What's Slowing Your Game’s Network Performance?
Updated: Nov 19, 2019
Games demand stable, high performance, low latency networks to ensure the best online experience for their players. Game developers have risen to the challenge with advanced protocols and carefully tuned hosting solutions, but their efforts are often bottle-necked by the public internet, which is optimized for other use cases.
In 2019, bad experiences are still common when playing games online: dropped connections, glitches, lag, “rubber-banding”, and inconsistent performance. In turn, those poor connections cause considerable frustration for players, making it difficult for developers to retain and monetize players.
We believe the solution to better network performance requires a re-thinking of the entire approach -- one that puts the game developer in control of the network.
Existing network solutions have reached their limit
Developers have spent years tweaking their real-time online games to work within the constraints of the internet. Specialized netcode and hosting providers power fast-paced, low latency online games like Titanfall and Rocket League.
Despite these advances, many players still face issues that leave them with a subpar experience: dropped connections, lag, “rubber-banding”, and inconsistent network performance. Specifically, they face a common bottleneck when traversing the largest network-of-networks: the public internet.
The internet is not designed for real-time applications
The public internet is a patchwork of networks, brought to life by contractual agreements between countless providers and infrastructure owners. Providers connect to each other and deliver content to users through a mishmash of methods: public/private peering arrangements, transit connections, direct and virtual circuits, cross connects via exchanges, among many others.
These connections are often bespoke and subject to varying performance characteristics, resulting in uneven game performance, which game developers have no control over or insight into.
Providers are incentivized to build for the common case — high throughput connections optimized to deliver static content at the lowest price. The internet does not distinguish between latency-sensitive game traffic and less sensitive web, email, social media, or video traffic.
Simply put, the internet does not care about your game.
Building networking infrastructure is not the answer
Traditional solutions to the internet bottleneck offer limited success for games. For example, splitting the server fleet between multiple suppliers and locations fragments the player base and adds operational expense in exchange for unpredictable and uncertain performance benefits.
Another option is to buy premium transit from a single cloud provider—often a costly, inflexible solution that offers only limited improvements in network performance.
The situation is poor enough that some developers have taken to building their own infrastructure. For example, Riot Games built their own private internet called “Riot Direct” to service League of Legends players in North America. The company spent years working with various network suppliers and developed custom networking hardware to run in key Points-of-Presence (PoPs).
Even today, Riot maintains the "long and arduous" task of extending its game network to every player. And despite best efforts, Riot Direct is not exhaustive; there are still locales where players suffer from bad experiences, especially in rural and under-developed metros. For most developers, the time, cost, and effort, required to build custom infrastructure outweigh the benefits.
Our CEO, Glenn Fiedler, has written an in-depth piece about these challenges on his blog in a post called "Fixing the Internet for Games."
We believe the solution should do the following:
Let games specify the connectivity requirements they need from the network.
Provide a fair cost to game developers and incentivize infrastructure providers to deliver a market price.
Let games control their hosting without locking them into any specific vendor or infrastructure provider.
Enable transparency into the network and provide insight for potential future expansions.
If a solution could do all of that, it would shift the paradigm, allowing games to control the network instead of the network providing "best effort" only.
Network Next is the marketplace for premium network transit.
Our technology makes it possible for developers to provide a better online experience for their players -- one with lower latency, packet loss, and jitter -- by bypassing the public internet and accessing private networks.
Network Next-enabled games automatically take advantage of premium networks available from the partnered suppliers in our marketplace. Developers (not the internet) specify the performance requirements for their game. Our network competes on performance and price every 10 seconds to meet those requirements and carry the game traffic.
The result is a network of networks that serves the needs of game developers, not the other way round.