Who makes the servers hum in SoftLayer data centers around the world?
The SLayers are the brains and muscle beneath the SoftLayer cloud—and you had a chance to meet some of us in last year’s Under the Infrastructure series. But each firewall has two sides! And those servers would not be humming if not for our brilliant customers.
This week in our Cloudocracy series, we’re talking to Chris Wegmann, founder and CTO of Exit Games, the company behind Photon Server and Photon Cloud. The Exit Games mission is to make multiplayer gaming easy. Chris, along with with his team, made that happen for 140,000 developers worldwide, creating the largest live cloud for MOG (multiplayer online games) with 45–70 million active users monthly. This is quite a demanding group, to say the least!
It’s no wonder it took Chris quite some time to find the right cloud infrastructure. Having worked with SoftLayer, he admits that it’s more than just infrastructure—it’s an asset to his users and his users users. (You can read more about Exit Games in the case study here.)
Video gaming began as a battle of humans versus machines (think Space Invaders), but for many players today, gaming is about competing or cooperating with friends. We interviewed Chris to discuss screen addiction, cheating, and more.
SOFTLAYER: If you were stranded on a desert island, what online multiplayer games would you play to keep you company?
CHRIS: Assuming the desert island has good connectivity I would play 8 Ball Pool, Pixel Gun, and Clash Royale. They are fun to play, and you don’t need to be a super expert. You can start easy and enhance your skills over time. They’re really well done, although only one was built using our Photon technology unfortunately!
SL: How and why did you start Exit Games?
CHRIS: In 2003, I was working at a company that was building next-generation services for the brand new 3G networks. My cofounders and I thought multiplayer games on phones could be great. We were horribly early with that idea! We had a rough time trying to survive. Multiplayer gaming started to become popular when the iPhone launched and Apple launched the App Store [in 2008]. We were able to stick around, turn the company around, and we’re now one of the leaders in synchronous multiplayer real-time gaming.
SL: How did you survive? What was different for you?
CHRIS: We had a razor-sharp focus on one particular function: synchronous real-time multiplayer gaming, and nothing else. It’s all about low latency, so we run data centers in a lot of locations worldwide, in partnership with SoftLayer. Game developers can leverage our network, the stability, the performance, and the low price.
Another factor in our success was that we decided very early to use Unity. Unity was not so popular then, but it now has millions of developers and has brought us thousands of professional and indie developers.
All of our products have a free tier, so they’re easy to try out. Then you pay per use. If your game is successful, you pay more. If not, you don’t pay a lot. It’s a fair business model that gave us market penetration.
SL: We hear a lot about the increase in the amount of screen time young people have today. Should we be concerned about online gaming replacing real-world socializing?
CHRIS: It’s a concern to me, especially when I see all the teenagers and kids constantly looking on phones and Facebook, communicating all the time. It seems to be in our nature to communicate all the time.
I remember when I was a kid, my friend and I had Commodore 64s, Game Boys, and whatever later on. Kids are definitely addicted to that stuff, and it’s the parents’ job to restrict it and make sure they are still playing board games and getting social contact.
SL: How big of a problem is cheating in online gaming, through hacking and bots, and what can be done about it?
CHRIS: It's a big topic. The more popular a game gets, the more cheaters and hackers will be attracted to it. Some of our customers’ games are becoming successful quickly and unexpectedly. When a game takes off quickly like that, it’s important that the developer gets up to speed quickly with how cheating could affect their games.
On mobile phones, it’s harder to hack, because you don’t have the tools you have on PCs. On PCs, there are professional companies that build bots and in-memory tools where you can decompile the game and change values in memory, so you need to take countermeasures faster on PC games. You need to be able to track profiles and ban and block users.
Of course, people like to play with friends, but it’s only fun to play if you have opponents with similar skills. Usually your friends are not necessarily good at a game you like to play, so it’s not fun to play with them. You want to play people who have real skill, too, not cheaters. One strategy is to let cheaters play with cheaters. So you need to think about skill-based matchmaking, not just random matchmaking.
We’re partnering with companies to offer anti-cheating chat filters and skills-based matchmaking. We look at what other services developers need and aim to provide a turnkey solution for them—with everything wrapped into a convenient package so it’s easy to use and has a sensible business model and price.
SL: What advice would you give to up-and-coming game developers on crafting an engaging multiplayer experience?
CHRIS: Start by reviewing the most successful multiplayer titles out there and take them as a benchmark. Every half year or so, the bar is rising in what needs to be done. In the past, few companies could afford to build games on a huge scale, but now small teams can build something really good.