Microsoft now sees social gaming as a potentially big source of business for their Azure cloud-hosting services. They’ve dabbled in the social gaming sector with a C# interface to the Facebook API, but that was just for writing your own Facebook game servers in C# and developing the back-end services.
The Azure platform is a scalable cloud platform that runs applications written in C#/.NET, Java, Ruby, and NodeJS, plus it supports php websites and includes database access though SQL Azure. It’s a direct rival to the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Interestingly, Apple, having tried and failed running its own servers for MobileMe, now uses both AWS and Azure to power its iCloud service. The big advantage with cloud services is that they scale up as your need increases. If your game goes viral, the servers won’t crumble under the extra demand, though your hosting budget might!
In November, Microsoft introduced the Windows Azure Toolkit for Social Games, which builds on Windows Azure to provide all the glue functionality for social gaming, including:
- Starting a Game
- Playing a Game
- Game Logic
- Friends, Invites, and Notifications
Making these work robustly is no simple thing, so having it done for you saves a lot of effort. Having just a toolkit though isn’t enough, it needs demos with source code to show developers how to use the features as there’s a fair bit of complexity and a learning curve that can be quite off-putting.
So they’ve thrown in a few free games and commissioned Grant Skinner to produce a pretty decent Web game, Tankster, with source code, graphics etc. It’s based on an old artillery game where you select the shell and gun angle and try and destroy enemy tanks before they get you. It plays in single player or multi-player mode.
Microsoft’s Azure service is proving to be well implemented and reliable, but whether they can make it big in social gaming remains to be seen. Tankster and Windows Azure Toolkit for Social Games though is a very promising start.