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Google Cloud launches Game Servers, a managed cloud backend for games

Google Cloud today announced the beta launch of Game Servers, a managed service that provides game developers with the usual backend services for running their games, including multi-player games, in the company’s cloud. It’s worth stressing that these are not game streaming servers but solely meant to make it easier for game developers to build, scale and manage the backend services for their games.

The service sits on top of the Agones open-source game server, a project Google and Ubisoft first announced in 2018, and the Kubernetes container orchestration platform. As Google Cloud product manager Scott Van Woudenberg also told me, the team is also reusing some parts of Anthos, Google’s service for managing multi-cloud Kubernetes clusters. And while Game Servers can currently only run on the Google Kubernetes Engine, the plan is to allow for hybrid and multi-cloud support later this year.

Quite a few gaming companies have already built their own on-premises server fleets, so just like in the enterprise, having hybrid-cloud capabilities is a must-have for a tool like this. Google will also make it easy for developers who already use Agones outside of Game Servers today to bring those servers into the same managed Game Servers ecosystem by registering them with the Game Servers API.

As Van Woudenberg noted, virtually every game now needs some kind of cloud backend, be that for multi-player features, match-making or keeping persistent game stats, for example. That’s true for indie developers and major game studios. Game Servers, ideally, will make it easier for these companies to scale their clusters up and down as needed. Game Servers also provides for A/B testing and canary tests, and in future updates, it will include integrations with the Open Match matchmaking framework.

To get started, developers still have to containerize their game servers. For those companies that already use Agones, that’s a pretty straightforward exercise, Van Woudenberg said. Others, though, need a bit more help with that and Google is working with partners to walk them through this.

Score a new game for as cheap as $3 (!) during these Xbox One publisher sales

Score a new game for as cheap as $3 (!) during these Xbox One publisher sales

At about $60 a pop, keeping your personal library of video games stocked with the latest titles is hardly cheap — at least, it *usually* isn’t.

Now through Feb. 24 and March 2, respectively, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts (EA) are both having massive publisher sales on some of their bestselling Xbox One titles. Just pull up the Microsoft Store on your console or shop online to take advantage of discounts as high as 95% on titles from popular franchises like Star Wars Battlefront, Far Cry, Tom Clancy’s, Apex Legends, and even The Sims. (Spoiler: The Sims 4 is only $10 right now. Can I get a “gwelk yibs“?)  Read more…

More about Xbox, Video Games, Ubisoft, Ea, and Mashable Shopping

Tencent to grow gaming empire with $148M acquisition of Conan publisher Funcom in Norway

Tencent, one of the world’s biggest videogaming companies by revenue, today made another move to help cement that position. The Chinese firm has made an offer to fully acquire Funcom, the games developer behind Conan Exiles (and others in the Conan franchise), Dune and some 28 other titles. The deal, when approved, would value the Oslo-based company at $148 million (NOK 1.33 billion) and give the company a much-needed cash injection to follow through on longer-term strategy around its next generation of games.

Funcom is traded publicly on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and the board has already recommended the offer, which is being made at NOK 17 per share, or around 27% higher than its closing share price the day before (Tuesday).

The news is being made with some interesting timing. Today, Tencent competes against the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in terms of mass-market, gaming revenues. But just earlier this week, it was reported that ByteDance — the publisher behind breakout social media app TikTok — was readying its own foray into the world of gaming.

That would set up another level of rivalry between the two companies, since Tencent also has a massive interest in the social media space, specifically by way of its messaging app WeChat . While many consumers will have multiple apps, when it comes down to it, spending money in one represents a constraint on spending money in another.

Today, Tencent is one of the world’s biggest video game companies: in its last reported quarter (Q3 in November), Tencent said that it make RMB28.6 billion ($4.1 billion) in online gaming revenue, with smartphone games accounting for RMB24.3 billion of that.

Acquisitions and controlling stakes form a key part of the company’s growth strategy in gaming. Among its very biggest deals, Tencent paid $8.6 billion for a majority stake in Finland’s Supercell back in 2016. It also has a range of controlling stakes in Riot Games, Epic, Ubisoft, Paradox, Frontier and Miniclip. These companies, in turn, also are making deals: just earlier this month it was reported (and sources have also told us) that Miniclip acquired Israel’s Ilyon Games (of Bubble Shooter fame) for $100 million.

Turning back to Funcom, Tencent was already an investor in the company: it took a 29% stake in it in September 2019 in a secondary deal, buying out KGJ Capital (which had previously been the biggest shareholder).

“Tencent has a reputation for being a responsible long-term investor, and for its renowned operational capabilities in online games,” said Funcom CEO Rui Casais at the time. “The insight, experience, and knowledge that Tencent will bring is of great value to us and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to develop great games and build a successful future for Funcom.”

In retrospect, this was laying the groundwork and relationships for a bigger deal just months down the line. 

“We have a great relationship with Tencent as our largest shareholder and we are very excited to be part of the Tencent team,” Casais said in a statement today. “We will continue to develop great games that people all over the world will play, and believe that the support of Tencent will take Funcom to the next level. Tencent will provide Funcom with operational leverage and insights from its vast knowledge as the leading company in the game space.”

The rationale for Funcom is that the company had already determined that it needed further investment in order to follow through on its longer-term strategy.

According to a statement issued before it recommended the offer, the company is continuing to build out the “Open World Survival segment” using the Games-as-a-Service business model (where you pay to fuel up with more credits); and is building an ambitious Dune project set to launch in two years.

“Such increased focus would require a redirection of resources from other initiatives, the most significant being the co-op shooter game, initially scheduled for release during 2020 that has been impacted by scope changes due to external/market pressures with increasingly strong competition and internal delays,” the board writes, and if it goes ahead with its strategy, “It is likely that the Company will need additional financing to supplement the revenue generated from current operations.”