IN DEPTH: The world of online gaming is a complex and extensive one and cloud infrastructure has a bigger role to play than ever before
The global online gaming sector has grown significantly over the past decade, as widespread adoption of superfast broadband, an increased focus on online multiplayer and updates to platforms such as Steam, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.
Hundreds of millions of players access these platforms every year and according to Aegis Data, the online gaming industry has trebled since 2005 and approximately 65 per cent of households now own some kind of gaming device.
The global games audience is now estimated to be between 2.2 and 2.6 billion and the market is predicted to grow from $101.1 billion (£77bn) in 2016 to an estimated $128.5bn (£97.9bn) by the end of 2020.
This is, of course, great news for game-makers, but it is placing a huge amount of pressure on data centre operators, who have to provide reliable infrastructure, connectivity and storage that is able to deal with the continuing growth of sophisticated graphics and higher processing power of modern games.
And, with the market now more competitive than ever, data centre providers can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to the likes of performance, reliability and security.
The rise of cloud computing has been well documented and online gaming companies have been quick to ride the wave in order to take advantage of the flexibility and, most importantly, scalability benefits it provides.
Having access to scalable infrastructure is especially important for games launches, as Charlie Cochrane, software engineer at Pusher explained to Silicon: “I think traditional studios will continue a trend towards commodity cloud computing for launch window traffic scaling, all the big cloud providers are really pushing hard for this,” he said.
“I can’t see web RTC (real-time communication) catching on for much if I’m honest. The big boys have their own data centre or large data centre leases, but they’re starting to be hybrid by using cloud for flexible scaling during launch windows. In fact, some have gone fully cloud.”
Cochrane cited Respawn Entertainment as an example, as the company uses Microsoft Azure exclusively for its cloud needs.
Infrastructure is of course also vital for the games themselves. Many popular games such as FIFA now offer online modes where users can play against friends and simulate whole seasons.
But the real heavy lifting is taken up by Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), in which large numbers of players interact with one another in expansive and often incredibly detailed virtual worlds.
These games – the likes of World of Warcraft and League of Legends – require a huge amount of processing power. Millions of actions are carried out every second and, if the infrastructure isn’t up to scratch, players won’t be able to respond in time and will therefore get a poor experience.
All of this means cloud providers have to be able to deal with a huge amount of traffic, as well as constant peaks and troughs. Traffic will significantly increase in the evenings when people get home from school and work, for example.