You'll soon be fragging noobs on Kubernetes with Google's cloudy take on game servers

Harnessing container tech to ease the Agones of laaaaaggg

Google is testing a new cloud service designed specifically for video game developers, based on a fully managed version of the open-source Agones project.

Agones, launched in 2017 and named after a type of contest in ancient Greece, is built on top of Kubernetes and subverts everyone's favourite container orchestration system for the purposes of running large multiplayer games – as a dedicated game server management tool.

The game servers then get all the widely advertised benefits of containers, most importantly scalability. After all, most multiplayer games live in small, temporary worlds that need to be created and torn down quickly.

The new service, Google Cloud Game Servers, shouldn't be confused with Stadia, the recently announced game-streaming platform that promises high frame rates and high resolution for multiplayer titles, without having to invest in capable hardware.

Cloud Game Servers has just entered alpha, and interested parties can sign up to become test subjects.

Plenty of game devs already use GCP to host their games, including massive online-only projects like Apex Legends and The Division 2. Apex, for example, features 60 people per single game world, each with their unique combination of weapons and equipment. The game attracted 10 million players in 72 hours, and saw at least one million on its servers at the same time.

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Cloud Game Servers claims it could simplify the running of games at this kind of scale, with Google taking care of the infrastructure and promising souped-up servers with speeds up to 3.8Ghz. It also promised to reduce latency, with the servers automatically distributed across Google Cloud's 20 regions, and data flowing through the company's fat network pipes.

On the software side, Cloud Game Servers is relying on containers to help achieve a reliable level of performance. And this is an issue worth solving: gamers have been moaning about the quality of servers since time immemorial, and multiplayer game outages are frequent – it's not really critical infrastructure worth protecting by strict SLAs, right?

"Agones replaces bespoke or proprietary cluster management and game server scaling solutions with an open source solution that can be utilised and communally developed – so that you can focus on the important aspects of building a multiplayer game, rather than developing the infrastructure to support it," states the project's documentation.

Agones enables users to define and manage groups of game servers through YAML configuration or API calls. It features integration with OpenCensus for game server metrics and monitoring dashboards, and supports SDKs for a bunch of programming languages. More importantly, it already supports Unreal and Unity – two of the most popular game engines available to developers.

The open-source version of Agones is on track for a 1.0 release in September, and is already used by Ubisoft, which co-founded the project. We should also note that it still carries a disclaimer warning against its use in production systems.

Cloud Game Servers is part of a larger ecosystem of products called Google Cloud for Games, which offers a variety of services across multiple product areas — including Ads, ARCore, Maps, Google Play, YouTube, and Stadia.

The Chocolate Factory clearly hopes to establish itself as a leader in the cloud gaming space – but it will have strong competition from AWS and Microsoft. The former is building a yet-unnamed streaming service and has already launched tools like Lumberyard – essentially a free game engine integrated with its infrastructure – and GameLift, a dedicated game server hosting service.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is about to launch xCloud game streaming, with public tests scheduled for October. ®

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