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How to scale a game server with Multiplay

October 14, 2021 in Games | 9 min. read
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How do you know the amount of players your multiplayer title will attract? Accurately predicting the number is an appealing prospect because it means you know how much server capacity you’ll need to keep your audience happy and your game online. But prediction methods are unreliable at best and at worst waste your most precious resource - your time. 

Multiplay is part of Unity Multiplayer Services and is the leading expert in game server hosting, helping some of the best and most popular multiplayer titles on the planet stay online. From Respawn and Hi-Rez to Team17, games like Apex Legends, Rogue Company and Overcooked! All You Can Eat rely on our technology to keep costs down while getting the best experience for their players.

We’re going to give you a rundown of how the scaling technology that gives our customers a critical advantage works.

The server challenge

If your game hits server capacity, you may never know the potential of how far your audience could have grown. When a game hits a discoverability moment - maybe a popular streamer starts playing, or a new season drop draws fresh interest - potential for exponential growth through new player word of mouth is triggered. 

If users find they can’t log on to a game, they will quickly bounce and instead of telling their friends about a great new game they’re playing, they’ll be sharing a bad experience and advising their peers to steer clear. 

On the other hand, if you try to over-prepare and have a large amount of servers ready, you’ll burn a hole in your budget, you may end up not needing them, or it still might not be enough to cover an unexpected player spike if your game sees a large uptake. 

There’s a way to handle server load that takes the guesswork out of game hosting, greatly reduces the time you spend thinking about capacity and saves you money. Autoscaling technology allows servers to be brought into use if and when they are needed, and be deallocated when they are not.

The key aspects to think about when looking at auto-scaling are:

  • Knowing when to scale up and down
  • Knowing where to place game servers
  • Solving for cost and/or performance

Technology + Expertise = Multiplay scaling

Even if your game has found a strong and consistent audience, the number of players won’t be a constant or linear trend. It fluctuates over the course of days, weeks and months. With Multiplay, you don’t have to sit crunching the data to work out when you need capacity. Our system is built for gaming and we understand how to make sure a title has enough servers at any given time.

First, let’s define how the Multiplay cloud works in terms of what kind of machines the system utilises. Allocations are made with priority to machines in an always-ready-to-start state, resulting in very low wait times. 

When planned capacity is exceeded, we burst into the cloud to bolster availability and make sure that players aren’t being rejected from joining a game or suffering long wait times, even if your active users are far exceeding your average. Cloud machines can be created and destroyed on-demand, so the system will quickly shut them down when the game session hosted in the cloud ends to keep costs down. We make sure you have enough resources in the right places to optimise player experience.

In this way, your game gets optimum performance without the need to pay for capacity that you don’t need.

It’s being able to keep your buffer size to a small number without worrying about what happens if this number is exceeded that makes Multiplay such a powerful tool in the arsenal of the best multiplayer studios in the world. 

So how do we make sure the system knows if and when to burst into the cloud?

Buffer up

To start, you choose a minimum number of servers you want for your game at any time. What’s the base level of players you have online that you don’t want to dip below? We can adjust this number at any time so don’t worry about it being set in stone.

But this blog is about what happens when you need to scale up or down - so how do we make sure your game is ready when the numbers go beyond your minimum?

The other number you specify is for the amount of servers that form an availability buffer for your game. This essentially creates an empty waiting room ready for your players to populate. Once this buffer is encroached upon by any number, the system will refill it, so you’ve always got a threshold that your availability won’t dip below. 

Scaling technology can also automatically detect where your capacity isn’t being used and adjust down to the optimum number - your minimum setting plus your buffer setting. You only pay for what you use, keeping unnecessary costs down while not risking losing out on players and momentum for your game.

red and green boxes to illustrate buffering in this context

Having this option and being able to set your own numbers for the buffer gives you the flexibility to decide what you think the right level of preparedness is. Got a new content drop coming? Let us know and we can give a bit more wiggle room. About to hit a seasonal drop in player count? Talk to us to dial back your buffer. Being able to free up your headspace to think about what really matters instead of overthinking estimates for player count is a big part of why so many big names use Multiplay. 

Positional play

Having your servers in the right place for your audience is key to delivering fast and satisfying performance for your game. Multiplay operates a global network of servers from 200+ data centers around the world to ensure that wherever your game is played, the people playing get the best connection possible. Our system is full of gaming-specific considerations to help you create the setup you need quickly and easily. 

To make sure your server placement is optimised for scaling, you can create fleet-regions. A fleet-region defines where a set of fleets is based, making sure all the services you need to quickly scale up and down availability for are running on servers based in the same location. This makes it easy to ensure that you’ve got availability in the same place for all the systems you need to get new players up and running (voice comms, party, game server).

Colored boxes illustrating the copy
Colored boxes illustrating the copy

Find out more about the games we help to launch successfully with our multiplayer game server technology. 

If you’re developing a multiplayer game and you want to deliver a best-in-class online player experience, get in touch to find out more about integrating Multiplay.

October 14, 2021 in Games | 9 min. read

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