Some of the most successful game companies of late, PlayFab CEO James Gwertzman says, are “tech companies that happen to make games.”
In the context of his pitch, at least, that’s a problem. The rise of free-to-play gaming and “games as a service,” which treat gamers as potential repeat buyers rather than one-time consumers, has let technical savvy eclipse creative power in game design.
Rather than reject that trend, Gwertzman’s solution is to offload some of the expensive technical gruntwork to his company, which gives companies a dashboard for tracking players and purchases down to granular levels.
That answer seems to be clicking with a group of investors — PlayFab said today it had raised $2.5 million in seed funding — that includes founders and alumni of PopCap, Kabam and Disney. And in an interview with Re/code, Gwertzman said “almost two dozen” game companies had already committed to using PlayFab’s back-end system in their games, with “hundreds” more in talks.
The tracking system isn’t limited to free-to-play games, but rather is something of a Swiss Army knife for any game with a live service component. Gwertzman used it to dive into the servers of a three-year-old online game, picking a live game and pulling up the on-file information about one player currently in the game — including when he joined and how much he had spent on the game.
This sort of information might be useful, he explained, for a customer support representative trying to figure out how to respond to player comments or complaints online. The player’s history would show how important he was to the game in terms of time or money spent, and the customer rep could choose to give him free virtual currency as a reward. If the player had been reported for abuse by other players, the rep could even revoke a specific item purchased within a game as punishment.
The Seattle-based company sees the system as a tool for game design, as well. From within the same dashboard, it’s possible to schedule a timeline of live “events” — for example, a one-day-only sale of a certain in-game item — or even throw a totally new item into the mix by assigning it the relevant stats, like damage dealt and rate of fire.
PlayFab charges clients based on their numbers of daily active users, at rates Gwertzman said would be comparable to the do-it-yourself route but without the upfront costs of creating a back end. It’s currently available for iOS, Android, Facebook and PC gaming on Steam, and will soon be available to developers on both Xbox and PlayStation.