Catan Universe from USM
Exploring the journey of United Soft Media in enhancing Catan Universe's gaming experience through the integration of Heroic Labs' Nakama, focusing on the challenges, solutions, and future expansions.
Expanding a successful title with richer social features and a more engaging multiplayer experience - all while migrating backend solutions.
Strategy, Board Game
United Soft Media (USM) are the publisher behind the popular Catan Universe, a digital adaptation of the classic board game that has been available for over 25 years across numerous platforms. USM have a long history of developing digital adaptations of board games, with Catan Universe being their most successful title to date.
When, in the summer of 2021, the studio found themselves needing to quickly find and migrate to a new backend solution, they turned to the AWS partner network. Needing a solution with a comprehensive feature set and a trusted reputation for reliability and performance in the industry, the team quickly settled on Nakama, hosted on Heroic Cloud, as the best option.
A long-running title with over 9 years of development history in the current codebase, Catan Universe was previously using GameSparks, with a lot of custom build functionality on top of it, as the backend solution. So when the shutdown of GameSparks was announced, USM had to quickly find a new backend solution that would enable a quick migration and allow them to continue to support their existing player base, while also providing the flexibility to expand the game with new features and content in the future.
Recognizing this would be no easy task, the USM team reached out to the AWS partner network, working with SuperNimbus to identify the best option and manage the migration. We spoke with Sean Durkan, Director at SuperNimbus, along with Gregor Giehrl and Thorsten Suckow, Catan Product Owner and Head of Games and Mobile, respectively, to discuss how the studio managed this challenge.
The (Backend) Solution
Faced with the task of finding a new solution and migrating 10,000+ lines of code within a 9-month timeframe, all involved knew there was no time waste. The team began by looking at the options available in the AWS partner network, with SuperNimbus providing a shortlist of potential solutions and ultimately recommending Nakama and Heroic Labs.
“We knew that we needed an off-the-shelf solution - there was no time to build our own - that provided a managed service, and also minimal restrictions and a lot of customizability. For these requirements, Heroic Labs and Nakama stood out.” - Sean Durkan, Director at SuperNimbus
Along with the strong recommendation from SuperNimbus, the USM team also considered the social proof for Nakama in the wider gaming community.
“Seeing that Nakama was used and trusted by large studios and publishers, such as Paradox, was encouraging and gave us confidence in our decision.” - Thorsten Suckow, Head of Games and Mobile at USM
In the face of the sudden deprecation of GameSparks, the team also appreciated the open-source nature of Nakama, and the ability to self-host the solution if needed.
With the decision made, the SuperNimbus team began the migration process. This was a significant task, with over 10,000 lines of custom code only for events to be migrated, and a lot of custom functionality built on top of GameSparks. All of which needed to be done in a limited window of time before the GameSparks shutdown.
The result was the introduction of a shim-layer, which allowed the USM team to largely continue using their existing codebase. This approach allowed the team to quickly migrate the core functionality, and then gradually optimize their code over time.
Working with Heroic
“Having worked as a GameSparks support engineer for years, I can say Heroic Labs provided excellent standards of support, above and beyond anything I would have expected.” - Sean Durkan, Director at SuperNimbus
Throughout the migration process, the USM and SuperNimbus teams worked closely with Heroic Labs engineers, who provided assistance and guidance on the migration process, helping with optimizing performance issues caused by the GameSparks shim and guiding the team on best practices for using Nakama as they to migrated their codebase to using native Nakama APIs.
“[The Heroic team] always took the time to explain things in layman terms when needed, and have been great at proactively identifying and letting us know things that can be improved.” - Gregor Giehrl, Catan Product Owner at USM
“The feature set and ease of integration, particularly for in-app purchases, was a big plus and driver in the decision to use Nakama,” added Sean. Along with In-App Purchases, the USM team are already making heavy use of Nakama’s wide feature set, incorporating Groups - which the team said was “ideal for our use case in Catan with the ability to have metadata for each group” - as a replacement for the Teams functionality previously used.
They are also taking advantage of the Storage Engine and Wallet for their in-game currency and player inventories, Leaderboard and Multiplayer to create a competitive environment for their players, as well as Chat and Notifications to build a community of players.
With only a few features still left to be migrated away from using the GameSparks shim to native Nakama APIs, the USM team can now focus on expanding the game with new features and content. Tournament play along with some exciting new game modes are already in the works though Gregor wouldn’t be drawn on the details, “we’re not ready to announce anything just yet, but we’re excited to be able to expand the game with new features.”
United Soft Media is a leading German publisher established in 1994. USM’s product categories include board games, reference titles and educational games for children, with Catan Universe and Redshift among their popular titles.