Develop takes a look at the free-to-use cloud-based management platform
[This feature was published in the November 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]
The democratisation of games middleware has been underway for several years, but in 2013 a new chapter in the trend has opened. More specialised, intricate and previously high-end tools and tech are now being reworked for the masses, from the game artist to the layman.
From Havok Physics to Autodesk’s Maya, remarkably powerful middleware is making its way to start-ups, small studios and indies. And now version management powerhouse Perforce has joined the clique of tech companies delivering an established, dedicated product in new ways for a considerably broader audience.
Commons Cloud is Perforce’s latest product. It’s free-to-use, and introduces a collaboration solution accessible online by remote or local teams. The platform promises to deliver the likes of file management and merge and compare capabilities to studios of every experience level, enabling concurrent editing capability without conflict for those in and outside of the games industry.
Commons Cloud in fact grew out of Perforce’s recently released Commons offering, which welcomed non-technical staff such as project managers and artists to the fold with an on-premise technology. Commons Cloud takes that one stage further, delivering Perforce’s solution in a form that is significantly more accessible.
“This introduces a cloud version of Commons,” clarifies Perforce director of corporate marketing Bob Dever.
“We’ve done that for a number of reasons. Largely, we really see that there is a need for the same level of collaboration we’ve always offered to bigger studios, just in everyday use. So this is something anybody can set up and use, and what it is really about is stopping anybody getting caught up in editing the wrong version of a file, so they can work in parallel on even the simple things like artwork, Word documents and PowerPoint files. They are benefits for the common user, if you will.”
A SOCIAL VERSION
In essence, Perforce has taken a lead from the familiar design, mechanics and UX of contemporary social applications, and used the model as a method for delivering and sharing the outfit’s long-established methods for version management. Teams of up to 20 can use Commons Cloud to work in unison on files without conflicts or time wasted editing the wrong file, all the while building a traceable, permanent record of changes.
In a contemporary studio, and in particular with start-ups and small teams where the creative process can include those without technical nous, or even staff in technological roles who may also be embracing the likes of human resources or PR, the platform could prove hugely useful.
And as Dhruv Gupta, Perforce director of product marketing explains, Commons Cloud could even serve as an introduction to version management for teams that hope to grow to the size and scale of studios that depend on the fully-fledged Perforce software offering.
“It absolutely can let people try version management and the capabilities of Perforce, and can definitely serve as an on-ramp in that way,” he explains. “If you are using Commons Cloud then you can always talk to us and maybe go hosted or look at alternative Perforce solutions.”
Files dropped into Commons Cloud can be shared through URLs – negating the error-prone world of email distribution – and as a given new revision is pushed, any user with access to the related URL will be linked to the most up-to-date version of the file.
“It lets your team avoid the problem of going through versions, one, two, three, ‘final’, ‘final final’, ‘final version 3’ and so on,” offers Gupta. “And if you are working on legal or contract documents at your studio, it maintains a very robust history of changes that you just don’t get from the likes of word editors’ track changes modes.”
Indeed, in a world where IP can serve as a studio’s core currency, and legal disputes can arise, being able to prove the date and progress of the creative process could serve to be immeasurably valuable for a studio keen to protect its assets.
CLOUD AND CLEAR
Commons Cloud’s core function, however, remains a simpler one. As the work contemporary studios are tackling changes, right down to the smallest teams where any staff member may juggle many job titles, and the line between tech-focused and non-technological roles blurs, Commons Cloud has strived to move file management from the realm of programmers and the code-savvy to the everyman.
“Cloud Commons is built with versioning issues in mind, and is explicitly meant to tackle those problems,” concludes Dever. “It is not meant to replace a file sharing service, and in fact serves to compliment file sharing very well. Versioning issues that kill time and productivity are something we see everywhere, and Commons Cloud can stop those problems happening.”