You may have heard of PlayHaven.
Their innovative applications are influencing the gaming industry. Alex is one of the team members that is making this impact. We find his insight intriguing and informative.
Tell us a bit about Playhaven, and your role there.
PlayHaven is building a Lifetime Value Maximization platform. We currently provide an iOS and an Android open source SDK for game developers to integrate into their applications. This enables the platform to offer a number of player acquisition, engagement, retention and monetization features to game developers. Most recently we deployed a new segmentation feature that allows developers to send targeted communications, like reward offers, virtual good promotions, opt-in data collection, and ads, to their users from PlayHaven. These features are all configured via a web dashboard alongside performance graphs and live previews, and configuration changes show up on devices in about 5 minutes. I came on board at the beginning of the current arc of PlayHaven, and I currently run the server engineering team, provide database administration, and work on overall software architecture. We are rapidly growing both in adoption by publishers and advertisers and in building features for the platform, so capacity and performance are always a concern.
Describe some of the unique attributes in your software development practices. Any secret awesome-sauce to share?
Our backend Python APIs are all first-class citizens. Each API has its own area of functional or logical expertise - one maintains user accounts, one maintains advertiser information, and so on - and when one API needs information in another API's domain, it creates a proper HTTP request like any other consumer. This allows us to scale our APIs independently and place them behind load balancers for redundancy and availability. We also try to use hosted solutions for tools that aren't core to our business in a big way. Our code lives in Github, our servers are monitored with Scout, our stories are in PivotalTracker, and we use Google Apps for our corporate email and calendar. The cost of these tools is far less than the development time and opportunities it would take to bring these things in house and host them ourselves - we weigh that cost against the impact it might have on our business if we rely on a third party. NetworkRedux fits well into this approach and allows us to focus on building software rather than hiring the systems and network administration staff it would take to manage the hardware ourselves.
What bothers you most about the "cloud" as it is defined today?
The "cloud" is fiction. It has fundamentally changed the way we consider hosted computing, encouraging optimization for commodity hardware and the automation of deployment in a way that only the most advanced engineering teams might have tackled before. Unfortunately, the "cloud" didn't change the way we build server hardware yet. This creates many places where that fiction breaks down - for example, Amazon's attached storage service is fundamentally tied to a physical datacenter, and in order to attach a drive to another server's in a different availability zone, you have to manually snapshot it and create a new volume in the second availability zone. This makes sense because the two servers are on separate physical networks, and Amazon hasn't hidden this physical separation from its users.
Your passion for gaming, where does this originate?
Board games and miniatures were a large part of my childhood. My dad and his friends humored me and let me push small units of troops in their military games whether they were simulations of real and fictional battles in the American Civil War and Napoleonic Wars, or the imaginary armies of fantasy or science fiction. I had hand-me-down computers from a young age and was engrossed by games like Elite, Privateer, and Master of Orion. I also harbor a deep love for the LucasArts era of adventure games such as Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, and Sam and Max Hit the Road. It's great for me to watch a resurgence in adventure games from companies like TellTale Games and following Tim Schafer's DoubleFine saga as they build their Kickstarter backed adventure game.
Tell us about one of the most complex tasks or adventures you've completed.
Building the new architecture and codebase for the PlayHaven platform from the ground up was a pretty intimidating undertaking. I got to apply my experiences from previous endeavors where I lived through growing pains of several businesses to work on building a solid foundation. We launched our platform with a giant of mobile game publishing, so there was a lot riding on that initial launch. The launch was a success, but the challenge is an ongoing one as we grow.
Tell us something about yourself people would be surprised to know.
I think like a lot of Portland engineers, I'm a bit of a grab bag of interests and skills. Music has always been a big part of my life, and I was a flutist until college, when I did a lot of choral performance. After a brief affair with penny whistles, I got the digital drum set that I had been wanting to get for ages and have been dabbling in percussion. I'm a bit of a beer snob and a foodie, enjoy cramming as many outdoor activities as possible into the summer months, and skiing Timberline in the winter.