How edge and open caching technology can help the gaming experience

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How edge and open caching technology can help the gaming experience

By Jocelyn Tice, Director, Strategic Accounts, Qwilt

Although much of the mainstream media interest has focused on the growth of SVoD services such as Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video, all three powerhouses share another commonality: they have signaled interest to move into video gaming in a big way over the next few years. In August 2023, Netflix launched the first tests for its cloud-streamed games, allowing you to play games via TV or on the web. It’s part of a wider strategy designed to help Netflix more easily compete with other non-mobile gaming platforms.

Another example is Amazon’s fledgling Luna cloud gaming services, officially launched in March following a pre-COVID beta. Luna is tied to Amazon’s Prime Video service – allowing up to four games to be played for free each month. In August, Netflix launched a beta of its cloud gaming offering, allowing Canadian and UK subscribers to play games on their TVs using the Netflix Game Controller app on several devices, including Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, LG TVs, Nvidia Shield TVs, Roku devices and TVs, and Samsung Smart TVs. Meanwhile, Disney, the world’s largest media company, as reported by Bloomberg News, may be looking to acquire the gaming heavyweight EA.

The rationale is largely financial. In 2023, gaming revenues hit $396 billion compared to SVoD’s $107 billion. Unlike SVoD, gaming generates more transactional revenue through live service games replete with in-game purchases for better equipment, perks, and cosmetic upgrades. To offer a sense of scale, the last incarnation of the Grand Theft Auto franchise – GTA 5 – sold 190 million copies and generated around $8 billion in revenue. This is a 10-year-old game that still pulls in around $1 billion a year through its live service model.

Gamechanger: Navigating through the cloud

The cloud is the natural choice for the SVoD leaders heading into gaming, offering many benefits. It ties subscribers into the familiar subscription model pioneered by Microsoft and Sony through their respective Xbox Live and PS Plus monthly subscription services. Cloud gaming also removes the need for a dedicated gaming console or powerful PC while negating potential piracy issues.

However, cloud gaming still has several challenges to overcome. Cloud games streamed like a video from a centrally running server have been plagued by poor experiences. Services like Google Stadia have closed partly due to a limited and inconsistent gaming experience. The problem is that latency and jitter of data streaming to and from the distant cloud have made games “unplayable” for some gamers, leading to negative reviews and, ultimately, lack of adoption.

Gaming edge infrastructure

However, improvements are coming with the advancement of edge computing. In 2021, one of China’s largest technology and entertainment conglomerates presented a paper on how it had used edge computing to move gaming servers closer to gamers – instead of through a centrally managed cloud. Using edge dramatically reduced the RTT (Round Trip Time) of a popular multiplayer game by a staggering 90%, leading to a smoother gaming experience.

In a paper presented at the  2020 MWC (GSMA) event, the case study highlighted that “…In addition, the lightweight edge cloud provides cloud games with VM (Virtual Machine), containers, bare metal resources, and acceleration capabilities. It dynamically allocates resources in accordance with game loads and schedules resources on-demand to implement resource sharing and fully exploit valuable edge resources.”

Although this was a PoC based on an undisclosed and presumably proprietary technology platform, the SVTA’s Open Caching work – which has primarily been deployed for video – could offer the basis for cloud gaming based on more open standards. The application of Open Caching to the cloud gaming use case makes practical sense as the gaming problem is mostly one of interactive media streaming that requires low latency, high capacity, and superior quality streams. Open Caching was designed to satisfy all of these conditions.

Empowering gaming experiences

Another area where edge can improve the cloud gaming revolution is through more localized provisioning of gaming servers. Although still at an early stage, publishers are testing the idea of hosting game servers directly within the operator network instead of in a centralized cloud. The concept is particularly attractive in areas with a smaller player base in which the main cloud might be hosted in another country – leading to unacceptable lag for this local gaming community.

So, instead of the common trend of having a central European or North American server cluster hosting thousands of players, the game could have local edge “shards” hosted by CSPs throughout major European and North American cities. The edge shards would then scale up based on local demand while offering better performance with lower latency. Another concept under test is rapid scaling edge servers based on demand at the initial game launch or when expansion packs become available, which boosts concurrent player numbers as former players return en-masse.

Both concepts are still under development, but with both latency and capacity as critical issues for online gaming – and more so with cloud gaming – the idea of placing game servers closer to communities of players is an option that will likely see more exploration.

About the author

Jocelyn Tice is Director, Strategic Accounts at Qwilt, and has over 15 years of experience and demonstrated success in providing consultative solutions including CDN, Storage, Edge, Cloud, Colocation.

DISCLAIMER: Guest posts are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Edge Industry Review (EdgeIR.com).

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