Microsoft just posted some of its biggest quarterly earning results in recent memory, dominated by gains in its service and cloud sectors. With the pandemic, work-from-home culture, and online gaming have seen huge boosts. Naturally, Microsoft was well-placed from a business perspective to not only weather the storm but ride the waves.
Microsoft has enjoyed a spurt of growth with Xbox in recent quarters, buoyed by the pandemic and a new console generation launch. Other gaming companies have also seen huge amounts of engagement in their online services, increasing the damage for packages like Microsoft's PlayFab suite to manage their in-game communities.
We recently caught up with Microsoft's Gaming Cloud General Manager James Gwertzman to learn more about what Microsoft Azure and PlayFab bring to the industry for game developers and gamers themselves.
What is PlayFab?
At its core, PlayFab is a suite of tools and services, similar to Microsoft Office, oriented around game development and online operations. If you're an Xbox gamer, you'll be familiar with things like Xbox Live party chat, messaging systems, DLC content management, in-game purchasing, online data and presence, and things of that nature. PlayFab offers these systems and tools to publishers like Ubisoft, EA, and others, to build into their own games and services. Some notable titles that use Azure and PlayFab include Rainbow Six Siege and No Man's Sky.
Gwertzman explained that Azure PlayFab sees 750 million identities per month across its services. PlayFab isn't just an Xbox and Windows suite of tools, either. You can use it to build titles that run on mobile, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and even Google Stadia, with true cross-platform compliance and analytics systems.
How is PlayFab helping developers?
Beyond live ops, analytics, servers, matchmaking, and the obvious stuff, PlayFab is also helping ease the transition to remote working. The way we work and play has fundamentally changed as a result of the pandemic, it's easy to speculate how services like PlayFab might help ease developer pipelines that have been forced to shift to the cloud as a result of national lockdowns. This has presented challenges, of course, but Gwertzman notes that it may also present new opportunities with the right tools.
Microsoft's home-built features, such as Project xCloud game streaming, Xbox Live, and beyond, have informed and, in some cases, been bundled into products that PlayFab can then disseminate to the general game development to elevate the industry as a whole.
PlayFab and Azure are able to provide raw servers for game developers who simply want to build their own tools, but Microsoft has an opportunity to take the burden off developers with its suite of services. It's particularly useful and cost-effective for independent developers who may not want to shoulder the load of maintaining and building their own tools for these sorts of things, freeing up capital to focus on creativity instead.
What does the future of PlayFab look like?
PlayFab is adding sophistication and polish to its existing toolset, but to stay ahead of the game and react fast to a rapidly changing technological landscape, investing in cutting edge tech is undoubtedly on the agenda.
Gwertzman talked up how Microsoft builds tools for its own games, then moves them out of the siloes and into products that third-parties can adapt. He also noted now some of Microsoft's recent gaming products have helped inform future PlayFab opportunities.
Gwertzman's comments highlight that Microsoft's acquisition of Zenimax and Bethesda could play a pivotal role in bringing PlayFab to the fore. It positions Microsoft as a competitor against engine vendors like Epic Games and Unity3D, as Microsoft will acquire the legendary id Tech engine through owning id Software. Wolfenstein, DOOM, and others were built recently using this engine. With PlayFab's investment, it's easy to imagine where the tech could be further adapted. Gwertzman was unable to comment on these possibilities, given the fact the acquisition is on-going and not yet finalized. Still, he did note that PlayFab's Chief Technology Officer Travis Bradshaw was formerly Lead Programmer at id Software, working on the id Tech engine. Also, it's worth noting that DOOM Eternal uses PlayFab for its online systems.
Beyond adapting cloud technology for rendering in games, Microsoft is also betting on machine learning and AI to solve and improve other aspects of online interactions.
The building blocks of play
Gaming went from essentially being interactive solo board games to a huge cultural movement in a few decades. No longer are games restricted to your cathode-ray TV set. We all have the opportunity to connect to massive scale connected worlds with players from all over the planet.
James Gwertzman notes that many developers have the ambition for their game to become a true community. We've seen it happen in recent years with games like World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and Fortnite. We've seen it even earlier in older MMOs, shooters, and beyond from the early days of the 'net.
Many of the tools for game features we often take for granted have been made available to developers at a level of quality not seen before outside of the biggest players. Microsoft and the other big platform holders are bringing a fresh wave of interconnected creativity. We could see the next Fortnite, Roblox, or Minecraft emerge right around the corner, powered by PlayFab.
Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!
Great article! I'm also trying out Playfab right now. We are launching a few AAA game projects, and one of them needs something like PlayFab.
Nice! How is it going?
It _was_ a fantastic article!
At first I mistook it for another "investor/stock" info article, and went to browse on, only to seconds later give it another glance. I'm glad I did. (The intro was quite misleading for those of us skimming in a hurry.) This here was especially impressive: "The process of mapping Flight Simulator and running those models to create geometry took only 72 hours or something because you're using thousands of servers to shoulder the computational load." If you've ever tried to generate dynamic lighting for a map in CS on a local PC, you'll know that it takes several DAYS, depending on the map size and the machine doing the rendering, of course :)
Imagine trying to do similar rendering work, but for the entire surface of Earth! ... Suddenly 72 hours sounds immensely impressive! One lille thing: Somewhere in a quote it read "with with with with".
Didn't you guys use Grammarly and doesn't it catch those kind of mishaps :)?
Get the best of Windows Central in in your inbox, every day!
Thank you for signing up to Windows Central. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.