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Mar 28, 2013

Support multi-region game launch initiatives with colocation

Ansley Kilgore

Apterra global connectivityToday’s online game developers face an increasingly global marketplace that is no longer restricted to just a few prominent regions. As consumers around the world embrace online video games, developers and publishers must deliver games to a variety of regions at launch. This presents a wide range of logistical and technological challenges which can be resolved with colocation services.

Considering the dynamics of a multi-region launch
A console generation or so ago, most games were released in Japan, nearby parts of Asia, the United States and, to a lesser extent, in the rest of North America. In the past decade, activity has increased in the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia, where video games long held a place in the subculture but are now prominent. People in South America and even parts of the Middle East and Africa have also embraced video games to some degree. Within the span of 10 or 20 years, the video game industry has progressed from a popular type of toy that represented a cultural niche in the developed world to a universal mainstream media. As a result, game publishers must take a global approach to releasing new games.

When games were mostly a niche in much of the world, and released on disks or cartridges, games would often release at different times in various areas to spread out the burden. For example, a title may hit store shelves in Japan in May and become available in the United States at the end of June. With the rise of online video games and a global video game marketplace, these kind of delays are not as feasible. It is possible to restrict game use based on the location of a user to stagger the release, which is still done in some cases, but video game enthusiasts increasingly expect a game to be launched simultaneously, or close to it, around the world.

Making a multi-region launch possible in an era where almost every game includes online content, regardless of whether it’s hosted on the web, hinges on having web servers in geographically diverse locations to support solid performance in a variety of markets. Establishing multiple global data centers can be a major cost burden. Managing the logistics of each data center system, localizing the services and distributing the workforce properly can also be difficult. Turning to a colocation provider can be the answer, especially since scalability is a critical factor when releasing a new game.

Using colocation to support global release processes
Colocation eases the burden of a global game release by allowing developers and publishers to host content in third-party data centers located around the world. As a result, they do not have to invest in the actual facility space and instead can simply purchase the infrastructure they need, configure it and let it work to support end-user functionality. Many colocation vendors also offer managed services as an option, alleviating the various maintenance challenges of handling a distributed data center architecture.

Having services available in a variety of locations is necessary to support a global game release because distance can contribute to latency. Furthermore, spreading out the work load can balance performance and ensure enough space for gamers trying to find a server that works for them. Supporting this kind of infrastructure without the help of a third-party service vendor can be an overwhelming challenge, but colocation offers a cost-effective solution to the global launch of online games.

To learn more, download our white paper, Five Considerations for Building Online Gaming Infrastructure.

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Ansley Kilgore

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Oct 16, 2012

GDC in Austin and catching up on the latest trends in gaming

Ansley Kilgore

Game Developers Conferece OnlineWe were at Game Developers Conference Online in Austin last week to catch up on the latest trends in one of our key customer verticals. The time we spent deciphering T-shirts with arcane game references and investigating the ubiquitous affinity for 8-bit game art notwithstanding, this was a really informative and useful conference. We had the opportunity to meet more than a few talented game developers, project managers, writers, and artists, all ready to discuss their craft. I’ve summarized some takeaways we thought were worth passing along below.

Free-to-play game monetization

Different platforms generate vastly different in-game monetization yields. Tommy Palm at King.com mentioned that their mobile users were much more valuable than web users (3x higher). Why? Mobile gamers are willing to pay more because micro transactions happen more smoothly on mobile devices than on a website. Also there is an “everything is free” mentality on web which isn’t the case for mobile.

Teut Weidemann at Ubisoft offered up industry monetization conversion rates (paying active players/total active players) by distribution method: for social network based games (1-3%), browser based games (5-15%), and client-based games (20-30%).

Multi-platform game production

Unity’s Adam Gutterman discussed the challenge of multi-platform game production amidst fragmenting game markets, authoring tools/game engines, devices (particularly Android but also Apple), distribution platforms (Game Center, Facebook, Gree, etc.), and third-party technologies (e.g., Tapjoy, Flurry, Playnomics). He also contended that HTML 5 isn’t a great option for multiplatform yet because: (1) it lacks digital rights management standards and code is often completely exposed; (2) discovery/rediscovery methods for game aren’t fully baked; (3) it’s very difficult to optimize for different browsers. Interesting to note however that there is some big investment going into HTML 5 gaming companies and some of the largest games in the world have already ported their games to an HTML 5 platform including Bejeweled and Angry Birds. HTML 5 isn’t currently supported by Unity so perhaps that explains some of the near-term skepticism.

Online gaming infrastructure (a topic near and dear to our hearts)

CDN/IP

We heard more than a few developers and tech ops speakers advocate for the use of a CDN to reduce bandwidth costs, improve performance, and distribute load (both friendly and malicious). Of course we would argue that IP route optimization can benefit dynamic elements of any online game – avoiding trouble spots to specific geos that arise across the Internet every day.

Jesse Willett and Hao Chen with Zynga talked about the need to verify your CDN cache policies to make sure users are getting the right file. (Quick Tutorial: CDNs store static files at edge servers around the world so users far away from the origin server can quickly retrieve files, thereby making an object/page load faster.  When the source files are updated at the origin, you need to make sure that those users served by the edge don’t continue to get the old file because it has the same name/URL). Unlike some CDNs (e.g., Amazon’s CloudFront), Internap provides a “wildcard purge” feature that eliminates all old copies of files stored in edge caches to ensure files pointing to a URL are the latest. Even with this feature, the Zynga guys advocated for changing the URL itself every time a file is changed. This ensures that old copies don’t slip through the cracks via 3rd party reverse proxies or files cached in the browser itself (which can’t be addressed by a wildcard purge).

BioWare’s Dave Moore talked about how the tech ops team for Star Wars the Old Republic (STWOR) used their CDN to direct a portion of gamers (~10% at peak concurrence) to a waiting room to ensure the game servers weren’t overloaded on the go-live day (exhaustive load testing couldn’t predict the huge demand they saw day 1).

Servers/Storage/Cloud

STWOR, as well as several other MMOs that we spoke with hadn’t yet started to use public cloud for their production environments. Many well established social games (often cross platform) were also using custom infrastructure environments rather than IaaS. Public cloud with Hadoop and other MapReduce implementations plus My/NoSQL, however seemed to be widely used by many of the mobile, asynchronous game publishers we talked with. Some of Internap’s gaming customers are also using the fungible capacity of our AgileCLOUD to dynamically increase the load they can take at launch.

Some of the many recommendations we heard for lowering latency and improving game performance included: aggressive minimization of disk i/o (via replication and caching), iterative fixes of design bugs, effective load balancing across servers, racks, data centers and geos, separation of production environments (e.g., forums and authentication servers independent of game servers) and old-fashioned equipment scaling.

 

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Ansley Kilgore

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