Kolibri Games aims to be the most player-oriented gaming company in the world, so it uses Microsoft Azure and PlayFab to launch new features quickly, analyze player feedback, and innovate in response. By using Azure services and PlayFab back-end gaming technologies, Kolibri Games is transforming its games at a faster tempo, engaging players with features they’ve asked for, and avoiding the expense of hiring engineering and infrastructure staff to create and maintain back-end technologies—leaving employees free to focus on gaming fun.
Oliver Löffler: Founder and Chief Technology Officer
If you’re a serious contender in the big-name, big-money video game industry, you spend years creating a new title that features lavish graphics, incredible sound effects, and Hollywood-caliber storylines.
Or … you might be four guys in a dorm room who come up with a cool, addictive game, push it into the mobile gaming fray, listen carefully to players’ reactions and input, and add and improve as you go.
That was the strategy of Kolibri Games, formerly Fluffy Fairy Games, a mobile gaming studio based in Berlin, Germany. Kolibri turned the traditional game development strategy on its head—and hit pay dirt—with Idle Miner Tycoon, an Android and iOS game that was developed in just eight weeks and went on to become a smash hit with millions of fans.
“We have a lean approach to game development: get a minimum viable product to market quickly, refine and improve based on player feedback, and grow the game from there,” says Oliver Löffler, one of the founders and Chief Technology Officer at Kolibri Games. Kolibri stays in touch with its player base through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, and other channels. Every piece of feedback is recorded and evaluated, allowing the game to grow and improve according to players’ wishes. Since launching Idle Miner Tycoon in mid-2016, Kolibri had shipped some kind of enhancement every single week.
Look to the cloud and to partners
That update schedule becomes hard to sustain at scale. When the number of Idle Miner Tycoon players hit the millions in November 2016, Kolibri had a decision to make. Hire many more people to create requested back-end features and manage the associated infrastructure or outsource those functions?
It chose the latter.
Kolibri had launched Idle Miner Tycoon without a back-end infrastructure; all play happened on user devices. But players asked for back-end features such as leaderboards and a cloud-save option—the ability to save games so they can be picked up and played later from other devices. With its membership in the Microsoft for Startups (formerly Microsoft BizSpark) program, Kolibri had Microsoft Azure credits and decided to build back-end features in Azure.
However, Löffler and team soon realized that their strength was in client development; they had no experience with back-end tools or infrastructure. They kept their continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline in the Web Apps feature of Azure App Service and Azure Virtual Machines but began to shop around for a back-end services partner.
They landed on PlayFab, a provider of back-end platforms for live games that Microsoft acquired in January 2018. More than 3,000 game studios use the PlayFab platform of game services, game analytics, and LiveOps tools to progress from shipping static software to creating games that scale gracefully and evolve over time with new content, live events, and frequent updates. The PlayFab portfolio includes content management, documentation, forums, leaderboards, and A/B testing services.
“Through PlayFab, we could inject a lot of cool features into our game as quickly as possible without hiring back-end engineers,” says Löffler. Specifically, Kolibri plugged the PlayFab leaderboard and cloud-save service into its game.
Analyze 1 billion events a month
But new features meant even more players enjoying Idle Miner Tycoon. Kolibri realized that it needed a sophisticated analytics pipeline to help it analyze play in real time so that it could see which features were being used or ignored, and also gain predictive insight into which features might catch fire next.
With help from the Microsoft Azure gaming staff, Kolibri built that pipeline in just a few weeks. It uses Azure Event Hubs for data ingress, capturing every time a player clicks to build or buy something in the game. Azure Stream Analytics grabs the events from Event Hubs, normalizes the data, and puts it in Azure Data Lake Store. Azure Data Factory is used as the data integration service, where all the data sources and ETL workflows are scheduled, orchestrated, and monitored.
Kolibri uses Azure Data Lake Analytics to examine player data from many angles, including the number of daily active users, monthly active users, features most used, and devices being used for play. All the generated insights and KPIs are stored in a central Azure SQL Database, which is used as the single source of truth for further visualization and exploration using Microsoft Power BI.
Kolibri is currently processing a billion events a month in Event Hubs, and the number continues to rise.
Transform products at an ever-faster cadence
“Our Azure-based analytics pipeline can handle the billion events a month we’re throwing at it, and with it, we’re improving our games at an even faster cadence,” Löffler says. “For example, now we can easily do A/B testing with new interfaces to see how many people click on a new button added to the game.”
With fully managed back-end services from PlayFab and Azure, Kolibri can focus on creating great games rather than building back-end features and infrastructure. “Because we had so little experience in back-end development, we no doubt would’ve made a lot of architectural mistakes if we’d attempted to build these services and infrastructure ourselves,” Löffler says. “We ended up with world-class features and infrastructure by using PlayFab and Azure, and these services can grow to meet our needs.”
Löffler estimates that the company avoided the cost of hiring 5 to 10 engineers with back-end skills. But more importantly, it avoided the opportunity cost of developing new features in-house, which would have delayed their launch. Plus, with the cloud, Kolibri can easily scale its infrastructure to accommodate peak play periods.
Kolibri continues to add more PlayFab and Azure services to Idle Miner Tycoon and Idle Factory Tycoon, its newest game. It plans to use Azure Container Service to further improve its CI/CD pipeline and to further enhance its analytics platform with more visual reporting tools. And by using an Azure HDInsight cluster, Kolibri will have even more possibilities for analyzing its billion-plus data points.
“We’ve seen Microsoft bring a lot of resources and commitment to gaming, and we’re excited to find out which gaming services will appear in Azure next,” Löffler says.