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News
18.08.2015

Gaming in the cloud

Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong and Pac-Man. Nearly every new title released is geared towards the online experience. Sharing, streaming, and of course, competing with other likeminded individuals around the world. The video game industry is forecasted to reach global revenues of $102.9bn by 2017(1), an annual growth of 8%.

For a sense of scale of the video game industry, let’s take a look at the film industry’s highest grossing opening weekends (2).

 

Rank Title Opening Weekend Date
1 Jurassic World $208,806,270 12/06/2015
2 Marvel’s The Avengers $207,438,708 04/05/2012
3 Avengers: Age of Ultron $191,271,109 01/05/2015
4 Iron Man 3 $174,144,585 03/05/2013
5 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 $169,189,427 15/07/2011

The top 5 box office weekends of all time add up to a staggering $950,850,099, and rightly so. The movies are packed with action, intriguing plot and fascinating characters.

Now, some perspective.

Upon release, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V broke one billion dollars in sales within its first three days (3), and transcended the top 5 box office films of all time combined.

With such a meteoric rise, the demands placed on the underlying network infrastructure have had a significant impact. Many games typically rely on user computers to host multiplayer games as a cost-efficient alternative to scaling thousands of servers around the globe. However, with cloud technology and infrastructure growing more advanced every year, that paradigm is shifting.

See, we gamers are a demanding bunch. We want the best latency, the best network speeds, and basically anything else that might be seen to give us a competitive advantage. However, there has been an age-old problem with user-hosted matches – particularly evident in online shooters – and it is every gamer’s greatest enemy. It is called ‘lag’.

Lag (or high latency), can turn an enjoyable online experience into one so frustrating that it is comparable with watching England’s World Cup adventures. One of the issues with player-hosting is that the host themselves have an unfair advantage over everybody else. Nobody likes an uneven playing field in a competitive game. What’s worse is that the chosen host may not always have a stable connection, so it is a gamble on whether or not lag will be rife for other players.

Developer Jon Shirring of Respawn Entertainment talked about the studio’s decision to use Microsoft’s Azure cloud services(4) as a way to host online matches for their game, Titanfall. When companies refer to their cloud, they are simply implying that they have an abundance of servers ready to run whatever you need them to run. With networking technologies advancing at a dramatic rate, gamers are not only able to level the playing field but are guaranteed a stable connection wherever they are. Moreover, by offloading heavy computing requirements to the cloud, developers are able to offer the best graphics, physics, and artificial intelligence systems regardless of the user’s system spec. Of course, there is one problem with all of this… Hackers.

Over the Christmas period, both Sony and Microsoft made news headlines when their networks were disrupted by digital activists. Both PlayStation and Xbox online networks ground to a halt, effectively cancelling Christmas in the digital world of online gaming. Two prominent questions came from this. Let’s start with the “How?”

Shutting down any service as big as PlayStation Network or Xbox Live seems like a task reserved for the most formidable of cyber-criminal organisations, but the reality is that it was the work of just three people (5), the youngest of which was allegedly thirteen years old. In fact, such a task can (and was) achieved via way of a DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attack.

For those that are unfamiliar with what that entails, a DDoS is an attack designed to grind a network to a halt by flooding it with useless traffic. For those of you that are interested in a visual representation of such a cyber-attack, here is a map (6) of live attacks across the globe in real time.

Media outlets around the world labelled the activists ‘hackers’. In reality, any semi-tech savvy individual could have achieved the same result, and that brings us to the “Why?”

Why would anybody seek to bring down a gaming network on Christmas Day? It was not an information heist, nor a privacy breach, where the offenders sneak in and out through virtual backdoors and leave without a trace. The hackers shouted from the rooftops on social media taking claim for the attack.

In an interview with Sky News, one of the people behind the attack claimed that they were making a statement to demonstrate how easily it can be achieved. While the hackers’ methodology was called into question, it certainly raised a serious question:

Why can’t the world’s most sophisticated computing giants, whom offer security software and hosting to other businesses, guarantee their own?

With its plethora of benefits, cloud hosting is the future of gaming – a future that has already arrived. However, if our computing giants cannot find a way to prevent the ongoing cyber-attacks, gamers may well look back and reminisce about ‘the good old days’ when we only had to put up with a bit of lag.

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