There are lessons in operations, infrastructure, and cloud strategy that can be learned from the video game industry, according to a recent report released by Forrester. Demand for constant innovation while maintaining workloads that run smoothly at scale in the cloud are just part of what is expected in the gaming scene. Major players in enterprise infrastructure and services such as IBM, Microsoft, Google, and even Amazon operate in the video game arena.
Enterprises can pick up a number of ideas by watching this space, says Forrester’s Chris Gardner, vice president and research director, and researcher William McKeon-White.
There are some key differences between the gaming industry and other sectors when it comes to their approach to technology, McKeon-White says. While other industries might see it as a means to an end or a necessary evil that connects them to their customers more effectively, gaming cannot be separated from the technology. “It’s at the heart of it and been part of it from the very beginning,” he says. Gaming has always had to consider how different components would work together.
Furthermore, gaming attracts professionals who have a passionate interest in technology and want to explore different possibilities, McKeon-White says. “That attitude makes it easier for experimentation, more eagerness for innovation, and a willingness to play around with new technology,” he says. “That’s hard to foster in a lot of other organizations.” The gaming industry continues to pursue new frontiers and leverage what they can in the cloud, he says. “That is one thing that the gaming industry shares with unicorn-type businesses that the average enterprise might not benefit from.”
Such advantages are not completely out of reach for other organizations, McKeon-White says, though gaming does have a head start.
Before naysayers dismiss video games as mere entertainment that does not have the same burdens or rigors of other markets, the scope of this sector can rival and even surpass many other industries, Gardner says. “The scale of gaming is probably way more than any level of workloads that you’re currently doing.”
He cites the actions per minute in an online retail transaction, which may take up to seven clicks to complete a purchase, to illustrate the comparative demand gaming faces. “The average game, per user, could have hundreds of actions per minute,” Gardner says. “You could have millions of these users going at the same time.”
That raises resource management and security concerns. “You have to be able to scale to address that,” he says. Gaming infrastructure must also be able to provide a level of performance that major online retailers do not have to worry about. “If I click on something to purchase and it takes me three seconds, it’s fine. If I’m in the middle of an intense game and I wait three seconds that might be ‘game over’ at that point.”
Lessons to learn
As enterprises scale to the level of gaming, Gardner says lessons can be learned about containerization, serverless technologies, pushing things to the edge, security requirements, and capturing pieces of telemetry. “The professors in this space are the gaming companies,” he says.
McKeon-White says many gaming companies have already been through the issues of scale that enterprise organizations are just reaching. According to a statistic Forrester came across while working on the report, one in three people around the world plays video games to some extent, he says. This includes games on mobile devices and more intensive titles played on consoles and home computers. For example, the online game CrossFire from Korea’s Smilegate has about 250 million monthly players, McKeon-White says. When those players generate high volumes of actions per minute, it creates events in the system that need to be processed. If the infrastructure does not perform to the satisfaction of the gamer, they might switch over to a rival’s game.
Sometimes innovation developed for gaming evolves into other uses that were not part of the original plan. That has been the case with Microsoft’s motion sensing device Kinect, McKeon-White says. “No one really knew what to do with machine learning, Microsoft experimented with it, made it into a consumer-friendly platform that a lot of folks could develop with, and revolutionized machine vision,” he says.
The Kinect device was discontinued but its underlying services appear in Azure Computer Vision and the HoloLens system. That type of technology is making its way into healthcare with machine analysis and the self-driving car market, McKeon-White says. The GPU, the heart of graphics processing in games that also puts in work in the design aspects of the entertainment industry, is now the backbone of a lot of AI workloads, he says. “It is powering a lot of the machine learning that we have come to see as a differentiator for any business.”
Another frontier the video game sector is pushing into that may interest enterprises is edge computing, says Gardner. “This use case involves putting a lot of compute and GPU resources locally and could open up gaming to a much larger community,” he says. Microsoft Project xCloud and Google Stadia are two more recent efforts to stream console-caliber games to mobile devices.
Stadia launched last November and Project xCloud is still in the preview stage, with a possible launch coming in September. Gardner says such innovations could lead the way to other implementations. “[Games] are not the only thing that can be run on these machines at the edge,” he says. “You could certainly run machine learning and AI workloads. There is no reason it has to stop with gaming.”
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