Amazon and its enterprise cloud division AWS have been making a number of moves to expand the company as a platform to build and host games. One of the latest developments has been an acquisition: Amazon in the last quarter reportedly quietly acquired a company called GameSparks, a “backend as a service” for game developers to build various features like leaderboards into games, and then manage them, all in the cloud. According to documents from deal analytics firm PitchBook, the acquisition price was $10 million.
Rumors of the acquisition first surfaced earlier this month with no detail about the price nor confirmation from Amazon, which told us that it would not comment on rumor and speculation when we asked about it. GameSparks never responded to our questions.
Subsequent to that, though, we’ve tracked down more information. Two people close to the deal, both GameSparks investors, told us they could not speak about the company due to non-disclosure agreements they had signed. When we asked a contact inside Amazon about it earlier this week, that person also did not deny the deal and hinted it would be reflected in this quarter’s earnings.
Those quarterly earnings, published yesterday, revealed that Amazon had made $633 million in acquisitions in the quarter.
Doing a bit more math, incidentally, might also give you a rough idea of what Amazon also paid for another acquisition it quietly made this past quarter, of search and analytics startup Graphiq. Taking $580 million from $633 million, you get $53 million. Taking away the $10 million paid for GameSparks (per PitchBook’s report) from $53 million, you get $43 million, which falls in the ballpark of the $50 million the LA Times reported when it broke the news of Graphiq’s acquisition.
GameSparks — co-founded by Griffin Parry (CEO), Gabriel Page (CTO) and John Griffin (COO) — lets game developers build “server-side capability” for their games by way of APIs and a cloud-based coding tool, and then manage those features after they are launched. Features that developers could build using GameSparks’ platform include leaderboards, real-time and turn-based multiplayer, notifications and player save data.
Offering cross-platform compatibility and supporting all major engines and stores including Unreal, Unity, PS4, XBOX, iOS, Google Play and Steam, GameSparks counts large studios like Rovio, Ubisoft, Square Enix and Bandai Namco, as well as more independent developers, as customers.
But in another regard it was largely under the radar. Co-headquartered in Dublin, Ireland and York in the north of England, well out of the Silicon Valley landscape, PitchBook notes that GameSparks raised only $820,000 from a small group of investors that included Enterprise Ireland (a government group that provides funding and support for Irish companies expanding internationally), and individual investors Jeff Allen, Joseph Murray and Paul Bushell.
Amazon’s interest in GameSparks fits in well with what the company has built so far in the gaming space, and specifically with games hosted in the cloud.
The startup built a cloud-native business, embodying the belief (shared by Amazon) that the cloud is the logical and inevitable evolution of how games are, should be, and will be built and administered in our connected, mobile-friendly and globalised world.
“The GameSparks platform offers a single integrated tool to build these server components, boosting player retention and maximising revenue without ever having to set up and run a server,” the startup notes in its AWS Marketplace listing. “Enjoy peace of mind in fast growth environments with GameSparks’ dynamically scalable cloud-based capacity and high quality 24/7 infrastructure management.”
Games remain one of the biggest drivers in app revenues, and so it’s no surprise that Amazon itself has been putting a lot of investment into games, both as a distributor (on its own app store, on Twitch and elsewhere); and as a platform for helping create them.
The company’s AWS division has targeted gaming as one of the verticals that it has built up on AWS and it already offers a range of back-end servers and hosting services for mobile, console, PC and online game developers.
It’s also been more recently building up its muscle in the area of game development, with services like Lumberyard, a free AAA game engine integrated with AWS and Twitch; GameLift for deploying and managing servers for multiplayer games; and more. My guess is that when (if) Amazon integrates GameSparks, this is where it would sit.
This being Amazon, a single service rarely sits in a silo, so unsurprisingly, we’ve heard some other murmurs that could underscore Amazon’s interest in building more gaming capabilities. A messaging app the company has reportedly been working on will likely feature one more way to deliver games to consumers, creating more pull for gaming inventory. And we’ve also heard that the AWS division is working on new mixed reality (augmented and virtual reality) services for an anticipated launch later this year at its annual re:invent conference.
Kyle Roche, who had joined Amazon when the company acquired his Internet of Things startup 2lemetry, also happens to have some background in augmented reality (he even once wrote a book about it, available on, yes, Amazon). A year ago, he quietly shifted his role from being AWS’s IoT GM, to becoming GM of mixed reality at AWS. A source says that part of his team have been taken from Lumberyard to build what the source described as a “secret project” at the company. Could that also involve gaming, too?