Today is National Video Games Day, the day we celebrate the history of video games – mainly by playing online! But this year comes with a twist. In the era of COVID-19, video games allow us to play, compete, interact with friends, learn new things – and scream, groan, sob and jump up and down – all indoors and with the safety of social distancing. Today, video games are helping to keep us sane and entertained, which explains the huge upsurge in online gaming. In light of this trend, companies streaming games need to understand what it takes to provide a seamless user experience at scale.
Gaming is surging as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Nielsen, engagement with video games is at an all-time high[i], with 82% of global consumers playing video games or watching video game content during the height of the quarantine. Further, the number of gamers in the U.S. who say the pandemic led them to play more video games increased by 46% between March 23, 2020 and June 3, 2020. According to NPD Group, sales of video game content reached $9.58 billion in the first quarter, up 11% compared to the previous year.[ii]
Equinix has experienced a corresponding increase in demand. When we compare recent increases in peering traffic, new cross connects and new Equinix Internet Exchange™ ports to what we would have expected, we’ve seen traffic growth for some gaming platforms increase between 2x and 5x compared to their pre-pandemic levels.
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We’ve seen traffic growth for some gaming platforms increase between 2x and 5x compared to their pre-pandemic levels.
Achieving low latency for a higher level of play
Online gaming fails if users experience lag. If you direct your avatar to move left to hide behind a wall but nothing happens and you’re killed, you likely won’t keep playing the game. Ultimately, the problem is the speed of light, the time it takes to move data across distant locations. This great Wired article[iii] takes a deep dive into what it takes to deliver a great gaming experience. In brief, a ping rate of 0 to 20 milliseconds (ms) is excellent, while 20 to 100 ms will cause noticeable lag in many games. So if your infrastructure averages 40 to 60 ms to make a move, that will probably be enough to cause frustration for many gamers.
The solution is for gaming companies to establish multiple network points of presence (PoPs) in third-party facilities that have peering exchanges as close to target gaming populations as possible, so you can get latency down to 20ms or less. The companies with the most global PoPs, lowest latency interconnection and most network peering points will realize the greatest success. Even big gaming providers like Microsoft and Google that own data centers still colocate PoPs with third-party providers that have dense ecosystems of network and cloud providers to achieve the greatest coverage.
It’s also essential for gaming companies to leverage these third-party ecosystems to connect with content delivery networks (CDNs), social networks, game console companies, cloud service providers and smart phone device platforms to ensure fast connectivity to their expanding customer bases.
The recent surge in demand is forcing gaming companies that have been complacent in building out their infrastructures to update their connectivity strategies. In the past, a gaming company might have thought that a PoP with a single leading network provider would be enough because that provider’s peering relationships would take care of downstream connectivity for end users. But with the pandemic-powered surge in activity, users are likely experiencing performance issues because those peering relationships aren’t scaling to meet demand. Solving this requires gaming companies to understand who the top consumer broadband providers are in each relevant geography and be able to directly connect to each one.
The networks themselves have also been presented with a new challenge. Network service providers (NSPs) used to see bandwidth usage nicely distributed, with weekday hours devoted to businesses and nights and weekends devoted to consumers. Now these worlds have collided. Many NSPs are addressing the increase in demand by peering with other network providers via exchanges.
The companies with the most global POPs, lowest latency interconnection and most network peering points will realize the greatest success.
With 210+ data centers in 55+ metros, Platform Equinix® delivers the most geographic PoPs, peering exchanges with the densest ecosystems of network, cloud and content providers. Equinix’s geographic footprint and interconnection solutions also enable gaming companies worldwide to leverage service providers such as Zenlayer to consistently achieve 20 ms or less performance. Companies that colocate PoPs in Equinix International Business ExchangeTM (IBX®) data centers gain access to a variety of interconnection solutions, including Equinix Internet Exchange for peering across shared fabric at 22 Internet Exchange Point locations in 25+ global metros. In addition Equinix Fabric provides access to distributed infrastructure and digital ecosystems via software-defined interconnection, including leading network and cloud providers around the world. And Network Edge allows gaming companies to spin up modern SD-WAN virtual network devices in minutes to instantaneously expand gaming bandwidth capacity.
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Network service providers used to see bandwidth usage nicely distributed, with weekday hours devoted to businesses and nights and weekends devoted to consumers. Now these worlds have collided.