To maximize adrenaline for players and minimize headaches for developers, gaming giant Ubisoft runs its hugely popular eSports game, Rainbow Six Siege, in Microsoft Azure. With Azure, Ubisoft has the elastic scalability to deliver heart-pumping play to 3 million players a day engaged in hundreds of thousands of concurrent games. Because Microsoft delivers a global datacenter infrastructure tuned for gaming, Ubisoft is free to focus on making Rainbow Six Siege even more exciting to play.
We’re happy to let Microsoft deal with infrastructure, so we can focus on creating world-class gaming experiences.
–Benjamin Azoulay: Live Operations Manager Ubisoft
Millions of spectators watched in hushed excitement as team Penta maneuvered for supremacy against Evil Geniuses. The two elite squads competed with wily adroitness, pitting brains, brawn, and ballistics in a fight to the end.
The Colosseum in ancient Rome? Try the 2018 Six Invitational in Montreal, Quebec, an eSports tournament where the best Rainbow Six Siege teams in the world take the stage, to the thrill and awe of thousands of tournament attendees and millions of online fans.
Rainbow Six Siege (Siege to its community) is one of the most popular PVP (player versus player) video games in the world, with 30 million players and a growing army of professional contestants. The game, developed by French gaming giant Ubisoft, launched in 2015 and has grown meteorically because of Ubisoft’s relentless commitment to keep it fresh, exciting, and irresistible.
“Every three months we add new features, so we’re constantly improving it,” says Sébastien Puel, Executive Producer of Rainbow Six Siege at Ubisoft. “We are continuously coming up with new operators [characters], environments, storylines, and offensive and defensive gadgets. We are committed to making Siege fun to play for a long, long time.”
Packing more punch in the cloud
Ubisoft is a leading creator, publisher, and distributor of interactive entertainment and services, with a growing portfolio of world-renowned brands. Assassin’s Creed, Ghost Recon, Watch Dogs, and Far Cry all hail from Ubisoft and cumulatively command hundreds of millions of players worldwide.
As video games have become visually richer and the play faster—and gamers have become more sophisticated and demanding—game developers like Ubisoft have had to up their technology game. Not that long ago, games pulled all their computing power from the game consoles on which they were played. However, game developers soon realized that the compute power on the console constrained their creativity and the responsiveness of play.
So, most game developers, especially developers of multiplayer “shooter” games such as Siege, turned to the cloud, where they could get unlimited banks of servers to power their play. “The player has to be very close to the servers to provide super-fast performance for shooter games,” says Puel. “Even a company as big as Ubisoft, with datacenters around the world, can’t deliver global datacenter coverage like public cloud providers can.”
Ubisoft developed and runs Siege in Microsoft Azure, where it takes advantage not only of nearly limitless compute and storage resources but of Xbox Live Compute (codename Thunderhead), an Azure-based orchestration service that delivers dynamic scaling and low latency for gaming workloads.
Ubisoft was the first company to use Azure for a cross-platform title, releasing three versions of Siege simultaneously. “By using Azure, we were able to hit the Xbox, PC, and PS4 platforms with one development effort, without having to manage three code bases,” says Benjamin Azoulay, Live Operations Manager at Ubisoft.
Less server work, more gaming focus
Another plus of Azure is that it gives game developers access to cloud-caliber server resources without making them deal with the challenges that come with building, managing, and running servers at scale.
“We want to use managed services as much as we can,” says Azoulay. “We rely on datacenter experts like Microsoft to create infrastructure platforms that are tailored to gaming needs, so we don’t have to write platform code to manage decisions, such as which datacenters players use. We’re happy to let Microsoft deal with infrastructure, so we can focus on creating world-class gaming experiences.”
The broad geographic availability of Azure, and its elastic scalability, lets gamers connect to an available server and play without ever experiencing busy or unavailable servers. For Siege, Ubisoft gives every game (which consists of two teams of five people) its own virtual machine. More than 10 million people play Siege each month, with several hundred thousand playing concurrently, and there are virtual machines aplenty in Azure to keep them happy.
“Siege uses Azure Autoscale to keep up with our multiplayer services and demand,” Azoulay says. “This ensures that players have the performance they need, and we don’t need to worry about provisioning it.”
Adds Puel, “The elastic scalability of Azure is especially important with Rainbow Six Siege, because it’s a title that started out small and became hugely popular very quickly. It would be impossible to scale as we have, if we hosted it on-premises.”
In addition to Azure compute, Ubisoft uses Azure Blob storage to store game data and game server logs, and the Microsoft Azure global network to connect Azure service to the Ubisoft infrastructure.
In Azure, Ubisoft not only has unlimited datacenter resources to run its games, but also unlimited and immediately available development resources for creating new features. “With Azure, we can deploy and test new features faster, see player feedback, and iterate very quickly. This keeps our players happy and our community growing,” says Azoulay.
Ubisoft wants to embrace microservices and is looking at containerizing its online services to simplify and improve the performance of its architecture. “Our team has no shortage of ideas for improving Rainbow Six Siege, and Azure gives us a great toy box for turning those ideas into realities,” says Azoulay.