Farmers love their siloes. Marketers? Not so much.
And that helps explain the advent of “headless” content management systems (CMSs), which let enterprises push content out to any channel with a single click. Headless CMSs also unify diverse content types — mobile, Web, Internet of Things — onto a single platform, and may include analytics for good measure.
For Telltale Games, converting to a headless CMS was easy to justify, according to Tamir Nadav, the company’s director of product management for the online team. The San Rafael, California-based company, which produces and distributes online games like Minecraft: Story Mode and The Walking Dead Series, has the enviable challenge of managing lots of growth.
When Telltale would release a new game series, they’d create a Web page to highlight certain interactions, along with screenshots, an image carousel, and a large video image so players would see the video as they opened the page, Nadav explained. Under its old system, each element required an engineer to write the code and query. As new episodes were released or as change requests from marketing came in, they’d get routed to engineers for handling. Nadav’s department realized a manual content system didn’t scale; handling changes and updates also began to dominate engineers’ work days.
“Our team is ridiculously fast, but it was still more time than I wanted them to spend on this,” Nadav said. “This was taking our front-end engineers away from everything they were scheduled to do.”
Telltale knew it needed a solution that would enable quicker turnaround time on content change requests and remove engineering as much as possible. A little over a year ago, Nadav and his colleagues began exploring CMS options, including Adobe (“very expensive,” according to Nadav) and Contentful, but were most impressed with Built.io and its Contentstack headless CMS service.
Some quick context about headless CMS: This emerging category integrates the creation and modelling of content. Headless CMS also eliminates interim delivery layers like templating, HTML delivery, and management of site structure, all of which dictates how content gets presented to end users. In addition to Built.io and Contentful, Cloud CMS and Prismic.io also play in this space.
It’s the separation of the content layer from the presentation layer that makes headless CMS so useful, according to Matthew Baier, COO of Built.io. “Traditional CMSs were invented without knowledge of the world of multiple channels — now we have Web, mobile, email,” Baier said. “As companies and brands think about how to manage across channels, they look for scale and manageability, and a content experience that’s consistent and uses the same APIs.” Headless CMSs are also optimized for emerging media like jumbotrons, smartwatches, IoT devices, kiosks, plus augmented and virtual reality, Baier added.
Headlessness is Getting Around
In addition to gaming, headless CMSs are making their way into a variety of vertical industries. Ikea has an app to design and furnish your new living room, and AR can be dropped on top of that app. With headless CMS, sports teams like the Miami Heat and Sacramento Kings can change the content and structure of their respective mobile app as a game unfolds: Sentiment analysis lets the teams gauge mood changes among fans; the headless CMS then updates the app in real-time based on those inputs.
VMware is creating SaaS-type microsites spun up from headless CMS systems, rather than running them on their vmware.com domain for better flexibility and performance, according to Built.io CEO Neha Sampat. This approach lets companies see if such offerings perform well over a couple quarters. If they don’t, it’s easier to shut down a microsite from a headless CMS than it is to remove it from the corporate servers, she explained.
“Business teams are moving really fast, doing lots of A/B testing to see what people pick up and use. Legacy CMSs don’t accommodate that,” Sampat added. “This gives them better speed to market, plus lots of integration that ties back to their content types and lets them do it at an extremely fast pace.”
The Telltale Strategy
An important requirement for Telltale was the ability to host as much of the content themselves as possible. “We wanted to have an eCommerce presence and we already had an integrated community, but it’s not easy to migrate that to someone else’s domain,” Nadav said. Built.io offered Telltale access to a test stack that let their developers start testing the platform and its capabilities. “That was one of the biggest reasons we went with Built.io — plus there were no sales pitches or crazy problems,” he laughed.
Telltale went through an overhaul of its Website in parallel to its Contentstack deployment so that they could deploy content on multiple pages and build templates for different sites they created, Nadav explained. The company also added places in its games where they could insert content. “We’ve created templates that deliver data to the game then the game renders that data based on pages and information in Contentstack,” he said. “So instead of just managing a Website, we’re managing lots of things to modify and test content in game.”
“Once we launched [Contentstack], immediately the biggest payoff was that my engineers could go days and weeks without having to touch any content at all,” he said. “Other designers on the team — or the marketing folks — could go in and add images or content and it would all go live in just a few minutes.”
Telltale has also decided to use Contentstack to handle its news content and to manage its customer service section. Those functions and content types used to be handled by separate systems; now users log in, create articles, tag them and handle all their content through Contentstack, Nadav said.
While enthusiastic about the service and its capabilities, Nadav is more circumspect about what Contentstack costs. He said that the company signed a yearly contract, but declined to specify amounts or structure. “We got a really good deal… we’re happy with what we paid,” he said. Officially, Built.io said monthly pricing for Contentstack starts at $2,000 for enterprise use cases.
“They’ve been a really great partner to work with — we’ve asked for a lot of features and they’ve been very responsive,” Nadav said. Sometimes after purchasing a software license, the relationship with the vendor ends there. “It’s a working relationship, and that has been amazing.”