Have you ever visited a soybean farm in North Carolina? I haven't, despite the fact that it's one of the top 5 crops for the state. I have, though, visited one of the lesser known profit driving farms in NC, the server farm. To be more accurate, I visited the front end showroom for a major server manufacturer and service provider. It was a fully functioning cold server room, with a raised floor, and giant cables criss-crossing the ceiling. It reminded me of the scene in the Matrix when Morpheus leads Neo into the giant weapons cache.
These kinds of rooms are the secret reality behind all of our online lives, but for anyone who has been in the games industry for more than a few years, it's old news. We know there are rooms like these powering our multiplayer servers (and auth, and chat, and storefronts). Many of the tech leaders at the biggest publishers are the lords of vast server fiefdoms, with at least one giant data center acting as a beachhead in the biggest player markets. The question most are facing now is: do you expand the footprint (and add on all the headaches and costs that go with it) or do you move your infrastructure entirely to the cloud, and undergo the painful 12-24 months of transformation and uncertainty?
It's not such a simple question to answer. The fact is, a centralized server infrastructure provides you with a tremendous amount of control over every aspect of the game experience, from performance, to security. But, when it's time to expand your game, or launch into a new market, you feel the constraints acutely. It makes the cloud seem really appealing, until you start to study exactly what it might take to steer your profitable business onto an infrastructure you don't fully control, and find that not everything plays nice when you start to move legacy systems over.
We know your pain. We have a couple hundred thousand servers all over the world. (Let that sink in, without getting hives). It helps us with our business model, and it helps us deliver great experiences, but it's not in the cards for every company.
All is not lost. There are ways to expand your reach, without ballooning your server budget. There are ways to make sure players everywhere get a great experience, without you having to spin up a whole new team on every continent. One of the reasons you build out these server armies is that you're afraid; afraid of poor local network performance in far-flung regions, afraid that you can't guarantee a high level of performance on machines you don't manage. But one of the ways to overcome those fears is to have intelligent wayfinding for your packets. Some clever algorithms can go a long way to improving and stabilizing network performance globally, even if you don't have the biggest footprint.
Dig deeper: Learn more about the challenges gaming companies are facing-check out the results of our recent game developer survey.