Social game companies have been some of the early adopters of the cloud realizing that the cloud can offer them just in time server and DB storage to address spikes that online games normally experience. Also, a number of social games can go viral, or something like it, early on in the introduction of a game which makes the cloud a perfect answer for the social game world. In addition, social games can a have a very short half life growing quickly and then fading into the history books in only a few months. Why buy a bunch of servers if you are only going to use them for six months?
The realization that social games are driving the adoption of the cloud and in some cases challenging traditional cloud providers such as Amazon(AWS) and Rackspace has spawned a new crop of companies that are focused on the social gaming space either exclusively or as a special sales vertical.
RightScale, Fusion Storm, and Joyant are traditional hosting companies that have setup special game cloud operations with social gaming as the primary target market. For the most part their offerings are not necessarily unique even with the social game focus. However, an interesting service some of them are providing is the ability to deploy to a number of clouds in addition to their own distributing traffic and load across facilities. I suppose the reason for this is to avoid any one cloud provider from failing causing a complete shut down of an application and perhaps a cost control mechanism.
XingCloud This company is is a bit different from the other game focused cloud provider. They are a Chinese company exclusively cloud gaming focused. They are leveraging the company's experience hosting Chinese games sites and integrating games into social networks. Their service is definitely exclusively focused on game developers providing cloud hosting services and quick integration of games into a number of social networks. They are actively looking to get into the US and European markets.
Clearly social game companies are taking the lead in the adoption of the cloud and in some cases resulting in new cloud services for this space.
How about the other game providers such as casual games, console games and online gambling?
These groups have largely ignored cloud computing. The console game and downloadable providers are essentially offloading game processing to the console or the PC resulting in a diminished server processing load. Therefore the cloud is not a big deal for them.
The casual game and online gambling companies that host web based games are server centric and in some cases taking on some serious volume so why are they lagging?
The primary reason they are not quickly adopting the cloud model is a legacy of traditional hosting. Many of these game companies have built large server farms and IT staffs around a self hosting environment. Despite the obvious cost benefit to switching there is usually a strong push back from the IT staff to maintain the status quo. Also, I doubt if management in these companies are cloud aware. They are using Vmware to virtualize their hardware creating pseudo private clouds. However, this is likely an unsustainable position as their current hardware becomes obsolete and they have to upgrade or expand hardware to handle traffic or to keep up with the increasing effciency of hardware.
Overall the gaming world is pushing the envelope of cloud computing because of the extreme volume and peaks and valleys of game usage. Cloud vendors are addressing this space with new and interesting offerings. The next interesting challenge is what do you do with all of this data that is being accumulated and how do you analyze it. This is ultimately more important then all of the hardware and network plumbing combined.
Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane, Inc. Kevin writes extensively about online games and their impact and integration into iGaming and E-commerce environments. Kevin is a frequent speaker at online game events and conferences in Asia, Europe and the US. Kevin and his Gameinlane team are currently working with online gambling, social gaming and e-commerce companies integrating social gaming with online gaming operations and integrate game mechanics into e-commerce applications.