract developers to GameSpy Open? About how much time does your solution save developers over internally developed solutions (roughly)?
We are currently kicking off a series of developer meet-ups all across the country to introduce the initiative to game creators in person. From August to November we’re hitting the road for a series of meet-ups with developers in cities all over the US and Canada. If you’re an indie developer who’s curious about leveling up your games with online features, we want to talk to you. And buy you a beer. And listen to you talk to us about what you need. And then buy you another beer. (We’re big on beer at GameSpy.)
Folks who come can expect live tech demos on our various services (from multiplayer to player metrics & rankings to cloud data storage), detailed information about our programs for independent developers (like GameSpy Open and IGN Indie Open House) and face time with the gang who builds all of this stuff.
Conveniently, some of these meet-ups are tied to existing games industry events — like GameLoop Boston, PAX Dev, IndieCade and GDC Online — which should make participation easy if a developer is already planning to attend these events.
You can find all of the dates and locations on our events page
As far a time saved, integrating GameSpy Technology services into a game is far, far easier than writing it all yourself. Yes, you could stand up some servers (or have Amazon or Rackspace or whomever do it for you) and write your own leaderboard service or matchmaking service but … why? We’ve removed all of the complexity of solving some of these hard problems and made them easy to use and very accessible. This allows you as the developer to focus on making an awesome game – something that only you can do.
And, of course, success can surprise you. One of the key benefits of GameSpy Open is that these new developers are using the same technology that powers the world’s most popular games – from Red Dead Redemption to Mario Kart Wii and 1,000 others. Our services are ready to provide developers with the stability to handle newfound “iconic game” status from day one.
Which platforms does GameSpy Open support? Is it just mobile or are you supporting PC and console? Is it possible for developers to leverage cross platform solutions?
We’re on every platform! Android, iOS, PC, Mac, PS3, PSP, Wii, DS, Vita… you name it, we’re on it and are always eager to add more platforms.
From the day we added support for our second platform, we’ve had cross-platform in the front of our mind as we developed our services.
A great example of leveraging cross-platform can be seen in Trendy Entertainment’s Dungeon Defenders, a tower defense game on iOS, Android, PC, and PS3. There are virtually no differences from a player’s point of view between the different platforms so letting them play together (it’s a co-op game, after all) was a no-brainer. The benefit, of course, is that the community is so much larger and has really contributed to giving the game major legs. As a result, there is one big community of Dungeon Defenders gamers instead of 4 or 5 separate ones for each platform.
How does GameSpy Open compare to other programs like Steamworks, Open Feint, and iOS’s Game Center? What’s the benefit of using your services over the other platforms?
One of the most obvious is that we’re on every platform and being on every platform is important in helping make a game as successful as possible. As a developer the more potential gamers you can touch the better.
Another big differentiator is that we are out to help the developer build their game and their brand. You won’t see GameSpy Technology branding all over your game, we’re not interested in building the GameSpy Technology community. We are not interested in inserting ourselves into the relationship with the gamer. We’re here to help the developer succeed as a partner.
Is GameSpy Open a subset of the SDK that you offer larger developers? What features do developers get for free and which do they have to pay for? Safe to assume there’s an easy migration path upwards?
In the spirit of leveling the playing field, Open developers get access to everything we offer to our traditional AAA customers. We’re running completely free while we’re in Beta over the next few months.
We won’t be charging a “royalty” per se, but rather a service fee based on how many people are playing your game and using our services. As a game waxes and wanes in popularity, the fees will vary – much as your AWS bill from Amazon changes based on your usage. One of our major goals is to eliminate barriers to entry for developers, so there will always be a free option.
How do you balance meeting the needs of your smaller developers with those of the larger developers?
We really don’t see much difference between large and small any longer. In many cases the developers are using the same tools! Ethereal (a student project from a team based at Carnegie Mellon University) and Lego Star Wars both use Unity. Dungeon Defenders and Bulletstorm both use the Unreal engine. The only things that differ are budget and team size. We have found that smaller teams tend to have less experience with networking and online than larger teams, so we’re actively working to make our services easier to use for those without heavy online experience. Ease of use helps everyone, though, so we see it benefitting developers of all sizes.
What’s been the hardest platform to develop services for? Do you work with the IDE makers to integrate your SDK’s into them at all (Visual Studio, Eclipse, etc?)
Android and iOS were both a bit of a challenge, not because they were hard, per se, but because we had to be conscious of new problems associated with mobile networks. Playing a multiplayer game over a cellular network while you are riding on a train or bus adds a whole new layer of complexity!
We don’t integrate at the IDE level but we have pursued partnerships with engine companies. Our SDKs play nice with virtually every engine under the sun, so there aren’t any restrictions on which engine you can use. We’ve got a pre-built implementation in the Unreal and we will have a Unity-specific set of libraries for Unity developers in just a few more days. Other integration projects are in the works with other engine and service providers and I can’t wait to unveil them as the year progresses.
Does GameSpy have its own “Cloud” that runs these services or is that hosted elsewhere? How has cloud computing changed your offerings?
Yes, we have our own cloud. We’ve been operating as a service provider from day one and our infrastructure has always been one of our key features. We take care of the complexity of running an environment so that our customers don’t have to worry about infrastructure. Our own gaming-optimized “custom cloud” was featured recently in an article on enterprise clouds:
As I said, success can surprise you and we’ve worked with several developers who expected only modest success with their game only to see it turn into a breakout hit. Scaling up to meet player demand quickly is critical.
Which platform are you seeing the most growth in? What’s been the most surprising trend you’ve seen so far in how people are using GameSpy open?
Android is our newest supported platform so we’ve been happy to see many new developers sign up with Android as their lead platform. Maybe the biggest surprise, though, is just how many people are developing on every platform. Even the smallest of studios are building for iOS, Android, PC and Mac. I think this explains why multiplatform tools and services like Unity and GameSpy Open are in such demand -- they help to reduce the burden on a small shop in reaching the largest possible audience by maximizing the number of platforms a developer can target with the least amount of effort.
Which implementation of your services is first on your demo reel? Are there any upcoming games we should be keeping an eye on?
We are very proud to show of Trendy Entertainment’s Dungeon Defenders as one of our very first Open implementations. It is a co-op game on Android and iOS built using the Unreal engine. It looks great - as any Unreal game does - and by using GameSpy Open they’re able to let gamers play with each other regardless of platform. They’ll soon be releasing on PC, PS3 and Xbox and most of the platforms will be able to play with each other. Better yet, you’ll be able to carry your character from one platform to the other so you can play on the train on your iPad and then pick right up where you left off on your big HDTV on the PS3 when you get home.
Coming up next? Obviously we’re really excited that Halfbrick chose GameSpy Open to add multiplayer into Fruit Ninja on Android. It’s been a huge success on every platform (now including Xbox 360 and Kinect) and I hope that the addition of multiplayer on Android will only help to further fuel its success.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
One thing that excites us about lowering the barriers to entry to online tech for games is that it could potentially spur innovation in the space. We’re extremely excited to see what independent developers – who are frequently more willing to experiment, take chances and think creatively about gameplay design – will do once they have great online tools at their disposal. We think we’re at the dawn of a truly amazing time in gaming history, and we’re proud to play some part in it.
We'd like to thank Todd for answering our questions as well as Ryan for coordinating the interview.
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