Scaling a Social Gaming Platform With Equinix Metal
In an entertainment landscape where Netflix and Spotify offer users instant access to content, the mobile gaming industry seemed to be lagging far behind.
“You go to an app store, and there’s millions of titles to choose from. You find something you’d like to try. You download it. You install it. It downloads some more, and only then you actually get to try the game, to see whether you even like it,” says Mikko Peltola, Director of Cloud Operations at Hatch. “With music or videos, you press play, and you’re there. That's a whole different experience.”
Inspired by that on-demand model—and by their own wishes as avid gamers—the founders of Hatch set out in 2016 to build a next-generation platform for mobile gaming. First, it needed to be streaming. Secondly, it would have social aspects built in. After all, “When something cool or fun happens in your game, what do you do at that point? Do you put the game away and log onto Facebook to say this awesome thing happened?” says Peltola.
And for both gamers and developers, the Hatch team wanted to make discovering content easier. “There are games that are loved and enjoyed by millions, but at the same time, there’s great content which nobody really ever finds, because the publisher may not have the marketing muscle to really make people notice it,” says Peltola. “There’s a clear demand for a different model, where users aren’t expected to spend money to progress in the game, and the developers feel they should be concentrating on making the most enjoyable games, rather than making the most efficient monetization loop.”
An Infrastructure Challenge
Before it was spun off as a subsidiary, the Hatch project originated within Rovio Entertainment, best known for the Angry Birds games. So “we had quite a lot of experience with large-scale distributed systems and back-ends already,” says Peltola.
“At the same time, we realized that what we’re doing is actually quite new,” he adds. “From a technical point of view, how do you provide low-latency access to compute, which is running games that were designed to run on smartphones and tablets, and do that globally? How to make it scalable and operationally manageable, not to mention cost-effective?”
These new challenges required a different way of thinking. In essence, the team was building a sort of content delivery network for compute. “We have to be able to very efficiently and effectively bring the actual gameplay close to the end user, to make sure that the end-user experience stays as good as it should be,” he says. And they needed to make the service highly automated so it could scale to be global.
A Shared Vision
Hatch found an ideal partner in Equinix Metal. “They’re a really good fit in terms of technology and strategy,” says Peltola. “Equinix Metal is quite heavily invested in the ARM server architecture, which is something we’re very keen on. They are API-driven, which lets us bring the aspect of automation that’s needed to build and scale and heal the service. And they have an edge strategy, like we do. They also want to bring that compute to the right place, in terms of both geography and network connectivity, which is crucial for us.”
With Equinix Metal's bare metal cloud service, the Hatch team felt that it could maximize the efficiency of the hardware, since there were no artificial technical limits on what kind of stack could be run on top. “We know that we can get 100 percent of the hardware resources on that server, and use them as efficiently as we can,” says Peltola. Plus, “we can use the on-demand scaling up and down as our user base fluctuates, which in a consumer-based service is always going to happen.”
Launching the Beta
With that infrastructure decision made, the first implementation in the Equinix Metal data center in Amsterdam went quickly and smoothly. The public beta test of the Hatch gaming platform successfully launched in Finland in August 2017.
When Hatch needed to expand further into Europe at the beginning of 2018, the team pushed for a new data center location in Marseille, France. “Within a matter of weeks, Equinix Metal had built the location,” says Peltola. “They didn’t have an earlier presence in that data center. About an hour after they had announced that they’d got it up and running, we rolled out our stack and were serving live traffic from there. This actually happened to be a Friday night. Monday, we were in Barcelona, doing live demos at the Mobile World Congress, running from that site.”
That experience was just one example of the two companies’ very productive partnership. “One of the biggest strengths for us working with Equinix Metal, besides the actual technology, is the fact that they are still at the size that they can move fast and they can get stuff done,” says Peltola. “There have been elements of co-engineering, almost, in certain areas where they have expertise, and where we have expertise. It’s what technology partnerships should be, at their best.”
A Sector-Wide Movement
The Hatch gaming platform, which is still in beta, is now available in 18 countries that make up about half of Europe, and plans are underway to expand far beyond that. (To find out if it’s available in your country, go to playhatch.com.)
Deploying with Equinix Metal has enabled the social features that the Hatch founders envisioned from the beginning. “As a game instance is running in the data center, and we’re streaming commands to the user’s device, we can just as easily stream the game to two or three or four devices as we can to one device,” says Director of Communications Joseph Knowles. “This means that people can play together. Even with a single-player game, they can play the exact same game session in 100 percent synchronous realtime, share the controls back and forth, and voice chat.”
The Hatch team has designed the platform to allow existing Android games to benefit from Hatch’s streaming and platform components. “It’s a very straightforward process, and it’s something we also want to keep improving, so there’s minimal effort to get games running on our service,” says Peltola.
In fact, over 100 games are already live on the platform, from dozens of game developers and publishers including big names like Ubisoft and SEGA. “This really is a sector-wide movement now,” says Knowles. “The infrastructure that Equinix Metal is developing is really critical, so it’s fantastic that we’ve been able to partner so closely to deliver a leading experience.”
As Peltola puts it: “We are, at the end of the day, a software-based service company building a mobile gaming service. We’re not a data center operator, and we’re not hardware operators. That’s the expertise we rely on Equinix Metal for—so we can focus on the actual software stack and user experience. What I value a lot with Equinix Metal is their focus on the next thing, not just their offering today, and next month. It’s those next big industry trends and changes that we can approach and explore together.”