Why Game Companies Use Content Delivery Networks
April 16, 2016 | Robert Gibb
This post provides an overview of the challenges faced by companies that deliver game content online. It then shows how content delivery networks (CDNs) direct these challenges so game companies can responsibly deliver core game downloads and patches.
The size of game downloads are increasing exponentially as new tech such as 4K and Ultra HD are released. This new technology improves the gaming experience but can damage the pre-gaming experience (downloading the game content). While most gamers won’t abandon a download after paying for it, making gamers wait hours to download content is a downright bad user experience.
Content delivery networks solve this problem. By leveraging content caching and a global network of servers, a CDN gives game companies the ability to quickly deliver core downloads and patches to gamers. In addition, download failures and server crashes are prevented. All of this immediately improves the pre-gaming experience.
Source: Solid State Networks – Rise in core game download size from 2007 to today
Delivering large files quickly is just one challenge faced by game companies. Traffic spikes and slow connections also make things difficult. And while connection speed on the gamer’s end is outside of the company’s control, the CDN makes it possible to deliver large files as fast as possible.
Buyers of Boxed Games Are Affected Too
Most boxed games require large post-installation downloads. For example, the boxed version of Grand Theft Auto 5 is distributed in seven DVDs and still requires users to download a 5GB “Day One” patch during installation. Further, Batman: Arkham Knight has five DVDs and requires a 30GB post-installation download.
For any game, but especially for Batman: Arkham Knight, the sheer size of post-installation downloads upsets gamers. And how long it takes for them to download the files upsets them even more. This can be seen in gaming forums like Steam where gamers get so upset they start publishing semi-incoherent rants (comment #4).
CDNs Take Guess Work Out of Server Placement
Deploying and managing servers that address speed and uptime is resource intensive. It requires upfront costs, ongoing costs, and personnel with experience building and managing global infrastructures. It also requires educated guessing that can lead to a misuse of money.
For instance, how do you know in which countries your game will do well? Do you have a server there? If not, users may experience lag and downtime. By leveraging an existing network of global servers, you don’t have to answer these tough questions. A CDN provides a relatively inexpensive platform to deliver game content at scale.
How a CDN Delivers Game Content
A CDN increases the capacity of the game server with dozens of points of presence (PoPs) across the world. This literally puts the game content closer to the gamer, thereby improving download speed. Here is an example of how it works:
- Gamer #1 in Frankfurt requests game content
- CDN server in Frankfurt pulls game content from original game server in Los Angeles
- CDN server in Frankfurt caches content and delivers to Gamer #1
- Gamer #2 – #100+ in Frankfurt request game content
- CDN server in Frankfurt delivers game content directly to them
This doesn’t just happen in one location (Frankfurt) – this happens across the globe. Multiple download locations prevent server overloads that often occur from a surge of requests, which is important as companies are prone to server overloads on the day of a new release or patch update. And since CDN servers don’t rely on the main server after caching the file, the CDN can continue delivering game content even if the origin server fails.
Have a question about game delivery? Put in the comments and I’ll get you an answer.