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Sponsored Q&A: Advice from Microsoft's GDX lead for taking on next-gen's biggest challenges

Sponsored Q&A: Advice from Microsoft's GDX lead for taking on next-gen's biggest challenges

September 14, 2020 | By Kris Graft




Presented by Microsoft

Game developers have a lot on their plate right now with new consoles on the horizon and many devs working from home, making it more important than ever to have the right tools and teams at your back. That's where Kevin Gammill and the Gaming Developer Experiences Team at Microsoft comes in.

A mutli-generational member of the Xbox team, Gammill sat down with Gamasutra ahead of the company's next big console launches to talk about the challenges game developers currently face and how they can best equip their teams to ensure their games continue to thrive across key platforms by taking advantage of what Game Stack tools like Azure, PlayFab, and more have to offer

What's your role at Microsoft and your development background?

Kevin: Thanks for the opportunity Kris. I currently lead the Gaming Developer Experiences (GDX) team for Gaming at Microsoft. Our team’s mission is to empower game creators to realize their dreams. That’s the kind of relationship we want to create with developers, one that empowers and inspires.

Prior to leading up the Gaming Developer Experiences team, I have had a number of roles within Microsoft and gaming. This includes driving the software engineering efforts for Xbox One X, running the project management developer SDK and operating system teams for Xbox, and running the dashboard and in-box applications team for the Xbox 360. Prior to that I even did a stint in first party studios, which was great experience for me once I moved over to working on the Xbox platform team. Although I’ve sat in a few different roles over the years, one thread that’s tied them all together has been working with and learning from developers.

What’s the number one question you hear from game developers today, and how do you answer it?

Kevin: The question I get asked most often is: how should we drive deeper engagement with our player base? Having worked with studios across the industry, from AAAs to indies and everyone in between, I come back to the same answer: start thinking about your game as a service right now. The games as a service model focuses on constant iteration, which provides you the opportunity to create greater player engagement and lifetime value. Often, games as a service models create sticky, higher-margin titles that depend heavily on cloud-based services such as multiplayer, analytics, player relationship management, performance marketing and more.

Additionally, Covid-19 has introduced new requirements and market dynamics for game creators across the globe. It’s unfortunate that it took a global pandemic, but gamers are playing and spending more than ever before. Most game studios have had to adapt to a remote development model and have turned to the cloud to support their production pipelines as well as positive spikes in game play. We believe Microsoft is best positioned to empower game creators because we have both an industry leading cloud with Azure, and an Xbox ecosystem that game creators can use to reach up to the 3 billion gamers on the planet.

3 billion gamers in the world today, countless developers hard at work. How do you keep up with the demand?

Kevin: This is at the heart of what Azure promises to deliver for game studios: high availability, high reliability, data centers that are closer to your gamers delivering low latency experiences, all while being device and platform agnostic. Microsoft is one of the few companies that can claim a global public cloud that game developers can fully take advantage of.

You might be surprised to learn:

  • Azure powers some of the world's biggest games today, including Xbox Game Studios titles like Minecraft, Halo, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Gears of War, as well as thousands of third party AAAs including Roblox, Doom Eternal, No Man's Sky, and Rainbow Six: Siege.
  • Azure’s highly secure datacenters are available in 60 regions across 140 countries, more than any other public cloud provider.
  • Finally, Microsoft also has one of the world’s largest research institutions through Microsoft Research. This team is focused on a number of things including delivering bleeding edge cloud technology, leveraging our own 15 first party Xbox Game Studios to develop the next generation of services for game development. Ninja Theory’s collaboration with MSR on Project Paidia is a great example of this research to commercial application.

How much extra work should a team expect to have to put in to ship and maintain their game on console, plus PC, plus mobile?

Kevin: This is another great example of the power of the cloud. Through Project xCloud, our game streaming technology available to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members at no additional cost, we have the capability to stream thousands of AAA Xbox console games to virtually any smart endpoint including mobile phones, tablets, and even low powered PCs that don’t have the horsepower to run those games locally. Right now, we’re able to light up a lot of Xbox console games on Android phones but imagine the possibilities when we talk about more devices in the future.

Taking a console title and expanding to new devices introduces several challenges, one of which is input. The xCloud team has provided game creators with tools to help them best support touch controls with their titles. Empowering game developers to reach and engage a broader audience across the devices they want to play on, with the people they want to play with, when and where they want to play is how we help studios reach more of the 3 billion gamers on the planet.

What does the size and expertise of Azure mean for developers today?

Kevin: Many game developers may not know that Azure already has thousands of games running on it. Over the past few years, we’ve been steadily improving Azure to meet the cloud needs for game developers. We have a set of Azure PlayFab managed services that provide functionality for the most common gaming scenarios, including operating your game as a service. PlayFab’s architecture allows game creators to leverage turn-key solutions like multiplayer server orchestration, player communication, matchmaking and more to scale and meet player demand. If a more custom solution is required, game creators can use the building blocks of both PlayFab and the core Azure platform to roll their own experience from the ground up.

Azure is highly scalable, has highly available, low latency, is cross platform, and is price-competitive. And the platform continues to improve every day. Working with many of our studio partners in the industry, we believe the next generation of great games will leverage Azure. We’re already seeing great examples of this in titles like Microsoft Flight Simulator, Roblox, Minecraft and more.

Developers can learn more about our managed game services at PlayFab.com

What will be the biggest challenges for game devs in the near-term when it comes to launching and developing games on the new generation of consoles, and what is Microsoft doing to address that?

Kevin: Given we are in the middle of a console generation shift to gen 9, one of the biggest challenges for game creators this year is the added complexity of developing games across console generations. The Xbox platform allows game creators to build games that cross generations, including the ability to take advantage of the newest hardware capabilities from Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, while also running on the Xbox One family of devices. At the same time, infrastructure and services from Azure provide platform agnostic solutions to ensure no matter where you ship your game, whether console, PC, or mobile, your backend solutions will scale to meet the needs of your player base. By making all of this as frictionless as possible for game creators, Microsoft provides studios more time and resources to focus on delivering a great game. You make it fun, we make it run.



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