WEBZEN Inc. Launches an Online FPS Game, Arctic Combat, Using Windows Azure
WEBZEN unveiled the official gaming service for Arctic Combat, the highly anticipated FPS game, after successfully completing the global open test using Windows Azure. In 2011, WEBZEN initiated the technology verification process for the hybrid method of connecting Windows Azure with its own private cloud. WEBZEN reviewed its methods to optimize the game server and operating platform architecture so that they worked smoothly and efficiently in the hybrid cloud. In addition to IaaS capability, WEBZEN tried to find ways to use its PaaS capability to manage the game server efficiently, from authentication to billing. After completing the preliminary technical review, on December 6, 2012, the company started an open test for Arctic Combat worldwide. Feedback has been positive, with users commenting that they are satisfied with the speed. Users did not report any grievances such as unexpected delays or lags, which often occurred in the past with FPS games, where every second matters, even with above-average hardware specifications.
"The hybrid model we wanted was one that would enable us to choose between the private cloud and the public cloud for game servers and operating platforms depending on the region so that we could provide gamers in each region with the best services. Windows Azure was the best choice for our criteria. Other cloud services often have difficulty transferring resources such as virtual machines in the public service to a private cloud."
WEBZEN finally unveiled Arctic Combat, the global version of BATTERY online, a modern military first-person shooter, on December 13, 2012, after initiating open beta testing on December 6, 2012. The global open test began just two years after the game service was first offered in South Korea on November 25, 2010.
Arctic Combat was created with the global market in mind right from the start. Since the game's story revolves around a third World War among the countries of the world, users around the world can fight together with a feeling of patriotism and fellowship. The approaches taken by Arctic Combat, however, are not radically different from those of its predecessors. It is the strategy of building infrastructure and organizing operating platforms that sets the game apart from its competitors. Arctic Combat is a groundbreaking game in that it is the first game in the company's history to provide its global gaming services using the hybrid cloud environment.
Online games companies offer their services through a network. For this reason, stability in the service is just as important as the overall game quality and the fun of the gaming experience. Users turn their backs on games where online services are frequently delayed or disconnected from the server, no matter how interesting the games are. Games neglected by users in this way are soon forgotten. As Lee Ji Hun, the head of the company's foreign operations department, says, "Suppose you shoot at the other player while playing an FPS game, but the other player does not notice that you fired the gun. How would gamers feel then? When users' gameplay is not reflected in real time due to service delays, they quickly lose interest in the game." For this reason, the gaming industry considers the game operation to be just as important as the development.
Why did WEBZEN place hybrid cloud at the center of the operating strategy, which has such a bearing on the fate of the game? It is not easy for the game developer to forecast market response accurately. Some games achieve unexpected recognition and success while others take a nosedive after initial success.
Since the popularity of games has ups and downs it is difficult to decide on the required capacity and performance of the IT infrastructure. It was a formidable task even for WEBZEN, which had provided stable global services to users in 190 countries since the opening of the global game portal WEBZEN.com in 2009. The company tried to build an IT infrastructure based on a precise prediction of market response. However, it was difficult to expand servers and network bandwidth quickly enough when the market showed unexpected responses. WEBZEN could handle the tasks from procurement of equipment to installation and setup in just a week, whereas it takes months for most companies to complete such tasks. However, for WEBZEN, this speed was still far from satisfactory. Preparing resources such as servers, storage and network bandwidth in advance was not an option.
The approach of preparing resources in advance based on predictions and responding quickly to unexpected market responses has its limits in terms of responding to the demands of the services flexibly. For this reason, WEBZEN tried to find a way to respond to the market response swiftly. The company finally found the solution in Windows Azure.
WEBZEN began to consider using the cloud while preparing for the global debut of Arctic Combat. Staff in the development, operations and marketing departments put their heads together and tried to find a solution that would enable users around the world to enjoy the game in an appealing environment without delays. The ideal solution they came up with was the hybrid cloud.
In 2011, after setting the operating strategy off in the right direction, WEBZEN concentrated its efforts on technology verification for Windows Azure. A WEBZEN representative explains the underlying reasons for selecting Windows Azure: "The hybrid model we wanted was one that would enable us to choose between the private cloud and the public cloud for game servers and operating platforms depending on the region so that we could provide gamers in each region with the best services. Windows Azure was the best choice for our criteria. Other cloud services often have difficulty transferring resources such as virtual machines in the public service to a private cloud."
WEBZEN envisioned a hybrid system providing Windows Azure services for the regions where Microsoft has its data center facilities, and cloud services for regions where those facilities are not available. In order to operate a private and public cloud as a single platform, WEBZEN reviewed its methods to optimize the game server and operating platform architecture so that they worked smoothly and efficiently in the hybrid cloud environment during the test period.
First of all, WEBZEN spent time gaining a sufficient understanding of the features of the cloud. Without a thorough understanding of Windows Azure, the company might have hit unexpected stumbling blocks. After a careful analysis of Windows Azure, WEBZEN came to understand that the company needed to fine-tune the entire system architecture and individual programs in order to deploy the game server and operating platform freely on a private or public cloud.
A WEBZEN representative explains: "Online gaming is a synthetic art that requires many external services, such as billing, authentication, item shops and profile services. Transferring these services to the cloud environment means not only installing and deploying them on virtual machines, but also optimizing them to link systems with the communication and cession handling methods in mind."
While conducting the technology verification, WEBZEN carried out standardization work at the architecture level in order to transfer the game server and operating platform to the private and public cloud without limitations. For instance, WEBZEN designed the platform to support both Windows Azure and Windows Server caching capabilities. WEBZEN also witnessed that it could handle individual identification information using Access Control Services in the Windows Azure environment and authentication processing using the Windows Server Windows Identity Foundation.
In addition to IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) capability, WEBZEN tried to find ways to use its PaaS (Platform as a Service) capability to manage the game server efficiently, from authentication to billing. Moreover, in order to verify the IssS and PaaS capabilities scenario, WEBZEN deployed the game server to which users are connected for gameplay and the server that uses Peer-to-Peer Hole Punching for communication among users on IaaS. The company also used PaaS for the service that handles users' authorization requests after they enter their ID and password.
After completing the preliminary technical review, in 2012 WEBZEN conducted a closed test on the hybrid system infrastructure, where the game server and operating platform can be used either via the public cloud using Windows Azure or via the private cloud using the Windows Server. Subsequently, on December 6, 2012, the company started an open test for Arctic Combat worldwide, except for some Asian countries and countries in the Middle East and South America.
Great gaming experience with no connection errors or lags
Arctic Combat is not just another FPS where gamers simply shoot at each other and throw hand grenades. The game enables users to engage in combat with modern heavy weapons and features dynamic combat scenes such as aerial fire support from gun ships. The tension of the gameplay can only be maintained if the online service is provided without connection errors and lags. The response from users after the Arctic Combat open test was positive with regard to the quality of the operating service. Users did not report any grievances such as unexpected delays or lags, which often occurred in the past with FPS games, where every second matters, even with above-average hardware specifications.
The company actually anticipated a degree of negative feedback. A WEBZEN representative says: "We carried out a speed test for the services in the U.S., Europe, Korea and Asia, and then compared the speed of service using private servers and using the public cloud. The results showed that using Windows Azure is faster than using the private servers at a rate of 6:4. In particular, using Windows Azure was over 2.5 times as fast as using the private servers in the U.S. and South America. The improved speed from the user's point of view was the direct reason that we chose Windows Azure for the global gaming services."
Advanced protection against DDoS attacks
Transferring the battlefield of Arctic Combat to the cloud was also effective in protecting the service from DDoS attacks. We often hear news of DDoS attacks against online game sites. Thanks to Windows Azure, WEBZEN is now free from the worry of DDoS attacks against Arctic Combat. A WEBZEN representative explains: "FPS games use a lot of UDP packets. For this reason, DDoS attacks that transmit massive amounts of UDP for bandwidth consumption attacks are possible. When we operated our own servers, we could only protect against attacks of up to 2 Gbps, and were defenseless against attacks of 10 Gbps." He adds: "When we carried out a closed test, we experienced a DDoS attack. What we discovered from the incident was that we can respond to attacks through the Windows Azure Traffic Manager before it's too late."
Excellent performance in both development and maintenance
Windows Azure also makes it possible for WEBZEN's server administrators to carry out maintenance work without going abroad to data centers in person. In the past, when the number of users increased rapidly beyond expectations or when preparations for the launch of operations for a new game were carried out, server administrators used to fly to the U.S., Europe and other regions to set up server, network and storage equipment and then transfer the game server and the operating platform. However, the situation changed when WEBZEN launched Arctic Combat. A WEBZEN supervisor explains: "In contrast to previous projects, the company did not need to make any overseas business trips during the preparation for the Arctic Combat global open test, because resources such as servers, storage and networks can be increased in just a few clicks with Windows Azure.
High performance can be achieved in both development and maintenance. A WEBZEN representative says: "We found that we did not have to spend too much energy on developing and implementing the game operating platform after successfully handling the billing and authentication operations through the Windows Azure PaaS. Moreover, we experienced a new-found efficiency in all the aspects of maintenance and development."