DeNA West improves mobile gameplay with Google Cloud Platform

Mobile games studio DeNA West needed to handle traffic spikes that occur when launching a new game or during a special gaming event. It had to quickly analyze a large amount of data generated by mobile game users so it could reconfigure games on the fly for improved gameplay. The company chose Google Cloud Platform for their ability to scale on demand to handle sudden traffic surges and perform fast custom queries.

High-profile games require high-capacity infrastructure

San Francisco-based DeNA West, a division of DeNA Co. Ltd. based in Japan, is a mobile game developer that often partners with high-profile entertainment companies, producing some of the world’s most popular interactive games. This has resulted in unique infrastructure requirements. During game launches and special events usage can quickly spike to two or three times normal in minutes. If DeNA can’t handle the spikes properly it risks losing customers, as gamers have abundant choice in today’s free-to-play games economy. DeNA West needed a high-volume computing capacity but didn’t want to waste resources building its own solution, so it turned to Google Cloud Platform.

The company also wanted to gain in-depth insight into how players are experiencing its games. During traffic spikes, developers need to understand how customers play the games so developers can re-engineer them for better gameplay.

“We have big traffic spikes because many of our games are very high profile -- we partner to produce games with intellectual property such as Star Wars, Transformers, GI Joe and Marvel,” says Joel Gerard, DeNA West’s Senior Director of Engineering. “They’re also event driven, resulting in large spikes at very specific times. But during normal times, we don’t need all that capacity that easily leads to unnecessary spending.”

Right-sizing with the right platform

DeNA West had been running its own data centers, which was expensive due to hardware, maintenance and personnel costs. To reduce costs and improve performance and scalability it moved to various Cloud Platform products: Google Cloud Storage, Google Compute Engine, Google Cloud BigQuery and Google App Engine. DeNA West only pays for the capacity it uses, billed to the minute, so it’s never wasting money on unused capacity during non-peak times.

Meeting capacity demands is only one part of what leads to a successful game. The quality of gameplay and making sure players are satisfied with the gaming experience are equally important.

“Games are very tunable — we’re always running analytics to find ways to improve them. If we see an event performed badly during the first day, we’ll re-balance the game, making it easier or harder to win, up to several times a day,” Gerard explains. Game-tuning can be very granular and affects every level of the game.

“Discovering where people aren’t happy with a game can be difficult, for example if one particular ‘boss’ (a powerful, computer-controlled enemy) is too difficult to beat,” Gerard says. “A game may have hundreds of bosses, and it can be hard to find out which ones are problematic. BigQuery helps us pinpoint problems like this with its ability to perform massive queries and deliver results almost immediately.”

Big payoffs and big savings

With GCP, DeNA West has successfully launched many games while reducing costs and improving gameplay. DeNA West has seen a significant reduction in capital expenditures and related costs because the company doesn’t need to buy and maintain servers in data centers. DeNA employees can focus on tuning gameplay, creating custom art and pleasing customers, rather than solving networking, storage and infrastructure problems.

Query times have been slashed significantly. Gerard estimates that queries now run significantly faster than previously, allowing the DeNA West team to more quickly fine-tune games and improve the user experience.

Ultimately, the platform’s real benefits transcend speeds and feeds, Gerard says.

“Google Cloud Platform has given us sustainability, which will lead to even more success in the future,” he says. “We can use an affordable solution and still scale to any capacity we need. Other companies have had some very high-profile failures when they weren’t able to scale for game launches. With Google, that won’t happen. Protecting our revenue and reducing our costs is a recipe for success.”