The software game - Perforce's new Helix Platform

A few years ago a friend of mine told me he was concerned that his son wanted to take a degree and find employment in the software games industry. I think my friend thought it might be a frivolous career path. Not at all, I reassured him, the games industry is deadly serious, it is as Formula 1 is to the motor industry, at the bleeding edge and the UK is a world leader.

A 2014 report from Nesta, a charity that promotes innovation in the UK, estimates there are nearly 2,000 games companies in the UK contributing billions to the economy. The industry is estimated to be growing at 22% per year. Some may consider playing games frivolous, but building and selling them is not.

However exciting a game may be to play, building robust, performant and attractive packages requires the same rigorous processes that must be applied to any software development project. For games software the project management tools must be capable of handling not just software source code, with all the version control, configuration building and testing that entails, but also the wide range of other content, not least high definition video.

The team members that build games generally fall in to two camps: the more technical software developers (generally working in C/C++, with some scripting in Python and Lua) and more artistic types working on the models and textures that make up the game’s landscape. The management tools must co-ordinate between them and bring their efforts together.

When it comes to software configuration management (SCM) in the gaming sector, the market leader is Perforce Software, which claims 18 of the top 20 games developers as its customers, including Electronic Arts and Ubisoft.  So, although Perforce is active across all industry sectors, it is not surprising that is biggest ever product announcement on March 6th had plenty of new stuff for its gaming customers, including extended support for multi-media.

The headline was effectively a re-branding of Perforce’s SCM product set as what it now calls the Helix Platform. Perforce’s aim is for the Helix Platform to sit at the heart of its customers development operations as a centre for co-ordination, like the role DNA plays in a cell, the structure of which the new platform’s name alludes too.

New capabilities include:

·        Extended support for multiple content repositories: this goes beyond just those used for software such as Perforce’s own P4D, now renamed the Helix Versioning Engine, and the popular Linux based GitHub. Helix also enables the sharing of assets from cloud storage systems such as Dropbox that are often used to share large multi-media files and include them in controlled software builds, something Perforce says has been tricky to do in the past.

·        Collaboration for multiple developers is enhanced through Helix Swarm and GitSwarm that connect widely dispersed contributors and improve project workflows.

·        Protection for software IP (intellectual property) is added through Helix Threat Detection, a kind of SIEM (security information and event management) capability that is specific to Helix and the digital assets it holds’. It looks for unusual behaviour, such as a user down loading an abnormal (for them) number of files. This might be a sign of a compromised account or an insider stealing IP as they head off to a new job (not uncommon as Quocirca reported in its 2014 report, What Keeps Your CEO Up At Night? The Insider Threat: Solved With DRM).

If the games and other software-based industries in the UK are to continue to be source of growth they need to continue to produce high quality products and that requires good management tools. To capture start-ups Perforce is planning a cloud-based free Community Edition due to be available later in 2015. This will be missing some key capabilities, for example it will not have threat detection, which is only available via a paid upgrade to Helix Cloud Premium Edition or Helix Enterprise which can be managed on-premise or hosted by Perforce.

As for my friend’s son – he got a First in Gaming Technology and has gone travelling. As it happens he has never heard of Perforce, although they did cover project management on his course. He looks forward to a great career in the software industry, in gaming or elsewhere, he will then get fully involved in the rigours of software configuration management and may well discover Helix.