Choose Your Fighter

This is the second in our series on the Gaming Internet. You can find our first installment here.

Gaming consumes a lot of data and traffic on the Internet, but no one seems to know exactly how much. Other big data consumers like telcos and video are well-understood industries that attract a lot of attention. And while there are dozens of companies that just build networking equipment for those sub-sectors, the number of customers is fairly small. By contrast, gaming is a complex web of thousands of companies. This fragmentation makes for an abundance of wealth when it comes to content, but it makes it very hard to solve problems that the whole industry faces.

Put simply, networks are a growing pain point for gaming. As we will detail in our next post, reliable data rates and network conditions play a major role in the gaming experience for players, and this has a direct impact on the financials of all the companies in the ecosystem. Given the number of stakeholders anyone attempting to solve this problem with need to with a multitude of constituents.

First, there are the game development studios, the people actually creating games. These companies are often comprised of some of the most capable programmers out there, because they need to constantly push the envelope of software development to create the best games. As good as these people are, they generally lack a good understanding of networking. This is constant problem throughout the entire IT industry. Networking is a profession requiring a specialized skill set, and for most gaming companies this expertise rests outside their core competency. The stereotype among networking professionals is that software developers treat the network with indifference at best, often taking it for granted.

By contrast, the networking industry does not really pay attention to gaming. We know a large number of network equipment professionals who think of gaming as a niche for their kids, if they think of it at all. This indifference is a big part of the inspiration for us to write this series. As we pointed out in our previous post, Cisco lumps gaming into a category with pretty much all other forms of software, despite the huge aggregate amount of traffic gaming pulls down from the network.

Already we have indifference met with unawareness.

Then we have to factor in the complex way in which dollars move around the industry. Many game developers work with game publishers, the big ones like Electronic Arts and Activision. These companies have powerful brands and distribution channels. They have a big say in game design, especially for franchise titles. While they care about user experience, they are many steps removed from the technical challenges this entails in networking.

Admittedly, there are some highly capable network engineers in the mix here. Platform owners like Microsoft and Sony, as well as cloud service providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) all have networking teams. However, for these companies networking is also very far removed the executives setting priorities. Factor in the major distribution channels like Apple’s App Store and Valve’s Steam store, who play major roles but none of whom pay much attention to networking issues.

So before we even start to explore the details problem that networking present, it is already clear that no one is really looking hard for a solution. This does not mean there is no problem, it just means it has not become painful enough yet for people to take notice.

Photo by Ryan Quintal on Unsplash

7 responses to “Choose Your Fighter

  1. Good article. I do not agree with the last paragraph that says nobody is looking into this problem though. Our startup is working on this problem, and you can see some serious results here:

    There are a few other companies that are trying to lower lag by tweaking the network, our approach is different since we understand that, as you pointed out in your article, there are so many different actors involved (studios, publishers, infra, network/telco, etc.) you can’t pull a fiber cable to/from everybody. We acknowledge that players are spread around the world, and we use this reality along with ingenuity to do things differently. i.e. Move game servers where it makes sense based on the context and the telemetry. As you also pointed out, we realize game makers are a mix of one-army indie up to AAA studios with thousands of employees, and our platform is adapted for such reality. Those 2 kinds of studios have different interests, and we bring value to each of them through different props.

    Good write-up, I always enjoy your newsletter.


  2. “cloud service providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) all have networking teams. However, for these companies networking is also very far removed the executives setting priorities.”

    I worked for over five years at AWS and this isn’t true. Network performance is crucial to the customer experience and the network people absolutely have the ear of leadership and access to the capital they need. If what they’re building isn’t meeting the needs of game providers that would suggest that the business isn’t (yet) big enough to get their attention?

    • I apologize, that was inelegantly phrased. I’m speaking specifically to the point about networking for gaming. AWS obviously can teach the world a lot about networking. It is clearly a core competency, albeit one that many users probably take for granted.

  3. I worked for five and a half years at AWS, and your statement “for these companies networking is also very far removed the executives setting priorities” is absolutely incorrect.Various aspects of network performance are central to cloud-computing customer experience; the people who design and build the networking are super-senior and have access to executive attention and the capital resources they need.

    If in fact the network performance of public cloud is inadequate for gamers’ needs, that’s sending a strong signal about how important the cloud leadership thinks that business is. Not saying that leadership is correct, but they are damn well-informed people about what their customers say they need.

    • As in the other comment, I should have phrased this more precisely. However, I stand by the overall theme – no one is really meeting the needs for gaming networking. My point in writing this whole series is to highlight that this is a big opportunity for someone to get right, because it is an unmet need today. I think there are two forces at work here. One, I trust your expertise when you say AWS management “are damn well-informed”, but the problem around gaming networks is that customers may not being saying they need this. It is an emerging problem, that many in the game development community are only just coming to grasp. And that is the second factor. The gaming ecosystem is incredibly fragmented, and for the vast majority in that business, networking is very far from core competency. So it is possible that AWS management (or any of the other public cloud providers) are just not aware of the problem, because they haven’t been asked.

  4. Pingback: Gaming Internet – Magic Packets | Digits to Dollars·

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