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Latest news and updates from the PlayFab developers

by JamesGwertzman 2015-02-28

New Funding and New Challenges

Today marks a big step forward for PlayFab. Earlier this morning we announced that we've just closed our first major round of venture capital funding, a Series A round of $7.4 million. This is huge news for us, because we have really ambitious plans for transforming how game developers build and operate live games, and now we've got the resources to make it happen.

It's also big for us because the round was led by Benchmark, one of the savviest venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. And most importantly, partner Mitch Lasky will be joining our board. Mitch is widely respected as one of the smartest investors in the game industry, and for good reason. Each time we met, I came away with new insights and inspiration for PlayFab.

I actually found the whole pitching process to be really valuable. Entrepreneurs often complain about fundraising, and it is distracting, but I also now have a much better understanding of our own business than when I started. Having dozens of smart investors try to tear holes in one's story does that.

PlayFab has always been open to outside ideas and feedback, though. In fact, PlayFab itself wouldn't exist if we weren't fans of sharing with and learning from others, since PlayFab itself is the product of two conferences.

In the fall of 2013, I gave a talk at the High-Performance Transaction Systems (HPTS) workshop, a biennial gathering of the folks who build and run the large-scale computer systems that much of our economy is now based around. This is the sort of conference where "SQL vs. No-SQL" is the source of heated debate long into the night.

My presentation was about how computer games had quietly become high-performance transaction systems, yet the related tools and technologies hadn't kept up. I discussed some recent high-profile online game failures, and explored their root causes. The bottom line is that building complex online services of that scale is HARD. During my 8 years at PopCap I'd seen first-hand the challenge of transitioning from building a packaged game to building a game-as-a-service. Game developers were having to build complex backend technology from scratch instead of being able to focus on the FUN, and I challenged the HPTS audience to find ways to simplify the task for creative teams.

At the time, I was thinking of this as an industry challenge, not a personal one. But then a few months later I repeated the talk at another conference, this time to game developers, and was approached afterwards by Bob Berry and Jon Mavor of Uber Entertainment, makers of Planetary Annihilation and other cool games.

They had built a robust, reusable backend for games, dubbed UberNet, and wanted to see other developers benefit from using it -- but had realized the only way to make that happen was to spin it out as a separate company. Was I interested in helping make that happen? Yes, I realized I was. This was a problem I cared deeply about, in a domain where I had a lot of relevant experience, that promised to be both challenging and interesting, and that tied together nearly all of the threads of my career to that point.

And so, in early 2014, PlayFab was officially born. I was joined by senior architect Matt Augustine, who had designed and built UberNet back at Uber Entertainment, and was eager to see more developers leverage his platform. And we made what in hindsight proved a key decision -- to take over responsibility for hosting and operating the existing legacy UberNet games, including Planetary Annihilation and Toy Rush. This meant that from day one we had the responsibility of keeping a live service up and running, as well as a paying customer.

It's been an exciting ride ever since. Since that start just a year ago we've recruited top backend engineering talent and grown the team to 15 people, raised a total of $9.9M (including the original $2.5M seed round), refactored and cleaned up all the code we inherited, created documentation, launched the new PlayFab platform, added new features like Cloud Script and advanced analytics, signed up nearly 2,000 developers, and had nearly 180 games go into active development. Phew.

And now that we've raised this money, things are only going to get busier. As we've worked with our growing list of developers, it's become clear that providing great technology is really only the beginning. There's also a large knowledge gap around how to run games effectively. At PlayFab, we want to make operating a live game as easy as we've made launching one, and that means tackling that knowledge gap with new tools and resources. It also means pre-integrating with a growing list of industry partners, so that developers can immediately plug into whatever other products or services they need to succeed.

These are hard projects, but it wouldn't be fun if it weren't hard. It also wouldn't be fun (or even possible) if we didn't have great people to work with -- from our team here in Seattle to all our great customers doing cool things with our tools. We're looking forward to seeing many of you in person at GDC next week.

P.S. Yes, this means we're hiring. The full list of job postings won't be up until after GDC, but if we sound like your kind of team, go ahead and send your resume to jobs@playfab.com.