Ep. 102 Changing the Game with MongoDB
Mike: Data has always been an essential part of video game production. From player profiles to telemetry, matchmaking to leaderboards, data is crucial to making games work efficiently and effectively. On today's show Sig Narvaez is and Jim Blackhurst, two gaming industry and MongoDB veterans, sit down to talk about why MongoDB is so perfectly suited to the gaming industry. Stay tuned. Speaking of games, it's the game developer's conference. It's coming to San Francisco, March 21st through the 25th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. Visit at us at booth P1561 in Center Hall. If you're going to be there, swing by the booth, say hello, mention the word podcast to get a special gift and chat with MongoDB's leading experts in the gaming industry. That's March 21st through the 25th at the Moscone center in San Francisco. Visit gdconf. com for more information, hope to see you there. MongoDB World is returning to New York City. Yep. MongoDB World 2022. The future runs on MongoDB. It's a conference for creators, disruptors, and transformers of tomorrow. You can register today. Head on over to mongodb.com/world- 2022. Join us from June 7th through the 9th for three days of announcement packed keynotes, hands on workshops, deep dive technical sessions, that'll give you the tools you need to build and deploy mission critical applications at scale. We've got a special offer for you folks. There's a discount code, it's PODCAST. Use the code PODCAST to get 25% off the currently already discounted rate. Head on over to mongodb.com/ world- 2022. Remember to use the code PODCAST for your special discount. Well, fellas, welcome to the podcast. It's great to have you on the show. I think I'd like to start by asking you both to introduce yourself to the audience, let folks know who you are and what you do. Sig, why don't you go first?
Sig Narvaez: Sure. So thanks Mike. Thanks for having us. So I'm Sig, short for Sigfrido, Sig Narvaez. And I've been in the tech industry for, well, definitely way too many years. I'm originally from Baja California in Mexico. And I now live in greater LA with my wife and my two children. I've been here at MongoDB for well over six years, and I've been focusing mostly on our customers that are in the media entertainment and gaming, both of which, have seen incredible growth in the last couple of years with the pandemic.
Mike: Fantastic and we're going to get into that. And Jim, welcome to the podcast brother.
Jim Blackhurst: Hey Mike, it's great to be here. Thank you so much for having us.
Mike: And why don't you introduce yourself to the audience? Let folks know who you are and what you do.
Jim Blackhurst: Yeah. So Jim Blackhurst, I'm executive solutions architect at Mongo. Like Sig, I've been here about six years. Prior to joining Mongo though, I basically did my entire career in the games industry. So I'm probably about 20 year veteran of the games industry, and grew up with data and how data works in the games industry. And a lot of the work that we've been doing is about, trying to build new engagement systems and everything. So it's a really exciting time and it's great to be involved from this side, where we get to see lots of different projects going on.
Mike: Yeah. So prior to coming to MongoDB, you were in the gaming industry. I'd love if you could just talk a little bit about the data. I think folks listening are going to be interested in the gaming use case and they've probably already understand some of those use cases and where the data lives and what data is actually tracked. But maybe Jim, if I could ask you to introduce the gaming data landscape?
Jim Blackhurst: Yeah, sure. So my background is very much in the console AAA game space. And it must have been probably about 15 years ago now that we started exploring what we could do with data. And essentially, back in those days, it was almost quite naive. We just put telemetry beacons in the games for different things that would happen. So, player has died or player has picked up a health pack or player has started a new game. And we would just send those to a database. And very quickly we learned two lessons. One of which was when you have a really successful game, this equates to a denial of service attack. And secondly, it becomes incredibly difficult to actually get any value out of doing that. So a lot of the thought process evolved to being" Okay, how can we use data sensibly? What can we do with data that's going to really move the needle on things like game design? And what the games industry refers to is engagement, which is making games fun. So we became a little bit more precise about things and it evolved into online player profiles, which are effectively cloud save games. They track things like your score or what health packs you've got or inventory you've got, as well as a more refined telemetry process that allows us to see how you progress in games. And then as the rise of what we call, Battle Royale style games, the modern gaming era where it's more about just getting in and having fun and very low barrier to entry, a lot of the emphasis on data became focused around what the players are doing and how we can keep them engaged in the game. And so we use data to segment audiences and to give different audiences subtly different experiences, depending on what they're really interested in doing. So games have become under the covers very data driven.
Mike: And are they enriching that data that comes from the actual game play with outside sources?
Jim Blackhurst: Very often. Whatever's really appropriate. If you're looking at game economies, for instance, you might understand how players are working in aggregate based on their performance in other games of the related games, and bring that data in and compare it. There's all this social aspects of it, so linking out to Twitch, Instagram, Facebook. All this rich data environment feeds into the game and allows you to create presence and coherent picture of yourself across many different platforms.
Mike: So Sig, I'm curious about MongoDB in the game development space. It would seem to be a perfect use case just based on flexibility alone. But maybe you could talk a little bit about why MongoDB is so well suited for this space?
Sig Narvaez: Absolutely. I think traditionally, let's say a game was released let's say back in the era of console gaming, or maybe back in the era of cartridges, where the game is fairly static. And any data that might have been required for your scores, levels, game design and so on pretty much doesn't change. Now today, that's really not the case anymore. Games today are constantly changing. They're alive. There's constant levels being released, new releases on mobile gaming and even on console gaming as well. And every time we might be introducing new fields, new data entities, new integrations, new data sources, right now we're seeing integration with, for example NFT and blockchain, where even the game itself might be changing with artwork, items or even new levels that are produced by outside sources. So all of that is constantly changing data that can really be ingested right in the model, super easy, with MongoDB, specifically what we call the document model.
Mike: And you mentioned NFTs and blockchain. We've got a really exciting episode coming up with Professor Cardano. He's the founder of cnft. io. It's an NFT marketplace and it's a particular interest of mine. Have you worked with any customers, either of you, that are incorporating NFTs and blockchain into the gaming infrastructure?
Jim Blackhurst: Yeah, definitely I have. It's such a hot topic in the games industry at the moment. Everyone is trying to understand that space and work out how they can create value for the players, because the players want to engage with this. They want to own content and they want to be able to trade on content. So it becomes really valuable to able to offer that as part of your game service. So yeah, a lot of publishers that I'm working with at the moment have got an eye on that and are trying to work out. And we've got a great story at MongoDB about that. MongoDB is for a long time been an underpinning technology at the blockchain revolution. And as your guest on future podcast will no doubt tell you, MongoDB is a great platform for building that kind of content.
Mike: And all of this is leading toward... I think one space we're hearing the term metaverse quite a bit. Have you worked with any customers building into the metaverse?
Jim Blackhurst: Not as yet, but I think definitely, it may be a little bit further away than NFTs and blockchain right now. But it's definitely something that's on everyone's radar. Again, it's that piece of understanding what that means and how to bring that value. But also keeping an eye on the technology choices that you're making and ensure that any technology that you choose is open and flexible enough to incorporate these changes, whatever they might look like down the line.
Mike: So all of this is about the gaming industry and we've got an interesting event coming up in a couple of weeks, actually less than a couple of weeks. It's the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 21st through the 25th and MongoDB's going to be there, if you're listening to this and you're planning ongoing to the GDC, the Game Developer's Conference, be sure to swing by the MongoDB booth and mention the word PODCAST. We've got a special surprise for you there. So guys, I assume you're going to go to the conference. What's happening at the conference.
Jim Blackhurst: Mike, we are absolutely going, that you would not be able to stop us from going. In fact, I'm getting incredibly excited about the fact that it's less than two weeks away now, because it seems like we waited an age to get back into GDC in person. Yeah, it's a fabulous event. I love it. This will be my 10th GDC that I've been to. And not only we have a booth there as you mentioned, but Sig and I are doing a tour and we'll be taking the audience through MongoDB and how it works with games.
Mike: How many developers or attendees generally attend GDC?
Jim Blackhurst: I think the peak attendance in recent years has been more than 20,000. In fact, it could have been considerably more than 20,000.
Jim Blackhurst: But I think this year we are going for a little less than that because there's still a lot of COVID and people are a bit concerned about travel restrictions. So it is still a hybrid event and you can access some of the material online. But there's going to be tens of thousands of developers there, so it's still going to be a big event.
Sig Narvaez: So I was also at GDC in 2019. I remember we had a booth. We had Karen Huaulme, one of our developer advocates do a presentation as well. And that was right before the pandemic. One of the things that I really liked about GDC is obviously not just the technology, but meeting folks in the gaming industry, besides developers. The producers, creators, writers, where all the things we love about gaming, creativity comes from these very talented folks, of course. And I think that's one of the things I'm also looking for at this year, not just developers, but the creative folks that we'll get to meet.
Mike: Yeah. There'll be some podcasters there too.
Jim Blackhurst: Are you going to be that with us, Mike?
Mike: I will. I'll be doing some interviews on the site. We'll have a little podcast booth set up. If you're listening to this and you're using MongoDB and would like to talk about it, we'll be at the end of the show every day. We'll be having a chat and there'll be some special swag prizes for those folks too, that join us for conversations. So keep your eye out for the MongoDB booth. Tell me me a little bit more about the talk that you're delivering. Who is this intended for?
Sig Narvaez: So we've titled the talk Going from Indie to AAA at and AAA games, meaning our AAA studios, and how you can use data to drive engagement in your games. And as we were talking earlier, I think as games have become essentially a live entity, that the content and the way you interact and play and the way you socialize, everything is now driven through data. And also the gaming studios are using that data to keep the players coming back to their games. Essentially, it's become like the time you would spend on Facebook earlier on or on Instagram or on TikTok, or any other platform for that matter, or even a news industry. The news companies, they want you to be in their portals. The same has happening with games. You want the attention of the gamer, especially if it is a, let's say in the free to play market, where it's the studio's, essentially the responsibility to produce a game that produces so much content that drives that engagement back to the game constantly. And that's what our talk is about. We're going to obviously talk about how MongoDB and Atlas in our cloud platform is really well suited for any game title, whether it's small or large, and how easy it is to build this data driven engagement. And we actually have a little fun demo that we built sometime last year that we've extended for the conference, and where we show exactly how you can react as developers, to when a player is interacting with your game. We call that player activity. How could you interact or react to changes in that activity immediately and detect, well this player is focusing on A and B or C within the game, and drive some recommendations or some in game items or things that you might display in the game, only for that player based on what they're doing.
Jim Blackhurst: Yeah. The great thing about the talk is that for the longest time, dealing with data has been something that a lot of Indies out there have been like," Oh, you know what? I've got to get this done, but I'm not entirely sure how. It's such complex space. I don't know what to do. How do I make it secure? What happens to my game's success? How am I going to scale it?" All these really big existential questions about dealing with data. I want to demystify a lot of that and show that how with MongoDB Atlas, we can make this single platform work across all these different use cases and just make a lot of that pain go away. And so the aim of the talk is to give people that roadmap or vision for how they can get to the places they need to be, to be a data driven game, with a minimal amount of fuss and bother.
Mike: And that's the goal. Make it as simple as possible to get started and to scale, give you the ability to scale. So there may be folks that are listening that are not yet advanced game developers, but want to get started. Let's talk a little bit about like the environments that are supported. What are some of the frameworks that popular among game developers today and how does MongoDB support them?
Sig Narvaez: Yeah. So I think going back to decades ago, as we're talking earlier, console gaming, arcades, and so on, that's how this industry started. But today, mobile gaming has really taken off I think in the last two years. Both media streaming and gaming, especially mobile gaming is the way that we're interacting. And not just with a game, but also with each other. A lot of these mobile games are really social platforms for gamers to collaborate. And sometimes you even want to play that game on your mobile, on your PC, on your Mac or other devices. And one of the platforms that is very active right now is Unity. We released an SDK for Unity. I believe it was last year when we fully jaded and we're going to have actually a few demos in the booth for folks to come over, play with them, browse through code, ask some of our experts, as well as a demo that we'll show in the talk, was also built on Unity. And so if you're a developer, gamer, you want to start, most likely you'll start with Unity.
Mike: Yeah. So you mentioned Unity and that seems to be the most popular framework. When I work in Unity, what language am I working in?
Jim Blackhurst: Usually C#. And it's a first class citizen in MongoDB, so there's no barriers there. And as Sig was saying, the realm SDK for Unity just wraps up a lot of those data objects and presents them in a Unity context. So it really is just trivial to start managing high scores, leaderboards, play profiles, brag, chat. All the boilerplate stuff that developers used to have to spend quite a lot of time programming, that code themselves, you can just plug it in now. And for those folks that are experimenting or building stuff outside the Unity ecosystem, then we've got you covered as well. So there are MongoDB drivers for pretty much every major language. We support a lot of the mobile frameworks as well, and obviously, native support for Android and iOS. So really we've spent a lot of time and energy on making sure that developers don't have to reinvent the wheel when they want to use MongoDB. They can just plug it straight in and just get going.
Mike: So if I'm not using Unity, what other languages are popular?
Sig Narvaez: Again, Unity is issue developed in C#, but essentially you'll be doing Node. js, Java. Go, Rust are also languages that we're hearing a lot now. I think another thing that we need to focus on or place a little bit of light on in the gaming industry, is the backend. We as gamers obviously always interact with the game client and we think about what to do from the visual aspect to keep being engaged. When I score, win, lose, et cetera. But what's really driving that, and I think that's little bit of the story I want to tell as well in this conference, is building a backend for a game, whether it's a small game or a game that could scale to a global scale, possibly be a multi- cloud game, isn't that far away as it sounds for a developer or gaming studio. Especially now with MongoDB Atlas and our platform, where you can run and build the game backend and host it on one cloud provider, multiple cloud providers across them, and so on.
Mike: Tell me a little bit about Multi- Cloud. I know this is a capability within MongoDB Atlas, but why would it be important in the gaming context?
Sig Narvaez: So I think a topic that is relevant there is their locality, or maybe the player locality in many games, especially when you're doing let's say online matches and you are collaborating with many folks, you want to be in a match with folks that are near you geographically for latency reasons, or perhaps also for data governance reasons. I think we always think of games as something that's fun. But now that we are making purchases on games and we are providing some of our personal information on the game, data security also comes into play and that comes along with data governance and jurisdictions and their locality and things like that. So I think that's where Multi- Cloud is super relevant for gaming now, because I might need to keep my data in a particular country, in a particular geo or perhaps a cloud provider doesn't have presence in one region where I have gamers, as a gaming studio.
Mike: So true multi- cloud gives you the capability to host a database that can live in multiple providers, AWS, Google cloud, Microsoft Azure, all at the same time. Is that correct?
Jim Blackhurst: Absolutely correct. In fact, this is bread and butter of what it means to be a distributed data platform, because we're agnostic to where you want to host us. And these choices are entirely yours to make. And it depends on success. There's a lot of governance related stuff around there, but also some games are better suited to different clouds than others. You might have your application stack in one client and maybe all your analytics stack in another client. So being able to share the data between clouds using a multi- cloud data platform just takes a lot of that pain of data transfer away. There are also some clouds that are better than others and things like undersea cables for low latencies, intercontinental low latency. This is really important in some of the big console Twitch games, where you score something and you want that recognized on the global leaderboard within milliseconds. Choosing the right cloud provider to give you that capability is super important.
Mike: And regional coverage is spotty across the providers. You've got countries that are not even recognized or represented in Microsoft Azure, but those are then represented in Google Cloud, for example.
Jim Blackhurst: Absolutely. And every games developer has got a story about how their game went completely supernova in some far off South American country or somewhere else where no one was expecting. And the ability to just turn on a dime and make sure that the service that you've provisioned for people in one territory is equal to what you've provisioned for people in the US or Europe or something like that, it's super important. Quality of service for everyone.
Mike: Yeah. Well, speaking of quality of service, I guess the best possible scenario would be that you build a game and you deploy it and it is a massive success. But the toughest thing to deal with would be if you deploy a game and it becomes massively successful. Now you need to scale. Maybe talk a little bit about the scalability capabilities within MongoDB. In what ways do we offer the developer ease of use and flexibility around scalability?
Jim Blackhurst: I'd like to think that the problem just goes away largely. The whole point about Mongo is that it's a scalable platform and you can define boundaries around that and you can manage that yourself. But you can also just let the system using auto scaling scale out for you, to meet whatever demands your audience has placed on it. I think that what's often not quite as given as much air time in terms of scalability, is on the flip side of that coin, which is you've had a hugely successful game. You knew it was going to be successful, so you provisioned correctly for it. But then the game goes into the long tail. With a lot of other systems, it becomes very difficult to start managing those costs when the player base falls off. And a lot of what it means to be an elastically scalable platform is that you can track the scale of your data platform to match what the current level of usage of your title is and you're not wasting resources. So you can be very efficient about how you spend the revenue from the game in the infrastructure.
Mike: This is one of my favorite features of MongoDB Atlas. It came along after scalability at the disc level. Now we can scale truly across all of the resources, even the CPU. So you pick a low watermark, for example, maybe an M10 with a certain set of CPUs and disc associated with it. Then you pick a high watermark, and the system itself tracks the use and the metrics and will notify you when the resources are largely consumed, and it'll automatically behind the scenes scale to the next level up, until it reaches the highest. That is true auto scale. Pretty impressive. I love that feature. So Game Developers Conference, if you're listening to this and you're all of a sudden, super excited, you can get more information at gdconf. com. That's G- D- C- O- N- F. com. Tickets are on sale now. I think there's still a few days for the reduced pricing. And again, remember that MongoDB is going to be there. We'll have a booth, we'll have some talks. There's going to be a lot of excitement. The podcast will be there, swing by the booth and have a chat with me. Folks, anything else that you want to share with the audience before we wrap up?
Jim Blackhurst: I just want to say thanks, Mike, for letting us on the podcast today and to just reiterate how thrilled I am that after all this long 24 months of pretty much isolation, we get back in front of people, and we can feel that buzz of the industry again, because I think that's what a lot of games developers live for and getting together, having a good time at GDC, exploring new technology, listening to what your peers are up to. That's what makes this industry so wonderful to be part of.
Mike: Yeah. The connections for sure. Anything from you Sig?
Sig Narvaez: I completely agree. I think this will be the first conference we do in two years in person, at least from my side. I'm super excited about seeing again, our customers, all of our developers and also all of the creators right on the floor, and also visiting a lot of the gaming studios and other folks in the expo hall. That was one of my favorite times when I was there in 2019. They had from retro to today, a common expo hall of how gaming has progressed throughout the decades. The truth.
Mike: Love it. We got some eight bit games there.
Sig Narvaez: Yeah. Oh for sure. Absolutely.
Mike: Awesome. Well, once again, Game Developers Conference is going to be March 21st through the 25th in San Francisco. It's online as well as in person. I look forward to seeing you there. Thanks very much guys.
Jim Blackhurst: Pleasure, Mike.
Sig Narvaez: Thanks so much, Mike.
Mike: MongoDB World is returning to New York City. Yep. MongoDB World 2022. The future runs on MongoDB. It's a conference for creators, disruptors, and transformers of tomorrow. You can register today. Head on over to mongodb.com/ world- 2022. Join us from June 7th through the 9th for three days of announcement packed keynotes, hands on workshops, deep dive technical sessions, that'll give you the tools you need to build and deploy mission critical applications at scale. We've got a special offer for you folks. There's a discount code, it's PODCAST. Use the code PODCAST to get 25% off the currently already discounted rate. Head on over to mongodb.com/ world- 2022. Remember to use the code PODCAST for your special discount.
Data has always been an essential part of video games. From player profiles to telemetry, matchmaking to leaderboards, data is crucial to making games work – and making them better. Recent trends in gaming make data even more important. When you’re choosing a database for your next video game, consider your data requirements. Modern games are multiplayer and online, reach massive scale, and must evolve quickly to stay relevant. Join Michael Lynn as he discusses data, and the impact MongoDB has on Game Development with Sig Narvaez, and Jim Blackhurst.
To learn more about how MongoDB impacts Game Development visit: https://www.mongodb.com/use-cases/gaming
To learn about MongoDB at the Game Developers Conference, visit: https://www.mongodb.com/gdc
To learn more about the Game Developers Conference, visit: https://gdconf.com
If you're planning on visiting GDC, remember to visit us at P1561 in Center Hall to learn more about MongoDB, snag some exclusive gaming swag, and chat with MongoDB’s leading experts in gaming! Mention "PODCAST" to receive a special gift!