How Amazon Web Services is powering some of the world's biggest video games
Leading developers discuss how they're using the company's tech to solve their challenges
Warhammer: Vermintide 2, Angry Birds Dream Blast and Asphalt 9: Legends do not sound like they have an awful lot in common.
One is a co-operative first person action game. The second is a bubble popping family puzzler. And the third is one of mobile's most well-regarded racing simulators.
They're all very different games with very different challenges for very different people.
"With Warhammer: Vermintide 2, we wanted to build a co-operative game that allowed players to come together against a common adversary," says Martin Wahlund, CEO and co-founder of developer Fatshark.
"Not all gamers want to play versus games; some want to collaborate and build both their skills and their teams. When developing Vermintide, we were inspired by titles such as Left 4 Dead. There hasn't been a new release of those titles for 10 years now, and we believed that the genre needed a boost. Vermintide ticks all the boxes we wanted -- FPS, action, co-op, and challenging fun."
Meanwhile, for Asphalt developer Gameloft, the challenges were a little different when it came to creating the ninth game in the popular series.
"With Asphalt 9: Legends, we had a good idea of what we wanted to achieve right from the start," comments Albert Puértolas, Online Technical Director of Gameloft's Barcelona studio.
"It was a case of: 'This is a game which is already working, so what else can we do to justify a sequel? What will make it stand out, apart from just looking better?' During prototyping, players told us they wanted more control over the cars, and to be able to really feel the difference between a car that accelerates rapidly and one that has better handling. We put a lot of time into trying to make those differences more palpable. We even played around with road surfaces."
Elsewhere, Angry Birds Dream Blast is a classic, physics-based tap-a-thon puzzle game designed to widen and add to the lucrative Angry Birds universe. The title has already become a Top 100 grossing game.
"When we set off, we knew we had something different," says Rovio's senior VP of technology and head of development David Mason. "The way the game is played -- the physics and the interaction -- means the elements that make up the game are not the same as other casual games out there today."
Three different games doing different things. Perhaps unbeknown to most players, the common thread among these hit titles is that they run their most critical game workloads on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
In the case of Warhammer: Vermintide 2, Fatshark releases new modes, weapons and maps every four months. The studio views these updates as a way to encourage players to come back. To achieve that, a great game experience is vital.
"After evaluating several different service providers, we realized AWS most closely aligned to our needs," says Wahlund. "Telemetry is used in many aspects of development, including issue detection and debugging, and provides us with an important basis for informed decision making. Our telemetry pipeline is built using a combination of Amazon API gateway, AWS Lambda, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon Elasticsearch Service, and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). We also use Amazon CloudFront to distribute certain content to clients, as well as for web pages and online stores."
Meanwhile, Gameloft's Barcelona studio was most concerned about achieving a smooth launch for Asphalt 9. It had never done a cloud launch before, and with the hope of upgrading players from the previous game to the sequel, they knew they had to get it right.
"We wanted to be fully online, so we knew we needed a cloud service," says Puértolas. "We thought of AWS first. As soon as we started to play around with it and saw what it could do, we realized it was the full package, and decided to run our servers on AWS's Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). It wasn't that we couldn't do it ourselves, it was more that it would have been prohibitively expensive. We typically process thousands of requests a minute - dozens of millions a day. On launch, we had five to 10-times more, and if we'd tried to handle that within the company, we'd have been provisioning for way more than we'd need later.
"We also used Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), before and during the first weeks of launch. We set up bot tests, where we had AI running the game and mimicking human players, and then tried to stress the whole infrastructure, to check everything was scaling in and out correctly, and there were no major issues. We wanted to generate a volume of traffic similar to launch, so we ran hundreds of thousands of bots on AWS. Asphalt 9 was the first time the Barcelona studio had done a cloud launch. Seeing the launch go without any issues, despite the huge surge of users that came in, was a huge relief."
Rovio also turned to Amazon when building its core technology platform that's shared across all its games. Angry Birds Dream Blast utilises cloud services for things like player identity, analytics, ads and cross-promotion, personalisation and live ops, and payments - all of which Rovio built on AWS.
"Each month, we serve tens of millions of players in our games, which means thousands of requests per second from all corners of the globe," Mason explains. "We capture two to four billion analytics events per day with more than 1TB of data, and run more than 1300 instances on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2).
"Over the last four years, we've moved to AWS and have started to template our game server infrastructure. For Angry Birds Dream Blast, the move helped to reduce the hours spent on infrastructure. Part of the joy of this game is that we'd already built an entire template and already had other games running on it, so we could just focus on building the best possible game.
"Our management layer uses AWS Management Console, and our technology stack includes Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon Route 53, AWS Shield, and AWS Networking and Content Delivery. Enabling the deployment of different environments, testing environments, and production environments is done through AWS CodeDeploy and Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS).
Mason concludes: "Technology has enabled us to run the game with global reach to players 24/7. This infrastructure lets us scale at demand to all corners of the earth, because it's so cost-effective. The technology we're using has taken us to market, allowed us to really engage our players, and helped us place in the top 100 grossing games globally. Angry Birds Dream Blast has been a huge achievement and the machine learning, the player experiences, and the technology stack have all helped to write this success story."
For more details on how all three games have been built, including views from these industry leaders on the future of video games, check out the full case studies right here.