AWS for Games Blog

Norsfell builds ‘Tribes of Midgard’ Viking empire with Amazon GameLift

Independent game development studio, Norsfell, was founded in 2013 to forge new genres that bring people together. Now approaching its 10th anniversary, Norsfell has grown from a small startup developing mobile games into a studio with nearly 40 team members who helped launch the award-winning multi-platform game, “Tribes of Midgard.” Globally released on July 27, 2021, the game has since received 19 updates and counting, ensuring players continue to enjoy a high-quality experience. By using Amazon GameLift for dedicated server management, the Norsfell development team can easily test and deploy new environments and scale Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) fleets based on demand and budgets.

Norsfell Team

“GameLift is specifically designed for game servers, and has been proven by notable development studios. Knowing other developers were using it gave us more confidence to build. It also saved us time deploying and managing game servers,” shared Benjamin Jouan, Norsfell Co-Founder and Director of Engineering.

Tracing origins

Envisioned as a colorful Viking experience that mixed action roleplaying game (RPG) and survival elements, the idea behind “Tribes of Midgard” was sparked in 2016. The following year, the Norsfell team submitted their concept to the Montreal Ubisoft Indie Series annual competition for local independent game studios—and won. Buoyed by success and a cash prize, they moved “Tribes of Midgard” into production. Ahead of the game’s first alpha build release in March 2019, Norsfell adopted a backend comprising Amazon API Gateway, AWS Lambda, and Amazon GameLift.

“We decided to do the backend work early on and not wait for the gameplay to be fleshed out to add multiplayer capabilities. We had previously used a managed backend provider, but wanted to build more of it ourselves using existing services; however, autoscaling was crucial since we didn’t have dedicated DevOps,” noted Jouan. “GameLift’s flexible fleet management system allows us to easily redirect player traffic from one game version to a new one, which helped us launch test builds and updates without interrupting the player experience. It allows us to plan for, respond to, and adapt in different scenarios.”

Epic connections

In addition to making backend changes, Norsfell adopted Epic Games’ Unreal Engine real-time 3D game engine to develop and run “Tribes of Midgard.” The team collaborated with Epic to ensure a successful launch on all platforms. As Norsfell neared completion on the game, Epic awarded them a MegaGrant, a program that provides financial support to creators using Unreal Engine. Shortly thereafter, Norsfell signed with Gearbox Publishing to officially release “Tribes of Midgard.”

“The MegaGrant was a great addition to our accomplishments, and that recognition certainly helped us believe in our project and continue ahead. It also gave us that little extra push of visibility,” said Jouan. “Also, the fact that Epic uses AWS for ‘Fortnite’ validated our decision to use AWS. It met our R&D needs overall, and since AWS SDK already supported Unreal engine, this made the GameLift integration process very straight forward.”

Data-driven decisions

Throughout initial development and ongoing updates to “Tribes of Midgard,” the Norsfell team monitored Amazon GameLift metrics through its integration with Amazon CloudWatch. The solution provides observability into data that informs areas for server optimization as well as enhancing the overall player experience. For example, by looking at first placement fulfilled metrics and how each aligns with the region the player selected, the Norsfell team can determine if they are running the correct number of servers in each region. That information provides a baseline for how many servers should be pre-warmed in each fleet.

“When we launched the game, we pre-warmed all our servers because we didn’t know what to expect. The more we used GameLift, the more we trusted it, and were able to stay close to our baseline. We’ve done 19 updates in three years, and by the fifth update, we were able to submit needed capacity when we opened the release,” Jouan explained.

In terms of fleet composition in Amazon EC2, Norsfell deploys both on-demand and Spot Instances, which allows them to ensure game performance and save on costs where possible. Jouan said, “We’re not always using the same fleets, but we’ve had great success using c4.large and c5.large Spot Instances; they’re highly available so we don’t see many interruptions.”

When AWS releases new Amazon EC2 instances, Norsfell can modify its fleet in as little as an hour with Amazon GameLift and test their performance without impeding the player experience. “The recently launched AWS Graviton instances are the next improvement we were looking for,” added Jouan.

A growing tribe

“Tribes of Midgard” is now available for PC and consoles globally, with Norsfell enriching the game with frequent updates to add new content, game mechanics, and gameplay. Player feedback is key to shaping these updates, and the studio emphasizes the community aspect of the game through the Midguardians program, which rewards players for positive and helpful behavior. As a result of the game’s ongoing development and strong community aspects, “Tribes of Midgard” has earned a strong rating on Steam, as well as Best of E3 Awards from Rock Paper Shotgun and PC Gamers, and recognition from MEGAMIGS, an annual meeting of the Quebec video game industry.

Though close to marking a decade in game development, Norsfell is only just getting started when it comes to building the rich universe around “Tribes of Midgard.” Jouan concluded, “We’re able to ship updates fast and work efficiently because we’re decisive and focus on innovation. We also look to and trust what other game developers did before us and use that as inspiration in determining our own path. Ultimately, that’s what let us to AWS and Amazon GameLift.”

Learn more about Amazon GameLift and other AWS solutions that can help you build with increased flexibility, scalability, security, and reliability.

Emily McKinzie

Emily McKinzie

Emily McKinzie is an Industry Marketing Manager at Amazon Web Services.