Azure: Open for Gaming Startups
Because it’s agnostic on programming language, device, framework, and operating system, Azure is proving to be a solid foundation for gaming software companies who use open source to publish to their platform of choice. Today I put the spotlight on b-interaktive and other startups who are succeeding in the gaming industry by using open source on Azure as a platform for innovation.
Specializing in traditional dice, board, and children’s games, German gaming firm b-interaktive is on a roll so huge it could top its own leaderboards. Profitable since its founding in 2011, the firm has pulled in $1M in revenues to date and currently attracts an astonishing 4.5 million users each month. The company’s mission amplifies the heartfelt emotional responses that are often tied to memories of traditional board and dice games: “We want to connect people all over the world and bring families together,” says Eugen Barteska, CEO and co-founder.
Their technical strategy has served that mission well. b-interaktive writes their game apps in the open-source Node.js, renowned for its speed and scalability in real-time interactive web applications. Its multiplayer games are hosted in Azure in conjunction with the Azure storage features Azure Table Storage, SQL Server, and sometimes Redis Cache, which is also open source. In a recent interview, Barteska explained how the company employs these three different Azure storage features to its advantage: The Azure Table Storage feature is used to store key-value data such as device IDs or in-game chat messages. SQL Server, meanwhile, is reserved for elements requiring transactions and for stored procedures, and Redis Cache is used for caching suggested co-players (instead of repeatedly asking Facebook) and for caching leaderboards.
Given that the company focuses primarily on the iOS and Android markets, it might surprise some to learn that the enormously successful venture chose to host all of its infrastructure in the Microsoft cloud in 2013. But as the company knows, Azure easily lets them host their Node.js apps through the Web Apps feature and publish to any consumer platform. Aside from Azure’s flexibility, the scalability of the cloud service was another selling point to the German startup. “We thought that if the business took off, we might need to expand very quickly into other countries, and with Azure that’s just a click on a server.”
Though by now b-interaktive’s bullish read on the potential of family games in the mobile space has been thoroughly validated, the team’s success was anything but a foregone conclusion. Key to the company’s steady growth has been its ability to publish and innovate faster than its competitors. “As part of our strategy we constantly develop new games in house,” said Barteska. “We really believe we can make the next Angry Birds. It is also very important to us that we innovate in the gaming space.”
To support the company’s ambitions to iterate and innovate quickly, Azure’s flexibility proved crucial. Within a year of its founding, b-interaktive built a proprietary software platform called b-live that runs in Azure and provides a common core set of libraries among all their games, dramatically shortening the development cycle of new games and allowing b-interaktive to focus on adding new features. Thanks to b-live and the company’s ability to execute, b-interaktive has published over 300 mobile games in the last three years, adding then-innovative features such as live multiplayer functionality, in-app chat, cooperative multiplayer engagement, and most recently, device-to-device communication via NFC in their latest and most popular game, the Yahtzee-like Dice Duel.
Pixel Blimp is not only reaping the advantages of using open source in Azure; it’s also reaping the advantages of using open source developed by Microsoft itself. Founded in 2013, Pixel Blimp is an Xbox firm based in Brighton, England, that is currently developing a line of soon-to-be-released “Scrunchling” games hosted in Azure. What is cool about the Scrunchling games is that they will allow users to carry newly-acquired character elements from one Scrunchling game to another, and potentially, even to other Scrunchling consumer products such as toys or e-books.
To make this magic happen, Pixel Blimp is developing a proprietary service in Azure called Raindrop, which itself is based on an open-source project from Microsoft called Project Orleans (https://github.com/dotnet/orleans). Pixel Blimp also takes advantage of open source with Linux-based virtual machines that run in Azure for internal uses, such as source control. You can find out more about Pixel Blimp through their web site at http://www.pixelblimp.co.uk/ and through their YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/pixelblimp.
GameSparks, based in Dublin, Ireland, is proving that a Linux-in-Azure-based “backend-as-a-service” for gaming developers can offer world-class responsiveness and scalability. GameSparks greatly simplifies for other gaming companies the development and management of their online games. “We make it really easy for them to manage their game data, manage things like the in-game economy, manage their players on an ongoing basis for communication purposes, and manage campaigns,” says co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer John Griffin. Griffin notes that the founding team chose Azure for its global presence and scalability. “It’s a very easy environment for us to work with, and it’s working well for us.” To find out more about what GameSparks is up to, check out their YouTube channel or their web page at http://gamesparks.com.
Though Azure might once have been a natural home only for Windows-centric development, that old line of thinking is quickly fading. b-interaktive, Pixel Blimp, and GameSparks have proven that Azure provides a lofty perch from which to host gaming services successfully on any platform, destined for any device.
To learn more about gaming innovators, check out these podcasts:
- Startup Stories: An interview with John Brengman from Radification Games
- Startup Stories: An Interview with Will Mallouk, CEO of Pixel Squad
- Startup Stories: An Interview with Richard Conway from Elasta Games
Microsoft is helping these startups succeed through its BizSpark program. To join or see other startup stories, visit us at our website here. To listen to our startups, check out these podcasts on devradio here.
About BizSpark: Microsoft BizSpark is a global program that helps startups succeed by giving free access to Microsoft Azure cloud services, software and support. BizSpark members receive up to $750 per month of free Microsoft Azure cloud services for 3 years: that’s $150 per month each for up to 5 developers. Azure works with Linux and open-source technologies such as Ruby, Python, Java and PHP. BizSpark is available to startups that are privately held, less than 5-years-old and earn less than $1M in annual revenue.