|Studio AEXLAB||Studio size 40|
|Genre Competitive multiplayer shooter||Platform PC|
AEXLAB’s virtual reality shooter, VAIL VR (typically shortened to VAIL), already feels fantastic to play thanks to its combination of tight, tactical gunplay and collaborative teamwork. But what’s really got players’ attention – and is fuelling the 100,000+ beta requests – is the Miami-based developer’s focus on making VAIL an esports-first shooter, something the VR market sorely lacks.
Making any competitive multiplayer game is an enormous challenge, but doing it in VR – where FPS esports barely exist – makes AEXLAB’s goal even more ambitious and exciting. A well-balanced shooter typically requires a large development team and the experience to know what esports-focused architectural decisions to make early in the project. The lean team at AEXLAB already has VR expertise in-house but knew it would need a proven partner to help achieve its multiplayer vision.
Developing a world-class esports experience goes beyond pure game development. You need to engage the community and make pivotal technical decisions very early in development. Most VR-exclusive studios don’t have the resources to do that. It’s bold to say, but I feel that we're the first competitive VR esports game.
The Improbable games team was thrilled at the opportunity to partner with AEXLAB and use our technology and services to tackle that challenge together. AEXLAB’s first priority was to provide the best possible performance for players anywhere in the world; vital for any game with serious aspirations as an esport.
Improbable was able to help AEXLAB achieve this initial goal by running VAIL on IMS zeuz: a cost-efficient and scalable hybrid infrastructure, spread across a global network of over 200 data centres. This means that no-matter where players are in the world, Improbable has a nearby data centre, and AEXLAB can deliver the low ping times essential for a tactical shooter where victory is decided in milliseconds. And, unlike using a single infrastructure provider, IMS zeuz’s hybrid nature means if one provider has an outage, the game can shift to working infrastructure with a simple configuration change.
With so much new ground to break, AEXLAB’s next priority was to quickly and easily introduce features, updates and improvements, ideally without disrupting its players. Improbable helped by integrating IMS Image Manager into the studio’s existing continuous integration and deployment pipelines. Now, when AEXLAB uploads an update to Steam, the team has the option to automatically update its servers to match the client at exactly the same time, resulting in almost no downtime and only requiring players to download a small update before getting back into the game. In the run up to VAIL’s beta launch – when the need for updates and fixes came thick and fast – this approach allowed AEXLAB to be more responsive to its community, often rolling out improvements multiple times per day without significantly disrupting players.
AEXLAB keeps its community informed about each of these updates, and the team has a well-earned reputation for its open dialogue with VAIL’s 60,000-strong community on Discord and 100,000 followers on TikTok. In fact, the developers often prioritise features and updates based on feedback from its most dedicated players.
One of the biggest requests was from competitive players who wanted custom games to help them prepare for VAIL’s inaugural esports tournament, IVRL Vail. AEXLAB was eager to support its community and integrated IMS Session Manager, which allows players to spin up dedicated servers securely from their game clients so they can practise and test out strategies with their teams. But AEXLAB wanted to take custom games a step further, to help VAIL become an esports mainstay. The team worked with Improbable to leverage IMS’ global data centre network so hosts can also manually set the server location anywhere in the world for custom games, allowing any of IVRL Vail’s 200+ registered teams to simulate gameplay environments for situations including home and away games.
Being able to test out strategies on the same servers used for tournament play is vital for strengthening VAIL’s competitive scene. It’s something pro players look for in any serious esports title.
Other players in the community felt strongly about being able to queue up and just play matches, without gathering a specific team together. AEXLAB wanted to include a matchmaker but knew it needed something flexible to keep pace with the evolving needs of the community. The Improbable team implemented IMS Matchmaker, which not only allows AEXLAB to adjust matchmaking parameters in real-time while the game is live, it also exposes all the data the studio needs to make informed decisions about its configuration. In the opening weeks of the open beta, AEXLAB configured IMS Matchmaker to prioritise short wait times so players could quickly jump into action. The wealth of data available means AEXLAB can easily monitor player behaviour and adjust matchmaking for different segments, including easing newer players into the game and keeping veterans engaged with high-skill matches. This level of customisation is already having an effect on returning players, with VAIL’s day-30 retention at 30% – far higher than the industry average, which is roughly 10% for free-to-play games.
Partnering with Improbable also means AEXLAB has future-proofed its flagship title. While VAIL is currently in development as a PC-only title, AEXLAB has the option to release the game on other platforms without splitting the community, thanks to all IMS solutions being designed for crossplay.
The world of esports FPS is still in its infancy but VAIL is already turning heads with its nomination for VR Game of the Year at the 2022 VR Awards. With AEXLAB’s dedicated community and VR expertise, combined with Improbable’s experience in providing custom solutions to tough backend multiplayer challenges, VAIL has everything in place to become VR’s multiplayer FPS gold standard.