‘Performance Matters’ Series: Online and Social Game Development

Whoa! Have you seen the trends related to the growth of online and social games? Red hot! It seems online gaming is replacing the precious entertainment hours we’ve historically spent in front of our TVs. There are hundreds of millions of adults playing online and social games everyday, worldwide. This is big business and competition is fierce – try Googling ‘online games’ and you will find more than 200 million results.

Expectations: High. Patience: Low 

Game developers know they are in a Hollywood-like business – they need to deliver new hits with each release to capture and engage a fickle online audience for whom patience is not a virtue. With today’s games, the user expects the app to be immediately engaging, responsive and fast. The game producers must make sure the initial experience is engaging, but the response times are up to the dev teams.

Companies like Wooga (with tens of millions of active users) need to closely measure their online game’s app’s performance – from the browser end-user experience all the way to the line of application code.  With over 50 premier gaming companies as paying customers (and scores of game titles being managed and monitored by New Relic customers), we have unique perspective into the game development environment.  Here’s some examples of trends we see:

Multi-language, multi-platform

Most of the bigger game dev shops have multiple scripting languages in play, across multiple teams focused on each game title.  The industry is in constant consolidation mode, where a PHP game developer gets bought by a Ruby shop, who runs a Java backend.  The team responsible for app management and performance is often the same team that developed the game, so they need a single tool that allows them to see the multi-language app in one screen:  We do that well.

Hybrid Cloud/Datacenter models

Game popularity is not predictable with any certainty.  When a new title launches, the dev team will often launch in a cloud environment (say… Amazon AWS or through someone like Joyent or Engine Yard) – gauge interest and demand, and then (and only then) provision resources to bring it in-house to a datacenter they control.  This gives them flexibility to scale up and down with demand while managing expenses.

Many external service calls and dependencies

The recent hockey-stick growth in online games is partially the result of social network usage.  By reducing the friction in getting started with a new game, initial adoption goes way up.  To achieve this, identity and the user’s place in the social graph is inherited from APIs from Facebook (and to a lesser extent today – Google+ and Twitter).  This has an added benefit of driving viral spread as the game updates the users status. The only problem is all these connections are expensive from a performance perspective, which can result in a sub par experience if not managed properly.

Given these complex, fast-moving environments, game development teams need to be agile and need tools that allow them to be remain flexible as they scale up the next hot game.  Over 50 companies have adopted New Relic and our ecosystem of partners to meet this need, and we have learned from them as well.  While we don’t typically market our services by ‘vertical’, we’re excited to be helping these companies grow really, really fast.

For more context, here’s a video interview from earlier this year. Brian Doll checks in with Jesper Richter-Reichhelm, Head of Engineering at Wooga:


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