Google has a brand new service offering — and as families in lockdown turn to heavy gaming for domestic entertainment, it might just be a big one.
The new managed service is designed to support companies needing to radically scale up servers for multiplayer games, and is based on a new Google-developed open source project, “Agones” — a Kubernetes-centric game server toolkit.
Servers for multiplayer games need to be adaptable and scalable at short notice: Activision’s recently released Call of Duty: Warzone, hosted more than 30 million players in its first two weeks, for example, while EA’s Apex Legends unexpectedly hit 25 million players just after its launch in 2019.
Agones –the Greek word for contest – is an open-source project that uses Google’s Kubernetes engine to host games and scale them up to meet peak demands. The project began as a collaboration between Google and games developer Ubisoft and was designed as a “community-developed alternative to proprietary solutions” and was launched in 2018.
The open-source project lets developers host and scale game server clusters over an array of environments be that on premises, local machines or across multiple clouds.
A key advantage for developers and studios to run a dedicated game server in Kubernetes is that is helps to simplify the entire online operation. A modern multiplayer game does not just consist of a server lobby in which players meet and compete. Today there are a tonne of supporting services such as marketplaces (in-game and static), account management and inventory that has to be saved and sometimes ported across platforms. Kubernetes is capable of running all of these support services and the server from one platform, which helps to reduce the complexity of the task.
While the project is in beta it will only support clusters that are running on Google’s Kubernetes Engine. Google say it plans to develop hybrid and multi cloud support later in the year. Scott Van Woudenberg of Google noted that at the moment you can “group these clusters into a concept we call realms—logical groupings of Kubernetes clusters, designed around a game’s latency requirements. You can then define game server configurations and scaling policies to simplify fleet management across realms and the clusters within them, all while still maintaining control and visibility.”
From a gamer’s perspective it’s an odd time right now as two new consoles (Xbox and PS5 hardware) are due to be released by Sony and Microsoft at the end of the year. Yet at the same time a host of Netflix style on-demand streaming services are being pushed as alternatives to hardware, as cloud hosting technology reaches viability.
Google has launched its own service called Google Stadia, which they say has instances that tap a custom x86 Intel CPU running at 2.7GHz. This performance is joined with a custom AMD graphics silicon capable of 10.7 teraflops of raw compute. However, its reception has been lacklustre, as users complain of latency issues, pricing and a lack of games. Google has just launched a Stadia makers program – dev kits, support and funding – in a bid to attract small game developers to boost the games library.
GPU giant Nvidia has also entered the game with the launch of GeForce Now, a service that spins up virtual machines within its cloud infrastructure in order to replicate the hardware needed to run high performance PC games. An important feature of this offering is the ability for players to access their own Steam or Epic games libraries.
However, since Nvidia’s GeForce Now launch in February it has been hit with a number of setbacks; primarily requests from large game developers that Nvidia pull access to their games from its library. So far 2K Games, Activision Blizzard and Bethesda have told Nvidia to stop providing instances of their games. This is quite a blow as these developer make games like the Call of Duty series, Starcraft, World of Warcraft, Bioshock, Fallout, Civilization and Borderlands to name but a few.