Vince Pavey met with Trevor Williams, CMO at RallyHere, to discuss the Hi-Rez backed platform and what its tools can do for live service games.
Hi-Rez is one of the biggest players in the free-to-play live service game space, with hit multiplayer titles like Smite, Paladins and Rogue Company building healthy communities and bringing in regular profits with a mix of microtransactions and battle passes. The firm is now licensing out its cross-platform technologies and expertise, calling its new service RallyHere. Trevor Williams is the CMO of the new subsidiary venture and he took some time out to tell us how other companies can take advantage of what Hi-Rez has developed and how much it’s learned over the years.
Hi-Rez recently changed the way it’s organised, and will now be split across three branches within a larger company called Hi-Rez Ventures. Why do that, and why now?
How we’re split up now, is to let the studios purely focus on what they’re great at, as well as allow RallyHere the opportunity to really be its own entity. RallyHere is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hi-Rez Ventures. The other two big pillars are the Smite team, which is Titan Forge, and then the Evil Mojo team, which is on all of our shooter style games. The restructure was just done to allow each individual group to kind of own their own destiny.
What is good for Titan Forge may not be good for Evil Mojo, or vice versa. It may not be good for RallyHere. So when decisions can be made at the individual company levels, it gives them a little bit more opportunity to thrive in their space. So it’s almost like going against the grain. The reverse of consolidation. It’s allowing a little bit more freedom, I suppose. Employees don’t want to get lost in the world of Hi-Rez being a huge company. What they really want is to have an identity, and work towards something that they feel that they can affect change on. By having people within those three pillars, you really have a more core focus on what work impacts. So RallyHere employees are working on RallyHere stuff and vice versa.
In the shuffle, some people saw their jobs affected or changed or even eliminated. How is Hi-Rez handling that as part of the restructuring? Are they helping the employees out?
We’re doing what we can to help those affected by the changes we’ve made. Some jobs became redundant. It was less than 10% of the total population of the company. We’re doing what we can to make sure those employees land where they need to land.
Hi-Rez has been in the cross-play game for a long while now. What are some of the key things that you had to work out for yourself, which are now easier to do with RallyHere?
That’s a great question. So when we set out to build RallyHere as a platform, we kind of went back to how we had structured technology in the past. When we started building games with Global Agenda, and Tribes and then Smite, it was very focused around PC, with consoles coming in after the fact. Even with Smite, when Smite launched on Xbox, and then PlayStation, there was a lag in time between when the patch went live on PC, and the patch went live on Xbox or PlayStation. Over time, we were able to align those timings and retrofit the older version of RallyHere to allow for crossplay, cross-progression and cross-commerce.
As we set out to build Rogue Company in Unreal Engine 4, we wanted to re-develop what we now call the Gen 2 version of RallyHere. We wanted the core pillars of the technology to be focused around crossplay, cross-progression and cross-commerce. So it was built from the ground up, with stateless micro-services that had features to allow for those functionalities immediately upon our launch of Rogue Company. So there wasn’t any kind of side-loading or trying to fix a problem that didn’t exist in the past to allow these things to happen. It’s all just built into RallyHere.
So for example, on each platform, whether it be Sony, or Xbox or Steam, they have different rules and requirements around cross-commerce, cross-play and cross-progression. The RallyHere system actually takes all of those things into account, and algorithmically will allow or not allow different pieces of content or virtual currency to move within the ecosystem. A great example of that is that PlayStation likes to have their virtual currency stay on their platform, which is totally fine. But once you buy a hat or a cosmetic or an item within a game for those coins, once that hits your inventory, it can then also be on your Xbox or on your PC. We just want to make sure that all the rules are followed across all the different systems, and keep all of our great partners aligned on our goals.
You’ve launched more than a few successful live-service games. What would you say makes the way Hi-Rez has approached free-to-play work out so consistently?
Hi-Rez has really taken the time to understand the ecosystem of free-to-play games. Not only is it about the game and the players, but it’s about building a community. We are purpose built and purpose driven to build and foster online communities around our games. That’s really more of the core mission of Hi-Rez, than it is to build really great games. Of course, we want to build great games for our customers. We want to put the best thing in their hands. But if we haven’t built an online community that rallies around the game, then we’ve failed.
Does RallyHere only allow for businesses to approach free-to-play in the same way as Hi-Rez, or does it also accommodate for different ways?
One thing that we want to set forward is that you don’t need to build your games the way Hi-Rez builds their games. RallyHere is a set of technologies that give you all the tools to do what you need to do as a developer – to build the game you want to build, with the core loops you want to see, and the services that you want to leverage to publish the game and continue to maintain and update the game. Those decisions are not ours to have. Those are very much up to the development teams and how they want to build their core loops and how they want to build their gameplay; how they want to retain their players, and monetize their players and engage their players. What RallyHere does is give them all of the tools, whether it’s preproduction, during production, or postlaunch, to help increase their monetisation, or their player retention, or the engagement of their players.
As an example, we have tools within RallyHere that will help you to build battle passes, or limited time events. We have a lot of tips and tricks and tools around the scheduling of events or double XP weekends. If you want, you can bundle things in a store. Or if you want to put things on sale, if you want to do strike through pricing, you can. Whatever the choice is of the publishing team to help engage the player base, we’ll have the tool set available once you’re already out there post launch.
So it’s not a one size fits all solution.
It’s definitely not. With a lot of the partners that are coming online right now, what we try to tell them is that this is a bear hug approach. Not only are we here to be your net ops and your backend infrastructure team, but we will also want to give you the 15-plus years of experience we have running and generating revenue in live service games. The other major thing that we think about and that we want to help teams with is network operations.
So this is like uptime of servers and figuring out how things are going for logins and how you want to think about your server instance fleet management, whether it’s bare metal, or you want to use the cloud. We’ll work out which regions of the world need new hardware. All of those questions that you need to answer. All of the maintenance you need to do to ensure that you’re running at a high uptime is something that our team is going to do for you.
You talked about wanting to democratise the development of live service games. Epic and Unity both already offer plug-in solutions in that space. What does RallyHere do differently to those?
Both Epic and Unity are great partners of RallyHere, and we leverage a lot of their technology. One of the tools that you can integrate from Unity is the Vivox voice tool, if that’s what you’d like to use as the developer. We don’t want to make any of those choices for you, so none of those choices are hard coded. What we do want to ensure is that all of the cohesiveness of the technology is pre-built.
So we think about Epic Online Services or Unity Online Services as a bit like a Lego kit. It’s an unbuilt house. RallyHere is kind of the glue. All of the piping and plumbing and the foundation and infrastructure to send those data pipelines to the right places and call the right API’s and leverage all of those tools. So really, it’s that kind of connective tissue to all of those different tools with our partners.
How closely do you work with smaller developers to get it implemented? If they need you to sit down with them and fully explain it, do you do that?
Yeah, we have zero desire to onboard tens of thousands of partners and never once talk to them. Our goal is to bear hug every partner we have. We’re going to onboard them onto a very high-end, custom service. They’re going to have access to us through Slack and email and other messaging services, to ensure that they know we’re here to help them.
Obviously, this is our first year, so our first few clients are probably getting extra care to ensure that they can get online properly with documentation. As we continue to evolve our product offering, there will be significantly more self-service features. We’ll also always be here to help and answer questions and be available to our partners. But more and more pieces will come online that they can do on their own over time.
More and more games feature cross-play, cross-progression and cross-commerce, despite online multiplayer having existed for years. Why do you think it took so long?
Well, it’s not as easy as just deciding one day that you can play with your friends on any platform. There’s a significant amount of work, especially on the algorithmic front for things like cross-commerce, cross-play, and online matchmaking. The reason it’s taken so long is that every platform has different rules. It’s actually incredibly hard. There’s a lot to do to ensure that you’re complying with all of the certification rules across every platform. So if you come in late on the decision for cross-play, or cross-progression, or cross-commerce. At that point it could just be that you don’t have enough time to do all of the work required for every platform to certify for all of those different cross-pieces. The great part about RallyHere is that right out of the box, we’ve already built all of the rules and stipulations and certification requirements for each platform individually, to ensure that everything moves flawlessly and you can launch on those platforms.
How does a smaller developer get in touch to use RallyHere’s services if they would like to?
The best way right now, is to contact us through our website rallyhere.gg. At the bottom, you can request a demo. That email goes directly to my team.