Microsoft’s PlayFab division said it is introducing a pay-as-you-go plan for its game developer services with no minimum monthly fees.
The announcement follows on last week’s move where the company also cut 90% from the prices it charges for Azure PlayFab Party, which adds game chat and data communications to games. Microsoft acquired PlayFab three years ago, and it has been working to make its services more efficient.
James Gwertzman, general manager of PlayFab at Microsoft, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the new pricing option is based on feedback from developers who wanted more ways to develop their games and pay for services, considering how long they must operate before they get revenue.
This new option has no minimum fee, such as the previous $99 per month plan. Now developers can choose to pay only what they use. And it will become more affordable to people like game students as they launch their games and start getting paying users.
“Our engineers have been steadily making it more efficient for us to run ourselves,” said Gwertzman. “We’re already big by internally running chat for all of Xbox. And so by taking advantage of the efficiency of scale of that, and making it more efficient for us to run, we have an opportunity to drop the price pretty dramatically.”
Microsoft has been tweaking the prices for its Azure PlayFab service regularly. Earlier this year, the company shifted to usage-based pricing. Before that, it had pricing based on monthly active users. For the past six months, the company has been transitioning and on November 1 it will add the new pay-as-you-go plan with no monthly commitment.
Above: James Gwertzman is general manager PlayFab at Microsoft.
In this plan, you pay for what you use, and it’s ideal for games where projecting future usage is hard to forecast, Gwertzman said. As a game starts growing, developers can upgrade their plan to the PlayFab Standard or PlayFab Premium plans which reward higher usage with discounted rates.
Microsoft has created its Plan Recommendation calculator available to all customers so they can gauge which plan is best. Developers can access the Plan Recommendation calculator from within Game Manager by clicking the Update Account/Update Pricing buttons on the “My Studios and Titles” homepage or by clicking on Change Plan on the Studio Settings page. Microsoft has also updated the Plan Selection page to allow developers to switch to any plan on the new pricing model.
“I see PlayFab as an onramp to the rest of Azure,” he said. “We’re making PlayFab even easier for game studios to use it for onboarding. You can now use PlayFab in a frictionless way.”
The long game
Gwertzman wants Azure to become the best cloud provider for game creators, in competition with the likes of Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. PlayFab is one of the services inside of Azure. PlayFab has customers such as Hello Games, maker of No Man’s Sky. As Microsoft integrates Bethesda, which it is buying for $7.5 billion, PlayFab will likely provide services for more than 20 game studios under the Xbox banner.
“We’re able to leverage our experience in our internal studios to create services that then hopefully meet needs of the broader community,” he said.
It’s not easy to figure out the percentage of revenues that a developer will pay someone like PlayFab. For the whole industry, cloud gaming services usually cost about 6% of revenue for developers, Gwertzman said. It can be worth it to a developer to pay that fee, offloading lots of services and monetization tasks to PlayFab, so that the developer can concentrate on making a game, Gwertzman said.
Above: Microsoft Azure and Azure PlayFab are now integrated.
Offering a pay-as-you-go plan is another step, following the drop in price for PlayFab Party, to help studios of all sizes get access to the services they need to grow their games. Microsoft doesn’t charge customers until their games go above 100,000 players.
“It’s not just for small guys, as we’re also simultaneously making a big push for bigger studios,” Gwertzman said. “If you’re a big studio, or if you’re a game developer inside of a big studio, and you’re working on a new project, or you’re in the middle of a project, we want you to take a hard look at Azure.”
One result of the Azure PlayFab integration is that PlayFab’s services are now offered broadly via the larger corporation’s sales force. Gaming has become a vertical target for Azure services, alongside verticals for retail or manufacturing.
“Microsoft is continuing to focus more of our cloud investment on gaming, and gaming is moving from a side thing to being a core part of the overall cloud investment,” Gwertzman said. “This is a big deal because we’re taking it to the company-wide level, where gaming is one of the top-priority industries.”
Microsoft helps game companies get onto different platforms, as it has aggressively pursued a cross-platform games strategy for the benefit of game developers, he said.
Above: Generations of games live inside this box.
“It was an easy decision for us to make the Xbox support cross-platform play,” Gwertzman said. “It turns out it is not so simple on the technology side. We’ve been investing in the tools and services you need to be cross-platform. PlayFab Part is one example of that. We support Sony, Nintendo, and even Stadia. iOS has its challenges, but we support every major gaming platform. Our vision is still all about empowering game creators. We don’t ever want to be in the position of creating friction or barriers.”
To flesh out communities, PlayFab also has to figure out things beyond multiplayer, such as improving inclusivity and reducing toxicity, he said.
“How do you monitor for harassing behavior? How do you optimize matchmaking so that players are having the most fun matches and not getting their butts kicked every time they go online?” he said. “That’s where we have a lot of investments with Xbox Live.”
As for challenges such as game discovery, Gwertzman said that moving into platforms such as Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass are good for the ability to get noticed by players. PlayFab is exploring other ways to get noticed, such as performance marketing or user acquisition.
Gwertzman said he is excited about game technology being used to make films, like the use of the Unreal Engine to make The Mandalorian. It’s one more community to focus on.
“I believe we’re already past the game services era,” Gwertzman said. “I think we’re now into the games community era, where games are trying to become communities, and they’re trying to become ever more complete experiences for the players. If you look at Fortnite, you look at Flight Simulator, you look at Minecraft, these are not big games. These are games that are literally part of your life. And they’re all-encompassing. As games have become communities, the need for cloud services only grows.”
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