On Hydra – An Interview With Agora Games

Recently I stumbled upon Agora Games, an interesting company that offers an even more interesting service. These guys and gals are responsible for making toolsets that developers can use to build engaging online and in-game community and stat features, such as leaderboards, match-making, user profiles, and achievements. I was able to talk to Mike, Associate Producer from Agora Games, to get the scoop on Hydra and what it has to offer developers.


Hey Mike, could you tell us about Agora Games?

Agora Games was founded in 2005, born from an incubator program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a local college in Troy, NY.  Our goal is simple: provide the best possible online service that builds community and engagement around great video games.  We are an engineering team of 20 people that has been building online services for some of the best video games in the world.  We’ve also had the pleasure of working with some of the best publishers and developers in the industry, and we’re very proud of those relationships and products.


Our founder believed that community and collaboration were critical to building engaging video games.  He decided to get a group of like-minded individuals together to build a video game, as well as an active community around that title after its release.  While demoing the completed product, the technology was noticed by a local game development team, which got us our first major contract.  Since then, we’ve been building on the success of those types of services and have built a great business around it.


So what is Hydra, and why has it been so successful?

Hydra is an online services platform that allows developers to build engaging features in and around their games, on time and under budget.  While we provide a lot of the standard features you’d expect, the bulk of our features are built around engaging and retaining users after the initial launch spike of a game.  Specifically, we’re trying to solve 3 problems:


1. Game developers want to provide cutting-edge, engaging features, but they’re difficult to develop within a typical budget.


2. Users expect post-launch feature additions, but it’s costly to roll out title updates.


3. Game Developers and Publishers are focused on building their franchises and brands, but it’s tough to keep a player’s attention between game releases.


As I’ve said before, we’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best developers on the best titles in the industry, so we’ve been able to build a great understanding of what it takes to solve these problems.


What games have used Hydra in the past?

Agora Games has provided technology services to over 25 games across multiple platforms.  Some of the most recent games includes “Saints Row: The Third”, “Mortal Kombat” and “Gotham City: Impostors”.  We also have another title that we’re very excited about launching soon, but we have to keep that a secret for now :-).  You can see a larger list of our titles at http://www.agoragames.com/portfolio/.


Can you tell us a bit more about the features that Hydra provides to developers?

When we use the words “Online Services” the features that usually come to your head are player stats, leaderboards, achievements and social notifications.  All of these features are currently supported in Hydra, but these are just the base.  Over the years, we’ve added in more advanced services, such as:


* Clans/teams

* Ladder and bracketed tournaments

* In-game challenges

* UGC (User Generated Content included photos, videos and file uploads)

* Player match history


A typical project for us would use a combination of 5-7 of our available services.  For example, at SaintsRow.com, you can view a players profile, their rank against the community, a real-time activity map and character uploads.  The really cool features also exist in game.  Not only can you sign up for your community account right from the game, but you can create and upload your custom character right to the website with the click of button.  That character can then be downloaded back into the game of other users.  They just have to add it to their download queue from the website, and it will be waiting for them in game when they return.


What platforms does Hydra support?

Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Steam, and Games for Windows Live.  We are currently working on our SDKs for mobile devices, and will soon be supporting iOS, Android.  And of course, we will have a complete Unity3d SDK as well.


I heard that you’re working on a new version of Hydra geared towards both professional and indie developers.  Can you tell more about that?

We would love to!  Hydra Mobile ties into those new fancy mobile SDKs I mentioned previously.  We have been working with large publishers and developers for a long time now, and we simply love it.  We love being a part of some of the best console and PC games in the world, and it has proven to be a great business for us.  However, we’d be crazy if we didn’t realize that there is a need for these types of services for mobile and indie developers.  Hydra Mobile is the solution to that problem.


Hydra Mobile will be very similar to Hydra Pro, but will be focused towards mobile/indie developer quickly getting their game up and running with great online services.  We are building a website that will allow users to sign up, create an API key, download fully-documented SDKs and get integrated in minutes.  This is exciting for us, as we have typically been a high-touch shop with our users.  When we work with our clients, we integrate ourselves into their dev teams to ensure as smooth of an integration as possible.  For Hydra Mobile, we will be putting all of the power in the developers hands, of course with us close by on support if needed.


What makes Hydra Mobile unique in your space?

This is a great question.  There are lots of great options out there for building online services, so we wanted to make sure we delivered a product that differentiates us from those other providers.  We believe that the following is what makes Hydra Mobile a strong product:


1. Experience: We have been a tools company for 7 years.  Our users are going to get the experience that we have gained from our work on some of the largest titles in the world.


2. Cross-platform support: XBOX 360, PS3, Wii, iOS, Android, Steam, GFWL….we’ve got ’em all covered!


3. Features: As mentioned earlier, the basic features are covered, but we are also working on brand new features, such as a complete match-making and notification package.  There are some other features on their way, but I can’t talk about those just yet!


Ok, say I’m an indie developer, what are some of the benefits to integrating Hydra into my game?

You’re going to get the same benefits that we’re providing to our clients today:


1. Engage your Community: Build interesting & sticky features into your mobile game and minimal costs


2. Post-Launch Updates: You are free to make as many changes as you want after the initial launch of your title


3. Creative Freedom: We are a tools company, and will provide you with the core of what you need to make a great game, but we are looking to provide as few limits as possible.  Be creative and use our features in a new way!


4. It’s Easy: As I’ve said 100 times, we’re a tools company.  We’re going to make it easy for you to get your game Hydra integrated in minutes.


I’m an indie developer, and I’m ready to use Hydra Mobile.  How do I get started?

Sign up for our beta now at http://hydra.agoragames.com!


We are looking to get as many developers in our system as we can to ensure that we’re delivering a great product when we release to the public.  We’ve built our business on being responsive to feedback from our clients, so we need your help to do the same with Hydra Mobile.


When you sign up, you’ll get access to our newsletter, promotions, and early access to Hydra Mobile as the beta grows.  Get your game integrated before anyone else!


Does Agora Games work with open source programs?

In regards to open source, we believe in sharing what we’ve learned with the development community. We do not have all of the answers, so we’re not afraid to reach out to other smart developers to work through some of the tougher problems. We are always open to do the same. We have the opportunity to work on really cool products, and every now and then, we can share those products (or pieces of them) with other developers, giving them the opportunity to iterate on that feature and make it even better. We encourage this behavior and believe that it should be a practice of every good developer.


You can learn more about our open source projects at: http://www.agoragames.com/community/


As a final note, I see Agora Games is really active in the community, with Hack-a-thons. Tell me about these, and why its so important for you guys?

Hack-a-thons are like our Christmas!  During our Hack-a-thons, we allow everyone in the company work on whatever they want for 24 hours, as long as its tangentially related to Agora.  There is one catch: you have to have functional product by the end of that 24 hour period.


A big thanks to Mike Jodon from Agora games.


Visit Agora Games’ official website, and check out their portfolio to see their previous projects.

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