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What happens if your backend provider gets acquired?

What happens if your backend provider gets acquired?

Griffin Parry is the CEO of cloud-based development platform Gamesparks.

As mobile gaming has grown and matured as a distinct industry in its own right, there have been fundamental changes to the way games are built and managed.

Top of the list is a growing requirement for sophisticated server-side capabilities, with most, if not all of the top performing games becoming intrinsically 'online' - either through deep social media integration (i.e. Candy Crush), or PvP multiplayer (Clash Royale).

This is one of the big reasons why backend-as-a-service platforms have become popular. They offer these capabilities and more, without the significant cost and complexities of building an in-house solution.

Yet despite what Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) has to offer, some studios still have concerns about integrating with third-party platforms.

Setting the scene

Chiefly, these concerns tend to originate from platforms either not doing what they say on the tin, or worries they aren't powerful or flexible enough to keep up with new techniques and technologies.

Then, there's the concern that the BaaS platform you do opt for gets acquired - as happened first with Facebook's acquisition of Parse, and more recently Gamedonia's purchase by GSN Games.

In the bigger scheme of things these acquisitions are actually a great endorsement of the BaaS model, as it shows that even a company as well resourced as Facebook recognises the level of technology and talent needed to create a really good back-end platform.

You want reassurance that your game will continue to function and be supported.

But of course, if you are one of the developers with a game that depends on a BaaS company, you are probably not that bothered about a positive big picture scenario - you want reassurance that your game will continue to function and be supported.

So what should you do if you have integrated a BaaS platform that gets acquired?

Here are some straightforward tips to keep your game running and your stress levels manageable.

1. Don't panic: your games and apps will continue working

The first and most important thing to bear in mind is that it's highly unlikely that any shutdown will happen immediately.

Any reputable BaaS provider should offer some level of continuity and support.

For example, in the case of Gamedonia the company has been at pains to stress that all existing apps on the platform will be unaffected in the short term, instead closing the platform only to new developers.

Games will continue working and features will still be available for months if not years.

2. Gauge your response on the type of acquisition

Not all change is bad. In fact, if the platform is acquired by a company that already delivers developer tools or has obvious synergies elsewhere, the chances are things can only get better.

But if it gets acquired by another studio, or a firm that needs backend tools, it is unlikely to continue to support external studios. This is when it's probably time to look elsewhere.

One of the crucial considerations when it comes to deciding the level of urgency in shifting suppliers is the issue of downtime.

Downtime with games - especially games that have users around the world - can be costly. Not just in terms of potential revenue loss, but also simple gamer enjoyment.

If you're not 100% confident in the ongoing levels of support, you will want to test and try to predict and reduce any potential downtime. In that scenario, it's better to migrate sooner rather than later.

3. Give yourself enough time

The process of migrating your database is relatively simple, however it may be that you will need to rebuild the functions that use the database, which could be a considerable task depending on the levels of complexity and how the data is being used within the game.

Time will also be required to check data integrity and that the app works properly on the new platform.

Time will also be required to check data integrity and that the app works properly on the new platform.

So factor in not just enough time for the migration, but also for enough testing and validation to ensure there will be no unpleasant surprises once you go live. The more time you can give yourself for preparation, the more seamless the transition will be.

4. There are two options for migration

Perhaps the easiest of the two options is to factor in redundancy - that is, keep the existing platform running, copy your game code over to the new platform, and run both in parallel for a month (or more) side-by-side.

This means that all calls from the client are made to both platforms at the same time. This makes sure the data is synced while allowing you to test with live-data and no downtime.

The second option is to migrate your whole database in one go.

With this approach, you will need to have an endpoint setup for your database to migrate too.

In the case of Parse, the team created its own migration tool, helping to make this a painless process. However, only the docs in your collections will be migrated, so you will need to reproduce any script you need, just as you would in the first option.

This option may be the better for studios who don't want to wait for gamers to install updates.

As a caution though, it can also mean a considerable amount of downtime when it comes to testing. One way of avoiding this downtime is to reproduce the code with a test DB. Once you know it works, downtime is reduced only to the time it takes to copy over your collections.

5. Porting player IDs can be tricky

Some BaaS platforms use a standard user collection database to track player IDs.

When migrating to another platform, you will want to deliver as seamless crossover experience to players as possible. However, this can be tricky. IDs may not always port properly, depending on how they have been created.

Gamers should never need to know that there have been changes at the backend. From their perspective, they just want to play their game, from where they left off.

Backend services offer so many benefits to developers that it's a no-brainer for many to choose one.

Some backend platforms will be better at being able to match player IDs with data. You'll need to check with them first and ensure you run tests here.

Conclusions

Migrating to a new platform will mean extra work - there's no escaping that. But even if you're unlucky enough that it happens, it will still have been easier, more cost effective and beneficial overall than having to creating your own platform.

The reality is that it's very unlikely that anything like this will happen to you.

The truth is that the demand for BaaS will continue to grow, and so will the capabilities and features of the leading platforms.

We are already at the point where highly developed platforms are being used by many of the biggest publishers in the market, with many other smaller developers shifting to a BaaS approach.

Change isn't always easy. Technology can often be the easy part; changing mindsets and driving adoption are often the biggest challenges.

Backend services offer so many benefits to developers that it's a no-brainer for many to choose one. It would be a shame if the only thing holding developers back is the fear of the unknown.


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