INAP IS NOW HORIZONIQ.
Click here to LEARN more.

Apr 4, 2014

Building for scale: Three things online game developers need to know

INAP

scalable game designAt GDC 2014, we had a great experience learning about the exciting trends and advancements taking place in the gaming industry. When we weren’t busy trying out the new VR headsets or attending informative sessions, we enjoyed interacting with the attendees and learning firsthand about the challenges faced by online game developers. Many of these conversations revolved around the topic of gaming infrastructure, and particularly scalable game design.

Before you launch
How does a game developer plan for a massive game release? Whether you’re working on a new game or redesigning an existing one, you need to consider scalable game design early. You are going to eventually have to solve this problem, so it’s best to go ahead and address it at the beginning.

Here are a few things to consider about your network architecture to successfully launch a scalable online game.

  • Tiering – We recommended a multi-tiered architecture to allow scalability at the web and app level and still get performance out of the database. Web tier, app tier, and database tier.
  • Database design – Decide if you are going to have a distributed database system or a SQL-based set up.
  • CDN – With millions of very small files, you’re probably better off using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) for file delivery, especially if you hope to reach a worldwide audience.

What is your foundation architecture?
Your MMOG needs to accommodate your average number of daily concurrent users as well as sudden traffic spikes. If you are truly building for scale, it’s important to establish a foundation architecture of core servers that are always on to handle your baseline, but with the ability to burst into the cloud when the number of users increases. Building a foundation architecture is much more cost effective than building for peak usage and paying for resources that aren’t needed during normal traffic volume. A hybrid solution which allows to you burst into the cloud or a bare-metal cloud solution is a good option for scaling up and down quickly in a cost-effective way.

Speed matters
While low latency is always important, it’s critical when building a scalable online game. One of the GDC attendees said he was met with a “blank stare” when he asked his hosting provider to increase the ping speed between servers. We politely suggested finding a company that provides better support and understands why he was asking the question in the first place.

One of our goals at Internap is to provide online game developers with the infrastructure they need to launch and support their games. Whether you are building a new game, or redesigning a current game, it’s important to understand your network architecture and make sure you have the capabilities in place to achieve scale.

Learn more about the infrastructure for scalable game design by viewing our presentation with Hi-Rez Studios from GDC.

Explore HorizonIQ
Bare Metal

LEARN MORE

About Author

INAP

Read More
Mar 20, 2014

GDC: The final countdown to SMITE

Ansley Kilgore

smite-launch_300x150The annual Game Developers Conference is always an incredible experience, and 2014 is no exception. The Internap team is proud to show our support for game developers and publishers, and also to be part of the buzz around new games and the latest innovations in gaming technology.

As the launch of the new multiplayer online battle arena game SMITE dawns, we teamed up with Hi-Rez Studios to present a session on gaming infrastructure at the conference. Todd Harris, Co-founder & COO of Hi-Rez Studios, discussed the positive impact of bare-metal cloud on the online gaming user experience while providing the company with a more flexible and cost-effective IT infrastructure. Having a scalable platform has been instrumental for Hi-Rez Studios to support their rapidly growing user base. Internap is proud to provide the high-performance cloud solution that helps Hi-Rez Studios achieve success. Learn more about testing, developing and deploying online games.

Be part of the SMITE launch
If you’re going to be in Atlanta the weekend of March 28, check out the SMITE Launch Tournament. Worldwide SMITE teams will converge at Center Stage in midtown to battle it out in true March Madness-style competition, complete with a “Release the Bracken!” bracket challenge.

To learn more about Hi-Rez Studios, download the case study.

Explore HorizonIQ
Bare Metal

LEARN MORE

About Author

Ansley Kilgore

Read More
Feb 21, 2013

MassDiGi propels game development with AgileCLOUD

Ansley Kilgore

MassDiGi with AgileCLOUDHave you ever had a great idea for a new online game, but lacked the right resources to turn it into reality? Without powerful servers and enough funding for a development environment, your idea could just be dust in the wind, dude. So what’s the best way to achieve success? Learn how one talented group of students, academics and gaming entrepreneurs built an online multiplayer game in eleven weeks with the help of Internap’s AgileCLOUD.

In the summer of 2012, Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI), Becker College and UMass Medical School joined forces to create “On Call,” an online medical simulation game. Designed to educate and train allied health professionals, “On Call” was built by students during their annual MassDiGi Summer Innovation Program (SIP). The process of building a game presented an excellent opportunity for students to be involved in the development process and solve a problem from start to finish.

To transform their idea into an actual game, the group had to overcome a few challenges. Anyone who has tried to initiate a program in a University setting knows that projects don’t survive without funding or research, so the prospect of focusing on this project during the MassDiGi eleven-week Summer Innovation Program made complete sense.

“What are we going to do for a server?”
With resources now dedicated toward the project, the next challenge was the restrictions of campus IT. The team wasn’t sure if the game could be accessed by everyone worldwide if they used the limited resources at their disposal. So this led them to seek an easy, cost-effective way to spin up a virtual server in minutes that could support their development and collaboration needs.

“We had an ambitious plan to build an online multiplayer game in eleven weeks, working within the restrictions of campus IT. Thankfully, we had access to AgileCLOUD and were able to bring up publicly accessible servers in a matter of minutes,” said Monty Sharma, Managing Director of MassDiGI and producer of “On Call.” “We had a distributed source control environment and application servers available to anyone in the world. Without the help of Internap and AgileCLOUD this would never have been possible.”

As a result, a closed beta of “On Call” is currently being touched by hundreds of users. Its Facebook-like concept has the ability to help medical professionals collaborate with each other across geographies. For doctors in remote areas with few staff, this would allow them to ask questions and communicate with medical professionals in other locations.

MassDiGi’s successful completion of this project is an example of how the cloud can revolutionize academic institutions from a technology perspective:

Game development skills create a competitive edge – Students who have experience with cutting-edge technologies are well-positioned for success. With access to game development tools in the cloud, students can gain expertise that may not be available to their peers.

Cloud can differentiate Universities – Like most businesses, all institutes of higher learning are trying to stay marketable and competitive. With access to cloud environments, students can participate in real-world scenarios, giving them a leg up in securing a job after graduation – a benefit that could justify higher tuition.

Alleviate campus IT hurdles – Not only can the cloud provide students with easy access to the computing power they need, it also means less physical space is required for large computer labs and equipment. This alone can be a huge cost-saving measure for campus facilities. The days of disks are over – no more sign-up sheets to use the computer lab.

Internap is proud to support a project that could lead to better collaboration among medical professionals, and we are certain that other big accomplishments are just around the corner for MassDiGi and their team.

Sound too good to be true? Learn more about AgileCLOUD and how it can help you reach your goals.

Explore HorizonIQ
Bare Metal

LEARN MORE

About Author

Ansley Kilgore

Read More
Feb 5, 2013

Top Five Online Gaming IT Infrastructure Challenges

Ansley Kilgore

EVE-Online-CCP-Games_300x150The creative forces behind the online gaming industry will always push the limits of technology. But to turn new ideas into reality, it’s critical that online game developers have the right IT Infrastructure in place. Let’s take a look at five challenges that online gaming publishers must address in order to maintain player loyalty and deliver an exceptional user experience.

Speed-to-market – Increased competition can threaten your competitive advantage, making speed-to-market a critical factor. To address this challenge, online game production teams are making use of on-demand computing and storage infrastructure. Public cloud and dedicated servers offer ideal solutions for studios that need to quickly spin up computing resources for development, testing, beta and launch cycles.

Availability – If there’s one thing that strikes fear in the heart of MMOGs, it’s downtime. Online game publishers who choose to build out their infrastructure with resiliency or high availability in mind are more likely to ensure a positive gaming experience. Custom hosting solutions like managed hosting, private cloud or colocation typically provide more failover options and custom configurations.

Latency – Do you know how sensitive your game is to latency? Identifying the threshold is the first step to determining which infrastructure solution will be right for you. Options for reducing server-side latency include dedicated physical hardware, customized servers with specialty elements like high I/O disks and specialty flash drives. On the network side, tech ops teams are overriding BGP routing decisions through multi-carrier optimization, using UDP and TCP acceleration techniques and leveraging edge caching for static file delivery.

Scalability – Will your newly launched game be able to handle a sudden influx of players? The prevalent shift from a subscription model to free-to-play has resulted in an increased need for data center services for online gaming companies. Public cloud and dedicated hosting services can also help you meet fluctuating demand because of their ability to be turned on or off with minimal ramp-up time.

Infrastructure costs – On-demand and cloud infrastructure platforms can help startup studios minimize initial investments for new games and development projects. Whether demand is predictable or not, it’s helpful to have options that can meet your needs. For example, a hybrid approach leveraging a combination of colocation, complex hosting, dedicated hosting or cloud may ultimately prove to be the best architecture choice over the lifecycle of the game.

Did you know Internap provides IT Infrastructure to one-third of the world’s largest online gaming companies? To learn more about how game developers can address these challenges, download our white paper, Five Considerations for Building Online Gaming Infrastructure.

EVE Online image provided by CCP Games

Explore HorizonIQ
Bare Metal

LEARN MORE

About Author

Ansley Kilgore

Read More
Jan 17, 2013

Free-to-play model emphasizes need for data center services

INAP

need for data center servicesThe massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) genre has thrived in two different payment models — subscription and free to play. If you look at the industry as a whole, it appears as if the subscription model laid the groundwork for the MMORPG, while the free-to-play style has helped the genre expand. However, there is a bit of subtlety to the interplay between subscription and free-to-play models. These nuances provide vital insight into the state of the video game industry and emphasize the importance of colocation and data center services in the sector.

Looking at MMORPG models
If you make a dedicated effort to seek out MMORPGs, you will not find too many games that still use the subscription model. Two leaders in the sector are “World of Warcraft” and “Star Wars: The Old Republic.” WoW has lasted an extended period of time as a leader in the genre and carved a major niche for itself. “The Old Republic,” on the other hand, has struggled to maintain an audience using the subscription model and transitioned to a free-to-play system on November 15, 2012.

These decisions make sense if you look closely at the MMORPG’s emergence. Initially, the MMORPG made sense as a subscription-based model because developers would release high-quality content and update it frequently. Over time, however, more developers realized they could release generally lower-quality games as MMORPGs, and make money by selling in-game items.

As this trend progressed, the subscription model became the choice for high-end MMORPGs, while free-to-play was used primarily for low- and medium-range titles that have a strong place in the market or high-end games that were losing players. “World of Warcraft” was initially released in the heyday of this industry climate. “The Old Republic,” on the other hand, came out toward the end of this cycle.

Considering the economics of free-to-play
In the free-to-play MMORPG model, you make your money by getting users to buy in-game items, such as hairstyles for their characters, special outfits or gameplay-related items, such as weapons or special tools. This provides consistent income for developers and publishers, allowing them to support operations. However, you can’t predict revenue as easily with a free-to-play game as you can with a subscription solution because you never really know how many people will buy items in the game.

As a result, developers and publishers hosting free-to-play content often have to find the least expensive method possible to maintain services. By turning to a colocation provider, organizations gain access to a number of systems that enable better services while providing access to more cost-efficient technologies. Therefore, third-party data center solutions can serve as a strategic asset for online video game providers seeking a competitive advantage over their peers.

To learn more about how data center and colocation services can contribute to the success of your online game, read our white paper, Five Consideration for Building Online Gaming Infrastructure.

Explore HorizonIQ
Bare Metal

LEARN MORE

About Author

INAP

Read More
Dec 18, 2012

Monetize your free-to-play online game by adding holiday spirit

Ansley Kilgore

Monetize your free-to-play online gameOver the past few years, we’ve seen a big jump in the number of free-to-play games we support. Hi-Rez Studio’s Global Agenda was one of the first MMOs to move to free-to-play in 2010. Their next gen shooter, Tribes Ascend and battle arena, SMITE are two more examples that are shaping up to be enormously popular non-subscription based games.

In this increasingly free-to-play world, the ability to add seasonal content to games represents a golden opportunity for gaming companies to drive incremental revenue this holiday season. Adding out of the ordinary but functional items can be a good way to drive one-off purchase transactions, while allowing players to be unique and stand out in their virtual environments. For example, rather than using my default two-handed axe in Infinity Blade 2, I can buy a gigantic golf driver (Big Bertha?) to smash the surprisingly fragile bodies of orcs, giants, and witches.

Before we get into some specific in-game ideas, let’s review some economics companies like Hi-Rez consider as they build and maintain their free-to-play games.

The Economics of Free-to-play Online Games
In the free-to-play world, there are essentially three direct drivers of revenue:

• Daily Active Users (DAUs) – DAUs are the average number of unique users actively playing the game in a day. There are many variations of this metric – MAUs (monthly active users), MUUs (monthly unique users), MUPs (monthly unique payers), “Stickiness” or DAUs/MAUs, which measures what proportion of users come back every day to play, and the list goes on.
• Conversion Rate – this is the number of active payers as a percentage of active users.
• Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU) – revenue brought in per paying user.

Above all else, consider that players won’t buy items in a game that they don’t care about – i.e., not only does the game need to be interesting and fun, but players also need time to get into the game. At GDC Online this October, Emily Greer, the COO of Kongregate, stressed the point by saying that they only saw single-player conversion rates move up meaningfully after seven or so gameplays in their browser-based universe. Multiplayer upticks took even longer.

We’ve taken a shot at building a basic forecast model with these metrics (and a few more) for you to play around with if you’re thinking about starting your own F2P game or building out a forecasting model. Let us know if you think we can tweak this to make it work better.

In-game Purchase Ideas
Now with the economics out of the way, here are some interesting ideas we’ve found some online gaming companies using to drive free-to-play cheer this holiday season:
• Adorn your 30-ton BattleMech with Christmas lights
• Zynga’s virtual goods = real-world charitable gifts campaign
• Rift’s Fae Yule quest offers up some nice holiday gifts
• Protect your Stronghold Kingdom villages when you go on vacation this holiday
• Star Trek Online lets you fight snowmen in Q’s winter wonderland
• Bingo Blitz has a Winter Wonderland Slots Room that’s very nice

I also polled Internap’s marketing team (and Bindu’s League of Legends fanatic – thanks Spencer!) for some additional holiday ideas to pass along. We promise we won’t claim intellectual property rights if you decide to use any of these gems:
• Beat back a Black Friday zombie hoard
• Join a Workshop-Elf hero unit
• Drink an Egg Nog Health Potion
• Mull your own Creeper
• Santa Nautilus
• Gift-wrap Mob Drops
• Wield Furby-adorned Heavy Clubs

What are your ideas for driving revenue during the holiday season? For more insights on the online gaming industry, check out our ebook, and may your micro-transactions be merry and bright!

Explore HorizonIQ
Bare Metal

LEARN MORE

About Author

Ansley Kilgore

Read More
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.

 

Explore HorizonIQ
Bare Metal

LEARN MORE

About Author

Ansley Kilgore

Read More