TMCnet Feature
March 12, 2014

Video Game Relies on Cloud for Support

Fans have been itching to get their hands on the upcoming Titanfall. Scores of data centers around the globe have also been prepping for the upcoming release.

Every single Titan bodyguard (who happens to be AI-controlled) relies solely on Microsoft’s (News - Alert) cloud computing platform, Windows Azure, for support. The latest Respawn Entertainment offering, Titanfall has taken the world of cloud hosting by storm and seriously transformed how Satya Nadella (News - Alert), CEO of Microsoft, regards the operation and utility of Azure in the future.

Until November 2013, Azure was used almost exclusively for business, including such basic functions as email hosting. But that’s all about to change.

Although the tech arena mostly focuses on more serious issues such as data breaches, it’s now turning its attention to issues such as whether or not the 10th Titan you interact with has your back. While the Xbox One has always leaned on cloud hosting, which made it a common tool for game developers, using the cloud for a game is a new wrinkle.

Consider the powerful computing chops that a $500 console currently offers to game developers and it’s less of a surprise how quickly technology and entertainment have come together as a perfect match. Now Microsoft can boast that it enables designers to completely alter the way that gamers play.

Getting on stable ground

Released in early March 2014, Titanfall already has gamers talking about the stability of the release. After all, plenty of problems surfaced with SimCity, Battlefield 4, and Diablo III, so it’s understandable that people might be wary about this one.

However, the developers behind this release say that Microsoft’s Azure has offered smooth sailing since 2011. According to Jon Shiring, one of Titanfall’s engineers, ever since the beta testing a number of developers have converted. They now embrace Azure over more traditional approaches.

“Back when we started talking to Microsoft about it, everyone thought it was kind of crazy and a lot of other publishers were terrified of even doing it. I’ve heard that since our beta ended, they’ve been pounding down the doors at Microsoft because they’re realizing that it really is a real thing right now,” Shiring said.

The innovative use of Azure also opens the doors for other industries to make technology work for them. From mobile platforms that allow for more telecommuting options in other fields to the gaming industry, a host of technology options are on the brink of changing how consumers view the technology in their everyday lives.

Clouds allow for focus

By utilizing Azure, the developers don’t have to hassle over managing the cloud infrastructure themselves. It frees them up to focus on making the best games.

Shiring has also hinted that the back end of the game allows for low-lag matches online. With Azure’s remote offerings, Titanfall is expected to be an industry trendsetter when it comes to today’s first-person shooter games.

But how did the relationship between Respawn and Microsoft evolve? It all began in 2007 when Infinity Ward (makers of Call of Duty) severed ties with Activision (the parent company) and inspired a team of rebels to found Respawn.

Shiring was one of the defectors and an early advocate for getting dedicated servers for the game. However, the physical space necessary to house them wasn’t feasible, so cloud hosting was the natural answer.

“Microsoft got really interested in the idea, and that was early on. I’d say I started to nudge them in 2010, but it was really 2011 when we were coming at them like, ‘What can you do? We can’t afford this.’ ”

Microsoft’s answer

This was before the release of Xbox One. Other games that came with dedicated servers had already helped to clear the road; for example, Battlefield.

According to Xbox Live’s lead program manager, John Bruno, “We knew in the early stages of developing Xbox One that we wanted to tap into the power of the cloud in a way that hadn’t been done before. We were convinced that enabling dedicated servers using cloud computing presented a great opportunity to realize our vision for Xbox One.”

With Microsoft available to pony up the space and tools (ahem: low rent), it cleared the way for Respawn to blossom.

Letting Azure take the major responsibilities freed up the game to offer incredibly detailed graphics and a smooth frame rate. Without Azure, Titanfall wouldn’t have happened; at least, it would have been considerably different.

On the other hand, without the game developers, Azure might have remained just another email server option, stuck in business limbo. It’s proof of what a perfect marriage of interests and a dose of innovation can do.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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