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Community Blog How Can You Deliver Innovative Mobile Games to a Global User Base with the Cloud?

How Can You Deliver Innovative Mobile Games to a Global User Base with the Cloud?

A cloud solution can enable mobile game developers to focus on innovation and customer experience while delivering the reliability, performance and scale needed to support global gaming communities.

Mobile gaming is powering an explosion in the gaming industry, with analysts calculating the segment's contribution to global video games revenue in 2020 at $98 billion or 57% of the total, a number forecast to rise to $272 billion by 2030. The proliferation of faster, lower-latency 5G networks and edge computing that can deliver PC or console-grade experiences to mobile phone gaming, the emergence of mobile cloud gaming services and the focus on gaming by new entrants such as social platforms and advertisers, as well as traditionally PC and console-focused publishers, is helping drive growth.

Asia is powering the mobile gaming boom, with telecommunications manufacturer Ericsson noting in November 2020 that the region generated $41 billion-plus in revenue with China, Japan and South Korea leading the way. The fourth-largest market globally, South Korea, is a leader in smartphone penetration and use of the devices for gaming – Ericsson cites a report that reveals nearly nine in 10 mobile gamers (88%) play games at least two-three times a week and 44% play every day, with overall average time spent playing escalating from 96 minutes per day on weekdays and just over two hours (121 minutes) per day on weekends. The addressable market worldwide is poised to explode as the number of 5G smartphone users increases from around 200 million in 2020 to 3 billion-plus at the end of 2026.

Entering this highly competitive market with demanding user expectations and technical requirements is a considerable challenge for mobile game developers. Not only must they deliver innovative experiences that combine high quality gameplay with social elements such as chat functionality, activity feeds and leader boards, push notifications and social media integration, but provide a PC and console-grade experience to gamers. Doing this means working with a platform that:

  • enables the collection, storage and analysis of large volumes of player telemetry data
  • is scalable to align with traffic peaks and fluctuations
  • is cost-effective, with traditional capex approaches replaced by more budget-friendly opex
  • is highly available to avoid disruptions that can impair user experiences
  • features minimal latency to provide a high-quality experience for users distributed across the globe. A ConsumerLab study based on an online survey of 7,000 consumers, cited by Ericsson, revealed 90% of those who played video games at least weekly were negatively affected by lag when playing, with at least one in three sometimes quitting as a result.
  • provides efficient access to server resources to accelerate international gaming, and
  • enables mobile game developers to focus on innovation and experience rather than infrastructure and architecture.

To overcome these challenges, many gaming studios, businesses and developers are turning to ‘mobile cloud video gaming’, a mobilized iteration of the Gaming on Demand model that sees games execute through private cloud servers, and gaming video frames sent over the internet to desktop PCs or interactive televisions. This model enables developers, businesses and studios to create unique mobile games that feature improved user experiences and response times as well as low operational and maintenance costs. They can adjust cloud resource consumption to accommodate changes in demand and feature testing requirements while only paying for what they use.

The two most popular mobile gaming solutions are massively multiplayer online games, that support large numbers of players simultaneously, and card-based mobile gaming, in which users enter a card into a gaming device to start playing.

Mobile massively multiplayer online gaming

The key challenges for developers in the mobile massively multiplayer online gaming segment are:

Bandwidth & packet volume

Because gamers need mutual visibility of movement and combat within gameplay, this means game servers must produce a huge number of communication packets – particularly when many gamers play simultaneously – meaning the access layers of these servers need high network bandwidth and packet throughput.

Elasticity & scalability

Because ‘light games’ and ‘time fragmentation’ characterize mobile massively multiplayer online games, the industry needs conservation and utilization of game server resources to efficiently achieve zone and combinations for its servers.

High computing power

For mobile massively multiplayer online games played on the web, providers aim to leverage strong interactions between players to attract new gamers – making increasing the number of concurrent players in individual zones a key priority. Deployment models based on zones and servers, and that use multiple centers across regions, gives gamers nearby access to game servers to ensure a smooth gaming experience.

Overcoming These Challenges with Cloud

A leading global game studio facing a range of these challenges turned to Alibaba Cloud to help scale its gaming platform to handle traffic from millions of users a day with minimal operational resources, and required:

  • a multi-layer architecture to develop loosely coupled systems in which different application components could be independently deployed, maintained and updated according to various schedules:
  • securing portions of the application behind the firewall and make other components accessible from the internet
  • a stable network accessible across the globe, and
  • high computing power and stable game access experience

Alibaba Cloud deployed a solution that:

  • delivered high availability of global services such as gateway services that, if they encounter a fault, impact all game players. The cloud provider did this by building primary/secondary dual-activity nodes on an instance of Alibaba Cloud Elastic Compute Service.
  • powered a three-layer architecture comprising access (managing game account login authentication, client connection management and communication packet decryption), logic (implements service logic for regional game services, chat and rankings) and data (that provides shared caching and data persistence storage). RDS provides disaster recovery for primary and secondary databases, including read-write splitting, while the logic layer features servers that can extend services based on scenarios, in turn helping increase the maximum number of simultaneous players in a single zone.
  • enabled the deployment of game servers from Alibaba Cloud datacenters in various regions and, with Alibaba Cloud Auto Scaling, build a server activation system that gave nearby users access.
  • ensured the business could serve a large number of simultaneous players in individual zones through the use of ApsaraDB for Redis and ApsaraDB for Memcache to create a cache layer to accelerate read/write of players’ game data and decrease back-end database read/write pressure.
  • delivered a faster response globally through the integration of Alibaba Cloud CDN and Object Storage Service, that facilitated the game update package download system and delivered frequent massively multiplayer online game client update packages.

Card-based mobile gaming

The key challenges for developers in card-based mobile gaming are:

High disk I/O

Mobile card game servers produce and accumulate large volumes of player logs and persistent storage, achieved through NoSQL, requiring servers to provide a high disk I/O capacity.

Rapid deployment and gray releases

Because card games are developed faster than role-playing games and some other mobile games, cost control is easier and fast server activation, combination and rolling, as well as value adjustment, have become the norm. Challenges for the game experience, operation and maintenance include frequent deployments and upgrades on multiple servers, as well as gray releases and rapid deployment.

Bandwidth billing

With most mobile card games hosted on a single server for single or multiple zones, developers can find it difficult to predict internet traffic costs and peak value for a single server – meaning operators need to bear the cost of billing traffic of individual servers on a pay as you go basis.

Risk of single point of failure

When a server in vertical deployment architectures goes down, service may become unavailable in at least one region, with the time required to restore the server directly impacting user experience, financial flow and user retention. Most games still follow this outdated deployment model due to restrictions around development conditions, code inheritance and costs.

Elastic scalability

Uncertainty around gamer numbers, particularly during online events and peak periods after game releases can make it difficult to predict resource allocation requirements, and maximum load capacity can be exceeded unless costly high resource configurations are maintained. This makes scalability and elasticity a common challenge for mobile game developers, studios and businesses.

Overcoming These Challenges with Cloud

An organization needed a solution that could eliminate single point of failure, provide vertical configuration upgrades and flexible scaling capabilities in gaming applications, and ensure the stable and reliable operation of games with users freed from interruptions due to the release of new game features.

Alibaba Cloud provided a solution that:

  • automated the alignment of game server numbers with increases in game traffic volumes with Server Load Balancer. Combined with Alibaba Cloud ECS, Server Load Balancer enabled users to construct an ECS architecture that automated horizontal scaling.
  • featured a primary/secondary ApsaraDB RDS architecture that protected games from risks associated with single point of failure, enabled upgrades as traffic increases, and features professional advice on database optimization as well as primary key checks, index checks and other types of optimization advice to ensure the stable operation of gaming data and core platform systems.
  • enabled the parallel deployment of two runtime containers on a single ECS game server to enable successful, interruption-free gray releases, ensuring game continuity.
  • provided the ability to load self-built MongoDB and other database services on ECS with high-I/O SSD Cloud Disk, meeting I/O capacity requirements and delivering robust data reliability.
  • enabled the rapid activation of servers by using user-defined images and data disk snapshots through ECS with installed application software packages.

With cloud, developers, gamers and businesses can access a reliable, robust, high-performing platform that enables them to innovate and deliver high quality mobile games to global audiences.

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Iain Ferguson

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