Game makers have to feed unforgiving customers’ demand for high capacity online experiences.
Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5) has gone down in history as one of the UK’s bestselling computer games to date. When it was launched online this week, it was the servers that went down and they were history.
Rockstar North, the makers of GTA5, had warned users that there may be some issues with the online launch of the game as lack of servers were expected to cause a bottleneck, and they weren’t wrong.
Prior to the new GTA going live online, Geoff Bennett, director of solutions and technology marketing at Infinera, which deals in intelligent transport networks, also anticipated problems.
He had said: "It seems Rockstar North’s servers will get caught in the cross fire of the deluge of gamers looking to get a glimpse of the GTA online world. I suspect that they also realise that it’s not just the server end that they need to upgrade."
For the best user experience, everything has to scale in sync, he explained, including a robust network that can turn capacity up and down on demand. These days users expect to be able to access their content when and where they want it regardless of whether or not it’s free. In such a competitive market, big brands need to be able to offer the seamless experience that’s expected from them.
Bennet continued: "In a cloud-based deliver architecture it’s essential to also look at the back end network, rather than focussing purely on creating the most visually appealing and interactive gaming experience possible, otherwise gamers could be left in the slow lane.
"With the right combination of server infrastructure and network capacity behind them, companies will have the innovative technologies to manage demand swings at their fingertips. So developers can go on being notorious for their content rather than a poor user experience!"
Others in the tech world have also been keen to throw in their tuppence worth.
Jonathan Wright, VP service provider at Interoute, owner operator of a cloud services platform, says: "Inviting the world to play a game online is much more than a popularity contest. It is a test of whether the IT and network infrastructure can cope with an unexpected and almighty peak in popularity.
"Online gaming has been one of the chief accelerators of internet capacity. Though individual user capacity isn’t massive, the sheer aggregation of users guzzles capacity and creates local problems as gamers log on across the globe at different times of the day."
To enable two million people to play a game seamlessly at the same time whilst ensuring minimal latency – thereby maximising user experience – requires a colossal amount of dedicated capacity in the right regions at the right time, notes Wright. It also puts pressure on the software code to be as network friendly as possible.
Wright adds: "The increased demand for high capacity experiences online is forcing organisations to rethink how they can enable this new interactive era. It accelerated cloud adoption and introduced the act of public cloud bursting to cope with traffic peaks. Now, the fight to improve user experiences is turning some technology companies into network owners, which comes with its own set of challenges. Creating hybrid public/private networks that minimise the use of the public internet becomes attractive from a latency perspective probably before the economic advantages of private network ownership are truly realised.
"As we see more immersive online experiences take hold, we will see more businesses look to own private network pipes, rather than rent public network capacity. Thankfully, there is plenty of dark fibre out there. It is just a case of watching who is going to turn on the lights."
The problems with playing GTA 5 online this week are a clear example of the ever-growing ‘always on’ trend and the increasing consumption of digital content in today’s big data age.
In order to meet and effectively react to demand, Julian Wheeler, strategy and marketing director, Interxion, suggests that businesses such as Rockstar Games take advantage of flexible and agile data centres that enable them to optimise network infrastructures, avoiding unhappy customers and poor experience.
He adds: "In today’s ‘always on’ culture, consumption of digital content – be it a sports match, the latest episode in a TV series or online gaming – has hit an all-time high. And viewers and players can be very unforgiving if they are met with error messages or buffering issues."
As far as Wheeler is concerned, Rockstar Games’ recent teething problems with its Grand Theft Auto Online game launch are indicative of the sheer demand for constant, seamless online content and businesses’ need for reliable, scalable infrastructure in today’s big data era.
He continues: "When it comes to providing customers with digital content, quality of experience is crucial. To avoid unwanted latency and downtime that leads to complaints and dissatisfaction, anticipating demand is important. But being able to adapt and scale your business to unexpected variables is also paramount in keeping users happy.
"By taking advantage of data centres that are flexible, agile, in the right locations to reach your target audience and have a wide range of connectivity options, content providers and gaming companies can optimise and expand their platforms according to peaks and troughs in demand, meaning they can quickly and easily harness cloud services, network providers, internet exchanges and servers as needed to make sure that it’s not game over for the user before they even press start."