Microsoft Game Dev Customer Story
Gaming company provides streaming for retro games on Azure
Gamers today can play nostalgic video games from the past, thanks to Antstream Arcade's online streaming service. The company wanted its customers to have a seamless, enjoyable gaming experience, so it needed to make sure that its online service could accommodate changing usage loads. Antstream built its gaming service on Microsoft Azure and spins up Azure Virtual Machines for compute power as needed in different regions around the world. Now the company can expand globally with confidence, scale its offerings, and provide engaging games in real time.
"By connecting gameplay to a nearby Azure virtual machine, we make sure that the time between a player pressing a controller button and something appearing on their screen is less than 50 milliseconds." ---Steve Cottam: Founder and Chief Executive Officer Antstream Arcade
Vintage games reimagined
Long before online video games, people played beloved games on early consoles and black-and-green computer screens. Movie buffs can stream nearly any classic movie ever made and music aficionados can stream old recordings, but the world's 2.5 billion gamers did not have a consistent, comprehensive option to play retro games online.
Antstream Arcade revived access to nostalgic games by offering a modern streaming service for generations of players, young and old. Based in London, the company held its soft launch in the United Kingdom in 2019 and already has 3,000 games licensed. Because it plans to keep expanding to serve players in continental Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia, Antstream has needed to scale effectively across more regions and devices.
The company also needed to ensure speed and high availability for an optimal gaming experience. In contrast to streaming a movie, which buffers in the background as a viewer passively watches, games require incredibly high speeds because they are interactive. When a player hits a controller button, a signal needs to be sent to a server and show the action on screen in real time.
After working with Microsoft through the Microsoft for Startups program, Antstream decided to run its service on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. For compute power, the company uses Azure Virtual Machines, which it can spin up as needed, depending on how many players are using the service. Antstream also adopted Azure Storage for cost-effective data storage in the cloud.
Antstream collects a lot of telemetry data as customers play games, so the company relies on Azure Event Hubs to quickly ingest large volumes of data. "We use Azure Event Hubs to monitor our service to make sure players are having a great experience," says Kevin Farnden, Chief Operating Officer at Antstream Arcade. "Azure Event Hubs is valuable to us because we can send data to two places, make sure a new dataset is running perfectly, then flip the switch to move it over without disrupting the service."
The FastTrack for Azure and the Microsoft Global Black Belt teams provided support to Antstream and worked together cohesively to help ensure a unified approach to deployment. "At some large companies, it can be hard to navigate steps to take or to get traction," says Farnden. "But the FastTrack and the Global Black Belt teams knew where to go, moved quickly, and helped us easily find the right people to move our projects forward."
High performance across regions
One of Antstream's top priorities was to reduce latency so it can provide the most enjoyable, seamless player experience. To ensure the best performance, it's critical that the datacenters with virtual machines are located near the player so that commands don't have to travel as far. By using Virtual Machines, Antstream gained access to a huge number of virtual machines located around the world. As a result, the company could effortlessly scale, expanding across regions to deliver high-performance gaming.
"Microsoft was the right technical ally for us because it has a high density of servers globally, which was how we knew we could scale our service," says Steve Cottam, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Antstream Arcade. "By connecting gameplay to a nearby Azure virtual machine, we make sure that the time between a player pressing a controller button and something appearing on their screen is less than 50 milliseconds."
Cost-effective and flexible
Antstream Arcade takes advantage of Azure Reserved Virtual Machine Instances, which means the company pays a 40 percent reduced rate to hold on to reserved virtual machines. Antstream substantially reduces costs while knowing that the resources are there to scale as needed. "Using Azure Reserved Virtual Machine Instances makes a big difference to us, both in cost and flexibility. It gives us a baseline of compute power with elasticity to handle peak usage," says Cottam.
As a quickly growing startup, Antstream needs to ensure nimble business development. It will continue to evaluate its needs and refine its use of Azure in the future. Next, the company will consider Azure Data Lake for storage and Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) for containerization. Even as its business evolves, Antstream feels confident about using managed services to quickly deploy what it needs. "Using a fully managed solution like Azure is strategically important for us," says Cottam. "When you look at the costs, you can trick yourself into thinking it's cheaper to build and manage it yourself. But when you look at all the time it takes and the cost of your time, you quickly learn that a managed service can work out much more economically."
Concludes Cottam, "We have big competitors, and it can be tough as a startup because we don't have the same marketing or tech budgets as they do. But with Azure, we have cloud technology that puts us on equal footing with the big players, so we can grow our business in ways that were inconceivable 10 years ago."
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