Highwinds began offering CDN services to Sneaky Games, a social game studio that specializes in creating and running free-to-play games in October 2013. The Austin-based game developer boasts titles including Fantasy Kingdoms, Fantasy Kingdoms’ Cloud Village, Syfy Monster Island and the popular and growing Arena of Heroes.
Last week, we sat down with two of the guys, Studio Head Marshall Adair and John Wussow, Director of Technology, to talk about free-to-play and cross-platform gaming, their experience using a CDN and what’s coming next for Sneaky Games.
Customer Q&A: Sneaky Games
Highwinds:Tell us about Sneaky Games. How did you guys get together and what do you love about games?
Sneaky Games: Sneaky Games started with just a few of us. We had all been previously working for other game development companies or for contract gigs making advert-games. In 2009, we saw an opportunity (as others did) in the exploding Facebook and social games market, and knew we could compete with what was out there. So, we started with just a few people, rolled up our sleeves, set ourselves a really rigorous deadline and built a fantasy-themed farming/builder game. It immediately took off and allowed us to spin up a few other teams to work on some new games, an analytics platform and cross-platform internal technology.
Games are an inspiring medium, both to interact with and to work with. We feel that there is so much more to explore in games, what they can accomplish and how they can ‘entertain’. We want to help define what games can do. Not to mention, games are evolving with the devices and platforms as they are being adopted too, which is an exciting to be a part of.
Highwinds: You appear to have a hit on your hands with Arena of Heroes. Why do you think your fans enjoy the game so much?
Sneaky Games: Arena of Heroes is a ‘first’ in many ways and is ‘unique’ in many others. It’s the first ever turn-based asynchronous MOBA (multiplayer online battle game), it’s the first ever cross-platform MOBA and it’s the first turn-based tactics game to use radii instead of a grid for measuring movement distance and skill ranges. It remains familiar in so much that it mimics a real-time game, using mechanics of a traditional MOBA but applying them to a turn-based game-flow. So it is a fresh take on a well-established game genre, and I think that resonates with our players.
Highwinds: Which platforms are currently supported and which ones are going to be supported in the near future? Tell us about your cross-platform and mobile strategy.
Sneaky Games: Arena of Heroes is currently available on PC, Mac, iPhone and iPad. Soon, within a few short weeks, we’ll also be hosted on the Web (Facebook, Kongregate, Google+, etc.) as well as Android and eventually on the Windows Surface and phone. And so, your account and games can be transferred between any of these devices seamlessly and even mid-battle if you prefer.
Cross-platform to us was a way to ensure all types of gamers could share a single, great experience in the same game. Each platform we have Arena of Heroes on gets special attention to ensure the game feels the same, despite having drastically different processing powers and controls. For us, it was important to allow everyone to play each other too, which makes sure players are always available, considering we’re a PvP game that’s huge. We hate waiting for matches … on any game, especially our own.
Highwinds: Before you started using Highwinds for your CDN needs, you were using one of our well-known competitors. What drove the decision to switch and how has your experience been?
Sneaky Games: We certainly were. Our old CDN was fine and dandy and it worked for our purposes. But, we had a few issues with it, such as the long time to purge edge servers. That was a biggie – we really hated having to wait for our games to update if there was an issue or a change to our content. Every minute/hour/day on a live game really counts, and so time is directly correlated to revenue. Reducing time to purge has increased our revenue.
Also, for a faster purge time, better world-wide reach and way (way, way) better communication and support, Highwinds is somehow cheaper. Go figure. So both from a business perspective and a technical perspective, making a switch to Highwinds just made sense and we’ve been more than happy with the switch.
Highwinds: Our readers may like to hear your advice about preparing your games for delivery to multiple platforms and devices via a CDN.
Sneaky Games: Most of the data that is delivered through the Highwinds CDN is the content for our PC patcher and the Mac DMG version of our game. We also use Highwinds to deliver some dynamic images in game. The most important thing we use the CDN for however is to tell the client which game server to use based on version number. This allows us to continue to service our live customers while providing a new client to submit for approval to the various app stores. Without this, being cross-platform and delivering a new version of the game would be almost impossible.
Highwinds: Are there any specific delivery challenges for a turn-based, MOBA game like Arena of Heroes?
Sneaky Games: Not specific to turn-based games, but for our cross-platform support, the 50MB and 100MB download limits on the mobile app stores are a challenge we come across. We have discussed the possibility of adding a patcher to the iOS and Android clients to deliver the game to 3G and 4G customers, but this feature has not been implemented yet. Every other aspect of CDN delivery has been similar to our Web-based games.
Highwinds: We have seen gaming companies move to a much greater cadence of sending updates and patches when they have a free-to-play model. When you monetize, offering new DLC (downloadable content) and getting new artwork and assets to the end user is even more important. Can you expand on this a little?
Sneaky Games: Sure thing – and you’re right, this is a trend we see and are glad to be a part of. Free games are often described as a service, which means continuous support for your customers. This, by definition, for games is DLC or patches – which basically update and add more revenue streams for your product. So, the more rapidly and stably you can provide these updates, the more revenue potential your product has.