There is an old adage known to gamers: keep moving, or die. While this is most often meant for PvP gamers battling in a first person shooter MMO, the same truth can be applied to the game companies themselves. In the competitive gaming industry market – slow means dead, and failure means forgotten.
For years, the emphasis on game development has been on better graphics and scalability of experience. Polygons and physics engines have advanced to the point of hyper-realistic game play and breathtaking content. With this increase in detail and realism, the size and scope of the data required has likewise increased exponentially.
The pre-gaming experience used to be as simple as plugging in a cartridge or inserting a disc, but these days even games that are played primarily offline have content patches and downloads that must be enabled before users can enjoy playing. Hardcore gamers are used to these Day-One patches.
But casual gamers, representing the market growth potential of the industry, are often put off by long downloads. It can ruin the user experience and greatly diminish the excitement for a new gamer – and in turn reflect badly on a company’s brand and name. If every game released by XYZ Games requires two hours of downloads before the casual user even gets to play, that can cripple a company’s reputation, and lead to massive brand abandonment.
The solution? Enter the CDN.
Content Delivery Networks
In the past, game development companies have released patches and downloadable content for their games directly from company owned and controlled servers. Everyone downloaded their data from a centralized location – regardless of whether the user was in Seattle or São Paulo. This created vast discrepancies in access and time, not to mention the load (and overload) on those servers.
With CDN services, data for gaming and apps is delivered from Points of Presence – servers located throughout the world that hold program data cached and available for use by players in those regions. By creating a network of these delivery points, updates and patches are disseminated quickly and securely. Servers around the world share the load, delivering data at critical speeds.
But, it is more than just download and update speeds that benefit from CDNs. The goal of any business is to make their product and service profitable. Intangible assets, such as reputation and future market potential aren’t easily reflected on the bottom line. But costs and lost sales are. Let’s look at those.
After a game is released, the market shifts and adapts as the user experience evolves. Geographic concerns become an issue. Owning and managing servers in various real world locations can become expensive and difficult to oversee. Trying to get ahead of a sudden need for content distribution in a new region where your game suddenly becomes massively popular can leave a company flat-footed and unable to respond quickly to that demand.
Having an adaptive network of servers that already span the globe creates a highly reactive matrix of communication that can deliver data and content to new locations at a fraction of the cost. Attempting to predict and allocate resource requirements can be tedious, and are often incredibly inaccurate anyway. Replacing all those costs and losses with one service that adapts by need streamlines the entire process.
Efficiency and accessibility are key points to the success of any title or game company. But likewise, the ability to adapt a communication infrastructure to sudden growth or drop-off is paramount to cost effective distribution. Why pay for services or locations that fail to generate revenue? Keep deployment focused on regions produce profitable returns.
The ability to grow a network up or down at a moment’s notice is the sort of flexibility that a brand or title needs in the modern market. Player response can be unpredictable, but one factor is certain. A company that doesn’t move fast to meet players’ needs ends up losing those players.
The Future is Flexible
The needs of the gaming industry are growing. Faster deployment, quicker downloads, and greater management of distributing points of presence are key features of the globalized market. Companies that are prepared and already set up to manage those needs are becoming big business. Smart investors recognize that CDNs are how all major content distribution will be done.
The global market relies on speed and the power of accessibility more than ever. Whether it is for gaming, social connection apps, or company specific intranet analytic software there is greater need for instant distribution and real-time dissemination of data streams. A decentralized method of data and content delivery provides efficiency and greater returns.
Investing in these companies, either as a consumer or as a shareholder, guarantees placement on the front line of those industries. Rapid turnaround and shifting trends stop being obstacles and become opportunities. The ability to respond in real-time to consumer needs and end-user concerns places a company ahead of its competition.
That market advantage translates directly to a stronger market presence.
Strategy, Speed, and Skill
By now, the advantages of using a Content Delivery Network for gaming and other apps should be clearly evident. In order to not be left in the past, companies and investors need to seriously consider how to approach this new industry. There are many companies already positioning themselves to offer global data delivery and network accessibility, but not all of these companies are equal.
Finding the right CDN to fit the needs of a game or app can be a challenge in and of itself. Every company will claim to be the best, to offer the greatest service and most secure servers. However, anticipating the needs of both the software and its players can be complicated.
Some companies offering “global” distribution actually only hold a handful of servers in Europe or North America. While they do offer content delivery across the globe, the speed and efficiency of that delivery isn’t always what the customer is led to expect.
There are several things to consider when deciding on which CDN to invest in.
Year after year, the gaming industry is the leader in the number of DDoS attacks made by hackers against its servers. Often holding sensitive player financial data, these servers become targets of hackers from around the world, attempting to breach the security measures put in place to safeguard user data.
The full measure of a CDN to protect and maintain data integrity must be considered carefully for every application. The failure of a CDN to protect player assets and sensitive information can lead to irreparable damage, to both player and company. Carefully research into how the network has dealt with DDoS attacks in the past, its rate of success and failure, and the response to those attacks.
Different Content Delivery Networks service different regions. Some are located only within the United States, while some operate exclusively in Europe. Some CDNs allow access to remote locations, while others are unable to service client needs in countries they do not have access to.
Knowing the geographic location of your player base is key here. But the ability to develop into new markets is critical to sustained growth for a company and brand. For example, Amazon’s CDN service, CloudFront, has more than 160 Points of Presence. They offer data delivery in 65 cities, located in 29 countries.
This range of influence makes them one of the best options for broad reach distribution of massive data files available. Their prices have been known to fluctuate and increase however, so often using a cloud service brokerage firm, such as Business Cloud Deals is often a more cost effective solution. Their ability to set prices as a third-party guarantor of business gives them considerable purchasing power.
One enormous hurdle to overcome is regional network speeds. While a CDN can greatly increase the distributive power of a company’s data across its platforms, developers have almost no control over an individual player’s internet service provider connection speed. So, offering a staging Point of Presence can greatly increase the availability of content to a region, but it is still the region’s infrastructure that can pose a challenge to user experience.
Reliability and Reputation
In any application, problems are bound to arise. As mentioned earlier, how a company responds to occurrences of network failure, DDoS attacks, and abandonment rates is just as important as the speed at which they can deliver data. Responsible and direct ownership and accountability create a stable platform for business, and companies that furnish business services need to embrace that.
Carefully examining the rate and severity of these service failures provides measurable insight into potential future occurrences, and allows savvy developers to formulate safeguards and protocols to limit liability and loss – both for players and for the company.
Walk Softly, but Carry a Big Network
When it comes to the future of gaming data distribution, Content Delivery Networks are the answer. Player retention isn’t enough. Converting the casual to hardcore, and the outsider into a content purchaser is imperative to gaming industry evolution.
The games already look amazing. The engines run, and run well. The last hurdle is to make the data available quickly, efficiently, and accessible to every player that wants it. The speed and scope of professional Content Delivery Networks is the best way to keep players coming back for more.