Heroic Labs is a relatively new company looking to make it easier than ever to include fully functional, scalable multiplayer and social technology in your games. Jem Alexander speaks to Alim Jaffer, VP of product, about the company’s open-source software and how developers can take full advantage of it
Can you give a brief overview of who Heroic Labs is and why you’ve created Nakama?
Heroic Labs was founded by three distributed systems engineers from London with the goal of making modern, scalable, social gameplay available to every studio. Just as Unity made it possible for developers to build games across many platforms, Nakama offers developers the opportunity to build games utilising the latest multiplayer and social technologies. By open-sourcing Nakama, we wanted to offer the community both ownership and transparency with their backend infrastructure.
How can developers benefit from using Nakama with their games?
Developers benefit by getting access to a highly scalable system that has been battle tested and proven to work at scale. We’ve simplified the operational side of things as well - you only need to run Nakama server and one type of database server to power anything from realtime games, turn- based, async PvP, as well as single- player oriented games.
No more reinventing the wheel and spending months building your own backend, by using Nakama developers can shorten their time to market and take advantage of a server that will continuously be updated with new features as the industry grows. The community plays a large role in helping us determine the roadmap for Nakama in order to keep up with the latest in industry trends.
Nakama offers developers the opportunity to build games utilising the latest multiplayer and social technologies
Alim Jaffer, Heroic Labs
As an open-source company our game server is an open technology, there’s no lock-in as you would find with software as a service systems. You can download it, modify the code, run it in your cloud of choice or locally in your office. This means you will always have full ownership over your core server technologies.
With Nakama you can build across platforms and genres. We have support for mobile, VR, PC/Steam and, later this year, console support. The server helps you build modern fast- paced shooters, realtime games like Clash Royale, as well as many other game types that might only require user accounts, a virtual wallet and in-app purchase validation.
What sort of games are already taking advantage of Nakama?
We have a variety of studios and publishers in development, soft launch, and worldwide release on Nakama. It can power any type of game from a realtime game such as Clash Royale to a more casual social game like Candy Crush. We will be officially launching a 1.0 of Nakama in July and we have a roadmap of upcoming features that can be found on the Nakama GitHub issues tracker. We welcome all community contributions and requests.
For developers who do not wish to operationalise their own servers (data backups, logging, waking up at 2am to reboot servers, handling scaling), we offer a Managed Cloud where our team of engineers will manage your deployments for you. It’s similar to running bespoke pieces of infrastructure on cloud providers such as Heroku and Digital Ocean, but designed specifically for the games industry.
What does the future of Nakama look like?
The future of Nakama is based on how the industry shifts in response to consumer demand. We truly believe in the open-source nature of the technology, and want the community to be as involved as possible in helping guide its vision based on future games.
We see a lot of potential in the future of augmented reality, location- based gaming, esports and the continuing growth in mobile games and entertainment as a whole. Our philosophy is to always keep Nakama as simple as possible to not only develop with, but also to operationalise. We don’t believe in feature-gating, or locking out developers from being able to build the latest and greatest in games.
Can you talk around the cross-platform and interconnectivity aspects of Nakama?
Nakama can integrate with existing tech stacks in live games to introduce new features, such as in-game chat, to games that already have a player base and are looking for new ways to engage their players. We also have a plugin system in development which allows developers to pipe out data to any business intelligence system of their choice - from analytics, ads, internal data science teams and so on. We feel it’s very important for developers to own their data and be able to do what they wish with it.
We have first-class clients for Unity and Unreal engine support, with native support for iOS, Android and more coming soon. The more demand we get for specific platforms, the higher we’ll prioritise it on our roadmap.
What are the potential esports applications of Nakama? What other emerging areas of the games industry would this fit?
Esports is a fascinating field. It could easily hit parity with modern sports, and even surpass them in the next five to ten years. With that in mind, it’s important to realise how competitive the field will become for both games and the competing players.
Nakama can be run on-location for esports events, meaning that event organisers do not need to worry about the quality of the network connection at the event and any latency concerns.
This simplifies running eSports events, particularly in countries with poor internet, as well as offering transparency and a standard upon which developers can build their games. We have plans in the future to introduce some anti-cheat technologies to the server and are very interested to meet developers who are working on esports titles.
Another interesting use-case for on site deployments of Nakama is the advent of VR Arcades. We’re working with a partner in Japan who is making some of the first multiplayer-oriented VR Arcades. We don’t believe these will come to the West any time soon, however it’s a unique angle on the future of gaming and is one piece of making ‘social’ VR mainstream.
What advice would you give to developers looking to take advantage of Nakama?
The best advice is to read the documentation in depth and get comfortable with the clients. And then, get involved in the community. We have an active community channel with many contributors who are always asking questions and helping each other with any issues they find. We would love for that to continue to grow.
One of the benefits of being open-source is that developers can get deep into the codebase itself and learn why the server operates as it does, this makes integrating even easier when you understand the core server and the underlying API’s.
What excites you personally about the future of games?
For me, it’s the future of the games industry and the toolchains that support it. In the early 2000s, there were many, many game engines built in-house. This gave some studios the edge over others, but it also brought upon them technical debt, difficulty in onboarding new hires, and made them slow to adapt shifts in the industry as these custom engines weren’t ‘productised’. In recent years, games have consolidated around just a few engines and that seems to be working rather well for everyone - we’re in a golden age of beautiful looking games.
We feel the exact same about backend infrastructure. For some studios it gives them a massive edge in the industry - look at what Supercell has done with Clash Royale. They’ve dominated the charts with their realtime games and now everyone is rushing to play catch up.
With Nakama, no one needs to build their own infrastructure from scratch, which results in everyone being on the same level playing field. This opens up innumerable possibilities for the industry, and I’m very excited to see what both established developers and newcomers do with it to build the next generation of games. That’s what drove us down the open-source route, to make a large impact in how games are made and to open doors to new possibilities.