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Latest news and updates from the PlayFab developers

by Chris Palmer 2019-03-14

PlayFab Party - Multiplayer networking and in-game chat

This is an exciting month as we launch Microsoft Game Stack and head into #GAConf and GDC next week. We’ll be showcasing plenty of new services and tools for game creators, and today we wanted to introduce the PlayFab Party initiative. PlayFab Party is a set of cross-platform libraries and services for easily adding multiplayer real-time networking and chat communication to your game. Party joins PlayFab Multiplayer Servers, Matchmaking, and Leaderboards as services built to enable dynamic and inclusive community experiences.

Real-time multiplayer games are typically one of two designs: peer-mediated or server-mediated. Server-mediated games are best served by PlayFab Multiplayer Servers, a scaling solution for custom multiplayer servers that is available in production today. 


Key multiplayer services offered by PlayFab
Leaderboards, Matchmaking, Party, and Servers are four PlayFab services especially useful for multiplayer games

Peer-mediated designs synchronize multiplayer state by promoting a single “authority” client to make decisions, or through a consensus process between all clients. Both require a peer-to-peer networking system to exchange messages. Party is designed to be a simple, reliable, secure, low-latency transport for this kind of peer-mediated multiplayer activity. Azure relays and PlayFab encrypted communication help protect players from network attacks on each other or on game data. Party is a fully managed service and auto-scales across Microsoft’s Azure global cloud, providing low latency and low administrative overhead.

Another scenario for client-driven communication is voice and text chat. Party provides an efficient, high-performance in-game chat system. In building Party, we’ve collaborated with Azure Cognitive Services to seamlessly integrate accessibility and translation tools.

What is accessibility in chat? There is no set definition, but a basic experience might include:

  1. Transcription (aka closed-captioning) for player voice chat
  2. Text chat and “quick chat” to accompany voice chat
  3. Speech synthesis of player text chat
  4. Broadly, an end-to-end accessible user experience, especially for ease-of-access settings

PlayFab Party is an extension of earlier technologies we built in partnership with Xbox Game Studios and 3rd party game developers. We’ve been able to get in-depth feedback from accessibility advocates, indie developers, and professional game studios that drives the evolution of PlayFab Party and user experience guidelines we are sharing.

Screenshot of Forza Horizon 4 using an earlier version of PlayFab Party in production
Forza Horizon 4 is one of several Xbox games that uses prior accessible chat services that helped us expand and build Party

Microsoft wants to help game creators reach everyone. We therefore want to make sure Party is available on players' preferred platforms and mitigates developer concerns balancing “accessible” and “within my budget”.  While game developers pay for Party voice chat, 10% of title chat activity can use integrated accessibility features before incurring any cost. PlayFab is working closely with Azure Cognitive Services to maximize real-time performance and build highly efficient SDKs for PC, Xbox, iOS, Android, and Nintendo Switch.

These transcription and speech synthesis features are available in 30 language profiles. Later this spring, we will be enabling real-time Speech-to-Text translation and Text-to-Text translation, helping players across the globe communicate with each other.

Moderation and toxicity is another challenge that turns gamers away from games, especially social games. Another usage for voice transcription is moderation. For example, if a player has gotten several negative reports for inappropriate chat, game developers can activate transcription for the player and feed that data into a moderation model.

Cross-platform multiplayer, communication, accessibility, moderation, and translation: we want to make these technologies easy, cheap, and reliable. We believe this will let more people build games and those games will have more value and be played by more people.

 For those interested in learning more about the Party project, starting March 25, we’re inviting:

  1. GDC attendees
  2. Xbox One developers
  3. Professional and Enterprise-tier PlayFab customers

to download the PC and Xbox One SDKs from nuget.org. You can get a demonstration of Party at the Microsoft Game Stack GDC booth, or email us at helloplayfab@microsoft.com and we will enable your PlayFab title for the free preview if space allows. This preview provides limited concurrency, but we intend to support production usage at unlimited scale in August 2019, along with SDKs for other platforms.

We hope to make Party a popular, easy to adopt, and delightful solution for multiplayer and social applications. For more information on Party, including roadmap and anticipated pricing, please checkout Party documentation or contact us.