The Need for Online Game Platforms

We’ve had the honor of helping a large video game company develop and enhance its online game platform. Across game titles and devices, it gives the company’s customers a unified experience for login, entitlements, personas, billing history, and much more. And it offers the potential to add even more information to this unified view in the future. While doing this work, I just assumed that all large game companies have similar systems in place because of the numerous benefits…

Recently, though, I’ve had the opportunity to meet other game companies and have been surprised that they haven’t yet centralized such systems or done so to the same degree across their game portfolios. Some have done this with a few of their titles. Some have common multiplayer technology behind-the-scenes for matchmaking, leaderboards, and sharing game state, but they do not share the data across titles to let players share their overall achievements with their friends and fans. Or they don’t share billing and other account related data. They have indeed innovated in other dimensions (such as amazing player performance stats for a battle game), but they haven’t focused as much on connecting a single customer’s gaming world together. Yes, we have platforms like Sony PlayStation Network, Microsoft Xbox LIVE, and Apple Game Center that provide a uniform experience to players, but those are focused on games that run on those devices, yet many players play games on multiple devices from consoles to mobile to the web. Thus it seems important for big game publishers to do the same from their point of view.

It’s clear that there are many challenges to offering such a centralized platform, but there are many benefits to both players and the game companies. I’ve already touched on the benefits to players. The benefits to companies include having a powerful unified view of each player that permits the company to cross-sell better or offer more targeted ads. Shared platforms lead to a large reduction in development cost since the common backend components can be built just once. Though not initially obvious, a centralized model also leads to more robust solutions for each title because the hard lessons learned in one place can be shared by all. Finally, given the litigious world we live in, a centralized model reduces legal risk because a seasoned central team can implement regulations more thoroughly. (Some might argue that recent data breaches make common platforms more risky, but I still feel that those security problems can be solved better with a shared team and system.)

The first and biggest challenge seems to be one of organizational structure. Most large game companies have many studios that operate independently largely due to the fact that they were acquired at various points in time, and in various geographical locations. That independence arguably allows for faster game design innovation in each group, but it makes sharing technology challenging. Who should own and operate a common backend platform? How should that team, if formed, be funded? How should work for different teams be prioritized by the central team? How can the central team support each studio’s aggressive plans rather than hindering them?
In the future postings, we’ll discuss how game companies are working through some of these challenges as well as the technical ones. We’ll also delve into other topics related to the game industry.

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