Stunlock Studios, the minds behind popular titles like Bloodline Champions, Battlerite and Battlerite Royal, are well known for competitive multiplayer games with a heavy emphasis on player skill.
Founded in 2010, the Studio based in Sködve, Sweden, decided to do things differently when it planned its next title: V Rising. The mixture of base-building and collective monster hunting was a big multiplayer hit in 2022 and, at peak times, managed to engage 150,000 vampire overlords.
GPORTAL is a German-based server hoster operating globally, celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. Its hosting portfolio offers private servers for over 100 different games, including popular titles like Minecraft, Valheim and Conan: Exiles. In early 2021, the firm reached out to Stunlock Studios, realizing the potential and quality of V Rising.
In this interview, Rickard Frisegård, CEO of Stunlock Studios and Lars Kübler, Head of Business Development at GPORTAL, speak about their initial contact, experiences in their partnership and thoughts about server hosting in the games industry.
Battlerite is a successful arena brawler and it seems like you found your home in competitive multiplayer. Why switch to a heavily PvE (player versus environment) multiplayer game with private server hosting?
Frisegård: At Stunlock Studios, we're always looking for ways to innovate and explore new genres. While we've had great success with competitive multiplayer games, we saw an opportunity with V Rising to create a unique PvE-focused multiplayer experience that would cater to a different audience and expand our portfolio.
"Private server hosting allows players to have more control over their gaming experience"Rickard Frisegård, Stunlock Studios
Private server hosting was a part of our plan from the beginning, as it allows players to have more control over their gaming experience and helps create a sense of community among players. We believe that providing players with this level of control is crucial for building long-term engagement and loyalty. In addition, when comparing private server hosting to centralized server solutions, there are notable differences when it comes to scaling a successful game.
Centralized server solutions often demand extensive operational teams to handle the increased load. If these teams fail to manage the growth adequately, it can result in long queue times for players and high latency, particularly in regions with limited geographical server coverage. On the other hand, private server hosting offers more flexibility, allowing for better scaling and a smoother player experience across various locations.
What did you think when GPORTAL approached you to offer private server hosting?
Frisegård: When Lars approached us, we were excited about GPORTAL’s expertise in private server hosting and their commitment to providing a high-quality gaming experience. Our partnership was formed based on a shared vision of delivering a stable, high-performance experience for players. We were already in the development process, but GPORTAL's involvement allowed us to streamline our infrastructure planning and optimize server management.
Lars, Would you say that GPORTAL has a secret recipe when it comes to getting in touch with game studios?
Kübler: There is no recipe that can be followed exactly. Every studio is 100% individual and must be treated as such. It's important to me that the studio sees from the beginning that I’m already familiar with its game and understand what it’s about: This means that extensive research is necessary in order to learn as much as possible about the game and studio in advance and to be able to decide whether a potential cooperation makes sense at all.
Another important point is timing. Even though for me the multiplayer is the most exciting feature of a game, one must not forget that for most studios it’s one part of many and that, especially at the beginning of development, they deal with topics that have a higher priority than thinking about servers.
The key here is simply to stay in touch and exchange ideas regularly so that the perfect time to talk about multiplayer is not missed.
How did GPORTAL’s involvement impact the cost and profitability of the game's development and launch?
Frisegård: Their involvement allowed us to optimize server management costs, which positively impacted the overall cost and profitability of V Rising's development and launch. Also, their private servers played a significant role in ensuring a successful launch.
What do you think about the importance of the relationship between a game studio and a game hoster for a successful launch?
Frisegård: The relationship between a game studio and a game hoster is crucial for a successful launch, as it ensures that the game's infrastructure can handle the demands of the player base and a solid partnership contributes to a smooth and enjoyable gaming experience for players.
Kübler: Communication is key. The relationship with a studio begins with the first contact, which is decisive for the further course. In order to achieve this, we simply have to talk to each other, even if it sounds totally trivial. Both sides have to clarify their expectations, but also the goals that they want to achieve together.
"Don't just look for a hoster who knows about servers, but also knows about gaming"Lars Kübler, GPORTAL
A game release is always stressful, there is no perfect launch, especially not when multiplayer is involved. Servers do not start or are not accessible, that’s normal. In the last 20 years, GPORTAL has supported so many studios with their game releases that I feel confident to say we have seen pretty much every scenario and are prepared for the worst on launch day.
GPORTAL is not just a simple hardware seller but a strong partner to rely on. A studio is not a number, support is always personal and individual, avoiding long detours via tickets to solve problems. On release day, we sit down with our entire team and the developers to observe the servers in real time, so we can react quickly if there are any problems.
Did GPORTAL’s support during the game's launch help to improve the overall player experience even further?
Frisegård: GPORTAL's support during the launch significantly improved the overall player experience by providing stable and low-latency servers. Their reliable and scalable resources allowed us to accommodate our growing player base and provide a smooth gaming experience right from the start. Post-launch, GPORTAL contributed to the game's ongoing success by ensuring a stable and enjoyable gaming experience for our players.
What are some of the key benefits of working with a hosting company before and during development?
Frisegård: Collaborating with a hosting company before and during development allows for better infrastructure planning and optimization, ensuring a smoother gaming experience for players.
Working with a hosting provider like GPORTAL during Early Access is particularly valuable, as it enables us to gather player feedback and make necessary improvements to the game while providing a stable gaming environment. The availability of private servers during Early Access and ongoing development allows for more robust testing and a closer connection with our community, which is crucial for refining the game and addressing any issues that may arise.
Kübler: As already mentioned, timing is crucial. The studio alone decides when the right moment has come to talk about servers or multiplayer; I can only advise until then. Sometimes this can be very early in development. Other times, studios may decide to add or adapt multiplayer, many years after the game has already been released.
But if we talk about advantages for the studio, early contact with a hoster and the direct provision of servers at launch can have a significant influence on the success of a release. However, this strongly depends on the type of game. The demand for servers is growing continuously since they are essential for many multiplayer game genres.
For me, it’s of course very convenient if we have the possibility to integrate the game very early in development. We can prepare everything for the launch in a relaxed manner, and, additionally, we pass on feedback to the developers very early on about how the game is running on our servers and if there are problems.
Rickard, You’ve worked with other hosting providers before ─ where do you see the partnership between Stunlock Studios and GPORTAL in the future?
Frisegård: We foresee a continued partnership with GPORTAL, as they have proven to be a trustworthy and capable hosting provider. We would definitely consider working with them again for future projects.
Their expertise in server management and commitment to performance set them apart from other hosting providers and compared to previous hosters we've worked with, GPORTAL has been more reliable and capable of effectively managing the game's performance during peak usage times.
One last question: From your perspective, what advice would you give other game studios looking for similar partnerships?
Frisegård: Our advice to other game studios would be to prioritize communication, shared vision, and expertise. Establishing a strong relationship early on in the development process can lead to a more successful launch and ongoing collaboration.
Choose a hosting provider that understands your game's requirements, and is committed to providing the best possible experience for your players.
Kübler: Every partnership is different and so are the expectations. If you’re looking for a reliable partner for your multiplayer game, don't just look for a hoster who knows about servers, but also knows about gaming and has a proven track record in the gaming industry.