How Improbable Tech is Changing the Gaming Industry

Among a consumer landscape where opinions are exchanged nonstop, some manufacturers are experimenting with a more democratized development model: one in which products are purposely released incomplete and loosely designed. Such products provide just enough value to draw a user base, who are encouraged to give feedback. That feedback directs future refinements in a continuous cycle of collaborative development. From Formula One cars to nano satellites, more and more products are adopting this model, and entering the market partially formed and malleable.

The video gaming industry — which generates a massive $115 billion in annual revenue — is one of the latest to integrate consumer/developer co-creation as a method for building products. In an attempt to guarantee a long-term, meaningful experience for players, game developers are looking to tailor in-game experiences to reflect constantly shifting consumer desires. One development company that has embraced co-creation is London-based Bossa Studios. Their latest product, Worlds Adrift — a massively multiplayer online game where players build airships to explore a sky scattered with floating islands — was made in collaboration with thousands of gamers.

Worlds Adrift was born in 2014: the brainchild of a “game jam” or a few-days-long gathering where video game developers work together to plan and design a completely new product. From there, the game was released in “early access” mode, granting users the ability to create their own islands. User-generated content is integrated into the game via virtual tech startup Improbable’s SpatialOS: a cloud-based platform that stitches together a vast array of user-generated content.

According to Bossa co-founder Roberta Lucca, a traditional game typically sells around half of all units sold throughout its lifetime within the first two weeks, after which sales quickly drop off. The advantage of co-creation, Lucca says, lies in its ability to center a community around building new experience, which keeps players invested in the product. The downside, however, is that — unlike a professionally-polished AAA blockbuster — quality can be inconsistent. Since anyone can introduce new content, games like Worlds Adrift are susceptible to malicious intent, although Bossa co-founder Henrique Olifiers notes that the community operates under a self-policing dynamic similar to Wikipedia. And if needed, Bossa can intervene to correct serious issues.

Other popular titles, like Minecraft, have mechanics that allow users to generate environmental structures and other content accessible by all players. But Improbable’s SpatialOS platform sets Worlds Adrift apart from the rest, as it allows users to harness the power of multiple game engines and servers within a single virtual world, fueling the creation of new and unique experiences.

For Worlds Adrift, as well as future titles, the potential of Improbable’s technology is undeniable. Faith in SpatialOS is strong, as evidenced last year when Improbable received a $502 million injection from Japanese holdings conglomerate SoftBank: the largest venture financing round among British companies. Piers Harding-Rolls — director of games research at global information provider IHS Markit — believes that Improbable could possibly develop into a comprehensive operating system, capable of linking all manner of smart products, from self-driving vehicles to smart homes.