With its connected gaming technology already integrated into hit titles like Red Dead Redemption, Mario Kart Wii and Crysis, GameSpy is turning its sights to the independent game community.
The company has announced the GameSpy Open initiative, which will make its entire catalog of multiplatform online game technology available free of charge to small development studios. That will allow burgeoning game makers to offer services including cross-platform multiplayer, leaderboards, cloud data storage and community services (such as buddy lists and matchmaking).
"We're pivoting our business in a big way," Sean Flinn, senior product manager at GameSpy Technology tells Gamasutra. "We want to make our service easily accessible to this massive wave of developers that is hitting the industry."
The company plans to demonstrate several independent games using the service at next week's Game Developers Conference, including Trendy Entertainment's Dungeon Defenders, which allows players to take part in cooperative gameplay with others, regardless of whether they're playing the game on the PC, PS3, iOS or an Android phone or tablet.
The move is a play by GameSpy to maintain its relevance in the industry in years to come, as it believes the independent movement will become a much more important segment of the video game industry in the near future.
"Anyone who has been paying attention has notices that independent developers are not just hobbyists any more," says Flinn.
"It has gotten very serious. … We made a bet on this because we think the independents are here to stay and will be successful in a sea-changing kind of way. This isn’t just a flash we’re seeing. Much like in films or other industries, we're going to see independents achieve AAA success."
The definitions of that success might be slightly different, though, notes Flinn. But that's not overly important, he says. An expansive audience reach combined with lower development costs mean indie hits will still be viable ventures.
"I don’t think we need to compare Angry Birds to Gears of War," he says. "Both are wildly popular and attractive to an audience that crosses over in a lot of different ways. This isn’t about people emulating the AAA space. This is about people trying new things and seeing amazing success."
Of course, a company – even one with News Corp's backing - doesn't get rich by giving its product away. Large development studios will continue to pay for the Powered by GameSpy technology as they always have – and later this summer, the company will unveil a tiered program that will charge developers different amounts as their games become more popular.
(Angry Birds, for instance, would hardly qualify for the free service, even though Rovio might argue that they are still an independent developer.)
"We'll be introducing a new business model later in the year that produces stair steps up," says Flinn. "In a sense, we'll grow with these games, but not in a punitive way. … If their game isn't doing phenomenal, world-changing amounts of traffic, it's not something they're going to have to worry about. And if it does, they're going to see [the charges] coming."
While the services offered by GameSpy are fairly well-known, the company is hoping the unique view independent developers have on the industry might result in some new uses for those services.
"We’re kind of curious to see what happens," says Flinn. "We're not afraid to throw stuff out there and see what people make of it. What we're really hoping is this sparks some innovation in the space – especially innovation and disruption in the online side of things."