Initially started as a course project during the university studies of its two co-founders, Whatwapp is now a successful studio with a team of 50+ people working on an expanding portfolio of titles. Founded in 2013, the Milan based studio now boasts some of the most popular mobile games on both iOS and Android, with millions of active players and an ever-growing community.
Whatwapp’s success is driven by their ability to create games that are both fun and engaging. Their focus to date has been on modern interpretations of traditional games, with special dedication to the graphical design and social and competitive aspects of gameplay, growing a community of players that are passionate about their games.
We spoke with Filippo Facciani, Director of Data and Platform, along with Giovanni Piumatti and Ricardo Gonzalez Gomarasca, Technical Leads at Whatwapp, to discuss the studio’s journey and recent decision to adopt Nakama, and Heroic Labs, as the backend solution for their games.
True to their roots as a university project, early development at Whatwapp proceeded with a strong start-up mentality of “going as fast as possible.” Over the years this resulted in many parts of the tech stack being developed by different people, in different ways, and ultimately with a significant level of tech debt.
At various times, Whatwapp has used multiple different backend solutions based on the need, such as AWS for storing data, Firebase for notifications, and also some custom built in-house solutions when needed. This approach was not only costly to maintain, but also resulted in a lack of reliability and scalability needed for continued growth.
The studio thought they had found a solution with GameSparks. Speaking of using the service, Giovanni says, “GameSparks provided many high-level abstractions that made getting started quickly possible.” Based on this initial impression, Whatwapp decided to use the service for all of their titles. After transitioning their existing titles to GameSparks, and developing new titles on the platform, the team then learned of Amazon’s announced end of support for GameSparks.
Once again Whatwapp found themselves in search of a reliable backend solution. The team initially explored Beamable, ultimately finding it was not the right fit:
“Beamable wasn't as flexible as we would've liked. It was easy to get started but then quickly limiting in what we could do.” - Giovanni Piumatti, Tech Lead at Whatwapp
When AWS GameLift also failed to provide what the team were searching for, Whatwapp began looking for a more flexible and powerful solution, and ultimately began to explore Nakama:
“Nakama had everything that we needed - the high-level abstractions of GameSparks weren't there, so we had to put things together ourselves, but having these low-level tools allows us to build anything we want.” - Giovanni Piumatti, Tech Lead at Whatwapp
The looming end of GameSparks support meant there was a hard deadline for Whatwapp to transition their active titles to a new backend solution. The time pressure, the historical tech debt, and the desire to cause as little disruption as possible for their players, made for a stressful transition period.
With the help of Heroic Labs engineers, the transition was completed with time-to-spare before GameSparks support ended and with only minimal impact on player base KPIs.
Speaking of managing the transition, Ricardo says:
“We had all of the tools we needed out-of-the-box, with the built-in monitoring very useful for identifying any issues. [Heroic Labs] support was very responsive, we were always able to contact the engineers when needed.”
“Now that we have a reliable backend partner, we're able to focus on new areas for growth.” - Filippo Facciani, Director of Data and Platform at Whatwapp
With the transition complete, Whatwapp has been able to focus on what they do best: building new features and improving their games. With a strong foundation in the Italian market, and later France and Germany, the studio can now look to expand into new markets as well as new segments of the gaming market.
Throughout their titles, they are able to use Nakama’s powerful APIs to create a rich social gameplay experience, taking advantage of the Storage Engine and Wallet to manage their in-game economy and player inventories, Leaderboard and Multiplayer to create a competitive environment for their players, and Friends, Groups, and Chat to build a community of players.