Alongside the likes of Facebook's Oculus Rift, Sony's Project Morpheus and Nvidia's Shield, Dublin-based startup GameSparks has been nominated in the Best Technical Innovation category at the Develop Awards 2014.
GameSparks is a cloud-based solution for game developers that helps them to build their server-side components without ever having to set up and run a server.
GameSparks launched its service in August 2012 and co-founder and CMO John Griffin says that progress has been excellent.
"We now have over 200 registered studios from all around the world, including some of the larger games studios.
"We look forward to making several new customer announcements in the near future.”
So, to further introduce the service, here are 12 frequently asked questions (and answers).
1. What is your preferred hosting solution?
Our platform runs on Microsoft Azure. Azure runs state-of-the-art data centres all over the world. This gives us global reach and means that we can provide high performance levels for players everywhere.
Our platform is actually built on a Linux-based stack, so we are using Azure for the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) services that it offers. On top of this, we have architected our own Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tiers to be completely horizontally scalable and they are fully redundant - which means that we don't have any downtime. We can scale up our services within minutes as required.
2. Do you offer Player Accounts Management?
We support player management. We offer several different kinds of registration / authentication including: anonymous, GameSparks managed account (which is really the developers’ account as its all their data not ours), or third party social network account. (We support most networks that use the OAuth 2 protocol.)
Once a player is registered, you can customise the information that is stored against the player record and expand that as mich as needed using our Cloud Data solution. This enables you to build your own data collections that you can link to player accounts.
All of the backend functionality that we provide - such as leaderboards, achievement systems, virtual currencies etc. - is all linked to the player account. This ensures that you can easily look at an individual player record and get information about these things. For example, you could easily retrieve a players details and see what achievements they have won.
We also support segmentation and different messaging and game configurations per segment, using Cloud Code. We will soon be adding a series of pre-defined tools to make this advanced functionality more user friendly and accessible.
3. Can player accounts be linked?
Yes, player accounts can be linked. How they are linked depends on which of the authentication methods are used. The easiest way to link players across games is to get them to authenticate with their Facebook or Twitter accounts.
Our reporting and analytics is currently done per game, but you can export data from our system so that you can aggregate the data and report on it across games using another service. We will add cross game reporting to our platform in the near future."
4. What about Leaderboards?
We have a comprehensive leaderboard solution that is used by some of the larger studios. Our solution is fully cross-platform. It is designed for high performance so that you can support high volumes of parallel writes and always be able to show the latest rankings in near real time.
We also support dynamic partitioning of leaderboards that allows you to define one or more partition attributes when setting them up. For example, if you wanted to segment a leaderboard by level, previously you would have had to create a leaderboard per level - whereas now you can add these partitions and use the same core leaderboard for a lot of different leaderboard requirements. Dynamic segments will be created for each level automatically and performance is always
5. Do you offer Achievement Solutions?
We do have an achievement solution. The key features of this are that it is fully cross-platform so that a player that has amassed a set of achievements on one device will have those achievements when they play the game on another device - a development that is becoming increasingly important for games.
Our achievement solution is flexible in that achievements can be triggered automatically based on a leaderboard - or they can be triggered by more complex server-side rules that you can set up using Cloud Code. When an achievement is awarded to a player, you can set it up so that they also get awarded a virtual good or any amount of one or more
6. What about Data Storage?
Our Cloud Storage solution enables you to manage player data and game assets (both binary and data) that can be sent to your players. The basic limit for this is 5MB per player. However, as a paying customer, this is increased to 20MB per player.
It is worth saying that this is not a hard limit - it is a fair usage policy that we monitor as an average across players. We can provide as much storage as you need. However, beyond the 20MB level, there will be a minor cost impact (to be agreed). Cloud Storage can also be used to store player created content (e.g. images, levels, geodata), as well as game developer created content."
7. Do you support Friends Lists?
Yes we do. Generally, our customers do this via integration with a social network such as Facebook and Twitter and our leaderboards can be partitioned by these friends.
8. And Virtual Goods?
We also support virtual goods. You can set up and manage as many as needed and they are completely cross-platform. If you define the virtual goods within another online store (iTunes, Google Play, Steam etc.), then you can configure the unique store ID against the virtual good on the GameSparks platform so that when the good is sold you can easily send a call to the backend and then our player record is updated.
We also support virtual currencies. You can set up up to six of these per game (this is not really a hard limit) and then reward new players with as much of these currencies as you like. The reason that I mention this here is that many of our customers use our virtual good solution as it allows you to manage large inventories across platforms.
As you are aware, it is not so easy to do this on the stores themselves - particularly if your game is sold across many different stores. However, if you use GameSparks, all of your in game inventory can be managed (and reported on) from one central location. You can then put virtual currency bundles in the stores and sell those reduced inventories of bundles that are easier to manage.
9. Do you offer analytics and reporting?
Yes. We provide a comprehensive reporting and analytics dashboard that we are adding to all the time.
10. What about Player Chat?
We support player-to-player chat. There are API calls that allow one player to send another player a message when they are connected via a multiplayer game session. We also support turn based and real time
11. What about Customer Support?
We provide a 24 x 7 customer support service. We are always monitoring our service and ensuring our customers games are functioning. When there are issues, we have different levels of response times and fix times depending on the nature of the issue and the level of SLA that the customer is subscribed to. All customers, including free, get a good level of basic service that they can fully rely on.
12. When will we hear more about your customers?
We are now working with over 200 studios including some of the larger ones since launching late last year - so progress is good. There is a string of games launching over coming months and we are looking forward to making announcements as they all come out.
For more information, product sheets and pricing plans, visit http://www.gamesparks.com