What is the most cost efficient way to manage infrastructure for the increasingly popular Free-to-play model?

Free to Play, often abbreviated to F2P, means you can play a game without paying a dime for it. Sounds great doesn’t it? Some industry experts say that F2P might be the first step towards a totally new gaming market. Until then, some games start out as a Pay to Play version (like DC Universe Online, Age of Conan or League of Legends), who later switch to F2P. Other games are designed with F2P in mind, like the recently released Tribes: Ascend. The F2P model is one that truly provides a win-win outcome for gaming companies and players alike.

The main benefit for gaming companies is that the revenue potential of the F2P model is usually far higher if the game becomes successful. Meanwhile players can try before they buy, without having to spend any money. If your game is addictively fun to play and you market it well, you’ll soon reap the benefits when players start to purchase additional content, such as in-game items.

There are also a few challenges facing the F2P model. For instance, a game might not bring in a lot of revenue from the get-go, taking a bit of time to get to full steam. Also, the amount of players are far harder to project, since people can come and go more freely. After all, they are not paying a monthly fee. The question then becomes: how can you manage your infrastructure in the most cost efficient way?

If you opt for colocation and choose to set up a hosting infrastructure yourself, you have to buy enough servers to handle peak amounts of players and traffic. But what if outside of those peak moments only half of your infrastructure is utilized? The other half would be just sitting there, gathering dust. Or what if you have too few servers, making the game unplayable? Colocating your own hosting infrastructure can be a cost efficient solution, but as we’ve examined in previous blogs, might initially be a bit too costly. So, how can you combat this and be cost efficient as a business?

Usually, you have two options as an online gaming company: a dedicated environment, or a shared environment. A dedicated server environment with private racks offers the most reliable performance. However, this not the most scalable solution when compared to a shared environment such as a Cloud. On the other hand, shared environments are as reliable as dedicated servers.

Let’s take a look at how one of our newest clients, Hi-Rez studios, handled this. Hi-rez studios is the creator of the aforementioned Tribes: Ascend, which has been met with critical acclaim.

The sensation of speed is such an important part of the player experience that it is critical to prevent any lag from occurring. The F2P nature of the game however means that the amount of online players playing at the same time can fluctuate greatly.

While researching their ideal hosting infrastructure, Hi-rez found that a shared environment was too unstable for their game. So Hi-rez wanted to go with the higher performance option: dedicated servers. However, the F2P nature of Tribes: ascend still required good scalability.

We started with the basics. Thanks to an extensive open beta phase Hi-Rez knew the average data capacity they required, so we made sure they would always have a certain amount of servers running at maximum uptime.

Once Hi-Rez expects a need for extra capacity, they order additional servers with contracts on a monthly or quarterly basis, which Leaseweb can usually deploy in less than 24 hours. Once the need for extra capacity has passed, Hi-Rez can drop these servers again without a hitch. This is a much more economical solution to ensure they don’t have unnecessary infrastructure. At same time, Hi-rez (and their players!) can still enjoy the maximum uptime and smooth gameplay a dedicated server environment offers.

The moral of the story is that different needs require different solutions, as the F2P model clearly demonstrates. In this case, the most important questions you will face are: “How do I balance performance vs. scalability?” and “How do I get the most cost efficient solution?” Leaseweb is currently helping countless (online gaming) companies solve these questions by building the best infrastructure for their company. If you would like to know more, just email us at sales@leaseweb.com.

Paul Grimwood is a Global Business Development Manager at Leaseweb, specializing in Online Gaming, including MMOs , social gaming and online gaming platforms. You can often find Paul at large gaming events like E3, GDC and Game Connection. You can reach Paul through p.grimwood@leaseweb.com.

1 comment
  1. Lottie
    May 16, 2012 at 8:47

    As a player, I surely prefer F2P, not just because it’s free but also because it’s far from any obligations. But, of course, if the game is totally awesome I don’t mind spending for some stuff.

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