This vision document was written for you, the game maker.
Beamable was born out of my personal experiences building games: I’ve had the good fortune of entertaining millions of players. I’ve experienced the joy of crafting worlds that delighted and engaged audiences for years. I’ve also suffered the heartbreak of pouring myself into a game, believing in it wholeheartedly, only to see it fail to live up to its potential.
From this, I’ve learned three critical lessons. First, create social engagement with your community. Second, deliver frequent content that players are happy to pay for. Third, keep costs low.
The more I spoke to other game makers, the more I became convinced that Live Games were becoming too expensive to operate; that teams had gotten too large; that processes were inefficient and brittle; that “best practices” are often more academic than practical to implement; and that smaller teams were consistently shut out of the market entirely. As game makers, we didn’t want to build server or business technology on our own. Similarly, existing so-called “Backend as a Service” (BaaS) products were a disappointment. We wanted to focus on game development, not backend integrations.
I looked at my own background, which included creating games and building Software as a Service (SaaS) products, and realized I was uniquely positioned to do something about the problems. I had to do something to help the industry I knew and loved.
I started by putting together an amazing team of veterans in game development and software platforms. We spent a year talking to studios, identifying ways to leverage technology we had built before and discovering solutions to problems that had never been solved.
The vision for Beamable is to eliminate all barriers to building and running a successful game. I will expand upon this vision here by sharing what I’ve heard from game makers like you and the unique way we approach the problems you’ve told us about: empowering creators.
What we’re setting out to do is create the business foundation for the metaverse and build a community around it—a community in which you’ll be the most important part.
Jon Radoff, CEO, Beamable
You already know that the game industry is larger than ever, fueled by a global audience of billions of players. Revenue is approaching $300 billion per year, segmented by a dazzling array of platforms and genres.
The ubiquity of high-speed mobile and Internet connectivity has enabled continuously connected, updated, and monetized games that engage audiences longer than the retail games of the past.
After two decades of exponentially increasing team sizes, 3D engines such as Unity are now enabling dramatically smaller teams to build market-leading products once again. One need look no further than such hit games as Among Us, Valheim, Hollow Knight, or Stardew Valley—each of which was made by teams of 1–5 developers.
The game industry’s opportunities haven’t gone unnoticed by investors, as billions in fresh capital has flowed into studios outside the traditional publishing industry.
Together these forces fuel a new era of disruption as millions of game developers create countless games both large and small. Smaller teams are more agile, capital-efficient, and connected to their players. Games have transitioned away from self-contained products to become ongoing entertainment services.
Many games also have a vibrant “meta” that envelops them with online forums, streamers, media tie-ins, and eSports. Game makers are looking for ways to weave their players together into communities, bring them continuous content updates, and monetize it all. Still, sometimes these objectives feel overwhelming because no solutions are truly out-of-box.
Nearly all games have some element of live services.
It is an exciting time to be in the game business, but it is also intimidating. Most of us became game makers because we love the craft and enjoy entertaining players. Few enter this industry to build content management systems, tools, monetization schemes, or social technology. Those who do take on these systems often spend far too much time reinventing the wheel and exhausting time and resources that could have been devoted to making a better game.
The trailblazers who built Live Games constructed all of the infrastructure themselves; there was nothing before them. In this early stage of the market, customers were more accepting of problems and incomplete products and players had few games to compare against.
These groundbreaking teams made significant investments in server technology, proprietary systems, and the people to operate them. If you were part of one of these early-stage endeavors, you might remember, as I do, the sense of invention and discovery.
Players learned to love games with live interaction, competition, and frequent content updates. Developers found that continuous monetization provided more upside and sustainability than did one-time purchases.
The market matured and evolved. Early successes sparked a huge proliferation of teams building Live Games. The benefit was an explosion of creativity, game types, and improving production values. However, these teams needed to get to market faster and at a lower cost than the pioneers. “Backend-as-a-Service” (BaaS) vendors such as PlayFab and GameSparks emerged to streamline these teams by providing SDKs or headless APIs that improved the efficiency of the engineers tasked with building these systems.
The problem with these approaches—which were largely designed by enterprise technologists with little input from game developers—is that they tend to create expensive legacy systems that don’t adapt well to change, fail to reflect the real workflows that take place in a game studio, and require teams with specialized skills. They focus on optimizing backend systems rather than fixing the broken workflow and top-down processes that game makers care about.
We’re at the classic “chasm” that separates early endeavors from more mature markets, a pattern that has played out in some aspects of game development already—and is informed by stories that unfolded in other creative industries. This has happened before within games. Once, game developers used lower-level APIs such as Microsoft DirectX or OpenGL to build their 3D games (an approach made obsolete by 3D engines such as Unity or Unreal, which are fully integrated with design studios). Today, over 71% of the top 1,000 games use Unity, including such billion-dollar franchises as Hearthstone, and almost nobody would consider building a 3D engine from scratch.
Outside of games, e-commerce provides a road map of where things may go from here. Only a few years ago, if you wanted to build an online store, you might sit down with an application server such as Ruby on Rails or Node.js and start programming—or perhaps build around an on-prem e-commerce stack with your own iron. Now, one can launch an e-commerce website in minutes using Shopify, which is oriented toward creative business owners rather than technicians.
Evolution towards creator-centric platforms
Maybe you see yourself stuck in one of the debilitating patterns I’ve described. Are you connected to aging legacy technology that has become more of a tax than an advantage? Did you incorporate a backend API that ended up limiting your options and costing more than expected, not only in direct costs but in the maintenance of specialized skills and capabilities within your team? Do you feel as if the processes you’re stuck with were designed by people who have no idea how game studios live and work? Or are you facing the daunting challenge of starting something new and needing to build your game faster than ever? We created Beamable to lend a hand with all of these circumstances.
You told us you didn’t need another API. You needed something that would fit your existing game development practices. Here are the big things we heard from you:
1. Make Live Game Development Truly Native
You want to get rid of the second screens with all the shell scripts, secondary application server stacks, brittle/disconnected build, DevOps processes, and broken debugging tools. You want everything self-contained in the game engine you work in. Today we are supporting Unity, and tomorrow we plan to bring similar principles into Unreal and others.
2. Implement Complete Systems Out of the Box
Rapidly implementing live content updates, events for players, social interactions, and monetization systems shouldn’t require coding. You ought to be able to launch everything you need to run a Live Game business through drag-and-drop operations or a Web-based administration console.
Using Beamable should be as simple as downloading a Unity plug-in. You don’t want to have to talk to us or go through a lengthy implementation process just to get started.
4. No-code wherever possible, and low-code when necessary
Just like Unity itself, many common operations are done visually. You want to maintain that paradigm, but you also want to be able to customize when you want. When you customize, you want to be able to do it with C# since that’s what Unity itself uses.
5. Stop thinking about servers
The services should “just work.” You shouldn’t have to think about DevOps, standing up servers, monitoring systems, scaling systems, performance, etc. You’d rather invoke a set of reliable services and have everything scale automagically to your demand.
6. Enable server-authoritative logic without building servers
Sometimes you do need to create special rules, multiplayer coordination, or specialized datastores—and you’d rather that be an extension of the C# APIs immediately available to Unity, not a separately managed server stack.
7. Create a community ecosystem
Unity did it with the Asset Store; Roblox does it with their marketplace; Shopify does it with Shopify Apps. You’d like the ability to tap into components that other developers have shared with the community and into a community that will build the things that Beamable wouldn’t.
You, the game developers: long before anyone attempted to systematize Live Game services, it was the innovators who created new forms of play, new social structures and new business models. I've learned so much from all of you, and from the game makers I've been fortunate to work alongside.
Roblox: Although they’ve solved for a different market, Roblox has thought through many of the above issues. The advantages of Roblox include its use of a single language, whether for client or server code (Lua), that’s tightly integrated into its 3D engine as well as a marketplace for exchanging code and assets. Though Roblox can provide access to a large audience, it takes a hefty revenue share and lacks many of the features that independent game makers desire.
We’re inspired by how successful Roblox is and how easy it is to create Live Games within it. Today some people think of Beamable as “Unity for the Server.” In the future we may be considered “Roblox for Unity,” but with the production values and capabilities that independent game makers aspire to.
Shopify is a huge source of inspiration. They made it easy to launch a store: you can be up and running in minutes, and everything is geared toward the store creator rather than an engineer. However, if you need the extra power, they publish APIs for customization and have invited a large community of developers to contribute their own plug-ins and apps.
Drawing upon some of the successful patterns you’ve just read about—combined with the feedback of the first 100 studios on the Beamable platform—we aspire to the following set of principles for our platform in 2021:
1. Creator-Centric Design
We think about the person who creates games first and foremost: the person who works inside Unity, the designers who work from spreadsheets, and the product managers who run events and sales.
Game developers shouldn’t need to code to get the most common operations working. We’d provide fully integrated services for content management, commerce, and social—informed by our own experiences building high-monetizing, frequently updated games—and ship them with Unity prefabs that provide the scaffolding to get up and running on day one.
3. Integrated Debugging
Expose a debug console within the game’s runtime environment that allows access to data and the underlying services.
4. C# Microservices
Tamper-proof competitive gameplay, shared interactive worlds, and persistence across multiple player devices are common aspects of Live Games. We need to empower game makers to build these experiences within the UnityEditor environment in a single programming language (C#).
Because Beamable standardizes common services like identity, persistence, and networking, game makers can also start to exchange components. This is a familiar pattern in the Web-development world, where Node.js and Ruby on Rails developers can write the frontend and the backend in a highly integrated environment and share packages that are largely plug and play (e.g., gems; npm).
We envision a future in which, driven by your passion for creativity, you create amazing games with smaller teams while delighting players with online events and content updates that they’re happy to pay for.
Ultimately, all of us in this industry are building the metaverse. That’s going to require an open, extensible, and scalable platform that lets you create the cooperative, competitive, and persistent worlds players crave. Truly unleashing game makers will require a creator-centric orientation, self-service, low-code/no-code, and a pluggable marketplace of services that enable the community to extend and exchange Live Game functionality in ways we never dreamt of.
It will also require a community of creators who share knowledge, opportunity, and new approaches to the game business. Innovation will change: it might be perfecting in-app purchases today, or it might be crypto-economies tomorrow; it might be nurturing the right social environment for your players today, to building bridges into eSports and streaming ecosystems tomorrow. My earnest hope is that Beamable will help bring this community to life.
The future is Live Games. The future is smaller teams. The future is studios that can thrive. You supply the creativity, we’ll supply the architecture and the business tools—and together we’ll create a community that can make the game business better.