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What Can the Video Game Industry Teach Us About Data Management?

In this special guest feature, Murli Thirumale, GM of the Cloud Native Business Unit at Pure Storage’s Portworx, offers 7 trends in gaming to watch — even if you never pick up a controller. Murli is responsible for strategy, operations, and solutions that deliver multi-cloud data services for Kubernetes. Murli joined Pure Storage following the company’s acquisition of Portworx, Inc. in September 2020.

Gaming is one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet, estimated to surpass $200 billion in revenue in 2023. But its contributions extend far beyond entertainment. The industry is fertile ground for experimentation with many emerging trends and technologies. In gaming, experience and data never take a back seat, and if gaming developers can get this right with millions of active users and terabytes of real-time streaming events, the enterprise needs to take a closer look. 

How Is Gaming Winning?

Early on, games came in cartridges. There was no “saving your place.” Multiplayer games were limited to how many controllers you could plug in. Gameplay data had next to no lifespan.

Today, gaming is online, high-def, runs on complex scripts, and connects people globally in live-streamed tournaments. That’s millions of people, concurrently streaming terabytes of data, all with high expectations.

This makes gaming a natural for testing what’s possible in terms of resilience and efficiency. Developers have battle-tested the limits of data storage and streaming capacities with virtual casinos and fantasy universes. And they contend with real-world issues like user authentication, availability during traffic spikes, and security for transactions and user data. 

When staying relevant means delivering the richest user experiences possible, this industry makes an excellent case study for next-gen technologies. Here are 7 trends in gaming to watch — even if you never pick up a controller.

1. AI’s sweet spots – content generation and analytics – turn unstructured data into improved experiences

Game developers are finding ways to employ AI for greater efficiency and quality, from voice AI enablement to performance marketing. Most strikingly, employing AI to auto-generate content is populating scenery much faster, resulting in subtle details that keep players more engaged than repetitive, cookie-cutter graphics. In the past, a designer would need to hand-sketch and render 3D trees in a landscape.

Then there are the algorithms that process and interpret data that’s constantly collected as users play. Neural networks learn from gameplay logs to create new, more difficult levels —and tweak games to improve engagement. 

Modern games capture a variety of data: logs, interactions, events, and in-game transactions. Millions of active users generate millions of real-time events per hour that are “phoned home” for analysis. That’s a lot of unstructured data.

Managing these streaming data workloads efficiently to accelerate software development is critical. Supercell, the company behind Clash of Clans leans on AWS analytics during development to gather global insights from billions of events and terabytes of data and make improvements to gameplay.

Supercell is known for being hyper-efficient and relying on small, autonomous teams as it drives massive revenue. Using tools like AI to automate repetitive tasks and data to drive insights can help companies of any size free up development teams and designers to do what they do best – innovate and create richer experiences for users and customers.

2. QA, testing, and continuous improvement/continuous development (CI/CD) should be table stakes

Testing is critical in game production, but it’s not just player-centric. Rigorous tests uncover bugs and quirks that can make ratings (and revenue) tank. Continuous improvement pipelines and microservices environments together make it possible for publishers to push software updates seamlessly to users.

Look to what game publishers are doing — from combinatorial and functional testing techniques early on to compatibility, regression, and performance testing at later stages. When user experience is critical to success, having the right testing methods and underlying infrastructure shouldn’t be an afterthought. A recent report by Testlio on the state of app testing indicated that half of users won’t download an app with a 3-star rating.

Bottom line: cutting software testing is risky. That’s why it’s important for organizations with user experiences at that core to invest in log analytics pipelines to enable continuous, high-speed testing of code to automate and accelerate functional, stress, and ecosystem testing.

3. Track emerging breakthroughs to understand technological milestones and where the road bumps are

Take blockchain for instance; game developers have faced many early roadblocks with it, but they’re still making breakthroughs. That progress may encourage the adoption of the kinds of blockchain-based smart contracts we’ve been hearing are coming for years. 

Why? Because blockchain can help prevent fraud and accelerate and assure the integrity of transactions, among other things. For gambling games, where unbiased odds are vital, blockchain can provide verifiable randomness to ensure results are fair.  The use cases will only proliferate from here.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) offer a secure, interoperable way to purchase, sell, and trade in-game assets you earn, win, or buy. While blockchain-based tokens have hit some bumps, especially in terms of scalability, digital currency transactions have the potential to be secure, fraud-proof, and immediate. Even if it ends up a mere milestone to new and better innovations, it’s an inspiring trend to watch.

4. Deploy microservices and containers to enable continuous innovation

Microservice-based architectures allow developers to deliver software updates without disruption. Roblox, for example, is a gaming platform with more than 150 million monthly active users. When developers need to update a service, doing it via microservices means millions of players aren’t kicked offline mid-game. Individual features exist independently in containers, all stored and managed within one platform. This makes the possibilities for continuous innovation and collaboration virtually endless.

Microservices bring benefits both in agility and resilience – enabling IT teams to build and run the applications their users want and need to stay ahead of competitors more easily. By limiting the dependencies of any service on other parts of the system, you can change microservice architectures quickly in response to a feature request or a newly discovered bug.

5. Give your storage the ability to scale without limits

What’s behind multiplayer tournaments that connect huge numbers of people around the world? Super-scalable data solutions. At any given time, 10 million active users may be playing Fortnite, generating 92 million events a minute. And that’s just one game. Multiply that by the degree of immediacy that’s expected, and a delay that seems marginal elsewhere can be catastrophic.

With the dependency of online gaming networks on the performance of cloud-based data centers and the infrastructure needed to keep them running smoothly, the industry is an example to follow in how to seamlessly manage massive amounts of data. It requires a robust infrastructure. Many platforms rely on multiple data centers in different availability zones to maintain that seamless experience.  

6. As-a-Service models are a win-win for your business and your users

The goal for game developers is to get a game on the market, monetize it, and keep users hooked. Success means finding ways to lower the barrier to entry, reduce friction, and sell subscriptions. 

Subscription programs can be a win-win: Users get access to the latest and greatest and they’re not left with old consoles that need upgrades. In turn, gaming platforms get loyal users and sustainable business models. 

However, success depends on a model that’s 100% user-centric. What remains to be seen is whether GaaS can economically sustain the bandwidth gamers will require from a Netflix-style model in which, McKinsey notes, users likely spend many more hours than they spend on Netflix.

The gaming experience emphasizes a trend toward experience over ownership that anyone can learn from. As Michael Blank at EA Sports has said, “The need to own is being supplanted with a need to experience things and a desire to try.”

7. Prepare for the cloud to drive everything

Games are migrating off consoles to cloud-based streaming services, bringing high-resolution games to users via fast, reliable internet connections on any device — not just consoles. With gaming platforms going through digital transformations of their own, many leading studios rely on numerous, dispersed data centers to deliver hundreds of gigabytes of data every second. Success will require even better data solutions that can support hybrid-cloud models — and the power of 5G. A recent report from Deloitte offers insights any enterprise might benefit from as it highlights how cloud gaming might unleash disruption across the media landscape.

There’s an important lesson underscoring all of this about putting users first. Use them as your guiding light behind every script, test, UX design element, infrastructure investment and subscription.

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