Why GaaS must move on from traditional game development models and embrace CI/CD

11.25.21

Developer Games as a Service
Jafar Solani Headshot
By Jafar Soltani, Head of Reliability Engineering, Improbable, previously at Rare where he was the Lead Deployment Pipeline Developer for Sea of Thieves.

Since the dawn of the industry, games creation had a team work for a finite time and to a hard deadline. As games grew in complexity, scope and stature, the weeks and months before a game’s release became an increasingly stressful ‘crunch’ period of long hours. On launch, though, the expectation was that you were largely done. With GaaS, everything changed.

When a game is a service, its launch is just the beginning. A GaaS might run for years – it’s more marathon than sprint. Regular valuable feedback from players provides an ongoing opportunity for studios to learn and respond. There’s a need to iterate on a game and maintain it, perhaps for years, but doing so is impossible without a sustainable development model.

With CI/CD’s core concepts, you can transition to a studio culture that enables working in small increments, with fast feedback loops and continuous improvement and learning.

Continually evolve your games

Incorporating Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) principles can make this way of working a reality – and can prove transformative. With its core concepts – drawn from lean manufacturing – you can transition to a studio culture that enables working in small increments, with fast feedback loops and continuous improvement and learning.

When working in small increments, you aim to release a game as soon as it’s ready. You might have originally intended for a specific number of gameplay hours, but if you’ve fewer that are nonetheless really solid, start there. You can then use fast feedback loops, watch the impact your game has on players and quickly respond to their input to grow and evolve your game.

Throughout, continuous feedback and learning – that desire to keep iterating on and improving a product rather than shipping and moving on to the next thing – will help your studio’s work get better and better.

CI/CD improves quality of life for people making games – which is important, because the biggest asset for your studio is its people.

Keep people and games fresh

This method improves quality of life for people making games. It limits the technical debt usually accumulated during development and therefore helps you avoid the levels of burnout and crunch long associated with the industry – which is important, because the biggest asset for your studio is its people. If they’re burnt out when a game’s released, they’ll not be able to maintain it and iterate on it. For the ongoing success of a GaaS, that would be a huge risk.

But also, CI/CD principles enable agility and resilience – they make it possible for a studio to respond to the demands of players and to do so as fast as possible. This is crucial for retaining player engagement in a competitive market. By contrast, if you work in an outdated way that slows down how rapidly you can react to what you learn from players, they’ll have moved on by the time you get around to addressing their feedback.

Transitioning to CI/CD principles isn’t like flicking a switch. It requires a cultural shift where a studio always strives for continuous improvement.

Shift your culture to succeed

As tempting as this modern way of working sounds, it’s important to understand that transitioning to CI/CD principles isn’t like flicking a switch. It requires a cultural shift where a studio always strives for continuous improvement. There must be constant honesty and feedback across the company to address whether methods are working better than before – and a willingness to pivot and invest when necessary.

Studios must shift their mindsets away from a game-creation model that focuses on a certain kind of ‘perfection’ – a hangover from traditional development days where everything built towards that single final release. There’d be a mad rush to eradicate bugs at the end, primarily due to the astronomical costs of fixing issues when games were released on cartridge, disk or cassette.

That very specific kind of focus resulted in rigid processes that reduced a studio’s agility, hampering its ability to respond at speed. By contrast, in encouraging you to work in small increments, CI/CD enables fast feedback loops that check quality as you go, resulting in fewer bugs. Also, with the increasingly complex systems found in modern GaaS creations and the lower cost of patching such titles compared to traditional fare, it makes sense to place your studio’s emphasis on faster response times that keep ongoing game quality high.

CI/CD enables fast feedback loops that check quality as you go, resulting in fewer bugs.

Think holistically when prioritising

The lean mindset takes this line of thinking further, arguing that improving daily work is more important than the daily work itself. It instils the notion that being able to work faster can be more important than what you’re doing right now. That might sound counter-intuitive for a game development studio, but there’s logic within – invest time to make developers more effective and features get to players faster, whereupon you’ll know whether they work because players will be interacting with them.

In other words, GaaS requires you address problems holistically, in the right way, to make your entire operation move faster. That’s not to say studios shouldn’t advocate robustness. Of course they must. But response capabilities are what should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, because they are vital in a GaaS scenario and should guarantee high quality throughout the entire development process, rather than as a mad scramble right at the end.

Modern development is about new ways of thinking when it comes to priorities and emphasis, so you need to ensure your studio isn’t stuck with an approach that’s no longer relevant. Instead, forge one that will best position it for the future.

If you like this then you might also enjoy our ebook, which has expert advice, insights and solutions for releasing better quality multiplayer games, at speed.

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