How MMOs Can Scale Quickly

Sep 12, 2023

Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games are renowned for their vast, interactive worlds that host thousands of players simultaneously. As such, the underlying infrastructure that supports these games is critically important to their success. When an MMO game rapidly gains popularity, the associated surge in player numbers can place tremendous stress on existing infrastructure.

Traditionally, MMOs have relied on bare metal servers to handle this load. However, the limitations of this approach became evident. For example, when Square Enix encountered challenges with its game, Final Fantasy XIV, as it struggled to scale to meet player demand.

Please note that FF14 is used as a reference for this article. Edgegap is not affiliated with Square Enix, nor has insider knowledge of FF14’s game servers and hosting infrastructure.

The Traditional MMO Infrastructure – Bare Metal Servers

Bare metal servers are physical servers dedicated to a single tenant, typically providing better performance and control than virtualized environments.

Advantages:

  • Predictable performance as there's no "noisy neighbor" issue.

  • Full control over the hardware, allowing game developers to optimize performance.

Challenges:

  • Scalability: As the demand grows, procuring, setting up, and maintaining new bare metal servers can be slow and cumbersome.

  • Flexibility: Adapting to fluctuating player numbers can be difficult, leading to either underutilized resources or capacity shortfalls.

  • Base Fee: there is a entry cost required with bare metal architecture. Studios will need a minimum amount of servers alongside at minimum a few engineers to maintain them. These high operating costs are one, if not the, primary reasons studios and publishers shut down older games as the base infrastructure’s operating costs is too expensive under a minimum level of traffic.

The Challenge Faced by Square Enix with Final Fantasy

Square Enix's challenges underscore the limitations of relying solely on bare metal servers. As Final Fantasy's popularity soared, the company found it challenging to quickly source and set up additional bare metal servers to cater to the increasing number of players. This led to server queues, frustrated players, and potential loss of revenue.

The Cloud Solution for MMOs

Cloud technology provides virtualized computing resources over the internet, offering scalability, flexibility, and often, cost effectiveness.

Advantages

  • Elasticity: Cloud services can be rapidly scaled up or down based on demand.

  • Global Reach: MMOs can utilize data centers around the world to provide low-latency experiences for global player bases.

  • Managed Services: Developers can leverage managed databases, AI services, and more to enhance game features without heavy lifting on the infrastructure side.

Challenges

  • Potential Latency: Although cloud providers offer global reach, the performance may vary based on the region, number or locations, and specific configurations.

  • Hardware Pool: Specific type of virtual machines, due to high-speed clock requirements, may also be necessary.

  • Cost Management: While cloud can be cost-effective, it requires careful management to avoid spiralling costs. Idle costs of servers, alongside “nicked & dime” pricing based on regions, can accumulate to massive monthly fees.

  • Orchestration: Smart, automated orchestration that powers the deployment process is key, but provider-specific solution, such as Amazon AWS Gamelift, locks studios in with a single provider. Limiting the studio to specific locations by the providers, and opening the door for outages. A multi-cloud solution such as Agones has a ceiling in terms of its usage and hidden challenges unique to it as Agones is not exactly an orchestration platform, but more of a scheduler for Kubernetes. Another orchestration environment like terra-form, ansible and in-house software would still be required.

Transitioning from Bare Metal to Cloud

  • Hybrid Approach: An interim solution can be a hybrid model where MMOs utilize both bare metal and cloud resources. This allows for immediate scalability using cloud resources while retaining the performance advantages of bare metal for critical tasks.

  • Migration Strategy: Transitioning to the cloud is not trivial. MMOs would need a clear migration strategy, considering data transfer, integration with existing systems, and potential downtime.

Conclusion

The era of MMOs relying solely on bare metal servers may be drawing to a close. As player numbers continue to fluctuate and global reach becomes imperative, cloud technology offers a promising solution for MMOs to scale efficiently and rapidly.

While challenges exist, with careful planning and strategy, MMOs can leverage the cloud to deliver seamless experiences for their ever-growing player bases.

Automated orchestration tapping into distributed edge computing networking is the future for MMOs. The revolution is coming, and MMOs such as Path of Titan which is powered by Edgegap, are heading this revolution.

Learn more about Smart Fleet’s automated, self-optimizing with global server management help MMOs of the future – on our blog, or on the website. With no cold starts, unlimited scaling, greater resilience and security than traditional fleets and most importantly – cost-efficient scaling.

Contact us directly, or join our Discord.

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