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byAlice & Smith 2021-01-25

Creators of The Black Watchmen recall how its first project with PlayFab shaped their future

Before working with some of gaming’s biggest brands such as Paradox and PUBG, Canada’s Alice & Smith had its initial foray into LiveOps with Azure PlayFab in 2014. The LiveOps integration was applied directly to the design of A&S’s first project to date, The Black Watchmen. Backed by a Kickstarter at the time, the search for a solution to automate certain processes in their most comprehensive Alternate Reality Game (ARG) led to a fruitful relationship with Azure PlayFab, one that continues to produce positive results for both entities.

Back in June 2015, the studio greatly benefited from launching The Black Watchmen ARG on a persistent server with the capabilities of real-time game design. Over the past five years, PlayFab’s automation and the incorporation of such a strong infrastructure solution has positively shaped the culture at A&S as it has grown to be a major player in the games industry.

Overcoming bandwidth issues to create evolving storylines

Employee bandwidth is a constant challenge that can thwart indie studios with the creativity, drive and dedication to launch major projects. Although its founder had been creating expertly detailed ARGs since 2007, the newly created studio was made up of only four employees at the time. If The Black Watchmen was to run as a 24/7 real-time and persistent world with game design allowing for flexible user experiences, the small team at A&S needed to offload from working on essential, yet less-creative elements of the game, such as login pages or accommodating an influx of new users.

“For The Black Watchmen, it was crucial for our world to continue to evolve as it went forward,” recalls Andrea Doyon, Founder & Chief Storyteller at Alice & Smith. “We jumped into PlayFab, enamored with its LiveOps and game progression capabilities, which has allowed our team to focus on ongoing world development, building our storylines and creating highly personalized user experiences.”

Cultivating creativity and building careers

While Doyon credits PlayFab’s capabilities with freeing up invaluable time for his team at the start, today, the award-winning studio—which has exponentially grown its staff and client roster to become a global, multi-faceted gaming and experience studio—continues to reap the benefits of running its projects on an automated, persistent Azure PlayFab server.

A&S developers are exploring and designing in such complex territory that the studio has signed a contract with an international trade association to use its 2018 cyber-intelligence game NITE Team 4 specifically for training security analysts in the aviation industry.

Doyon directly cites PlayFab’s LiveOps and game progression with allowing his staff to focus on what matters most to them: game development, storylines and, most importantly, their careers.

“This has ultimately become a career-cultivating concept, as we lean so heavily on the integration of tools through PlayFab for automating certain elements, that it allows our team to focus on the parts of their work that will challenge them, keep them engaged, and help develop their career,” says Doyon.

Using segmentation for storytelling

If A&S had any hope of evolving the world for its 30,000-player base when it launched The Black Watchmen, it would need to scale its programming to accommodate new users, grow engagement and shift game experiences. While PlayFab’s segmentation offering was often used for economy purposes and monetization within games, A&S attached behavior and in-game rules to provide unique, tailored user experiences, effectively evolving their game worlds even beyond what they had intended.

“We didn’t have to provision infrastructure for different user levels, and the ability to deliver a content-rich game resulted in significantly more playing time for our users,” says Doyon.

Not only did PlayFab manage significant peaks in player registration and gameplay throughout the lifecycle of the game (today, The Black Watchmen has over 130,000 users worldwide), but the extra bandwidth allowed the A&S team to double the amount of content that was produced for the game.

“When we hit that critical moment of massive engagement, our team was completely freed up to address the most important elements of game management,” says Doyon. “Many game studios implode, or hit a wall, finding that every minute counts. For Alice & Smith, we didn’t have to live through that at all, thanks to PlayFab.”

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