November 14, 2021
Cloud Innovation Technology

Why Games Developers Are ‘Fighting’ Internet Lag

Gaming software is serious. Although derided by some as child’s-play, the gaming industry is one of the most advanced sectors in the total technology landscape. Although the IT industry hype machine often concentrates on AI breakthroughs, the efficiencies of increasingly automated cloud services and the proliferation of new shiny devices, the gaming industry is quietly working to become the multi-billion dollar industry that it is.

Today, gaming has become more prominent than the movie and music industry combined and reports suggest that some 2.7 billion people regularly engage in gaming, while gamers themselves now span a wide range of age groups. The market is projected to surpass $200 Billion in revenue by 2023.

Gaming software is like enterprise software

What a lot of non-technical observers often fail to see is the degree to which games software application development uses many of the same tools, techniques, platforms and process that we see being applied to enterprise software application development every day. 

No new version of Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, Red Dead Redemption or Gears of War happens without a huge amount of software code being collated and managed in a changeable repository. It is because of this that Software Change & Configuration Management (SCCM) companies like Perforce are well known for having a finger in both the enterprise software pie… and the gaming software pie, at the same time.

Games developers also use the same kinds of collaboration tools, very similar application performance management & testing functions, equally powerful security robustness & cyber protection layers and cloud service connectivity tools as their enterprise counterparts. The only difference, arguably, is that games developers have more fun with the finished product than their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems pals across the way.

But games have gone online and the rise of Massively Multi-Player Online Roleplaying Games (MMORG) has created a new technology infrastructure requirement in the shape of connectivity… and where connectivity and network transport fails the gamer, they experience network latency or lag issues. Take it from an ardent gamer, network lag is more infuriating than the final “boss level” in any of today’s top titles.

As the world moves to remote work, solving game latency or lag issues will also affect the health and performance of other work applications. Principal at Sydney, Australia and San Francisco headquartered company Telstra Ventures Saad Siddiqui argues that this whole topic is becoming a real issue. His firm is a strategic growth investor in lighthouse technologies and the team at Telstra Ventures says it is backing some projects and initiatives that could save the day.

The #1 challenge for gamers is latency

“There’s a new generation of gamers worldwide and they expect nothing short of a flawless gaming experience. Game developers and publishers are fighting to deliver fresh gaming experiences — and one of the most considerable is the need for fast, resilient networks and global infrastructure. The challenge of lag or latency is the annoying delay between a player’s move and the game’s reaction. It is often reported as the #1 problem faced in multiplayer online games – especially across continents,” said Siddiqui.

So how do we work with this issue in technical and economic terms? Games developers (or perhaps, more prevalently, the executives they work for) rank the need to solve lag as one of their top priorities. Every second lost to lag, or jitter can cost game developers millions in lost revenue. Some games including Fortnite, League of Legends and Call of Duty have looked to industry options to provide a form of “Upgraded Internet” service to deliver an optimized super-charged fast-lane for gamers and reduce that lag. 

One example in the Telstra Ventures portfolio is Subspace, a company and technology which claims to improves latency times and local network performance for gaming via a globally deployed infrastructure for hundreds of millions of gamers. As CEO and founder of Subspace Bayan Towfiq explains, “The Internet is loose federation of independent networks that was designed for resilience, but not for real time applications.” 

Towfiq balances the gaming side of network lags with more life-critical applications. He says that users in many parts of the world can not use online gaming, use play-by-play betting applications or (and the serious side, which depends on the same connectivity factors) access telemedicine services.

Weather mapping and pathfinding the Internet

“Subspace is building a parallel ‘speed of light’ Internet that supports real-time application requirements natively. We’re deploying infrastructure in hundreds of cities and from those locations, we’re using our software to ‘weather map’ the Internet and find the ‘fast paths’ before then working to pull game traffic through those paths. But we can’t just fix the Internet with pathfinding, we go a couple of layers deeper and have also built a networking stack that understands the needs of applications…  and so coordinates on a global scale,” added Towfiq.

Game publishers now want to manage their network routing and get greater visibility into global network traffic. Telstra Ventures’ Siddiqui says this is where NS1, another portfolio company, is playing a role in upping the ante on delivering a consistent gaming experience. NS1 changes the way infrastructure is deployed and then optimised. It helps companies that want to build their own capabilities and relationships with network providers to improve game performance.

“With 2.7 billion people worldwide into online gaming, game publishers are fighting to get the highest number of players and engagement. There’s a massive opportunity for companies that can provide real-time player insights via a range of digital sources to measure, for example, how people are using games or apps. This data can significantly help with marketing efforts by the game publishers. One such company is Singular, which provides a platform that aggregates all audience data into a single dashboard,” said Siddiqui.

The global uptake of 5G will push the price of gaming headsets down while also help on-screen resolution to increase, which will contribute to an even better gaming experience.

Siddiqui postulates and says that the conversation is already shifting to what 6G might look like and how it will be delivered. Another Telstra Ventures company Cohere is today working with mobile operators to increase “spectral efficiency” by mathematically mapping mobile networks – and this technology will be part of the emerging 6G conversation. He concludes by saying that this approach does to the network what Google did to the Internet: make the Internet searchable by mapping a mathematical model onto the location of all of the information on the web.

Gamifying everything in the future

Could this whole issue of online game connectivity become more of an issue in and of itself going forwards? Yes, wouldn’t (arguably) be an unreasonable answer to that question. Quite apart from gamers themselves driving this requirement, we are seeing the wider use of highly connected real-time online applications (such as the betting example earlier references) all the time.

Combine the above truism with the need for telemedicine, increased home and remote working in the wake of Covid-19 and the wider gamification of enterprise applications to encourage people to use work software in more always-on community-connected ways… and you can see why we need a cure for jet lag (as always, that’s mainly daylight, walking and lots of water) as well as newfangled Internet lag.