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March 28, 2024 - 8 Min Read

Lessons learned at GDC: Our thoughts on the next generation of game dev

Get the scoop on GDC trends and how Momento powers game development.

Allen Helton
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I love conferences. There’s something about the buzzing energy, being surrounded by like-minded individuals, and taking in breathtaking expo booths that make me equal parts excited and exhausted. Last week, I had the privilege of attending the premier conference in the gaming industry – GDC, also known as the Game Developers Conference (clever name, I know 😆).

Magic was in the air – literally. I saw attendees walking around as witches and wizards, and had my mind blown by a magician who I’m pretty sure was doing actual, real magic. On a serious note though, seeing people from every corner of the industry in the same place at the same time was a marvel. I met animators, narrative designers, game studio CEOs, developers, and everyone in between over the course of the week, leading to some fun stories and invaluable insights into gaming.

But I wasn’t alone! I was joined by several others here at Momento ready to make a splash and share how our services make a huge difference in time to market and total cost of ownership when building games.

Our booth

The expo at GDC was a thing of wonder. The first time I walked through it, it just kept going and going and going. If you’ve ever been to AWS re:Invent, think that expo, but bigger.

Momento had a booth nestled in the startup section of the expo, which had the honor of being right through the front entrance.

image of Momento's booth at GDC

Besides having the best swag at the conference, our booth was full of gaming-related use cases, videos, and demos describing how easily you can build on top of Momento. Attendees who stopped by the booth could learn about how to build massive-scale leaderboards, how to add auto-moderated chat to their games, and even have a little fun with our multiplayer Flappy Bird demo.

This is also the first place that our mascot Mo made an appearance in real life! People who stopped by the booth were able to snag a Mo plush to take home.

As a side note, if you’re interested in getting your hands on Mo, send me a message!

What we heard

As cool as it was, not all our time was spent at the booth. The team and I spent lots of time getting to know people around the conference in the expo hall, in between sessions, and over coffee. And as crazy as it might sound, we heard the same messages over and over again.

Game state synchronization is hard.

All real-time multiplayer games need to synchronize state, meaning when one player does something all the other players in the game need to align. That could mean movement, item drops, leaving a game, etc… If your game falls out of sync, gameplay deteriorates faster than a secret in a small-town Texas diner. The game will appear laggy, people appear to walk through walls, inventory items appear to go in and out, it’s an absolute mess. 

As a result, many studios are writing their own custom networking protocols that are kept under lock and key by hyper-specialized network teams. This leads to bottlenecking development when changes are needed in the synchronization code because inevitably the team will develop a backlog of things to do and we all know how engineering time works (it’s always harder than expected).

Scaling events are real. And unpredictable.

As much as everyone wants to believe their game will have millions of players on launch day, the sad truth is that you simply never know. We spoke with dozens of individuals who said they simply have to prepare for the highest traffic possible, which often results in lots of unused spend on fleets of game servers and resources that aren’t used.

Past launch day, if a popular streamer starts playing their game and they don’t have extra capacity ready for a surge in traffic, it’s entirely likely to experience a hug of death and ruin the gameplay for everybody. This results in lost players and abandonment of the game.

Everybody needs a leaderboard.

A big part of gamification is pitting players against each other. One of the best ways to do that is through a prominent leaderboard. Mid-game leaderboards elicit action during live play. Post-game leaderboards get players thinking “just one more match” to improve their score from last time and increase session duration. Season-long leaderboards keep players coming back day after day, grinding to reach the top. 

The innate motivation to keep playing and beat your friends or get the next level of prestige is a huge driving force in games. This motivation drives player retention and community. Player retention and community lead to increased in-game transactions. Increased transactions lead to more revenue. By my math, that means leaderboards == revenue.

Our message

We did a lot of listening at GDC. But for those of you who know me, I do a lot of talking too 😅. Hearing the same problems over and over again was bittersweet to hear. Bitter in the sense that I can truly feel their frustrations. I have over a decade of experience in app development with the exact same problems (well, maybe not the leaderboard one). These problems are hard, there’s a reason everybody experiences them.

But it was also sweet to hear because Momento solves those problems. Our low-level services make it ridiculously simple to synchronize state, scale without worry, or build a leaderboard. That’s literally what they were designed to do. In addition to the one on one conversations I was having, I also hopped on with Game Developer News to talk about why Momento is such a good fit for game development.

image of Allen Helton talking to Game Developer News

So how exactly does Momento address these major concerns in gaming, you ask? Great question!

  • Game state synchronization – Momento Topics is a pub/sub service that enables communication between client and server, server and client, server and server, and even client and client with ultra low latency (<10ms event delivery). Not only does it allow game sessions to connect directly to each other, but it also provides fan-out delivery, meaning you don’t need to worry about how many players are in your games. Whether you’re PVP or have thousands of characters in an MMO, Topics scales with you.
  • Unpredictable volumes of scale – Momento is one of those infrastructure providers that “just does it for you.” Managing spiky amounts of traffic and distributing load automatically is our bread and butter, and it comes out-of-the-box with all our services. Cache, Topics, and Storage (coming soon!) are all managed services that take away infrastructure management from consumers leaving them with faster time to market and lower total cost of ownership. No provisioning clusters that are left idle when you have a traffic lull, just simple, pay-for-use cache and pub/sub that scales with you.
  • Leaderboards for every occasion – Not only does Momento have sorted sets, a data type in our Cache service, perfect for leaderboards, we also have a dedicated leaderboard service! So whether you’re keeping score over the course of a 30 minute session of an 8v8 skirmish or tracking league standings of the summer season, Momento has something purposefully designed and optimized to work for you.

Final thoughts

I had a blast at GDC and learned so much about the gaming industry. Walking through a showcase of next-gen gaming platforms, hardware, and infrastructure makes me eager with anticipation as to what we’re about to see unfold with video games.

Game development, like all other types of software engineering, runs into the same core problems over and over again. Handling variable scale, accurately syncing data across devices, and communication between clients/servers are all hard problems to solve, and they’re problems that Momento specializes in. As crucial as these capabilities are in gaming, it’s never been a more obvious choice to go with a provider who does them for a living.

Our services will continue to get faster and provide new capabilities, leaving you with richer, higher performing experiences. We hear your pain and are ready to help you make it through launch day in record time with as easy an experience as possible.

Interested to learn more? Check out our gaming page where we dive into the many opportunities knocking when you go Momento. Inspired to give us a try? Give us a shot for free through our console or contact us for more information.

Happy coding!

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