How Online Game Companies Can Win with a Multi-CDN Strategy

With a rich history tracing back some 40 years to the introduction of MUD1 (“multiuser dungeon”), online video games have taken advantage of every advancement applied to the internet. Current day, gaming companies large and small are turning to the latest in networking technology to get an edge. In this article, we look at how video game companies are using content delivery networks (CDNs)—and specifically multi-CDN services—to distribute game downloads, gameplay, and esports broadcasts with incredible success.

CDNs play the role of caching game content on numerous distributed servers so it is readily available when players request it. For game downloads, this helps to ensure that the download is fast and does not stall. For online gameplay, CDNs provide the throughput to enable a smooth user experience. Finally, for the stadium-sized audiences now watching esports tournaments, CDNs provide the capacity to deliver the live video online.

A multi-CDN service is exactly what you would expect—a configuration of two or more CDNs to further enhance the availability, capacity, throughput and speed of a game company’s distribution network.  The truth is, a network of networks will always beat the world’s best single networks, especially when those networks can be utilized in the multi-CDN.  

A multi-CDN works by making between two and five CDNs available to players. An intelligent load-balancer with access to real-time data on CDN health metrics considers the player’s location and ISP and assigns them to the top performing CDN. As such, players are connected to the single best data source for the game content they are requesting.  

The industry giants have used multiple CDNs for some time. Now that turn-key multi-CDN services are available, cost effective and simple to use, that trend is continuing through the middle market and down to the up-and-coming game companies.  

We interviewed three industry experts to get their opinions on the online gaming space and the use of multi-CDNs. They offered sharp insights on both the ways that game companies win and how multi-CDNs matter in the equation.

The Experts

Don Bustin, CTO & Director, AMPD Technologies  

Don is a technologist with over 20 years of experience across both start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. His expertise spans from development and DevOps to solution and enterprise architecture. Previously as co-founder and CTO of Infinite Game Publishing, Don built the team and full online publishing platform for IGP’s inaugural titles, while implementing the production infrastructure required to support major game launches without incident. 

Currently, in his capacity as co-founder and CTO of AMPD, Don continues to apply his expertise and insights to fuel AMPD’s growth as an emerging global brand, synonymous with high-performance-computing excellence.

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Rick Buonincontri, Founder & CEO, Solid State Networks

Solid State Networks was founded in 2006 when game publishing was just beginning to move from physical media to online digital distribution. Rick and the team have rich experience in download, install and update technologies and sought ways to eliminate as much of the friction that stands between the player and their gameplay as possible.  Along the way they have worked with the likes of Zenimax Online Studios, Microsoft’s 343 Industries, Riot Games and EA’s BioWare among many others.

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Doron Paz, Co-CEO and CTO, System73

System73 is a global leader in turn-key multi-CDN and video distribution technologies.  

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How Gaming Companies Win

There were a few common threads in our conversations about how gaming companies reach success.  The top five points were that they:  

  1. Focus on a niche and build a core community of players and enthusiasts
  2. Consistently grow player counts and velocity  
  3. Successfully convert people to paid players in their chosen commercial model
  4. Leverage the technologies that allow players to experience exactly what the game developers intended—no degradation from first click to gameplay.
  5. Balance their economic equation

Rick Buonincontri of Solid State Networks highlighted how incredibly competitive the online video game space can be.  

Buonincontri explained, “It’s a bit of feast or famine.  Big games are worth big money and the top players are celebrities in their own right.”  

According to Buonincontri, “It is hard enough to create passionate communities around a game, the technology cannot be what drives them away.  The data shows the player patience is finite and the minute that a player decides to jump games, value is lost.  The revenue, chatter, referrals and community momentum go with them.  No matter how much game companies are willing to spend, it can be near impossible to get them back.”

Don Bustin of AMPD Technologies shared insight on life for those companies outside of the top 2%.  

Bustin noted, “Game companies of every size want their player experience to be the absolute best they can afford it to be.  The reality is that multi-CDN used to be limited to the 2% based on economies of scale and the engineering resources to implement it.  Now there are companies that are making that practical for the rest.”  

He further explained, “It is especially critical for free-to-play games as the download creates a friction point where players can drop out of the funnel if anything goes wrong, or even takes too long.  Economics are also more critical when you are bearing costs for a large percentage of non-revenue generating players. When EA made Apex Legends, the scale was hundreds of millions, so the cost of getting it wrong scales accordingly. I recommend technologies like multi-CDN because they reduce the risk of aborted downloads or poor-quality esports viewing and reduce friction in the funnel. No one should be lost for reasons that are now within our technical control.”

How Multi-CDN Helps

We asked Doron Paz of System73 to explain multi-CDN services and how they help game companies.  

Paz emphasized that, “Single CDNs, especially the tier-1 providers, are quality networks with global points-of-presence. This is exactly why we use them in our multi-CDN deployments. But contracting with a single provider also introduces vendor reliance and a single point of failure.  Multi-CDNs solve for this.” 

Paz expanded, “In essence, with a single CDN, when a user requests game content, they have only one place to get it—one highway out of town. No network can be expected to be the best all the time in all locations. So we no longer look at general network size and capacity as an indication of reliability and speed. Instead we use near real-time data to determine which provider in a mix of CDNs is the strongest for that user, on that ISP, at that moment in time.  Having two to four highways out of town with knowledge of the traffic patterns is why so many are now using multiple providers.”

Turning the question to Rick Buonincontri, he added, “Player expectations are as high as they’ve ever been.  If someone is trying a new game and the download is slow or even stops, they will abandon the download and potentially the game altogether. When a returning player must wait too long for an update, they will move on to some other activity. These delays create hard costs and lost opportunity for the publisher.  Multi-CDNs direct players to the network that is best suited for a fast and complete download. The decision happens automatically in milliseconds. The player doesn’t have to do anything except download and start enjoying the game.”

Don Bustin highlighted how multi-CDN helps with distribution spikes.  “Around game versions and patch releases, we see spikes in demand that the distribution network must handle. Otherwise, request volumes are relatively stable. Multi-CDN can help to scale for that load and reduce the risk of general network congestion that causes issues. Pairing several CDNs together provides the capacity and availability to perform well in that exact moment of the release.”

For those who have embraced the best-practice of using a multi-CDN, the next step is to select the right provider.  Each of the companies listed here offers a global turn-key multi-CDN service tailored to the needs of gaming clients.

For more information on the types of multi-CDNs, see our recent blog Multi-CDN in 2020: Trends, Best Practices, Provider Types.

To speak in more depth with the System73 team, contact us any time!

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