Mobile game publishers spend $21M on backend tech | Metaplay

Metaplay said its survey of top-tier mobile game publishers revealed that they each spend more than $21 million to build and maintain internal backend technology.

Metaplay said the survey reveals true cost of tech needed to scale hit games, including the hidden impact on game programmers asked to work on backends. The survey shows there is a big human cost in the time of game programmers who are diverted to work on tech instead of gaming content.

Based on a survey of 125 senior executives at large mobile game development companies in the U.S., the data shows that large publishers are spending an average of $21.6 million to build and maintain their backend tech.

Respondents, all of whom are C-level execs or tech team leads at companies with at least 50 staff, were asked questions relating to the size of their tech teams, how long they had been working on internal tools, and their teams’ remuneration. They said that $138,864 is the average salary of an employee working on internal tech at major publishers in the U.S.

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The average number of employees working predominantly in internal tech is 52. It takes about 36 months for companies to build their own internal tech.

Beyond the hard numbers, there are human costs associated with the in-house development of backend tech. Almost three-quarters (74%) of respondents said their game programmers had been impacted by being redeployed to work on internal tech as opposed to gaming content. Of those who had redeployed staff, 41% said that doing so had slowed the game development process, 34% said it had increased ‘crunch’ working practices, and 34% said this led to higher employee turnover.

Teemu Haila, chief product officer at Metaplay, said in a statement, “As a company which has spent almost four years focused entirely on building backend tech for mobile games, even we had to do a double-take when we saw these stats. Shipping a long-lasting hit game was already very challenging, but the current state of the mobile gaming market means investment at this level without any guarantee of success is incredibly risky. We’re trying to fix the binary choice of ‘build vs buy’ when it comes to backend tech – where ‘build’ means expensive and ‘buy’ means unscalable, so mobile devs can focus on making great content.”

Matt Wilson, mobile gaming advisor and investor, said in a statement, “This research shows that building internal tech is becoming prohibitively expensive as well as distracting game-makers from their day jobs. As an investor, I generally want to see as much capital as possible to go towards developing the product. Many companies still suffer from an ‘if it’s not built here, it’s not good enough’ mentality but, while that may have been true in the past, it’s certainly not always the case now.”

Other findings

Top-tier game studios in the U.S. are most likely to be developing strategy games (58%) and shooters (57%). They’re least likely to be working on hypercasual (22%) and card-collecting games (18%).

Respondents’ companies are most likely to outsource or use third-party tooling for security and compliance (43%), multiplayer and/or matchmaking (42%), and game logic server hosting (41%). They’re least likely to outsource observability tooling (26%), and data pipelines (14%).

The research fieldwork took place between April 23 and April 26 2024. The 125 respondents all work at game development companies with a minimum of 50 staff in the United States (US), and are all C-level executives or tech team leads. The online survey was conducted by Atomik Research, an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to the MRS code. Helsinki-based Metaplay makes its own backend solution for game companies. It was founded in 2019.