Within Google Cloud, a computer is muttering: Shall we play a game? Wouldn't you prefer a nice game of SaaS?

Come for the on-demand servers, stay for the sweet documentation


On a rainy Wednesday morning in San Francisco, Google pitched its Cloud Platform (GCP) to power games, and brought friends along to sing its praises at the annual Games Developer's Conference.

It's an easy sell. Game makers represent the ideal market for on-demand infrastructure because their IT requirements tend to be unpredictable. They might need thousands of VMs on launch day and a fraction of that several months out. Or their demand for computing resources might be the opposite, starting slow then spiking due organic or promotionally-driven growth.

As Paul Manuel, managing director for multiplay at Unity Technologies, explained during the GCP presentation, game makers used to have either too much hardware and too few players or too many players and too little hardware. Either way, he said, it was a difficult problem to solve.

Cloud gaming represents a new focus for the ad biz's rent-a-server group. In a conversation following the presentation, Sunil Rayan, managing director of Google Cloud for Games, explained that a year ago, Google didn't have any triple-A titles running on GCP. Now it has six.

In part that's because Google has been putting hardware and software tuned to gaming requirements into its data centers. The company's forthcoming Stadia streaming platform, for example, relies heavily on custom AMD data center GPUs, and unnamed x86 CPU cores, to power its 7,500 edge nodes. Stadia's promised low-latency streaming will depend upon GCP's ability to move data efficiently from its data centers to its edge network, prior to egress onto the public internet for delivery to game players.

Games, Rayan said, are different from enterprise workloads, noting that games are truly global, where commercial websites tend to focus on customers in a specific region.

Dump the platform, concentrate on the game

The Chocolate Factory's cloud pitch is radical in a way. One the trends influencing Google Cloud for Games, Rayan explained, is the diversity of devices, operating systems and screen sizes. For Google and perhaps others playing in this space like Amazon and Microsoft, the answer to heterogeneous kit is platform-agnostic games.

Local hardware doesn't matter that much when the bulk of the processing occurs in the cloud and player devices focus on stream display and input capture. That's the idea behind Stadia at least.

For the game industry, so long shaped by technical and business barriers separating PCs, consoles, and mobile operating systems, this amounts to heresy. Google's advocacy of cross-platform delivery won't prevent traditional platform-focused hosting, but it should get game makers thinking about their business model and game architecture.

"A game is not a game anymore," said Rayan. "It's becoming an ecosystem."

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Translation: Not only will Google rent you the kit you need to run and deliver your game, but it can help collect analytics and support systems that promote player engagement, on any platform it can reach.

For companies built on platform differentiation, like Apple, Google's vision won't be particularly appealing. But less self-satisfied device makers may see some appeal in browser-based content delivery across form factors and operating systems.

Manuel, whose company Unity works with multiple cloud providers, had only nice things to say about GCP. He told how Apex Legends went from zero to 2 milliobn concurrent users in seven days, thanks to 6,500 VMs in 53 locations, mostly using GCP.

"The cloud is a game changer," he said. "You can now do stuff you could never do before."

Touching on the various benefits of GCP, he cited performance, simplicity, and Google's ongoing investment in its infrastructure. But he was most effusive about the GCP website.

"They have the gold standard of documentation," he said. ®

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