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Mar 11, 2015

GDC 2015: Gaming industry trends

INAP

Internap team at GDCIt’s time for our annual GDC wrap up! We were back at this year’s conference in San Francisco last week to learn about the state of the industry and listen to both large and small developers discuss their online infrastructure needs. Just like last year, we hosted our own session: “Learn from the pros: building fast, massively scalable games,” which included a great panel of industry leaders consisting of Steward Chisam (Hi-Rez Studios), Haitham Rowley (Square-Enix) and Tachu Avila (Crowdstar). Look for it on the GDC vault in a few weeks.

At GDC 2015, there was a lot to experience both on the show floor, and during the diverse conference sessions. Here are some big takeaways:

A VR Explosion
Walking down the show floor this year, you could quickly see that VR was well represented. From cool new VR demos (especially the double light saber demo courtesy of Sixense) to new VR headsets (from Sony’s and Valve’s to the fun Google Cardboard), VR was almost everywhere you looked. And the lines for the Oculus demo were just as long as last year!

Broadening Audiences
Twitch.tv has been growing in popularity for a while, and the fact that a lot of players learn about new games through the service has made Twitch a valuable marketing tool. Recently, many players have begun using Twitch to see their favorite streamers review new games, expansions or patches, using them for pre-purchase research instead of traditional game journalism. This new-found audience will definitely encourage other streaming providers to jump in, which in turn will increase the demand for high-performance networks and Content Delivery Networks (CDN).

Big Data and Analytics
Throughout the conference, there were many sessions devoted to understanding your audience better through behavioral analytics. Common questions included: Who buys your games? Why do they start (or stop) playing? How many sessions do they play? There were good discussions about the scalable infrastructure required to handle data from a growing player base, including high-performance cloud solutions needed for Hadoop deployments. I was surprised that other solutions for resource-intensive use cases (like bare-metal servers) were not brought up more often. Another analytical tool that has become popular in the industry is Tableau, which is used to analyze and draw conclusions from player’s activity and purchase behavior.

The state of Free to Play
What about F2P? Last year there was a bigger emphasis on the morality of F2P, while this year the focus was on different strategies to monetize players. That’s not to say the user experience should always come second, since most developers by now realize that pay gates (where only paying players can enjoy the full experience) are not well-received. In-game ads were widely talked about as speakers highlighted the importance of recognizing how and when to use ads, as well as the pitfalls of overusing them to the point they hinder the experience. Another takeaway was that developers should not underestimate the value of nonpaying gamers, since they bring others through word of mouth, help maintain a healthy community and may transition to paying customers with time.

Managing your Traffic
One of the biggest challenges developers face is providing a seamless experience for their players, with low load times, a stable connection and as little lag as possible. While discussing that SMITE is coming to consoles (to Xbox One specifically), Hi-Rez Studios shone some light on how they handle their traffic. Currently Hi-Rez uses a mix of bare-metal servers and cloud to handle their typical day-to-day traffic (around 84% and 16% respectively). However, during events or times when a high number of players is expected, Hi-Rez switches to a higher percentage of cloud, allowing the cloud’s flexibility and scalability to successfully accommodate the incoming traffic.

That’s all for now. For more information about Internap’s gaming solutions, check out our gaming resources, scalable media streaming solution and the ParStream report on database performance. GDC was fun and we learned a lot, looking forward to next year!

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Apr 4, 2013

Back to GDC: Trends in the online gaming industry

INAP

stock-mobile-gaming_devices_300x150We were back at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week! It was an interesting and educative journey; GDC is a great opportunity to experience the many facets of the gaming world, from developers and publishers with big household names to indie developers and the different tools that enable them to enter the market. Throughout the sessions and while walking and talking on the expo floor, there was a lot to be experienced, including big reveals like Battlefield 4 and the impressive Unreal Engine 4 demo.

I noticed a few big takeaways:

CDN is still king
In our current era of patching and DLC (downloadable content), having a reliable and efficient content delivery network (CDN) has become a necessity due to the frequency and large file size needed for patching. Since delivery via a CDN is at least 5x faster than no cache and origin delivery, this is a no brainer for the gaming industry. One can’t expect to have a newly-released patch take too long or keep a significant portion of your players out because they don’t have the latest version without bracing for significant backlash.

This was very evident after attending Arenanet’s session about their successful MMO Guild Wars 2 (MMOs are notorious for their reliance on patching both to apply critical fixes and to add new content). Arenanet needed a custom CDN solution (something our CDN ops team regularly provides to gaming customers) to ease their patching woes and enable players to obtain the latest patch from either Arenanet or the CDN as soon as the patch went live.

Time for indie?
Even though the rise of the indie developer has been a long time coming, this year’s GDC heavily showcased a number of new SDKs (software development kits) specifically tailored to lower the barrier of entry for them. These tools were focused mostly on HTML5 and JavaScript, allowing developers to easily import their web-ready content or games to new platforms.

Also interesting is that this new direction is apparent on consoles, too. Nintendo showcased their Web Development kit that allows developers to transfer content to the Wii U, which isn’t surprising given the rise of sales in the online store for each of the three consoles. Another development in this area was the strong showing of the Unity game engine, given their Indie support community and lower cost (free for the basic version). What does this all mean? There’s already an increased demand for hosting services across the industry, and these tools help not only to continue but to increase that trend.

What about cloud?
There was a lot of talk about cloud as well, from recent offerings to new improvements and updates from cloud providers. One recurring theme, however, was that developers were looking for smoother and easier ways to spin up cloud instances globally depending on peak game times. We agree that automation is key for the gaming vertical – rapid game development cycles and notoriously fickle players demand infrastructure agility. Our Hosting API allows developers to spin up instances as peak times occur throughout the day and through different geographical regions, and our monitoring tools allow developers to keep track of when and where new instances should be spun up.

See you next time at GDC! In the meantime, check out our online gaming success kit.

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