Founded in the U.K. and Ireland in 2013, GameSparks is one of the leading backend-as-a-service providers to the video games sector, trusted by leading publishers and developers such as Square Enix, Rovio, Ubisoft, Bandai Namco, and Amazon Game Studios. Its customers cut the time and cost of taking their games to market, and reduce risk as they build tools to deepen engagement and sustain success. GameSparks is also building a go-to-market strategy with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to target the games sector. This provides an “easy button” for customers by taking the sophisticated, elastic infrastructure of AWS and building world-class services on top of it.
GameSparks was founded by a team with extensive experience of digital transformations at blue chip media companies. This included building and running platforms for some of the world’s largest online TV services. GameSparks Chief Executive Officer Griffin Parry says, “We had seen the impact of digital on various media sectors, and we believed that gaming would be the next sector to undergo a server-side revolution. With our experience, we were in a great position to bring a distinctive product to market. But the challenge was how to do this quickly and without major capital investment.”
The technical leadership at GameSparks had been pioneer users of cloud providers including AWS for years. From inception, they believed that the cloud was the best option to launch the platform due to its speed, low cost, breadth of features, and security. The GameSparks platform is designed to run on multiple clouds to give customers a choice of providers, but it has relied heavily on AWS as its main supplier since day one.
Parry says, “AWS was great at helping us solve some of the initial challenges we had. These included being able to handle rapidly increasing loads, having a global reach, and allowing us to automate a lot of our deployment and scaling. We also knew we’d have a transparent pricing model, and could predict costs easily.”
AWS is GameSparks’ first choice because, as Parry puts it, “We have a high degree of confidence in AWS technology. As the market leader, it provides a reliable, reassuringly mature service with the broadest range of features.” Chief Architect Greg Murphy adds, “With games being intensive consumers of backend services, we were uncompromising in our need for a high-performance infrastructure.” To give an example, when Lara Croft: Relic Run, a high-profile mobile title launched in 2015, it immediately generated 30,000 concurrently connected users. The high-performance storage and easily scalable infrastructure available from AWS allowed GameSparks to seamlessly handle this rapid increase in load.
The GameSparks platform components that serve game requests are grouped into runtime clusters that can be deployed worldwide. Game developers include the GameSparks software development kit (SDK) in their game, which connects to GameSparks’ runtime clusters and securely manages communication between the game and GameSparks’ services. These clusters can be scaled up to handle anything between a handful of players and tens of millions, depending on user demand.
The runtime clusters are built on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances, with Reserved Instances enabling the startup to take advantage of significantly reduced costs. Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) provides the block-level storage, using a combination of general purpose solid-state drives and provisioned IOPS. GameSparks uses AWS Lambda to automate provisioning and scaling of its environment, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for data archiving.
Murphy talks about the firm’s experience with AWS Support: “AWS Support has given us rapid responses to our questions, and the technical knowledge we received helped make deployment on AWS simple. We also gained peace of mind that we were using AWS resources in the right way thanks to our AWS Solutions Architect.”
The company is using an increasing number of AWS features as its requirements become more demanding. For example, it is currently focusing on how analytics and machine learning can improve the player experience for its customers. It already uses big data analytics to automatically trigger marketing communications or adjust game parameters based on player behavior. The obvious extension is to have the system learn how to group players with particular propensities, and automatically identify the best mix of game parameters for each group. To do this, it uses tools like Amazon Machine Learning to help draw conclusions from the huge amounts of data generated by games.
Parry is clear that AWS has been instrumental to GameSparks’ early success. “AWS has been a key enabler for our business,” he says. “Without AWS, we wouldn’t be where we are now, with this level of complexity, at this level of reliability, and in this little time. We went from the initial idea of a company to full production in just nine months. Our first game had five million players within the first week. Now we host 4,300 games and process more than two billion API requests a month.”
And the company’s growth remains strong. “We’re enjoying three- to fivefold revenue growth a year,” says Parry. “The fact that we have a solidified working relationship with AWS helps us when we speak to prospective customers, but in turn I think we do a great job of selling the idea of the cloud to the traditional console and PC gaming industry, which has been skeptical in the past.”
The main competition for GameSparks is the inclination of customers to build backend platforms in house. Parry believes his company is winning that battle, and in doing so is introducing major companies to the cloud. “Games companies are becoming more comfortable with the idea that they don’t have to own their own hardware. They understand that they can rely on third parties to do the heavy lifting at the backend, allowing them to dedicate more resources to creating and operating high-quality games. Using AWS technologies works well for GameSparks, and we enjoy the additional validation of counting Amazon Game Studios among our customers,” he says. Murphy adds, “It also helps that we can deploy our service anywhere. We designed our platform to be distributed, so we can put a runtime cluster anywhere our customers need it. A great example is our recent deployment to mainland China, where the AWS Beijing Region helped us to meet the requirements of a customer who wanted to provide a low-latency back end to their players in China.”
And Parry is buoyant about the company’s future. “In two years, I expect that we’ll branch out into sectors beyond games,” he says. “We’re proud to be part of the games industry, because it’s at the bleeding edge in many areas, particularly around engagement and in-life optimization. With our background and with our infrastructure powered by AWS, I expect us to find exciting new applications for our technology.”
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