by  Michael Murphy

Ask SME About: Google Cloud in Gaming

  12 min read
Google Cloud Partner

Does Google Cloud come to mind when you think about the world of online gaming? If it doesn’t yet, it will. Google Cloud is critically essential for gaming and how it supports the ever-expanding number of players, users, game developers, and more.

 

Michael Murphy photo

ABOUT SME:

You might ask how am I qualified to write about both Google Cloud and gaming. As SoftServe’s Google Cloud Practice Director, I work hand in hand with Google to strategize and solve technical problems. Being both a Xoogler and a certified Google Cloud Professional Architect helps me in my role as well.

As for gaming, I have a deep background starting from an early age. For many years, I was a semi-professional gamer competing in local gaming events and the Counterstrike CAl-M league. During the peak of World of Warcraft (WOW), I raided for a Top 50 US and Top 5 world guild before concentrating on my technology career. While I am dedicated to Google Cloud in my daily work, I’m still passionate about the gaming industry.


In this blog, I’ll share my insights on frequently asked questions regarding Google Cloud in Gaming. I’ll also answer questions you may have after watching Rob Martin, Chief Architect at Google Cloud, and Activision Blizzard CIO Jacques Erasmus break down Simplifying Complexity in Gaming from Google Next OnAir.

If you haven’t registered for Next OnAir yet, click here to do so.

Without further delay, let’s dive into the questions!

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WHEN DID GOOGLE CLOUD FIRST JOIN THE GAMING WORLD?

 

More recently, Google entered the gaming world when it launched Agones in March of 2018. Unity support was announced a few months later in June of that year. These events came as no surprise since Google had had an ever-increasing presence at GDC leading up to 2018.

But what may be Google’s real foray into gaming was the launch of GCP in 2011. Since then, Google Cloud has been used by game developers for handling and computing raw data and networking.

So while Google has had a much more high profile gaming presence recently, I wouldn’t call them new to the gaming world.
 

WHY DOES ONLINE GAMING NEED GOOGLE CLOUD?

 

One of the first decisions developers must make is deciding whether they are developing a single-player, multiplayer, massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), or mobile game.

One could argue that single-player games do not require much in cloud resources, yet it can be beneficial to use Unity for developing it, especially if you're not building a brand new engine.

For any other game that uses multiplayer capability, I would consider using Google Cloud crucial—especially if you’re outsourcing hardware, DC management, etc.
 

WHAT’S CHANGED IN ONLINE GAMING OVER THE LAST FEW DECADES?

 

Much has obviously changed over time. The scale of gaming—such as the number of players, the complexity of the environment, use of open world, etc.—has increased dramatically. Types or formats of games have also changed, which you can see specifically in the new Battle Royale format.

Modes also continually evolve, going from the Deathmatch of yesteryear to new mode types today.

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WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU COULD HAVE DONE WITH OLDER GAMES THAT YOU CAN DO NOW WITH GOOGLE CLOUD?

 

Matchmaking was absolutely something I wish I had access to in older legacy games. Modern technology, ports, and re-releases do help to bring that functionality into today, but it would have been nice to have these multiplayer dynamics in the past.

A further developed consumer internet and Agones in those days would have made a world of difference.


HOW HAS THE GLOBAL COVID 19 PANDEMIC IMPACTED GAMING, AND HOW MIGHT IT CHANGE THINGS FOR THE FUTURE?

 

Following the global shutdown, many people began to adapt to the new normal. As it happens, some of the most prepared people for this pandemic were gamers. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges. As individuals have more free time, they have been reaching for hobbies.

Two of the first major games released during the pandemic—Animal Crossing for Switch and Final Fantasy 7 Remake—were well received. Animal Crossing’s success created a massive increase in demand for Switches, which are now selling for ridiculous amounts on the second-hand market.

This pandemic has also increased the demand for games, while also reducing supply due to shipping problems. Services like Steam saw huge increases in traffic within the first few weeks of COVID 19. In addition, there have been significant shifts in competitive e-sports as it moves to online tournaments and ranking.

Even in the fringe competitive circuits like Super Smash Bros Melee, there were major aftermarket, online matchmaking advancements. Rollback netcode was eventually implemented and has helped keep the Super Smash Bros Melee community online and competing—though it’s not the way the game was designed to be played.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention!

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WHAT DOES GOOGLE CLOUD OFFER GAME DEVELOPERS TO MANAGE AND SCALE FOR A GLOBAL PLAYER BASE?

 

UNITY SUPPORT

  • Unity and Google partnered to make it even easier for game developers to use the more familiar Unity development engine within the GCP infrastructure.

AGONES

  • Through Agones, Google provides individual game development services such as hosted and integrated matchmaking. Meaning game developers can incorporate matchmaking services in their games more quickly and with significantly fewer resources than starting from scratch.

TRADITIONAL & MODERN COMPUTE

Google has two engines available for management and scaling:

  • Google Compute Engine (GCE): Virtualized servers that many developers feel are “tried and true”
  • Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE): Kubernetes installations, managed by Google, that are easy to use and scale

EDGE COMPUTING

  • Edge computing is a brand new field for game designers and developers to begin incorporating realistic, real-time feedback and data directly into dashboards, advanced aI models and gameplay for instant use. For example, the design of sports games can be influenced by what’s happening in real-world games. Additionally, action games can see real-world weather impacts on their games or simulation games that mimic actual traffic flows. It could even include e-sports broadcasters using real-time player data during significant events. The possibilities are endless.

GLOBAL SHARD MANAGEMENT

  • Multiplayer and online games now increasingly require complex database structures that track player entitlements, states, and inventory data. Google Cloud Spanner is the first scalable, enterprise-grade, and globally distributed database service built for the cloud to combine the benefits of relational database structure with a non-relational horizontal scale.

NEXT-GEN AI AND DATA MANAGEMENT

There are four central AI and data management options for game developers using Google Cloud:

  • DataFlow, Google’s robust and easy to use ETL
  • BigQuery: Googles next generation storage, analytics, and data processing option, allowing users to centralize, query, and gain insight from their data, at a global scale
  • AutoML: Google’s approach to simplifying machine learning and enabling game developers to start with pre-trained machine models and then add their unique data set to it and easily create an operational and effective machine model
  • Standard ML: The service for game developers to create custom, ML models from scratch using Google’s scalable infrastructure, with the added benefit of utilizing Google’s next-gen purpose-built hardware and Tensorflow Processing Units (TPU) to train models efficiently


HOW CAN SMALL DEVELOPERS AND STARTUPS USE THESE FEATURES TO THEIR ADVANTAGE?

 

I believe small developers can use the on-demand resources of Google Cloud to immediately have access to the same level of technology and scale as AAA developers. You can start a project using Unity on top of Google Cloud with no physical hardware required.

You can also use technology like Agones to shorten development times and provide the same components as the blockbuster games.


HOW DO YOU SIMPLIFY INFRASTRUCTURE COMPLEXITY WITH GOOGLE CLOUD?

 

You simplify it by using the standard cloud thing of picking a platform or technology provider who has on-demand and easy to use tools.

Providers like Google handle not only pure computing, but also code repo, build management, DNA, load balancing, and more.

Google Cloud can also fill in most of the tools needed—with third-party tools as well—that give you a full technology stack that’s ready to go.

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HOW DO SERVICES AND KUBERNETES MANAGEMENT RELATE TO MATCHMAKING FOR GAMING DESIGNERS?

 

Agones’ aim is to simplify the difficult parts of game development. Matchmaking is one area that requires not only development resources but infrastructure and scaling support as well.

Utilizing a standardized, pre-developed service where you only need to bring your logic makes sense. Having an engine to manage and control it like Kubernetes (K8s) might not have been a big piece of game development before, but it will be as time passes and more see the value of its time-saving capability.


WHAT IS UNITY, AND HOW DOES IT INTERACT WITH GOOGLE CLOUD?

 

Unity is a game engine. It packs all the resources you need to develop a game. And by using an existing engine, you avoid having to design your own from scratch.

In Unity, you create your own story, visuals, motions, and unique content to create a finished game. It also offers a plugin to utilize cloud network resources instead of traditional private hardware.


HOW DOES BRINGING LOGIC TO OPEN MATCHMAKING WORK?

 

To make Agones your own, you need to bring your unique flair to it. That is what is meant by “bringing your own logic.” It’s the special sauce you bring to the basic shell that allows the finished product to meet your players’ needs.


IF VIDEO GAMES ARE GRAPHICALLY INTENSIVE, THEN WHY WOULD COMPUTE-OPTIMIZED VMS BE CRITICAL?

 

For several applications, CPU intense resources are best. Game servers do not actually require GPU’s as it’s not rendering graphics to a display. However, it is handling the math and computation of shared actions from hundreds to sometimes thousands of players.

Cloud-based virtual machines (VMs) often do not even have a GPU associated with them. However, they can be requested programmatically for workloads that require GPU computation on a resource that does not have a display connected. GPU’s are super handy for some artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) workloads—just as tensor processing units (TPUs) can be—but for most cloud purposes, compute-optimized resources fill the majority of the needs.


WHY WOULD SOMEONE OPT FOR GOOGLE CLOUD'S PREMIUM NETWORK SERVICE TIER OVER THE STANDARD TIER?

 

In gaming, lag is death. There is no room for poor network performance. Milliseconds of a difference can have a dramatic impact on your player base.

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CAN A AAA GAME TRULY USE SPANNER TO REPLACE INTERNAL SHARD MANAGEMENT?

 

Absolutely! Spanner is a revolutionary piece of technology.

I recommend that any game developer—especially those wanting to utilize global cloud tools—to check out Bringing Pokemon Go to Life on Google Cloud for more.

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IN THE GOOGLE NEXT ONAIR SESSION, ERASMUS MENTIONS TPU. WHAT DOES TPU DO IN GAMING?

 

A TPU is a chip that is designed for Tenserflow type computation. Much like a GPU is optimized for graphical computation, a TPU handles high-volume, low precision computation, making it optimized for AI, edge workloads.

Basically, TPU is a specially designed chip optimized for use with AI and edge.


WHAT KIND OF PLAYER INSIGHTS AND DATA CAN YOU CAPTURE USING GOOGLE CLOUD FOR A GAME, AND HOW CAN YOU USE THAT DATA?

 

There is a vast array of data that can be captured directly from a game ranging from a complete physical record of each game session (like how Starcraft 2 captures matches for replays) to player statistics, or even environmental factors.

When you utilize powerful Google Cloud tools such as Big Query, there’s an ocean of possibility for gaining insight from your data. Other potential insights include:

  • Building internal models of the strain of environmental factors on your servers to assess capacity planning
  • Giving your players full replays for their own analysis
  • Creating portals where players can see their statistics and history, perhaps graphing aim or shot placement over an adjustable period of time

There really is no limit to what you can build with the robust data tools that Google offers.

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I hope my answers have made it clear that Google Cloud provides a strong foundation for game developers who want to scale, players who want a seamless experience, and designers looking to handle increased gaming complexity. If you have any additional questions on gaming or any other topic, you can ask those using #AskSMEAbout on Twitter or LinkedIn, and maybe your question will make it to a future blog.

Let’s talk about your development journey, and how Google Cloud can combine its data, analytics, and AI to take your game to the next level.

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