Published 20 Feb 2024

The future of gaming: How edge computing can transform user experience

By, Pulsant

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Gaming has gone mainstream. On average, people are spending seven and a half hours per week (roughly one hour per day) gaming online,[1] making gaming one of the fastest growing media markets already worth more than £7 billion in the UK in 2022.[2]

Gaming: a high growth market

The gaming market is also an extremely competitive one, with games publishers and distributors fighting for mindshare with consumers, and subsequently maximising the time spent on their platform. To achieve this, user experience is key – games must interest and delight, without lagging or crashing.

In this article we explore five major innovations in the gaming market, and the subsequent implications on edge computing infrastructure and connectivity requirements.

Localised caching for games updates

Most gamers will have experienced the frustration of seeing a new update or release of their favourite game and then having to wait hours before the software is downloaded and the game is ready to be played. Updates of this kind are often relatively large and put a significant strain on the network, slowing the download process and impacting the user experience. In 2022, Virgin Media reported a traffic increase on their networks of 12% on the day of an update release to Call of Duty, one of the most popular games with approximately 8 million monthly players in 2022.[3]

With gaming becoming increasingly popular and games themselves becoming more graphic-intense and higher resolution, the amount of data associated with games downloads and updates is only increasing. To reduce the pressure on the networks and increase the speed with which customers can update games, publishers are caching video game updates in localised PoPs within their target markets. This requires availability of servers in edge locations across the country.

Optimisation of the online gaming experience

Multi-player gaming is becoming more prevalent, illustrated by the popularity of mass online games like Fortnite. With this comes a new set of challenges for gaming companies who have to optimise the gaming experience while handling the unpredictability of many gamers interacting. One of the most common problems facing gaming companies is how to ensure a good gaming experience when two players are matched up for some kind of interaction (e.g. a fight). For all players to enjoy this experience, there needs to be a feeling of parity between their chances of winning – gamers do not enjoy it when they feel that their opponent was able to react to something before they had even had a chance.

One of the main factors with this type of issue is the location of the server in comparison to the gamer, and how the network is routed to get there. It can also occur if the players that have been matched up to interact with each other have different latency.

Gaming companies, of course, cannot control gamers’ internet connections – instead they are leveraging games servers with specialised matchmaking capabilities to ensure that players with similar performing connections are matched against each other. Companies leading the way here, such as Edgegap, have adopted a highly distributed architecture of more than 550 gaming servers located in edge datacentres to ensure low latency and high availability for gamers.

Gaming (72 x 15 in)

The rise of cloud gaming

Most gamers today will invest in at least one, if not multiple, games consoles (e.g. Xbox, PC or Playstation). Part of the reason for this is to ensure that they have a device with enough compute and storage power to render high-resolution games.

Today, there is increasing demand in the market for cloud gaming experiences – one in which you leverage the compute and storage of the cloud to run the game, rather than a device or console. The benefits for consumers are clear: they can play high-end games on-demand, on-the-go and without having to buy expensive consoles, making gaming more accessible in the market.

But for cloud gaming to continue to gain traction, it must deliver as good a user experience as a console can. That means high-resolution, low latency, highly reliable experiences, and crucially, low latency.

Low latency is the key to ensuring that the interaction between the player's inputs and the game's response feels instantaneous and fluid. Even the slightest delay in this interaction can disrupt immersion and lead to frustration for players.

To deliver this, the game will need to be hosted in an edge cloud environment as close to the gamer as possible, reducing network hops (which increase latency and decrease reliability) and minimising the physical distance the data must travel between the game server and the end user.

Specialised esports infrastructure

Viewership for esports tournaments and competitions is increasing. So much so that in the 2022 Commonwealth games, esports was included as a pilot event, with the possibility of it being included as a medal event by 2026. To provide a good experience for both the professional gamers and their audience, connectivity to and within the venues must be excellent. Where purpose-built stadiums are being used, they often have the infrastructure to provide this. However, in many instances esports tournaments are being held in pre-existing venues like stadiums or conference centres. Here, additional network overlays and the ability to use edge computing infrastructure to scale up compute resources on demand will be needed to ensure that tournament experience is good for the end user experience.

New devices creating new experiences

Most people today game on either a console, a computer or a phone. However, the gaming landscape is evolving rapidly. This evolution encompasses not only advancements in VR and wearable technology but also the rise of AI integration and the emergence of Gen AI in gaming. These developments are reshaping the gaming experience, pushing boundaries, and fostering new levels of immersion and engagement.

To make the gaming experience enjoyable on virtual reality headsets, immersive games must have very limited lag and react almost instantly as the user interacts with the gaming environment. If they do not, users experience a feeling similar to motion sickness and subsequently will stop play.

Faster networks, and edge computing infrastructure, can ensure the lowest latencies possible, improving user experience. They can also help to make these types of experiences more accessible by offloading some of the compute from the headset to the edge. This will make the headsets cheaper, lighter and more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.

The gaming industry, as illustrated, is buoyant – growing fast and continuously innovating to deliver new user experiences. Unlike other industries and use cases, the benefits of edge computing (low latency, localised caching, etc) create material value for an end user who is extremely willing to pay for an augmented experience. Effectively supporting next-generation gaming experiences will require both investment in our telecoms networks and the availability of edge computing infrastructure.

[1] Online gaming research, Ofcom
[2]UK Consumer Games Market Valuation, 2022
[3], 2023

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