IGN tools up

IGN tools up
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

August 27th 2010 at 8:01AM

With FilePlanet and the GameSpy tech suite, IGN is attracting new swathes of developers

Such is the success of the IGN’s consumer editorially-lead gaming website, that is easy to let the company’s other products slip your attention.

As a developer, there’s every chance you’ve heard of the FilePlanet online download platform, and you’ll surely be aware of the GameSpy Technology Suite. But what does this duo of products offer, and why should game developers pay them any interest?

To answer that question, let’s first take a look at the FilePlanet platform. For your customers, it’s an easy to use download service that offers a quite staggering 425,000 files for download. For developers, it offers far more than a simple distribution and marketing channel.

Established in 1999, FilePlanet initially provides a pool of over 35 million registered users, with over five million unique visitors hitting the website each month. Add up those numbers, and the outcome is an sum one to remember; over ten million downloads a month.

On top of that rock solid foundation, FilePlanet offers developers a range of opportunities, from hosting demos, mods and trailers to a comprehensive closed and open beta service.

Launched in 2003 with Sony Online Entertainment’s Planetside, FilePlanet’s beta-ing capabilities have attracted titles like APB, LittleBigPlanet, World of Warcraft and the forthcoming return of Medal of Honor.

There’s also a recently launched hosting and affiliate partnership service for developers and their publishers in the increasingly popular the free-to-play space, which opens up distribution channels to audience of feverish consumers. Already the service has wooed the likes of Sony Online Entertainment, EA and Atari.

THE WAIT IS OVER
“On the technical side, we have the ability to preload a demo to our customers, which means they can sign up for a demo in advance and it will load in the background over time, activating instantly the moment the demo is officially ‘live’,” explains IGN Entertainment’s senior director of consumer products Jill Albin.

“This means that FilePlanet customers aren’t waiting to download on release day, but are up and playing immediately. We also host patches for games, including patch notifications and auto-patching, allowing our users a one-stop-shop to make sure that their games are all up to date.”

Digging deeper below the bonnet of FilePlanet’s developer-facing end, a wealth of more intricate features become apparent, including high-end abilities like secure key distribution and validation, bug tracking, NDA and EULA management, consumer email and marketing data collection, segmentation by region for specific tests, distinct consumer selection and affiliate and partner site participation.

For developers, FilePlanet really is more than just a new marketplace; it’s a way to test, promote and evaluate your game. There’s even ways to tie pre-orders with beta testing via IGN’s thriving Direct2Drive digital retail platform, and the chance to harness the marketing potential of the IGN network of consumer sites.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a team of incredible engineers and operations and IT specialists dedicated to FilePlanet,” says Albin of the service’s robust reputation.

“The platform itself has greatly evolved over the years in response to market needs and feedback from our userbase.”

There’s more to come too, with the FilePlanet team currently looking at offering developers the ability to help themselves with self-service beta management for smaller-scale beta key distribution, community management and patching programs. The doors are even opening to indie devs and publishers keen to
self-publish through FilePanet without having to resort to DRM.

TOGETHER AS ONE
IGN’s other lead tech takes a form perhaps more familiar to developers. The GameSpy Technology suite, built on the mantra that ‘sharing experiences makes games more fun’, includes the essential services that both studios and players have come to expect as standard in any connected game.

That means the platform allows developers to add dedicated server and lobby-based matchmaking, social networking elements and messaging, leaderboards, and online commerce, as well as a host of other features including authentication keys and patching. 

And that’s not all, says GameSpy Technology’s senior product manager Sean Flinn: “It also includes high value services to help developers create deeply engaging experiences that make their games stand out: deep user stats – the ability to track 10s of 1000s of data points for millions of players; cloud data storage – for everything from save games and screenshots to playable content, like game modifications or levels; social push – sharing your experiences with your friends via social networks and services; and team-based gaming – the ability to help build persistent online communities around teams, guilds and clans.”

The GameSpy tools are also available across the PC, console and handheld platforms via a common API. And, thanks to in-game and web-based hooks, they allow for an enriching portable game experience.

Titles that harness the power of GameSpy can report gameplay stats to players in-game or on the Web, and can create iPhone apps – or use an iPhone UI Toolkit – to enable iPhone-to-in-game messaging. You can even maintain and manage your community across a given title’s official website.

“We provide easy-to-integrate, compelling online services for your games without requiring you to sacrifice your independence or worry about success at scale,” states Flinn, explaining why he believes developers should embrace GameSpy Technology.

“Whatever your studio size, whatever your budget, whatever your chosen platform. GameSpy Technology provides a foundation for heroic success,” he adds.

HELP IS AT HAND
GameSpy’s offering is also about more than just adding multiplayer and community features to your games; the team also provides a rather unique consulting service to help studios envisage and execute far from traditional connected features.

“The GameSpy consulting team’s assistance covers everything from feature level customised extensions and add-ons for our core services to entirely new service development,” explains Flinn.

“They’re really around to ensure that more of the brilliant ideas in a game’s design document actually make it into the game,” he adds. “In a world of tightening budgets and even tighter delivery schedules, it’s tough for dev teams to shepherd the sum total of their vision from inception to execution. Either they find themselves lacking manpower or specialised skill sets that it just doesn’t make sense to hire full-time.”

Ultimately, explains Flinn, that lack of resource can lead to missing out on scaling out elaborate stats and online competition features, building unique team management elements, or creating unique content sharing and collaboration platforms; all areas where GameSpy can help in its consulting capacity.

GameSpy Technology also endeavours to make developers’ lives a great deal easier through integration with a wide range of common tools. That approach  has been implemented to negate the need for studios with an established method or technological preference to invest an excess of time in familiarising themselves with new technology and tools.

“If the online services they want or need to use are already integrated into a commonly used engine – like Unreal 3 – or into a user-interface solution – like Scaleform – it saves them time and effort. They can get to the fun stuff, or start innovating on what’s already there, that much faster,” suggests Flinn.

Claiming to be the only service provider to offer its package on every platform, additionally GameSpy Technology streamlines the process of learning online service APIs for studios looking at multiformat releases or creating several titles simultaneously across different platforms. In short, the IGN tech delivers a rapidly flattening learning curve.

Flinn concludes: “Almost a thousand games of every shape and size have used GameSpy Technology to get online, from indie titles to blockbusters like Red Dead Redemption. We handle more players for one title than some service providers handle across all titles. So, if you happen to create the iconic iPad game, we’ll make sure that you don’t have to worry that your user base has suddenly outstripped your service provider’s capacity.”