Level 3 discusses modern (and future) gaming infrastructure

One of the largest global telecommunications and Internet service provider companies, Level 3 is behind-the-scenes offering the infrastructure to keep your gaming sessions running smoothly and securely. TelecomsTech spoke to James Taylor, Director of Cloud Services for EMEA.

Gaming is quickly becoming the most important entertainment industry in the world; with many titles costing more to produce, and grossing more, than blockbuster Hollywood movies.

The latest release of Grand Theft Auto 5 is a great example; costing a whopping £170 million ($270 million) to create; but returning £500 million ($800 million) within 24 hours of release.

The online component of the game is set to launch on October 1st, and the influx will be huge.

Level 3 is known as a Tier-1 network; providing core transport, IP, voice, and video for most of the medium to large Internet carriers in North America, Latin America, Europe, and selected cities in Asia. Through an acquisition of Savvis in 2006, Level 3’s content delivery network provides Netflix video and Apple’s music content among many others.

But how does Level 3 help the gaming industry?

James tells me there are some core products which the company promotes; foremost is the 300 data centres which sit on the company’s IP backbone (the largest in the world) allowing for the fewest “hops” and ultimately providing the most reliable connection available.

Another benefit is the company’s CDN (Content Delivery Network) which is a solution to the “digital marketplace” trend many games follow; with items such as downloadable content and patches. Quite casually, James throws in some heavyweights such as EA and Valve which make use of this Level 3 service running at an almost unfathomable 6 Tbps.

If you follow the gaming space; a lot of talk recently has revolved around the benefits of dedicated servers over the traditional player-hosted servers.

A dedicated server (such as the 100,000 Microsoft are adding for the Xbox One launch) allows the various players to connect to the one server; making an equal play space, and if a player’s connection slows or drops – it doesn’t affect the other participants.

A player-hosted, as is the case with the majority of current console games, relies on the player hosting the match as essentially becoming the server. This gives them the competitive advantage as they are slightly ahead of the other players connections (particularly frustrating in FPS games!) and if the connection slows or drops – it causes everyone else to follow.

James gives me his take: “I can see over time, maybe not day one, they would need that kind of infrastructure. Running 300 data centres globally, and supporting many gaming companies; we can see how big certain deployments and how distributed they have to be sometimes.”

He continues: “From our perspective, we can see a continued growth and requirement – whether it’s dedicated or shared player-servers.”

Another interesting talking point, although less-enthusiastically as of late, is ‘game streaming’ – such as provided by the likes of OnLive and the upcoming Gaikai integration for PS4. I wanted to know James’ thoughts on these services…

He responds: “It’s hard to say at the moment – I guess they are the gaming example of this evolution to cloud-based technologies generally.”

He continues: “I remember reading an article about ‘minimalist households’ that, in the future, your TV will be integrated into your wall. When you get to those sorts of things; when you don’t want boxes and things around; the server-side rendering and the streaming will really take off. At this stage, it’s a nice idea, but it’s not really necessary.”

Personally I’m always relieved when I see a download supports peer-to-peer, torrent-style downloads. Due to being able to grab parts of a file from other users around the world; allows for a much higher throughput and faster overall download. Particularly on game release dates when dedicated servers are being hammered; it helps reduce the load.

Yet on Level 3’s Gaming Services page I noticed it says “you can reduce the dependency of bundling peer-to-peer software with your game installers.”

James clarifies: “Ten years ago I seen P2P being very prevalent, but in recent years it’s on the decline. I guess there are arguments throughput is hypothetically better because you’re not reliant on a single TCIP session which then limits it.”

He continues: “But there’s a lot of downside. People don’t like the fact you have to download the client, and the seeding nature of getting that technology to work.”

Some examples were thrown my way of game studios such as Blizzard; where downloads were never pure P2P but rather ‘peer-assisted’ in that a dedicated server is available as backup for when parts of a file are not available.

One of the biggest issues regarding P2P is security, and the threat of files being manipulated maliciously on the transfer. This got me looking at Level 3’s security features on their network; which they provide protection against DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. I asked whether they are still an ongoing threat…

James gives his thoughts: “Gaming companies are very visible in the internet generally, and so when compared to other enterprises and other sectors – they probably get attacked more often. Look at cases like Sony (who’s PlayStation Network was taken down for nearly a month) and how damaging it was to their brand and credibility.”

He continues: “There are freemium games which they make so much every day, that when they’re down for an hour; they’re losing huge amounts of money.”

To finish up, after some great in-depth answers, I asked which game James personally thinks is currently really “pushing the boundaries”.

He replies: “Wargaming, and their delivery of ‘World of Tanks’. I always thought that was one of the best implementations of the freemium model; the way they created a very high-quality game which they gave away for free and drove (I’m sure no pun intended) internal micro-transactions.”

Time to boot up the Xbox and give it a go!

What do you think about Level 3 and their services towards gaming infrastructure?

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