GDC Spotlight Interviews: Microsoft and Havok

| December 2014

In This Issue:

  • Microsoft – Mark Seminatore, principal development manager, Xbox Advanced Technology Group at Microsoft, talks about DirectX 12, buying Mojang, and how the best coders can win prizes in the QuickStart Challenges at GDC.
  • Havok – Andrew Bowell, head of product management at Havok, discusses the assortment of job openings at Havok and what skills are most in demand, plus what will be his company’s main focus at GDC 2014.

Unity Technologies

 

Mark Seminatore
Mark Seminatore

Mark Seminatore, principal development manager, Xbox Advanced Technology Group at Microsoft, talks about DirectX 12, buying Mojang, and how the best coders can win prizes in the QuickStart Challenges at GDC.

Q: Mark, last year, at GDC 2014, you announced DirectX 12. Is that still scheduled to be released in the second half of next year? And what will be Microsoft’s big focus THIS year? What will you be talking about? Any hints?

Mark Seminatore: We’ve announced that Windows 10 will ship with DirectX 12 included, and for those of us familiar with DirectX 12, we are very excited. We love connecting with game developers, sharing ideas, seeing what’s new, and hearing about what they’re working on. We will share some new things about what’s in store for developing gaming experiences on Microsoft platforms. We will share additional details about what we’ll be talking about at GDC this year as we get closer to the conference. Stay tuned for more.

Q: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the latest big news out of Microsoft seems to be your buying Mojang, the creator of Minecraft, for $2.5 billion. What would you say is the importance of that move cultivating a younger demographic or having a property that plays well not only on desktop but also mobile? What’s the strategy here?

Seminatore: We couldn’t be happier about bringing in Mojang. Mojang was in search of a partner to help carry Minecraft forward, and the studio’s talent and passion are a perfect fit for our family of world-class developers.

Minecraft also aligns with our focus to grow our top franchises, diversify our portfolio of games, and reach new gamers across multiple platforms. We understand that gaming is a top driver of consumer usage across PC, mobile, and tablet. The value of Minecraft is that it’s currently the most used and one of the most loved gaming properties in the world. There’s a tremendous amount of engagement and loyalty from Minecraft players. We love Minecraft and we’re really excited to help grow the Minecraft community, nurture the franchise, and make Minecraft more accessible to more people on more devices.

Q: This year at GDC, I know Microsoft is sponsoring the Microsoft Lobby Bar where not only can attendees meet up with friends, grab a drink, and check out the latest Xbox One blockbusters, but I understand you can also learn about Windows Platform development tools and code for a chance to win at the Windows QuickStart Challenge. So what’s the Challenge all about and what do the best coders win?

Seminatore: QuickStart Challenges are fast-paced, bite-sized, hands-on exercises that enable game developers to roll up their sleeves and try out some of the most important development scenarios building games for phones, tablets, PCs, and consoles. Any participant who completes one or more challenges will have an opportunity to win one of a variety of prizes who knows, perhaps even a device.

Q: Microsoft is a long-time sponsor of GDC San Francisco. Why is the conference so important to your marketing strategy?

Seminatore: GDC provides an amazing opportunity for Microsoft and game developers to meet, discuss what’s working (and what’s not), and share information with one another. It’s a chance for us to hear directly from people making games for our consumers, and it lets us answer questions or find solutions to challenges they face. It also lets us share tools and services updates with the developers who live and breathe game development every day.

There are very few chances for us to have this kind of access to the creative people building amazing experiences across all of our platforms, something we value highly.


Havok

Andrew Bowell
Andrew Bowell

Andrew Bowell, head of product management at Havok, discusses the assortment of job openings at Havok and what skills are most in demand, plus what will be his company’s main focus at GDC 2014.

Q: Andrew, last year, at GDC 2014, Havok was talking about the issues of the next-gen hardware and where Havok fits for developers in what was then a transitional period. What will be Havok’s main focus one year later at GDC 2015?

Andrew Bowell: It has been an amazing year for Havok. Our support and engineering teams have been working closely with our customers on their next-gen titles and we are proud to see Havok-powered titles — such as Destiny, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Alien: Isolation, DriveClub — prove out the capabilities of next-gen hardware.

As we enter this post-launch period, we can start to release tools and technology to address new themes for next-gen game development. At GDC 2015, we’ll be showing off both brand new technology and major enhancements to existing technology that will allow developers to create new gameplay experiences and be more productive than ever. Some of our new technology is still under wraps, but there are sneak peeks out there if you look closely. But we can definitely announce that we will be showing major enhancements to our toolsets for our bestselling Physics, Destruction, and Cloth products.

As ever, GDC is all about connecting with the industry and the middleware ecosystem, and we will be showcasing the latest integrations with some of our biggest partners.

Q: Havok seems to have plenty of job openings  not only in your Dublin headquarters but also in Germany, San Francisco, Seoul, and Tokyo. What sort of skills are you looking for these days and why should devs be interested in joining the Havok team?

Bowell: Havok continuously hires exceptionally talented engineers for both core development roles and developer relations engineer positions across a number of our offices. The advantage of our multiple offices is that Havok is a 24/7 company with a very international feel and constant energy and dynamism.

We recruit very bright, passionate C++ engineers with a strong knowledge of 3D mathematics. Havok developers work with teams like Bungie, Naughty Dog, and Insomniac, and alongside brilliant colleagues who are passionate about pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge technology for the games industry.

Q: I’ve heard you talk about there currently being a renaissance, not just for physics, but for the ideas and potential to impact gameplay, parallel game systems, and the creative method of environmental artists. Talk to me a bit about what you meant by that.

Bowell: When Havok shipped our re-architected Physics engine, it provided developers with a new basis for creating and populating their worlds with dynamic systems. Havok Physics is more performant, uses less memory, scales linearly over many cores. but most importantly is rock solid and robust from a stability standpoint. Today game developers can take it for granted that their setups and scenes will just work from a Physics standpoint. What we have found is that this has taken a while to sink in, and it’s now about game designers finding ways to add more Physics, create more interesting setups. and bring Physics-based gameplay back, front, and center. Now that this next-gen Physics core is in place, we can design new technology that both leverages and extends what Physics can do in-game. An example is our Havok Destruction product that lets developers architect brand new gameplay use cases from the brash and loud, smash and crash of explosives to the more subtle bending and deformation of metal under stress and strain. At GDC 2015, Havok will be showcasing a new product that enhances further the gameplay visuals offered by Physics and Destruction bringing an order of magnitude more fidelity to simulations .

Q: Havok has said that, with all of the power offered by the PS4, the Xbox One, and today’s modern PCs, there needs to be a new consideration that the smaller things dust, debris, particles, fire, etc. are as key to making next-gen scenes look immersive and real as do the traditional areas, such as polys, resolution, and frame-rates. What would you say to the devs out there to convince them of that?

Bowell: Exactly. Havok has always been about helping developers create that sense of immersion and suspension of disbelief. If you look at the movie and visual FX industry, the extent to which movies draw you in with atmospheric effects like smoke, mist, and fire, scare you with swarms of insects, and deafen you with earth-shattering explosions, the same is true for gaming. However, in the past, game developers focused on using purely visual effects to achieve this atmosphere. The next shift that Havok’s latest technology will enable is making purely visual effects fully interactive. At GDC 2015, Havok will be showcasing new technology to allow game developers to achieve this.

Q: Once again, Havok is sponsoring a booth actually a business suite at GDC 2015. Why has the conference become such an important part of Havok’s marketing strategy?

Bowell: This is our 15th year at GDC! We are also having our 15-year anniversary as a company! GDC has been an integral part of our company’s planning and execution. We launch new tech at GDC, we talk with key customers around the world about what technical challenges and needs they have, and we party at GDC! GDC is at the heart of things for us!

GDC Spotlight Interviews: Ukie, AdColony, Google Play, Tapjoy, Havok and Amazon

| March 2014

In This Issue:

  • Ukie – Jo Twist, CEO of UK Interactive Entertainment discusses the challenges facing the UK games industry, the organization’s new mentoring programme, and their plans for GDC
  • AdColony – SVP Monetization & Business Development Tim Steudler talks to us about the changing face of video advertising on mobile and discusses the company’s Platinum Sponsorship of GDC Mobile.
  • GooglePlay – Greg Hartrell, Lead Product Manager of Google Play chats about the remarkable growth of Google Play as a platform and how to connect with the company at GDC.
  • TapJoy– Christine Tao, SVP Developer Relations talks about the ways mobile advertisers can help ensure a positive user experience, and describes the new SDK the company will be launching at GDC.
  • Havok – Where does Havok fit for developers in this current transitional period? Andrew Bowell, Head of Product Management discusses the issues of the next gen and diverse hardware, before their appearance on the GDC Expo show floor.
  • Amazon – Hosting a developer day at GDC 2014, Amazon Apps & Games Head of Worldwide Evangelism and Marketing Rob Pulciani talks to us about Amazon’s plans for the conference, and how the company’s analytics and cloud technologies can help developers.

Unity Technologies

 

Jo Twist
Jo Twist

Jo Twist, CEO of UK Interactive Entertainment discusses the challenges facing the UK games industry, the organization’s new mentoring programme, and their plans for GDC.

Q: What do you view as the key challenges that are facing the UK Games Industry right now?

Jo Twist: The biggest challenge for the UK industry right now is creating a level playing field for games business to thrive with the right business environment to compete on a global stage. We are constantly striving to help companies access global marketplaces, diversify their audiences and increase demand to secure the future of the industry. The main areas that developers often have issues with are core business skills like coping with red tape, legal issues, as well as how to access finance, cash flow and investment opportunities. Ukie helps business to identify different avenues for funding as well as lobbying policy makers to ensure the right help is in place for financing. We run drop-in sessions where devs can come and meet industry professionals for free advice and we run “how to” networking and knowledge sharing events all around the country which cover topics like discoverability, IP and copyright and funding. We work closely with government to ensure that the games industry is always on the front foot to make sure the regulatory environment is friction free so that developers are acting responsibly but are not hindered by legislation. We are always promoting the industry in a positive light with positive stories. When the tax production credits for games are introduced, the UK will be the best place in the world to make and sell games and will allow us to compete at the highest level with the best creative talent, with the likes of Canada and America.

Q: You just launched a Game Mentoring programme, too?

Twist: Ukie have partnered with Nesta to create the Video Game Mentoring Network to advise and nurture games businesses with an appetite for growth by connecting them who have been through the business mill. This is done by pairing up mentors and mentees from different games businesses and running one-to-one meetings, workshops, attending events designed to network with people who can grow your business and coaching sessions. We are calling for both businesses of all sizes who are looking to scale to apply to be mentored and for potential mentors to express interest in being involved in the scheme by contacting [email protected]

Q: What are UKIE’s plans for GDC?

Jo Twist: We are the UKTI accredited trade partner for GDC, which means that we run the UK industry business area on the expo floor. We help SMEs access the show by processing Government Trade Access grants for up to 2000 to enable businesses to show their games and do the right business deals for them. The best thing for us is the collective community spirit that is so obvious between the companies on the stand. When you exhibit on the stand as part of the UK industry, you become part of a British collective, flying the flag for the UK and showing what a diverse and creative nation we are. All developers are welcome to come and hang out in the UK industry pavilion and meet all the other British developers as well as some of the Ukie team. We are also holding a VIP drinks reception at the British Consulate with the UKTI for companies to come together and network, but most importantly, to show that the UK is open for business. If you want to attend, just pop over to the stand and have a chat with one of our on-site staff.


AdColony

Tim Steudler
Tim Steudler

SVP Monetization & Business Development Tim Steudler talks to us about the changing face of video advertising on mobile and discusses the company’s Platinum Sponsorship of GDC Mobile.

Q: How have developers’ perceptions of mobile video advertising changed over the years?

Tim Steudler: Mobile video has evolved a long way since it was first introduced to the ecosystem about 3-4 years ago. The AdColony platform was actually created by app developers out of the desire to perfect mobile video and solve for the very pain points that were deterring developers from taking advantage of the medium. Our team created a proprietary ad technology called Instant-Play to power mobile video ads with crisp HD picture and no annoying load times, and we’ve seen top developers across the ecosystem embrace video as a key monetization and advertising vehicle.

Not only do we provide a higher quality experience for users, but we are also able to deliver more meaningful incremental revenue compared to a developer’s overall revenues. We know that even top grossing developers are fortunate if they’re able to successfully monetize more than 10% of their total users via in-app purchases, and the right ad strategy can unlock even greater revenue potential.

We work closely with game developers big and small to consult them on the most beneficial, high-impact video integrations for their apps. The best integrations take a productized approach to implementing non-IAP revenue. Creatively weaving advertising monetization hooks into the experience, similar to how you would design your game mechanics and merchandising around in-app purchases, is key. Developers who focus on fun first ultimately monetize the best.

Q: What do you see as the approaching trends in mobile games and advertising/ monetization?

Steudler: AdColony is fortunate to be situated right where the heat is. Mobile video represents the fastest growing advertising segment in mobile, with spending up 166% in 2013. We’re able to translate this huge advertiser interest in mobile video to our partners — AdColony publisher earnings increased more than 300% in 2013 versus 2012. The ad dollars are shifting to video, and as brands flock to the most effective medium where people are spending the bulk of their time (mobile), the publishers who embrace quality mobile video stand to benefit the most. We’re eager to help developers benefit from these trends. We’re seeing more and more publishers employ a diversified monetization strategy that encompasses both IAP and advertising. This is where a tactful, focused approach to advertising becomes so important.

Q: As a Platinum Sponsor of GDC Mobile, what excites you about the event?

Steudler: This must be about my 11th GDC or so, and I couldn’t be more excited. I came to AdColony from the console gaming world, most recently with Activision Blizzard, and to see the energy and experimentation in the mobile gaming space is really great. The conference has transformed from being dominated by traditional PC and console gaming in years past to focusing on mobile and social, which are absolutely the most dominant topics in the room now.

I think I’m most excited about seeing the next up-and-coming AAA potential titles that will crop up from the independent studios. I love having the opportunity to hear from the indies and learn from industry experts from across the ecosystem and around the world.

The AdColony monetization and user acquisition teams will be setting up shop on Monday and Tuesday at the Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit where we are sponsoring, and we’ll definitely be spending time with the Independent Games Summit too. I have the entire AdColony team attending to meet with existing partners and new potential partners in a more intimate face-to-face setting. If you want to meet up, ping us at [email protected] And we’ll be sure to see you out at the parties, just look for the sea of AdColony rocketship T-shirts.


Google Play

Greg Hartrell
Greg Hartrell

Greg Hartrell, Lead Product Manager of Google Play chats about the remarkable growth of Google Play as a platform and how to connect with the company at GDC.

Q: Some recent research claims that revenues for game creators on Google Play is growing twice as fast as that on iOS

Greg Hartrell:Google Play Games is growing with tremendous speed, and we’ve been working hard over the last year to develop tools to game developers to help them build amazing game experiences. It’s a cross-platform game service and SDK on Android, iOS and the web that enables a rich set of in-game user experiences for cross screen gaming. By building off of what Google is good at–mobile and cloud services–these game services help power great gaming experiences for users so developers can focus on what they’re good at: creating compelling experiences for users. Developer who are taking advantage of these tools are seeing tremendous results and engaging with users in much more meaningful ways.

Q: How is developing games for the Asian market different from developing for the North American market?

Hartrell: Analytics are an important part of crafting a successful game and enjoyable user experience. Whether analytics are used to help dissect where players are dropping off or getting stuck in a game or used to analyze how in-app purchases can be tweaked to be more attractive to players, tools like these are important to create successful entertainment businesses.

Q: What future trends do you see on the horizon in the mobile game space?

Hartrell: Today, everyone is a gamer–and mobile is a huge opportunity for gamers. Take Android: three in every four users are playing games; with billions of activated Android devices, it has grown rapidly as a mobile gaming platform, allowing game developers to reach an unprecedented audience of players.

As we look at future trends, the mobile gaming ecosystem will continue its amazing growth, and it will do so across multiple screens. Most of use 2, if not 3, computing devices throughout our day- phone, tablet, laptop and more–and Google cares deeply about building seamless experiences across these devices. As Google continues helping game developers take their games to the next level, providing services that work across different platforms–like Google Play Games, which works for Android, iOS and the web–is going to be increasingly important.

Q: What are Google’s plans for GDC?

Hartrell: Google helps game developers take their games to the next level by giving them a platform with hundreds of millions of users, and giving them flexible monetization tools. At GDC, we’ll be hosting a Developer Day on Tuesday, March 18, where we’ll be talking with game developers to help them get the most with Google, including how to reach and engage with hundreds of millions of users on Google Play, build Games that scale in the cloud, grow in-game advertising businesses with AdMob, track revenue with Google Analytics as well as explore new gaming frontiers, like Glass.

If you can’t make any of the Google Developer Day sessions, don’t worry; all the talks will be livestreamed on YouTube. You can also meet the Play, AdMob, Analytics, and Cloud teams at the Google Education Center in the Moscone Center’s South Hall (booth 218) from March 19-21.


Tapjoy

Christine Tao
Christine Tao

Christine Tao, SVP Developer Relations talks about the ways mobile advertisers can help ensure a positive user experience, and describes the new SDK the company will be launching at GDC.

Q: What would you say to a game developer who is exploring including in-game advertising to monetize?

Christine Tao: Developers are typically wary of advertising because they want to maintain a good user experience. That’s the main driving factor between integrating ads from Tapjoy vs. typical banner ads. We give the user something for engaging with the ad, whether that’s additional content, currency within the app, or the ability to further their game experience. It is not interruptive to the app, in fact it enhances the app experience. We integrate natively within the application – typically through their storefront or at the point where users access additional content or currency. The users also opt into this experience because they are looking for ways to deepen their experience within the application.

A cool example is when we initially launched with one of our large developer partners. They knew they had a big revenue opportunity with us, but they also wanted to work with us because their users had been asking for a way to get more content within the app by engaging with advertisements. So its a solution that their users were asking for. We’re continuing to deepen the experience in more ways, and in fact, we recently released a more customized look and feel to the Tapjoy offerwall where we include icons and assets from the game, so the experience looks even more native and in line with the in-app store.

Q: What do you see as the approaching trends in mobile games and advertising/monetization?

Tao: There are lot of new types of trendy ad units that are designed for the mobile devices we all play games on, but the real trend we see for app developers is the need to give consumers choice in when and how to engage with ads. That is a critical thing that the industry has overlooked while rushing to monetize mobile users, and in some cases has ruined the app experience. With our partners, we see time and time again that empowering the user for when and how to engage with ads is the most effective way to drive engagement and make money.

Q: What are Tapjoy’s plans for GDC?

Tao: GDC 2014 is a big one for Tapjoy. We are launching a new comprehensive suite of monetization and distribution services, all packed into one single SDK. It is an end-to-end solution that will drastically improve the way developers are able to monetize the 98% of users that don’t participate in IAP. You can learn all about it , as well as what else is new with Tapjoy, by coming by our booth (#1424). Or email us at [email protected]


Havok

Andrew Bowell
Andrew Bowell

Where does Havok fit for developers in this current transitional period? Andrew Bowell, Head of Product Management discusses the issues of the next gen and diverse hardware, before their appearance on the GDC Expo show floor.

Q: We’re still in the transitional period between last-gen and “next-gen.” What does Havok offer developers looking to the future?

Andrew Bowell: Each new console cycle provides an opportunity for developers to take a fresh look at their technology stack and assess how they plan to make games for the next-generation. Havok invests heavily in R&D to ensure that our next-generation-ready products are taking advantage of every edge each new platform offers. If the platform a developer is targeting offers more compute, more connectivity, more immersion or more interaction, Havok’s technology can help developers realize new game features and hone new game experiences for the player.

Q: Of course, video game development is no longer just about consoles. How can–and does–Havok fit for developers working in the now very broad range of hardware on offer?

Bowell: Havok’s technology can fit in a number of different ways. At a core level Havok’s technology is built from the ground up to be cross-platform. This means that developers can code once and typically run on many varying platforms. Additionally, where a platform offers a unique feature or differing architecture they are able to rely on Havok being optimized for that platform and fully leveraged the platform’s architecture. As Havok provides some of the core building blocks for games with products such as Havok Physics and Havok AI, we place a lot of emphasis on designing powerful extensible APIs and toolkits that, along with source, provide developers the flexibility to use them in many different game genres. Havok’s technology is optimized for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3, Windows 7, Windows 8, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Android, iOS, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8, Apple Mac OS and Linux.

Q: What are you looking forward to at GDC?

Bowell: We are thrilled to be back on the show floor this year, front and center. We’ll be showcasing how some of the top studios have utilized Havok technology to deliver immersive features to games like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Skylanders: Swapforce, Dead Rising 3 among others. We’ll also be showcasing the latest features for our free end-to-end mobile game engine, Project Anarchy. GDC is an amazing opportunity to connect with our customers new and old. We always like to reserve space to bring customers through the latest technology roadmap and provide a preview of what we have got in store for 2014. To schedule a one-on-one meeting with Havok, please visit http://www.havok.com/GDC14-meeting-request.


Amazon

Rob Pulciani
Rob Pulciani

Hosting a developer day at GDC 2014, Amazon Apps & Games Head of Worldwide Evangelism and Marketing Rob Pulciani talks to us about Amazon’s plans for the conference, and how the company’s analytics and cloud technologies can help developers

Q: Amazon is hosting a Developer Day at GDC. A lot of game developers probably don’t think “Amazon” when they think game development: how are you changing that?

Rob Pulciani: It all starts with the products and services we’re creating. We’ve got an end to end platform that supports game developers as they build games, engage customers, and then optimize and monetize their games. We hear from developers all the time that they wish they had more time to focus on the “fun stuff” story creation, character development, game design. Our services help developers do just that. For example, we recently launched AppStream which allows developers to deliver high-end PC style gaming visuals on almost any device by shifting much of the gaming computation to the cloud. This has allowed developers like CCP games (makers of Eve Online) to eliminate multi-gigabyte downloads and get users into their game faster, and on more devices. It’s more than just game streaming though; we provide a broad range of services for developers to run on. We provide services from Amazon Elastic Beanstalk that helped with the deployment of a PS4 launch title; to Amazon Elastic MapReduce which is used as the analytics engine behind Angry Birds. There’s DynamoDB which provides the NoSQL database behind Halfbrick studios (makers of Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride) so they can get single digit millisecond latency to game information. Amazon Simple Notification Service helps Plumbee games engage with their customers though cross-platform push notifications. Plus we’re helping developers test in-app experiences via A/B Testing and understand more about their app performance with Analytics. All of these services allow developers to create better experiences within their games, allowing for more creativity, and improved monetization. They’re all available cross platform with Amazon doing most of the heavy-lifting so game developers don’t have to spend a ton of time creating the backend infrastructure. We want to get the word out to the developer community and that’s why we’re here at GDC, so we can tell game developers about these services and help them continue to build great games.

Q: Talks include one on game analytics. How can Amazon technology facilitate that, and why do analytics help developers?

Pulciani: The app business is a dynamic business with great new games coming out all the time but it’s not just about building great apps. There is a ton of competition, discoverability is an issue and it’s hard to know what you can do to improve your odds of success. So like any other business, it’s important to understand how customers are engaging with your app what’s working or not working. With apps, it can also be data overload there is so much possible data and it’s often difficult to know what data point is essential. So at Amazon, we’re trying to simplify it. Our Analytics service is free and cross platform across Amazon, iOS, and Android and helps developers focus on the data that matters. Our reports detail information on active devices so devs can understand stickiness of their apps, session info – how long customers are playing a game, retention, and revenues. And it’s all presented in a simple dashboard. Some organizations, like Supercell (makers of Hay Day and Clash of Clans) also use services like Amazon Kinesis to analyze every action a player takes in game, so they can make the most engaging experience possible for their players. To learn more, check out our free Analytics tool, or come to the Amazon Dev Day sessions on Tuesday starting at 10am.

Q: Amazon is heavily invested in cloud technologies, something that’s still new for game development. You’ll be discussing that too at the developer days, but what do you see as the future of the tech for game developers?

Pulciani: First class gaming has already arrived on mobile devices and with more services moving to the cloud, we will have more gaming by more people in more locations. The scalability of cloud computing is enabling developers to focus more on game design and less on infrastructure. We’re always amazed at the many ways that game developers are using our services to make really incredible apps and gaming experiences. We see companies like Nintendo using EC2 to power their Miiverse computational needs while NaughtyDog (makers of the Uncharted games) uses CloudFront to deliver their in-game content, and updates, to users around the world.

We continue to talk to game developers and are working to give them the services they are asking for. We launched the G2 instance last year which gives developers access to NVIDIA Cuda GPUs so they can do amazing things with high powered graphics capabilities. We built SNS mobile push to help our developers have one easy way to send push messages to their apps, regardless of platform. Right now, we’re excited to see how people will start using AppStream. We’ve already seen developers doing some really innovative stuff that when they’re freed from the constraints of any one specific device. As a platform company it’s a rewarding feeling when you see someone make an amazing game and know that Amazon technology is helping make that happen.

The gaming industry has changed so much over the years, and the changes are coming more quickly. The cloud is enabling more game developers get to market faster, gain users more quickly, and do it all while avoiding any upfront infrastructure costs or capacity planning.

When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me that I shouldn’t spend so much time playing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on my Atari 2600. Now she’s obsessed with Candy Crush and Words with Friends. The devices and games are changing but so are the players and the business models. It’s an incredible time in the world of gaming and we can’t wait to help the next generation of game developers change the world the way the people who wrote games for the 2600 did for me 30 years ago. There are so many great technologies that can help game developers develop, engage, and monetize their games to create the best customer experiences; we’re excited to be able to show developers how they can use the technologies I’ve talked about here, and many more from Amazon, at our Developer Day on Tuesday.

GDC Spotlight Interviews: Unity Technologies, Wargaming, and Fun Plus

| February 2014

In This Issue:

  • Unity Technologies – David Helgason talks about where Unity is going, and what that means for indie developers the world over.
  • Wargaming – Jay Cohen discusses about how Wargaming is approaching mobile development and how the company works to ethically deploy a highly profitable free-to-play game.
  • FunPlus – Daniel Fiden chats about what the future holds for Fun Plus, and how he predicts the gaming market will change in the year ahead.

Unity Technologies

 

David Helgason
David Helgason

In 2004 David Helgason co-founded Unity Technologies, the progenitor of the incredibly popular Unity development toolset, and now he leads the company in its mission to democratize game development by offering the best technology, and tools to the best community: game makers. We caught up with Helgason to chat briefly about where Unity is going, and what that means for indie developers the world over.

Q: What’s next for Unity in 2014?

David Helgason: We’ve got a lot of big things brewing at Unity that we can’t wait to tell the world about just yet. Of the things that are already public knowledge, we’re very excited to release our PlayStation 4 and Xbox One tools this year, along with our Tizen tools. We’re also looking forward to the democratizing distribution of games powered by the Unity Cloud, something we’re all very excited to get started as it’s going to be a big benefit to the Unity developer community. Naturally we also have a boatload of technical improvements and new features coming down the line, including the new GUI system which is one of the most requested features by Unity developers.

Q: Now that Unity supports the Vita, are there any other platforms that you’d like to bring into the Unity family?

Helgason: We’re actually running out of new platforms at the moment! With PlayStation 4, PlayStation Now, Xbox One and Tizen all already in development, Unity developers are going to be able to deploy their games to all of the major platforms in 2014. We really want to provide as much freedom for developers to harness the opportunities in the rapidly evolving device ecosystem, and we’re proud to say that we’re meeting that goal admirably.

Q: Why design game makers, and not games?

David Helgason: We got into making tools after trying to make games ourselves, finding no tools that we were happy with, building our own, and then realizing that we were onto something really amazing. We believed that broadly available tools had the potential to change our industry, grow it larger and more diverse, and that a huge base of developers sharing the same tools could create an ecosystem with incredible economics of collaboration.

And I never looked back: taking part in democratizing our industry has been the most rewarding journey I could have wished for. Still is by the way, since there’s still so much to do!

Q: It’s arguably never been easier for someone to make a game, thanks in part to the widespread availability of tools like Unity. How do you feel about the state of the indie gaming scene right now, and where do you see it going?

Helgason: While it can be a bit overwhelming to get into the industry and compete against so many other developers, tools that allow for quicker iteration are enabling massive experimentation and risk taking. It’s inspiring great creativity across all facets of gameplay, style, and storytelling in the indie scene right now. Unity is on this infinite adventure with the developers, who take our tools into hardcore action titles, deeply thoughtful strategic experiences, quirky experimental games, and on and on and on. This really is a golden age for games and gamers!


Wargaming

Jay Cohen
Jay Cohen

Jay Cohen, a game industry veteran with more than 17 years served across Playnomics, Jerry Bruckheimer Games, and Ubisoft, recently joined up as General Manager of World of Tanks developer Wargaming America. We spoke with Cohen about how Wargaming is approaching mobile development and how the company works to ethically deploy a highly profitable free-to-play game.

Q: Wargaming recently launched a beta version of its flagship PC game World of Tanks for Xbox 360. How was the game received?

Jay Cohen: We announced World of Tanks for the Xbox 360 last June @ E3 and saw a tremendous amount of support from both our community and the industry as a whole. In North America specifically, the console market is a huge opportunity for us to reach a new demographic of players. We are thrilled to be partnering with Microsoft to deliver a true World of Tanks console experience for players around the world. It is a huge milestone for Wargaming to extend beyond PC only gaming.

Q: What challenges did you face in taking the game multi-platform, and what did you learn? When do you think it makes sense for a company to consider bringing their game to another platform?

Cohen: Taking the game from PC to console first required us to address the UI and control schemes, and really hone in on the expectations that Xbox 360 players have for their games. Denny Thorley and his team in Chicago quickly learned we would also need to adapt our development and deployment procedures to a more structured certification process that wasn’t previously designed for a frequently updated PC free-to-play MMO.

We were also able to max out the full performance of the Xbox 360 and actually enhance some of the tank physics and animations for the Xbox Edition of the game.

In the end, we have always strived to bring a level of authenticity to our titles, and as a result of a cross company, global team initiative, the same attention to detail is carried over in the Xbox 360 version.

Q: How does Wargaming plan to approach the mobile market?

Cohen: Mobile platforms are the fastest growing gaming market, and leveraging Wargaming’s offerings to reach new consumers and create a strong mobile presence is among the company’s strategic priorities.

At Wargaming we are passionate about creating games that will satisfy the mobile gamer’s desire for short core loops that attach to extensive upgrade options and deeper strategy.

Our goal with World of Tanks Blitz is to create a mobile gaming experience that would rival anything they could find on any other platform whether it be a PC or console.

Q: World of Tanks held a spot on SuperData’s recent top ten list of most profitable free-to-play games in 2013. How do you approach designing and running an ethical, profitable free-to-play title?

Cohen: We are a company delivering free-to-play online games with the purpose of giving our players experiences that are based on fair treatment, whether they spend money in-game or not. In the past, many free-to-play models allowed players to pay for advantages over other players, but Wargaming’s monetization system is different; everything depends on your skill and experience.

We call the experience “free-to-win” and believe that such an approach to monetization is the most important aspect of keeping our players happy.


Fun Plus

Daniel Fiden
Daniel Fiden

Daniel Fiden serves as chief strategy officer of Fun Plus, a social networking and mobile gaming company based in China and the United States, with offices in Asia, North America, and Europe. Fun Plus rose to prominence thanks in large part to its flagship Facebook game, Family Farm, which proved remarkably popular in Asian markets. We spoke briefly with Fiden about what the future holds for Fun Plus, and how he predicts the gaming market will change in the year ahead.

Q: What’s next for Fun Plus in 2014?

Daniel Fiden: Since the company was founded in 2010, revenue has more than doubled every year and we remain very profitable. For us, this year is about continuing to grow the company. We’re going to do that first by making sure our existing games continue to grow. We’ll accomplish that by investing in nurturing our community of passionate players. Second, we’re going to make great, engaging games that we love, and that we think our players will love. That’s possible by continuing to hire only the best people in North America and China.

Q: How is developing games for the Asian market different from developing for the North American market?

Fiden: Analytics are an important part of crafting a successful game and enjoyable user experience. Whether analytics are used to help dissect where players are dropping off or getting stuck in a game or used to analyze how in-app purchases can be tweaked to be more attractive to players, tools like these are important to create successful entertainment businesses.

Q: What challenges has Fun Plus faced in keeping players engaged with games like Family Farm, and how have you met those challenges?

Fiden: It’s always a challenge to keep a community engaged, but our secret is that we listen to our players. We know that they love the game as much as we do, and so we respect their opinions about how to evolve the game and the community. We also focus heavily on local operations. So while we’re a global company that makes games that we think appeal everywhere, we also respect that localization is only a piece of the puzzle to make your game relevant. We have operations teams specific to the territories in which our games are played for example, Italian players deal with Italian game managers and customer support, and those people are full-time employees of FunPlus. It’s unique, but we think that investment leads to long-term relationships with our players, which means long-lived games.

Q: What do you think the future holds for Facebook farming games?

Fiden: Regardless of the platform whether it’s Facebook, iOS or Playstation a genre like social simulation games can continue to be interesting and compelling to people when developers focus on innovating it. We weren’t the first farm game, but we added great depth and features to the genre that people hadn’t seen before. Games like Hay Day have built on that foundation and have added even more. When we decide to make a game, it’s because we think we can make it better, deeper, more engaging and more fun. I don’t think we’ve seen the final evolution of the farm game, just as I don’t think we’ve seen the final evolution of the Match-Three or the MOBA.

Q: Why did Fun Plus join the Game Network?

Fiden: We love games, the game industry and the people who work in it. We recognize that Gamasutra, GDC and the “Join the Game Network” are a big part of that.

GDC Spotlight Interviews: Tencent Games, ARM and Unity Technologies

| January 2014

In This Issue:

  • Tencent Games – Steve Gray, executive in charge of production at Tencent Games, gives tips for developers who want to pitch apps to Chinese operators, and a sneak peek at what to expect from the upcoming Developer Day event at GDC 2014.
  • ARM – Dennis Laudick, VP, partner marketing at ARM, discusses the purchase of game lighting specialist Geomerics, how to join the ARM Connected Community, and the GDC Smartphone & Tablet Summit.
  • Unity Technologies – David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies, talks about the importance of analytics tools, Unity’s courting of small developers, and the company’s plans to display new technology at GDC.

Tencent Games

 

Steve Gray
Steve Gray

Steve Gray, executive in charge of production at Tencent Games, gives tips for developers who want to pitch apps to Chinese operators, and a sneak peek at what to expect from the upcoming Developer Day event at GDC 2014.

Q: Steve, in a recent talk entitled “A Developer’s Guide To Pitching Games for the Chinese Market,” you explained some of the marketing design and technical requirements developers ought to be aware of when pitching apps to Chinese operators. What are some of the more important tips?

Steve Gray: I’ll give you three …

— Flexibility and customer focus. You could also think of this as “operations focused.” You need to be ready and clearly willing to listen to the users and mold your game to their preferences.

— Make sure you have a monetization system that is integrated into your game design. The monetization itself should contribute to the fun of the game. It needs to be part of the core risk/reward feeling of the game.

— Absolutely no pay gates! Ever! You should be able to play and win the entire game for free. It might be really hard and time-consuming to do, but it should be possible.

Q: Just nine years after going public, Tencent has said that it is now the third-largest Internet company in the world behind Google and Amazon. That’s pretty impressive. What do you believe are some of the secrets of your success?

Gray: I think it ties back to my first tip regarding success in the Chinese market. Tencent is very focused on customer satisfaction. We hold ourselves to extremely high standards in terms of responding to customer feedback and that means at all levels. It means keeping our servers running and stable, it means getting back to customers who have questions or complaints immediately, it means solving their problems, and it means our development teams are constantly trying to improve their products based on customer feedback.

Q: Tencent has announced plans to buy about 15% of Activision Blizzard which, of course, owns Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. Are those the sort of games that you see fueling Tencent’s growth in the near-term? Or can you discuss other plans on your drawing board?

Steve Gray: It’s no secret that Activision and Tencent are collaborating on Call Of Duty Online for the Chinese market. That project has unwavering support from top management on both sides, and has the best and brightest from both companies working hard to make it as amazing and market-leading an experience as Call Of Duty has been and continues to be in the West. However, outside of that, it’s really not Tencent’s policy to discuss our investment strategies or details of any investments. You can check our company reports or listen in to the investor conference calls if you want the latest on company results and strategies.

Q: As a sponsor of the Developer Day at GDC, what will the takeaways be for developers who attend the two-day event? Can you give me a sneak peek?

Gray: We have several types of experiences we plan to offer to attendees of our Developer Day event, including:

  • Presentations from various Tencent leaders on our plans in and outside of China. These include more information for developers who would like to partner with Tencent to create great mobile and free-to-play products.
  • An opportunity for developers to meet with representatives of our various Chinese operating groups to better understand how they can adapt and license their products into the Chinese market.
  • Presentations from and the opportunity to meet with companies Tencent has invested in and partnered with all over the world. Some of these are companies that support the game industry with either content or technology, and some are operating companies from around the world. Exact details on who will participate aren’t available yet.

At a high level, what we hope to accomplish is to raise awareness in the development community of all the things that Tencent has to offer. We also want people to understand that because our “genetics” are rooted in free-to-play and games as a service, the way we work with our developers and partners is fundamentally different than the way box product publishers have worked with their developers in the past. We think we can offer a better and more symbiotic relationship to the development community  and that community is very inclusive. It includes publishers, it includes big established game developers, and it includes indie developers  and those two friends in a garage in some city we’ve never heard of who are right now making the next massive breakout hit.

Q: Why is participation in GDC important to Tencent? What do you hope to gain from being there?

Gray: GDC is a key part of the game development and publishing ecosystem. We want to be a leader and a force for progress in that ecosystem. We want the members of the community to understand that.  And, of course, we want to find some great partners and products to get involved with.


ARM

Dennis Laudick
Dennis Laudick

Dennis Laudick, VP, partner marketing at ARM, discusses the purchase of game lighting specialist Geomerics, how to join the ARM Connected Community, and the GDC Smartphone & Tablet Summit.

Q: Dennis, ARM recently acquired the Finland-based startup Sensinode Oy which develops internet-of-things software. That is said to be further evidence that ARM is pressing ahead to develop for more than just mobile devices and is hoping to cover cars, appliances, and anything that needs to be connected. Talk to me about ARM’s strategy for the near future.

Dennis Laudick: It’s easy to look at ARM and think that what we are mostly about is ICs for mobile devices and certainly the size of the mobile market means that that’s where a lot of our technology ends up. However, the truth is that ARM’s success to-date is really about a large ecosystem of companies using ARM-based technology to build a very diverse array of products for a wide range of markets. Already today you can see ARM technology being used in not only gaming devices — like phones, tablets, TVs, and GameSticks — but also in a far wider range of devices — like sensors, wearables, appliances, cars, and enterprise applications. A wide array of applications that continues to expand as ARM partners find new and innovative ways of using our technology. It’s pretty exciting to see some of the devices our partners continue to come up with.

As the market continues to move forward, like any company, we are always on the lookout for complementary technologies which help us to provide better solutions. Many of our acquisitions are simply about that — ensuring that we are providing solutions for today and tomorrow’s markets and we are providing solutions to our partners and the right components that will continue to allow them to innovate in the market. Where those components then end up is down to the ARM ecosystem of partners, and it’s simply our job to ensure that the community has everything they need and are supported as much as possible.

Q: Talking about acquisitions, ARM just acquired Geomerics which is best known for creating the lighting in such games as Battlefield 4 and Eve Online. I’m told that you intend to accelerate the company’s mobile and console game development capabilities. What will that mean for developers?

Laudick: It’s important to note that ARM and Geomerics have actually been working together in partnership for a couple of years now. There have already been a number of activities that were overlapping or would be in the future. As ARM gets increasingly active in the gaming space and as we look to further accelerate the roadmap around our very successful ARM Mali GPUs, we could see how the technologies would become increasingly aligned down the road. In the end, the decision to acquire Geomerics was actually fairly obvious.

Looking at Geomerics, the technology and techniques they have developed around lighting are truly advanced and quite unique. As you mentioned, they are already seeing success in numerous popular titles today with more to come. What they are really doing is bringing lighting effects to today’s platforms that were not expected to be possible for another couple of generations. Not only that, but they are doing it in a way that allows developers to work intuitively and be more productive in the process. That’s something we don’t expect to change. Geomerics will continue to support the full array of platforms and GPUs available in the market.

From an ARM point-of-view, acquiring Geomerics provides ARM with increased access and understanding of the game developer community so that we can help ensure that we are providing the best platforms, tools, and support, now and in the future.

Q: Your new interactive online platform is billed as a hub where developers can collaborate and discuss ideas and challenges. How can developers join and why would they want to?

Laudick: It is very easy to join the ARM Connected Community which is designed to be a one-stop interactive platform for anyone working with the ARM architecture. It’s a place to have your questions answered not only by other developers, but also by experts in the ARM engineering teams. You can even find your next project partner by searching among the 900-plus companies from the ARM ecosystem already presenting their products and services.

Q: GDC will once again feature a Smartphone & Tablet Summit (on March 17 and 18) that will focus on the nuts and bolts of great game design and successful business strategies specifically tailored to popular smartphones and tablets. This year ARM is a Gold Sponsor. Specifically what will you be speaking about at the two-day program?

Laudick: We see the Smartphone and Tablet Summit as a great platform for connecting with the community and ecosystem around mobile devices. Our specific plans are still being finalized but people can rest assured that we are working hard to ensure that we provide the community with the latest information and insights into ARM technologies, such as ARM Mali GPUs, ARM big.LITTLE processing, ARMv7 and ARMv8 architecture, as well as the tricks and techniques for best use and tools to support them.

Q: What can visitors to the ARM booth at GDC expect to see? Will you be unveiling any new programs or technologies?

Laudick: GDC is one of the most exciting events of the year for us. It’s a great opportunity for us to engage with the community, get feedback, see what the industry is up to, and help ensure that people are getting everything they need from ARM.

This year will be no exception. We will have a strong presence at the show (booth #1616). This booth is the place to come to see some of the latest technology we have been working on both in-house and via our numerous partners. You can see prototypes of new applications not only in gaming but also game developer-oriented tools and some of the advanced activities taking place in the exciting area of GPU computing. Most importantly, this is where you can come and talk to the ARM developers, ecosystem team, and a wide range of partners. It’s a great place to see what’s going on, get engaged, and get your questions answered. As for specific announcements around the show, I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun.

It’s worth noting that, in addition to ARM, Geomerics will also be attending GDC and will also be available at the ARM booth.


Unity Technologies

David Helgason
David Helgason

David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies, talks about the importance of analytics tools, Unity’s courting of small developers, and the company’s plans to display new technology at GDC.

Q: David, you announced just recently a partnership with GameAnalytics to bring their tools into the Unity Asset Store Online Services Strategic Partner program. Tell me about the strategy behind that partnership.

David Helgason: Our Online Services Strategic Partner program was designed to be a way to get quality services by reputable providers, such as GameAnalytics, featured to our gigantic developer community via the Asset Store. Online services such as those provided by GameAnalytics are an important part of modern game development.

Q: A recent report says that developers can expect to see a number of third-party firms offering additional analytics tools to help them be more successful with Unity-based mobile games. If that’s true, what can developers hope to gain from this new trend?

Helgason: Analytics are an important part of crafting a successful game and enjoyable user experience. Whether analytics are used to help dissect where players are dropping off or getting stuck in a game or used to analyze how in-app purchases can be tweaked to be more attractive to players, tools like these are important to create successful entertainment businesses.

Q: Since you dropped all pricing for the basic levels of your services, I’m told that Unity has been actively courting smaller developers who could use your products to be more competitive. How is that strategy working out?

Helgason: Last May, we removed the cost of all of our fundamental mobile development tools. That means individual developers and startup studios can build and deploy games for iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, and BlackBerry 10 without having to purchase a license. This is in addition to the desktop (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and Web publishing that were already free with the core Unity tools. These developers are the core of our awesome and very global developer community, and we’re as passionate about courting them as we’ve ever been. Many of the titles you see on our games list were created by indie studios. With over 2 million developers in our community — 520, 000 of whom are using Unity actively on a monthly basis — we’re certainly pleased that so many developers of all sizes are finding Unity to be an awesome development tool.

Q: What takeaways can developers expect to hear if they visit Unity’s booth at GDC?

Helgason: While we’re saving details for the show itself, we’ll have some fantastic new tech on display. We’ll also have members of our Asset Store, Unity Cloud, and Unity Games teams on hand, and will also have a variety of talks regarding our technology designed to help developers learn more about Unity and how it can be used best. Of course, we’ll also be displaying an awesome selection of games from our community at the booth, which is something we’re always excited about.

Q: Unity is a sponsor of the Developer Day at GDC. Why is that sponsorship an important part of your marketing strategy?

Helgason: The Dev Day program allows us to get deeper into our technology in front of a group of individuals invested in learning as much as possible. It’s a great place for us to showcase new technology and have the chance to dig into what makes Unity such an incredibly powerful tool for today’s developers.