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How to perfect your game content pipeline

December 3, 2021 in Games | 14 min. read
CCD Use Case
CCD Use Case

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Building and maintaining content management and storage systems from scratch can be a real headache for studios, so you need to know the best methods to ensure a smooth experience for your players.

More than ever, studios managing live games need efficient systems to deploy new content to players regularly. However, building and maintaining complex content management and storage solutions from scratch can be costly and time-consuming. 

By combining cloud storage, a content management system, and a reliable content delivery network, Unity’s Cloud Content Delivery (CCD) provides efficient solutions for studios managing live games, and helps to avoid unnecessary costs. 

To find out how, check out these four ways CCD can improve your content pipeline and alleviate your development team’s workload: 

Streamline your production process

One way CCD helps with streamlining the production process is through its badging and bucketing system, which allows developers to test the content they would like certain players to receive. 

One of CCD’s main functionalities is to upload asset bundles to buckets, and then badge and distribute them to designated players. You can create custom buckets and badges based on your needs.

For example, a content release can be promoted from a “Development” bucket to a “Production” bucket in order to be deployed to players. A typical workflow example could be having separate buckets per platform, such as an “iOS Production” bucket and an “Android Production” bucket.

Combining that system with Campaigns – powered by Unity’s Remote Config – allows developers to run tests by distributing badged content to a select group of targeted players, all without affecting the live player base. 

Nifty Games used Remote Config to specify which badges are served to specific audiences and used the bucketing system to test the exact content that players would have available to them. 

The content in one bucket would be the exact same as the assets to be tested when promoted to another bucket, so that whatever QA members signed off on was exactly what went out to players.

Another way that CCD can improve development workflows is by simplifying release management. Adopting a three-in-one tool like CCD (as opposed to a CDN on its own) prevents engineers from being bogged down with building a release and version management system from scratch. According to Ibs Rageh, VP of Engineering at Nifty Games, CCD’s easy-to-use web portal is accessible enough for non-engineering team members to use. 

For Nifty Games, once CCD was set up, the content release process required very little attention and oversight from engineering teams. Release management could easily be handled by any QA or production team member, allowing developers to focus on creating fresh content for their players.

Plus, new features like Promotion-only Buckets and Private Buckets increase the safety guards on releases, making the content delivery process even more secure and streamlined.

Prototype content during development

If there are components in a game that can be categorized, such as different levels or environments, developers can test game design elements or art assets in each component without affecting the whole game. 

A practical example of how this could be used is if you needed to test out designs in a game where players visit a large amount of different environments, biomes, or even planets. This can be really tricky to handle smoothly as a lot of builds can struggle to sustain the sheer volume of assets involved, such as different models and textures.

CCD can help by breaking the game down into each environment, each of which with its own Git repository containing their respective assets. Then, you can use the Addressable Asset System, which allows you to safely and efficiently manage the content of complex projects. 

This means you can build assets for each area, level, or planet and upload them to the cloud using CCD.

Doing this means you don’t have to rebuild the entire game every time something needs to be added or tested on a specific area or planet, allowing for quick iteration for designers to test new art and features.

You can also use CCD to help with fixing bugs as the same principle applies. The Addressable Assets Systems enables you to locate faulty assets that could bother your players and, when the issue is fixed, you can deploy new assets all without anyone needing to re-download the game.

To find out more about the Addressable Asset System, supported by Unity 2019 LTS and newer, check out this blog post, and use this Documentation guide to get started.

Reduce the download size of your app

In a recent study conducted by Unity, data shows that if app size balloons upwards of 500 MB, install rates begin to drop significantly. If an app crosses the 1 GB threshold, there is a 10% drop in install rate. 

To help with this, CCD uses cloud storage to alleviate the weight of new content updates intended for players, which in turn reduces app size and may significantly impact install numbers. 

How this works is that the Addressable Asset System stores and catalogues game assets so they can be automatically found and called up at any time. CCD then moves these assets directly to your player – and entirely separate from your code – through our CDN partner, Akamai.

This will considerably reduce your build size and, as stated above, cuts out the need for your players to download and install entirely new game versions whenever you want to make an update.

This is particularly handy for live games as it allows you to “lazy load” whatever specific assets are needed for a player’s given session to keep the whole experience light and smooth.

If you are developing or working in a free-to-play title, this is all the more important as our 2020 State of Monetization report found that 70% of users won’t even return after their first day of playing.

What this means is that a majority of players won’t make it to the very late stages of your game and they don’t really need to download those assets. Making them do so will create needless frustration as their download time increases and they might even have to delete things to save space on their device. 

This could potentially lead to frustrated players churning or your game becoming a prime target for uninstalling if someone needs some more memory and they see an incredibly large app.  

For example, our friends at Sozap, developers of Armed Heist, were concerned that their game’s large size would be a barrier for new users. They wanted to deploy only the necessary content to begin the game and have the rest available on-demand. 

By using CCD, they trimmed down the size of their app as certain parts of the game would only install after certain points of progression were reached or after a specific in-game interaction.

It’s also important to remember that iOS users may need to accept a prompt to allow downloads over 200 MB while using a cellular connection, depending on their local settings. This makes it especially important for iOS developers to pay close attention to their app’s size. 

One extra perk to using CCD is that reducing build size in this way also increases security and demotivates piracy. This is because players cannot download and distribute the full game since they only receive content as they progress through different areas.

Deliver content to the right players at the right time

Our data shows that releasing new content and improving gameplay experience can have a massive impact on in-app purchase (IAP) revenues per player. When looking at the timing one week before and after a content drop, mobile game studios can see an increase as high as 86% in IAP revenue and 75% in average revenue per daily active users (ARPDAU). 

By using CCD to manage deployment, developers can focus on creating content that is both timely and personalized. One very popular example is to update your game’s aesthetics around specific events like holidays, offering special time-restricted things like cosmetics, items, and bonuses.

With CCD, textures and art assets can easily be switched out for a short period of time. Timely or themed events can also be specific to certain markets, allowing developers to offer personalized experiences for players around the world. 

Another example for deploying content dynamically may be for a sports-based game, like in the case of Nifty Games’ NFL Clash. Players can choose different sports teams, and so the specific assets for each team needs to be updated based on these choices. 

With over 120 NFL players featured in the game, elements such as jerseys, stats, and team colors are stored to the cloud and delivered dynamically to the player based on their immediate choices and actions.

Using CCD gives developers the flexibility to add or modify assets without increasing game update download sizes, and to ensure that players only see the content that is relevant to their play session.

In a nutshell

Incorporating CCD early on in the development cycle of a new game can help prepare for the demand for new content after the launch of the game, and using CCD to support an existing live game can help development teams focus on creating content, rather than building complex infrastructure to support content delivery.

Plus, the first 50 GB of bandwidth are free every month, so you can try CCD with no worries. To learn more about CCD, check out our website or contact us here.

December 3, 2021 in Games | 14 min. read

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