ContributionsPostmortem

Kumakore: From Game Studio to Backend as a Service

September 19, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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ContributionsPostmortem

Kumakore: From Game Studio to Backend as a Service

September 19, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

Kumakore, the self-funded gaming backend as a service based in Dallas, Texas, was founded in 2012 by ex-Zynga With Friends product managers to help expedite the process of making games that need a server-component. Kumakore is a tool made for game developers, by game developers, so that people building the next mobile hit can focus on crafting a great game. Eric Shen, Vice President of Business Development, tells us how they went from a game studio to a service studio.




Kumakore
Originally, we were going to create our own games, not be a gaming backend as a service.

The Start of Kumakore

The idea of Kumakore was not always to be a gaming backend as a service, but to create our own games. Having been a part of the Zynga With Friends studio, and originally part of Newtoy, Grant Yang was the product manager that worked on and launched some of the most notable With Friends titles, including the classic Words With Friends on Android, Hanging With Friends on iOS and Android, and Matching with Friends. Having seen the power of With Friends-style games, it was clear to our mind to try and replicate that success. Based on what we learned from the success of Words With Friends as an indie, and then from launching more hits for Zynga, we knew that we wanted to do two things: First, hit as many platforms as possible; Second, get our game out as quickly as possible.




For a self-funded and cash-strapped business, we did what many indie studios have probably done: resort to contract work. This is often an extremely valuable learning tool for developers. Our first endeavor was to ensure that we could develop a game that would essentially be our “pipe cleaner” in our development cycle. As the original idea of the studio was to make turn-based, asynchronous, With Friends-styled games, we wanted to create an engine to do this. However, we soon realized this was a foolish proposition. We wanted to make games, not build tech. So we proceeded to evaluate many of the cross-platform game engines, such as Unity, Corona, and Marmalade.

It was around the time we chose Unity as our game engine that we obtained a contract to make our “pipe cleaner.” This game was Makkhi, based on the Bollywood movie of the same name. It was a quick game to make, particularly with our budget, but we were able to prove that we could build a game that we could quickly launch cross-platform.

Makkhi
Makkhi proved that we could build a game that we could quickly launch cross-platform.

Moving to Tech

Once we finished Makkhi, we turned towards making our turn-based, asynchronous game. Once again, we went through the exercise of trying to find an “engine” that would suit our needs. We looked at all the big names, like Game Center, Urban Airship, Parse, and Kinvey, and we discovered something interesting. We found that there were no solutions focused on games, not just having basic features, like leaderboards and achievements, but actual logic with retention-driven features, such as push notifications tied to moves, inventory management, and dashboards to balance a game economy. Essentially, we were looking for a Unity for the backend, but didn’t find one. At this point, we decided we were going to do what we were trying to avoid the entire time: build an engine. Bubble Pals was the culmination of this effort.




Bubble Pals and Changing Goals

Bubble Pals combines the fun of a time-tested genre (the bubble shooter) with the best aspects of a With Friends game. While Bubble Pals started off as being a part of the standard bubble popping genre, the creation of the game quickly became the tip of the iceberg. Kumakore’s team took the best practices of social gaming learned from making freemium games while working at Zynga and applied these features to the backend.

Indie Prize Showcase CCUSA2013
Bubble Pals in the Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect USA 2013

The Bubble Pals project was the genesis for the Kumakore Backend Service, a one-stop gaming backend as a service which provides dashboards, inventory management, user management, leaderboards, achievements, and much more to be put in the hands of any game development studio. Now any team, large or small, can tap into the power of Zynga-level product management and the server-side features implemented in the top-grossing freemium games. While the Kumakore team had to ultimately sacrifice being a game studio, it did that so other game studios could live the dream.




The Future and Beyond

Kumakore is now partnering with other game development studios to provide their server backend infrastructures with features that other games will be able to take advantage of.  Whether it is creating a With Friends-style hit or the next Candy Crush Saga or Clash of Clans, Kumakore is building the infrastructure developers need so they can focus on what really matters – making their game fun!

Kumakore is currently in private beta and is offering exclusive benefits for its beta developers. Developers interested in participating  can contact the Kumakore team at www.kumakore.com.

In the meantime, Kumakore will be looking to launch the backend service by GDC Next and would be happy to meet with developers there. Additionally, anyone who wants to reserve a username or signup to receive info when Bubble Pals officially launches can visit the landing page at www.bubblepals.com.

Find more information about Kumakore on Facebook or Twitter.

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