Former PopCap exec starts PlayFab to help game studios with back-end support

jamesgwertzman

PlayFab CEO James Gwertzman.

During the eight years he spent working for Seattle-based PopCap Games, James Gwertzman witnessed the company make the transition to a free-to-play monetization strategy.

It wasn’t easy. Suddenly, PopCap had to invest time and money into not only building and shipping a game, but creating a robust back-end architecture to run what was essentially a full-blown 24/7 service.

PopCap wasn’t the only company struggling with this problem.

“Companies kept building their back-ends from scratch,” Gwertzman said. “There had to be a better way.”

That’s what sparked the idea for PlayFab, a new Seattle company that provides back-end support for game studios. Led by Gwertzman, a 15-year gaming industry vet, the company provides services like data storage, friend lists, leaderboards, custom game server hosting and in-game purchasing for clients ranging from small independent studios to major publishers.

playfab12PlayFab is a spin-out from Uber Entertainment, another Seattle games company. The startup actually came to be after Gwertzman spoke at a conference about why games fail on the back end. His comments caught the attention of a few Uber execs who were in the crowd.

Uber had already built a solid back-end service and tried to license it to other gaming companies, but it was a tough sell. After hearing Gwertzman speak, though, they wanted him on their team.

So Uber decided to spin out their back-end service and let Gwertzman run a brand new company to help other studios with their back-end needs.

“We let game companies just focus on building a game, making it fun and doing what they do best,” said Gwertzman, who previously co-founded two independent game studios. “We take care of making sure they have a reliable service. We’re confident we can do it better, cheaper and be more reliable than most developers.”

While there aren’t many companies dedicated solely on back-end-as-a-service quite yet, PlayFab differentiates itself from competitors because it focuses on just games, including mobile and PC. 

uberentertainment1“Because we only do games, we bake into our platform a bunch of the best practices and knowledge around,” Gwertzman said.

PlayFab is also unique in that despite being a two-month old company, it is using technology that Uber has been building for three years. Interestingly, Uber is not only one of PlayFab’s shareholders, but it is also a paying customer of the company, using the back-end services for its own games.

PlayFab already has several other studios using its platform and Gwertzman said that the response so far has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“Everyone in this industry agrees that we need something like this,” he said.

PlayFab is currently in the process of closing a $2.5 million round from a mix of angel investors. Gwertzman said that the fresh funds will help PlayFab, which currently shares office space with Buddy.com, hire aggressively and continue building new features.

  • nparekh00

    Congrats James!