Alice & Smith integrate PlayFab and Twitch API in NT4
For studios, it's more difficult than ever to conceptualize and execute projects that will truly succeed in online gaming, engaging streamers and viewers while offering something new. To build and maintain a game that has excitement and staying power requires engagement in a complex way – one that feels worthwhile for users and accessible for newcomers.
It's no surprise that one of the most engaged, yet difficult-to-infiltrate corners of online life has persisted for decades: the Hacking Game segment. In the last 20 years, two games managed to capture—each in their own style—the hacking spirit: Uplink and Hacknet.
In building a world where hacking tools and cyberintelligence storylines are central, A&S didn't have to look very far for inspiration.
Two years earlier in 2016, news broke that a cache of hacking tools created by the NSA was leaked, posing an unprecedented risk to the security of governmental and corporate assets. The collection of classified and powerful tools included zero-day exploits. These could be used to leverage unknown flaws, allowing unauthorized users to take over critical virtual components and compromise the digital supply chain, gaining very deep root access to large critical infrastructure.
The action of the Shadow Brokers, the hacking group behind the leak, created a shockwave that shook the entire cybersecurity community.
"Witnessing the leak of weaponized hacking tools that could devastate both the state and private sector was an enormous moment in hacking history. The term cyberwarfare was now much more real," says Andrea Doyon, Founder and Chief Storyteller at Alice & Smith and NT4 creator. "We based our initial games on PenTest, or penetration testing, platforms like Kali, and wanted our players to learn cybersecurity concepts like Open Source Intelligence, DNS and Users Enumeration, Social Engineering and Privilege Escalation."
While NT4 received positive reviews and strong player engagement, A&S's work was far from over.
Twitch drops leading to viral missions
Just as the earliest days of ARGs provided players with a purpose for exploring and discovering while collaborating with one another, A&S would work to build this experience via NT4 by rewarding streamers and viewers on Twitch with a chance to join additional, triggered missions
"If we were going to grow engagement and expand our user base within the NT4 world, we needed to establish stronger community ties," says Doyon. "We developed a unique integration between PlayFab and the Twitch API using our proprietary Alice & Smith gamestack."
Soon, Twitch users engaging with NT4 streams were noticing an update to their inventory: a file in their [localhost] which led users to a new secret mission called Sec-9. New, uniquely-detailed missions in cyberintelligence had become accessible to an engaged fanbase. If a viewer had their NT4 profile linked to their Twitch account, they were rewarded with access to Sec-9 and invited to fight in the latest cyberbattle.
"It's a 20-year old idea that has been modernized using the Twitch API and enabled by PlayFab," says Doyon. "We were inspired by the old bulletin board system (BBS) model and wanted the mission to truly spread in a viral way. Viewers get access from a streamer, and they can then copy it to their friend in NT4 so they can play it also."
Budding game detectives who were not rewarded with access via their Twitch inventory were enabled to go the old school route. For those wanting to join in, missions could be copied and exchanged between players, leveraging the community aspect of the game. Whether through Discord channels, Twitch chat or other forums, players were taking the time to join what were becoming "viral missions."
"The only way to propagate the mission was for players to contact each other manually via boards, which was something we were hoping to create," says Doyon. "Thanks to the LiveOps platform, they could copy the mission through PlayFab even if the other users were offline. This enables the community to be immersed in a persistent universe."
Hacking into new markets
The success of NT4 also attracted interest from security companies outside the gaming world. The International Association of Aviation (IATA) implemented the custom version of the games to target employee training. Leveraging the ability of PlayFab to integrate with corporate LMS (Learning Management System) platforms, Alice & Smith has effectively extended the potential market for the stack's educational and training applications.
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