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Online gaming: what are the data demands?

Mon 4 Jun 2018 | Leo Craig

There are already more than 20 million online gamers in the UK alone. Video games are big business and only going to get even more popular. Riello UPS General Manager Leo Craig explains the similarly sizeable impact the games industry is having on data centre and power protection demands.

At any time of the day, millions of online gaming enthusiasts across the world are pitting their wits against each other on virtual battlefields, race tracks, or sports fields. Online video games have been in the mainstream for more than a decade now, but their popularity and reach show no sign of slowing down.

Free-to-play and pay-to-play multiplayer online gaming (MOG) – where participants play against fellow gamers on phones, PCs, or consoles thanks to their internet connection and a massive collection of worldwide data servers – is worth more than $20 billion a year globally, according to Statista.

Here in the UK, Interxion’s market projections suggest online gaming will account for nearly a third of the country’s overall technology industry revenues by 2020. That shouldn’t come as a particular surprise. Limelight Network’s ‘State of Online Gaming 2018’ report reveals gamers here are downloading and playing more than ever before. The typical UK gamer spends an average of more than 7 hours a week competing online.

Three major platforms dominate the global online gaming market. Firstly, there’s the PlayStation Network, which has around 70 million members. Incidentally, this is a similar figure to the number of PlayStation 4 consoles sold worldwide. Sony’s premium gaming subscription service, PlayStation Plus, currently has more than 34 million gamers who pay to get exclusive content, receive discounts, and access new games prior to general release.

Just under 60 million gamers are also signed up to Xbox Live, Microsoft’s rival to PlayStation Network, while the Steam digital distribution network reached a peak of 18.5 million simultaneous users earlier this year in January.

How much data does online gaming actually use?

Multi-player games constantly exchange information with cloud-based servers hosted at data centres spread across the world. But at face value, playing online video games doesn’t appear to be as demanding on data as you’d perhaps imagine. Some games require as little as 10 megabytes (MB) per hour, while the average title uses anything up to 200 MB per hour.

Let’s take a look at a few of the world’s most popular video games. With all of these statistics, there are obvious caveats to consider such as the player’s proximity to the game servers and their in-game settings, but they give us a broad insight into how much storage and processing power is required.

World of Warcraft, the incredibly popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) currently has more than five million global subscribers. It requires 10-40 MB per hour to play, although ‘raids’ need an extra 25 MB of data and a typical 30 versus 30 battle in its virtual Alterac Valley can use an extra 160 MB. Incidentally, as far back as 2009 WoW’s network comprised 10 data centres with a collective 1.3 petabytes (PB) of storage capacity.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), originally a PC title which has gone on to become Xbox One’s best-selling game with five million copies sold worldwide, eats up 40 MB per hour, while the popular FIFA football franchise needs slightly less (30 MB per hour).

First-person shooter game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive uses up to 250 MB per hour, depending on whether a faster 128 tick server is used rather than a 64 tick one. An hour’s 5 versus 5 player game on the classic League of Legends game takes up 60 MB, while an hour playing the Destiny 2 shooter clocks up a sizeable 300 MB.

Online Gaming

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is one of the most popular online games. Credit: PUBG

In comparison to online gaming, streaming TV through Netflix or Amazon Prime tends to be far more data-intensive. An hour’s standard definition streaming needs 250 MB, while high-definition eats up 1 gigabyte (GB). And if we’re talking top quality ultra-HD 4K video, that can require a staggering 7 GB an hour.

Streaming music can use between 60-125 MB an hour, depending on the quality, while a 30-minute video call on an app like Skype or WeChat can consume 250 MB of data.

However, comparing the number of users tells a different story. While total global Netflix subscriptions topped 125 million earlier this year, there are more than a billion gamers on the planet, of whom at least 700 million participate in online gaming.

And of course, there’s much more to online gaming than the actual gameplay itself. It’s only when those additional requirements are taken into consideration that the true data impact of the activity becomes clearer.

Before a gamer even gets to play the hottest new release, they need to download it first. Rather than physical media such as a CD-ROM, modern games are digitally downloaded over the internet. This can require 10, 20, 30 GB of data or even more, with many titles needing at least 70 GB. And then there are all the additional patches and software updates – they all add up to extra data demands.

For example, take Star Wars: Battlefront. The core game eats up 27 GB, but four updates later it requires a whopping 54 GB. To play against each other online, gamers will need to be on the same (latest) version of the game, which is why all the major platforms favour automatic game updates rather than manual patching.

And if players want to chat to each other in-game using Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) connection, that will chew up significantly more bandwidth.

When all this is taken into account, it should come as no surprise to discover that by 2020 Statista anticipates worldwide online gaming traffic per month will approach 3,000 PB.

And that’s even before we consider the rapid rise of ‘competitive gaming’. Professional eSports leagues are predicted to have a worldwide audience of nearly 600 million and be worth more than $1.5 billion by 2020.

Premier League football champions Manchester City are just one of a number of sports teams that actually employ professional gamers to represent them in the online world. The stakes (and prizes) involved with these online events are comparable to the riches on offer in traditional sports. For example, a recent tournament featuring the Dota 2 game had a total prize pool of $24.7 million.

While Limelight Network’s ‘State of Online Gaming 2018’ study found gamers aged 18-35 spend more time watching other people play video games on platforms such as Twitch than they spend watching traditional sports on television.

Another point to bear in mind is the increasing popularity of ultra-HD 4K gaming. Both Sony (PlayStation 4 Pro) and Microsoft (Xbox One X) have their own new 4K-capable consoles. Of course, higher definition gameplay will require significantly higher bandwidth and data processing capabilities than standard definition does.

Data centres: keeping the games online

The entire online gaming network is dependent on the performance of the industry’s cloud-based data centres and the crucial infrastructure required to keep them up and running, such as a reliable uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system.

In essence, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live are a massive collection of servers throughout the world that enable players to compete online against anyone on the planet, providing they have a suitable internet connection.

If the servers fail, there’s a power outage, or the UPS can’t help to provide a clean electrical supply at all times, there’s potentially millions of unhappy gamers unable to log-in or experiencing poor quality, laggy connections. A growing band of the most serious online gamers even have their own UPSs installed at home to protect against any interference and interruption.

Another factor to consider, particularly with the most serious gamers or professional eSports players, is the rise of ‘cloud gaming’

According to Newzoo, a research company specialising in the global gaming sector, more than 90% of the world’s largest computer game developers use Amazon Web Services’ cloud facilities. Supercell, the creator of Clash of Clans amongst others, even uses AWS analytics in the software development process. It scrutinises 45 billion in-game events and 10 terabytes (TB) of data per day to tweak and enhance its games.

Cloud storage and processing capabilities will need to expand to keep up with the increased data demands from gamers. In turn, that will require a corresponding investment in UPS units to provide the necessary power protection and redundancy.

The recent trend towards modular UPS makes this easier than it might previously have been for data centre operators. As well as being more energy efficient and easier to maintain than older, static cabinets, modular UPS offers simple scalability. Extra individual power modules can be added as and when required. This ‘pay as you grow’ principle ensures the critical power protection system increases alongside any growth to the overall storage capacity of the facility.

Another factor to consider, particularly with the most serious gamers or professional eSports players, is the rise of ‘cloud gaming’. Basically, this is an interactive streaming service for computer games, or a ‘virtual PC’. It enables gamers to pay a subscription to play via the highest spec computer in the cloud, but control it using their local PC or console.

Cloud gaming makes owning the physical hardware irrelevant and allows gamers to play any game they want, no matter their graphics capabilities. It means players don’t have to buy their own high-performing machines or continuously upgrade specifications to play the latest releases. But the concept is, of course, dependent on a fast and stable broadband connection, users don’t have the option of playing offline, and at present not every game is optimised for online plat.

With the popularity of video games in general, and online multiplayer action in particular, continuing to grow, data centres have a crucial role to play in keeping up with increased demands. While much of the gameplay and activity will rely on the cloud, it’s essential the critical infrastructure such as a UPS is working efficiently behind the scenes so that players all over the planet benefit from stable and reliable performance.

Next week we’ll bring you one final piece in our mini-series about the hidden impacts of increasing demand for data centre capacity. We’ll round-up some of the other weird and wonderful applications that are helping drive forward the desire for additional storage and processing power.

Experts featured:

Leo Craig

General Manager
Riello UPS


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