And the 2013 Game of the Year Award goes to…

If you weren’t able to join us at the TIGA Games Industry Awards ceremony celebrating the best in UK game development, you definitely missed out.  It was a great opportunity for the community to take a break from coding and come together for some good fun and networking.

The award ceremony was attended by an array of innovators in the industry from students, to small studios all the way up to some of the larger main stream studios (BornReady, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, Gameloft, Sumo Digital), each competing in their various divisions for “Best Game by category” awards.

A record-breaking number of public votes were cast for the TIGA Game of the Year award honouring Hungry Shark Evolution created by mobile game developer Future Games of London.  The peer award came as icing on the cake for Future Games after Ubisoft acquired the company last month stating, “Future Games of London brings a popular and profitable franchise to Ubisoft’s portfolio, and supplements our mobile group with a very talented team that has a deep understanding of mobile and free-to-play mechanics.”  Congratulations!

Level 3’s own Simon Clarke gave out the award for the Best Social Game in the Large Studio category to winner Mediatonic for their Amateur Surgeon 3 release.  Retooled for mobile devices, with Amateur Surgeon 3 you don’t need to be a medical doctor to play one on your phone.  All you need is stapler, a pizza cutter, a chainsaw, some fab healing gel and a really good partner.  Excellent game, guys!

 

Simon Clarke, Level 3 Client Executive presents Best Social Game award to Mediatonic.

Simon Clarke, Level 3 Client Executive presents Best Social Game award to Mediatonic.

Above all the night proved to us that the UK games business has really taken hold and the region is making notable contributions to the industry as a whole.  To learn more about how Level 3 serves the Gaming community contact us at www.level3gaming.com.

Mobile is Powering Gaming Growth in 2013… Trend or Bubble?

According to Newzoo’s 2013 Global Games Market Report, the market for smartphone and tablet games is forecasted to grow 35% this year.  The global numbers aren’t in, of course, but there are some interesting early signs for a banner year in mobile gaming growth, or a mobile bubble, depending on your penchant for scepticism.

Paris-based Gameloft announced record-breaking revenue during the third quarter of 2013 with a 31% year over year increase in mobile games proceeds comprising 69% of overall sales.  Japanese SoftBank Corp recently purchased a 51% stake in Finnish mobile game maker Supercell, essentially doubling down on the category from its initial mobile games investment in Gung Ho Entertainment.  On Bloomberg TV last month, Kabam CEO Kevin Chou stated that investors are favourable toward potential mobile gaming IPOs and indicated that his company was considering an offering.  In the interview, Chou announced that Kabam is tracking toward 70% growth this year and continues to operate profitably quarter over quarter.  Speculation has turned into a near certainty as the UK gaming company King.com is expected to file an IPO in the US under the Jumpstart Our Business Start-ups (JOBS) Act.

An important aspect of this trend that lends itself to sustainability is globalization and the economic accessibility of a smartphone over a game console.  A study from The Diffusion Group shows that, in 2012, one billion smartphones were in use around the world and in 2013 the industry will collectively ship another one billion, ramping annually to 1.75B by 2017.  eMarketer claims that over 50% of all US mobile phone users play games.  Factored across global smartphone owners, you have a business, not a bubble.

With this demand in mind, coupled with our growing video business, we knew we needed to expand our Content Delivery Services.  We recently announced  new points of presence in cities in Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America, some of which may be surprising.  Our goal is to ensure that our Gaming Solutions are available around the world so that gaming companies can grow to reach new fans.

Level 3: Proud Members of TIGA

In the early days of the Internet boom, as we built our global network, some of us grew excited by the heady notion that this would enable the democratization of content because we could give creators direct access to consumers.   As long as the technology supporting digital content creation evolved, we would be ready with the right network services along with an economic model that allowed for profitable distribution of content to consumers worldwide.   Along the way we optimized our network services and commercial models to support the digital content economy.  Today, we remain committed to that vision with a focus on enabling large and emerging game developers and publishers to grow their businesses through digital distribution.

So, it should be no surprise that we would join like-minded TIGA.  TIGA is the UK Games Industry trade association that actively advocates for its members in government and media as well as provides consultative, business and networking opportunities.  The organization was instrumental in the adoption of a Games Tax Relief by the UK government in March 2012, a measure that is designed to stimulate games development in the UK.

TIGA’s team recognizes that digital distribution has opened up the industry to new entrants, effectively gaming entrepreneurs, who are creating fantastic games with the hopes of building viable studio businesses.  We believe, as does TIGA, that the health of the industry is largely dependent upon both the success of Indie developers and regional market growth.

Games companies are increasingly reliant on robust servers and networks to provide the best gaming experience so it’s now more important than ever for the industry to invest in driving customer conversion through reliable downloads, exceptional website performance and security.

We are proud to become the first network infrastructure member of TIGA.  We hope that through the association we can continue to help game developers and publishers grow their businesses through digital distribution.

Come celebrate with us at TIGA’s 2013 Games Industry Awards held in Heatherden Hall at Pinewood Studios on Wednesday 6 November where we will be giving out a special award. The ceremony will focus on the best games launched over the past year, highlight best practices and reward those in the industry who are contributing to long-term innovation.  It promises to be an exciting program and we look forward to seeing you there! For more information contact us.

Building a Profitable Business Architecture for Gaming in the Cloud

Scaling is one of the top reasons why gaming companies use cloud computing infrastructures. Yet, it can quickly become an enemy against achieving profitable revenue.  Paradoxically, with the cloud, the more successful you are, the more likely your business could be at risk.

According to the blog Lessons from Zynga and Sony, Zynga’s former public cloud computing infrastructure and associated services cost grew to $63M annually.  Around the same time, Zynga was experiencing record breaking growth, with 83 million monthly unique users.  At Interop last year, former CTO Allen Leinwand spoke openly about how the company migrated its public cloud architecture to a hybrid environment in his talk Hybrid Clouds Are “the New Black”“We were renting where we should own,” says Leinwand.  By building their own cloud infrastructure, Zynga could optimize the cloud for their own needs and reduce operational costs.  This move resulted in an increase of utilization by 3x, essentially requiring 1/3 of the servers in-house that they would have “rented” from a cloud service provider for the same workload. There’s more to it. One could argue that Zynga, by privatizing their cloud, added costs when they purchased the servers. Fair enough. However, by taking control, they were able to speed provisioning, establish a platform to more effectively roll out new games and depreciate the expenses associated with buying the servers.

This is not just a “Big Company” problem.  Every gaming company is grappling with the cost of public cloud services and how to determine when it is better to own, rather than rent, server capacity.  I recently read an interesting cost analysis on the Blippix Blog.  Blippex is a search engine startup that ranks pages based on human behavior, in this case how long individuals stay on a webpage.  Their infrastructure costs are measured in thousands, not millions.  Even so, they too found that they could optimize their infrastructure, reduce their costs and improve performance by moving into a dedicated environment.  Be sure to check out the math in their blog.

A key advantage to the public cloud is “to be able to start new servers with a mouse click.” It could take a month or more to go live in your own environment.  While it may not make sense to run your business on a cost-per-CPU basis, there are plenty of scenarios where taking advantage of public clouds is advantageous such as peak off load, test and dev, and project-based workloads.

Also important to note is the operational expense of managing your own environment to include system administration and security.  Some gaming companies just don’t want to spend opex on operations expertise; they would rather spend their resources on developers.  Caution, there is a cost to this convenience.

Companies around the world, in every industry, are trying to determine the most efficient and secure way to take advantage of this vast, easy to provision, elastic cloud computing resource, the cloud.  At Level 3, it is our job as a provider of cloud connectivity and cloud services to stay as flexible as possible for our customers as they build out cost effective architectures that drive profitable businesses.

Is the MMO Launch the new Beta Test?

Perhaps that’s just what Rockstar’s GTA5 Online launch is teaching us.  We fully anticipated that last week would be about watching Grand Theft rack up MMO subscribers at the pace of the ticking National Debt clock.  It did not turn out that way.  Why is it so challenging to launch Massively Multiplayer Online Games?

It seems to be a combination of code, capacity and connectivity.  Take into consideration the complexity of today’s game software and the wild card of user behavior.  What is the fastest and cheapest way to uncover what’s broken in the multiplayer aspects of a new game?  Send the largest group of subscribers possible out on the Internet at the same time to play it!  Despite usability studies, group behavior in games can still be unpredictable.  There is just no practical way to stress test or apply QA measures to identify all of the potential scenarios in the MMO experience.

Make no mistake, it is nearly impossible to predict the number of simultaneous players at launch.  Issues caused by constrained server capacity are bound to happen.   Lately, however, marquis franchise MMO launches been plagued with difficulties affecting a large part of the fan base.   Gamers are very vocal in expressing their displeasure.  The cost of a newly released AAA title is material to many gamers and the expectation is that studios should be prepared to handle everyone who paid to play.  Fair.   But from a business perspective, because of the volatility of traffic flow, there is a limit to the return on investment from a large scale infrastructure build out. Studios can “rent” server capacity on a short term basis with Amazon or Azure to handle peak overflow, but again these options do have cost implications.

Content delivery networks (CDNs) have solved network connection congestion problems for widely requested content such as game, patch downloads and other cacheable content.  In MMO game play, if a flash crowd does develop and studios must add server capacity online quickly, IP access augments could be needed, causing reported network connectivity issues.

How long will fans tolerate less than stellar MMOG launches and what can we do to help improve the experience?  At the risk of over simplifying the process, perhaps there can be a creative commercial structure put into place between cloud gaming companies, console providers, studios and networks providing every gamer immediate online access to a high quality gaming experience at a low fee.  Or, maybe none of this really matters because despite its online launch challenges, Forbes reports that in just three weeks, GTA 5 surpassed its lifetime sales figures for GTA 4 in the UK, and it isn’t even available on PC yet.