UPDATED 15:51 EDT / NOVEMBER 12 2014

Proximity still the gaming killer app for reducing latency to cloud | #reinvent

gamer-girl-photoFor the usual first person shooter player there’s a moment when it looks like you’ve got the bad guy in your crosshairs, you pull the trigger, and bam—you die? This is a moment that many gamers find themselves throwing their controller at the screen. The reason why: latency created a situation where you thought you had the upper hand, but really the other guy had already gotten the shot off (sometimes seconds before.)

In the competitive world of gaming, milliseconds matter.

This week’s Amazon.com, Inc.’s re:Invent conference contains a large number of announcements directed towards the cloud, development, and enterprise offerings. Lots of businesses are turning to the cloud to take advantage of the cost savings and to get themselves in the door for clients and there are gaming companies who use AWS such as Ubisoft Entertainment S.A.  and Zynga Inc.

The question becomes: How does Amazon attempt to handle the milliseconds matter issue for gamers?

One of the promises of the cloud has been to reduce costs by abstracting away the need to collocate servers, allow for rapid scaling to handle large amounts of traffic, and being able to spin-up or spin-down computing instances according to customer needs. The question is, has this led to a lot of instances of giant datacenters that house a multitude of computers for very large regions?

The problem: the further away from the datacenter the client gets, the greater the latency caused by the time it takes for signals to race over wires. A trade off happens between cost savings for being part of a giant datacenter or being closer to a smaller datacenter.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal discussed this need as part of a trend fueling the construction of smaller, shared data hubs built in, or near, key global cities. Equinix Inc. executives spoke to the fact that latency and proximity are still a very big deal for all operations—gaming just makes a particularly pointed example to explain the problem.

“Proximity is still very important,” says Equinix’s marketing manager Jason Friedler told WSJ.

In the U.S. alone, Amazon has built AWS datacenters as close as possible to the likely customers, that is near the edges of large cities: New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; San Jose, CA; Dallas, TX; Miami, FL. Looking at the map of datacenters, the East and West Coast are well represented with datacenters.

These locations are borne out by looking at Twitter heat maps, for example a MongoDB experiment shows the coasts a major source of tweets. It’s not much of a leap to expect that these locales are seen by Amazon as close to the clients who will use AWS (businesses and end users.) Of course, it doesn’t hurt that social media heatmaps roughly match US population distribution either.

Call of Duty, the cloud, and hybrid hosting


Another side of gaming that provides an interesting example of how services such as AWS could be used by gaming companies comes from a recent article in VentureBeat about how Call of Duty uses dedicated servers for gamers.

The non-gamer reader might be surprised how a massive game franchise like Call of Duty could even run without dedicated severs somewhere to make the game happen. After all, Call of Duty: Advanced Wafare, Activision Publishing, Inc.’s most recent release in this long running series, is outselling the previous title CoD: Ghosts (and that sold over 14.5 million copies.)

Games such as CoD work by having one of the players during a session act as host—the console of that player essentially becomes the server. This method allows an essentially infinite scalability for the game and it works without needing a dedicated infrastructure. The caveat, however, is that depending on where the host and the other players happen to be in proximity to each other means increased lag, and worse, since much of the game mechanics are passing over residential networks there’s a problem of signal degradation.

With a cloud-based system those games that Activision determines are the least likely to provide a good gaming experience via the peer-hosting mechanism the company can spin up a cloud-based server in a datacenter near the players and off they go. The result, a much nicer user experience, less “I pull the trigger but really I was dead two seconds ago,” and presumably happier gamers.

Activision did not reveal to VentureBeat what type of services the company used to do this, but there is a powerful market across numerous sectors for proximity.

photo credit: Mustafa Sayed via photopin cc

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