Mobidictum interview with Teemu Haila, CPO & Co-Founder of Metaplay

Join us as we explore Metaplay’s journey, its contributions to the game industry, and the evolving landscape of mobile game development.

Metaplay has emerged as a significant player, offering solutions to streamline backend engineering and enhance game development processes in the game industry. In this interview, we delve into Metaplay’s role in the industry and its approach to facilitating efficient game development cycles.

In this interview with Teemu Haila, the CPO & Co-Founder of Metaplay, we’ll explore Metaplay’s journey from its inception in 2019 and the driving forces behind its founding. Metaplay’s mission centers on addressing the needs of serious game developers by providing customizable backend solutions to streamline development processes.

Furthermore, we’ll gain insights into the Finnish gaming market from our interviewee, who received a lifetime achievement award from IGDA Finland in 2018 for contributions to the industry. Despite recent challenges, the Finnish gaming market remains resilient, with promising opportunities on the horizon.

Can you please explain your current role at Metaplay?

As a Co-Founder, I wear many hats, but at heart, I’m a product guy. That makes my official title Co-founder & CPO. Right now, on a day-to-day basis, I can be doing anything from building our new Metaplay Developer Portal (where you can now download and try the Metaplay SDK for free), automating end-to-end tests for our portal website, designing new LiveOps tools for the Metaplay SDK, or standing on stage at a conference talking about building mobile games for scale. No two days are the same, which certainly means it’s all fun and games!  

Tell us about your games industry career and reasons for founding Metaplay.

From creating Finland’s first-ever online game development community back in 2003 to co-founding Metaplay in 2019, I’ve lived at the frontline of game development for almost 20 years now. Much changed during that time, but one constant has held: serious developers need good tech. And nine times out of 10, it just doesn’t exist. When we started Metaplay there was no such thing as a customizable backend – something that had held us back as developers making games ourselves. You were confined to either working out of black boxes that only got you so far or spending insane amounts of time and money building something yourself. That didn’t make sense to us, so we set out to change it. 

Metaplay emphasizes efficient game development. How does your platform facilitate faster iterations and development cycles?

Metaplay is designed to help developers 10x their productivity, whether they’re writing their first line of code for a prototype or shipping an over-the-air update for a live game that’s being played by hundreds of thousands of players every day. 

In the first instance, we’ve created a Unity SDK with hand-crafted tooling we would have bitten your hand off for as developers ourselves. To name but two: offline mode for testing online features locally; and shared C# game logic to avoid duplicating your codebase to the server. Those alone are huge wins for developers looking to get to market with online features fast.

On live games, our development tools not only facilitate shipping fast but also help avoid future headaches, such as our in-built Bot Client for load testing and our ready-made (and fully extensible) LiveOps Dashboard, which houses the ‘most advanced game config toolkit I’ve ever seen’ (our customers’ words, not ours!). We spend a lot of time improving and refining our game config toolkit to enable our biggest customers to ship more content faster, so it’s nice to know it’s appreciated.

What sets Metaplay apart from other mobile game backends in terms of backend engineering and architecture?

The Metaplay SDK is fully extensible and ships as source code (and can even be deployed in a developer’s own cloud) – which instantly makes our backend a more attractive proposition than the incumbent. But expanding on that and perhaps highlighting where we differ from the other third-party backends that have popped up since our inception, our core value proposition is that we’re fundamentally designed for games that scale. That philosophy runs through our whole SDK, and from a backend engineering and architecture POV it’s most manifested in our actor-based model, which combines authoritative game servers and periodic data persistence to maximize infrastructure efficiency for handling games at large scale.

Scalability is crucial for modern game development. How does Metaplay ensure scalability for games, especially those with massive player bases?

The pre-configured Metaplay cloud infrastructure stack is designed with scale in mind, with self-healing and self-scaling servers that prioritize efficiency and cost-effectiveness without compromising essential functionality. Our infrastructure is guided by some key principles to help us achieve this: stateful servers with an actor-based model (as touched on above); cherry-picking compute and state persistence from a combination of the right IaaS/PaaS components, and ensuring we have the right observability and alert tooling set up (again sticking with IaaS components where we can to keep costs down). This is a brief answer to an almost endless topic and one which we love talking about!

What is the value of having a reliable backend?

For the sake of brevity, it’s probably better to flip this question and talk about what might happen if you don’t have a reliable backend. If you’re serious about shipping a successful game, you’re not likely to get very far without a proper backend. And in the world of modern free-to-play games, a proper backend isn’t just a server anymore – it’s a server, a DevOps platform, a LiveOps platform, and development tools that facilitate the day-to-day work of your gameplay programmers. Building all of that yourself is hard, time-consuming, and a huge distraction from what you presumably set out to do in the first place: Make great games. The easier option is to call upon a trusted and reputable company to do all that legwork for you.   

When should developers begin to consider using a backend?

There are various schools of thought on this but my take would be as early as possible. Ideally, you want the first line of code you write to be on the same tech, tooling, and infrastructure as the updates you’re shipping three years later, which brings the backend decision right to the start of your company or project’s journey. In the game’s earliest ideation phases, as soon as you’ve determined it’s going to need online features and LiveOps (as it most likely will), you’re going to realize you’ll need a proper backend. The most successful projects we’ve worked with have implemented Metaplay at that point and built on our SDK right from the start.

Could you share examples of how Metaplay’s player support tools have helped game studios improve player satisfaction and retention?

In my experience in games, I’ve found good player support to be something most developers strive towards but rarely get around to implementing. That’s because unless you have a dedicated tools developer in-house, it’s near-impossible to justify taking a programmer off a game team to build a player support feature. While we can’t share data from our partner studios, by putting player support tooling front-and-center of our LiveOps Dashboard, we’re making Metaplay a friendly place for non-technical game developers too. One thing we can say is that the feedback we’ve had from player support staff at the studios we’re working with has been resoundingly positive, and we can confidently say we’re making their lives a lot easier.

You received a lifetime award from IGDA Finland in 2018 for your contributions to the Finnish games industry – how did you feel, and what is your current perspective on the Finnish Gaming Market?

In all my years, I’ve never seen an industry quite like the Finnish games industry. There’s no getting away from the fact that the last couple of years have been tough here (as indeed they have in most places) – but to say we’re a resilient bunch would be an understatement. The prevailing view here is that “a rising tide lifts all boats” – we’re all very much in it together, and that’s demonstrated by how closely connected we are across studios, helped in no small part by organizations like Neogames and IGDA, as you mention. 

The campaign we ran celebrating Finland as the Home of Gaming during Slush last year was a great example of that and something that I haven’t seen anywhere else. While there’s been turbulence of late, it really feels as though the market is turning a corner now, with some really exciting companies being born on the backs of the layoffs and acquisitions of the past couple of years. 2024 (and 2025) are set to be very exciting indeed. 

Teemu Haila
CPO & Co-Founder, Metaplay

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