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Combat in the Cloud: Game Designer Launches Global Online Game on Windows Azure

Editor's Note: This post comes from Amy Frampton, Windows Azure Senior Marketing Manager. Successful Korean game designer Webzen faced a formidable task in determining the required capacity and…

Editor’s Note: This post comes from Amy Frampton, Windows Azure Senior Marketing Manager.

Successful Korean game designer Webzen faced a formidable task in determining the required capacity and performance of the IT infrastructure in preparation for the global launch of Arctic Combat, a competitive game which users around the globe can fight together with a feeling of patriotism and fellowship. To ensure that it could respond to user demands in a world where every second matters, the company decided to support the game with hybrid cloud services based on Windows Azure Cloud Services and the Windows Server operating system.

Because the popularity of games has ups and downs, it is difficult for online game companies, who usually offer their services through a network, to predict the required scalability of their servers. For this reason, service stability is just as important as the overall game quality and the fun of the game experience.

“When users’ gameplay is not reflected in real time because of service delays, they quickly lose interest in the game,” says Jihun Lee, Head of Global Publishing at Webzen. “The improved speed from the users’ point of view was the direct reason that we chose Windows Azure for global gaming services.”

Because the cloud-based infrastructure reduces lag to a virtually unnoticeable level, Arctic Combat players experience the competitive play and intense first-person shooter (FPS) combat without connection errors. “By offering speeds more than 2.5 times faster than a private server, Windows Azure assures players that the tension of the battlefield is not interrupted by technical issues,” says Lee. “As the Arctic Combat army grows, the service continues to be seamless, smooth, and fast.”

Even though the company has provided stable game services to users in 190 countries since opening its global game portal, webzen.com, in 2009, it had to work nimbly to expand servers and network bandwidth quickly enough to meet market needs—especially if there was a spike in a game’s popularity. To address this issue, Webzen designed a hybrid cloud system that provides Windows Azure public cloud services in regions where Microsoft hosts data center facilities, plus private cloud services in regions where those facilities are not available.

“The hybrid cloud model we used enabled us to choose between the private cloud and the public cloud for game servers depending on the region so we that we could provide gamers in each region with the best services,” says Lee. “Windows Azure was the best choice for our criteria. Other cloud services often have difficulty transferring resources between public cloud and a private cloud.”

To operate a private and public cloud as a single platform, the company optimized its game servers and operating platform architecture to ensure efficient functionality in a hybrid environment. “Online gaming is a synthetic art that requires many external services including caching, billing, user authentication, item shops, and profile services,” says Lee. “Transferring those services to the cloud environment involved installing and deploying them on virtual machines as well as linking systems with communication handling methods.”

On December 6, 2012, Webzen staged an open beta test for Arctic Combat, and then launched the game for the global market seven days later on December 13. The game makes it possible for a large number of players to simultaneously role-play and interact in a persistent world, and features dynamic combat scenes such as aerial and artillery fire support. “The tension of the gameplay can be maintained only if the online service is reliable,” says Lee. “With this hybrid cloud model, Arctic Combat users are reporting no lags.”