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Next Games accelerates game development with Azure

The Walking Dead No Man's Land poster art

Capturing and keeping online gamers' attentions is paramount in the gaming industry because if a title doesn't meet gamers' expectations, they'll quickly move on. Next Games develops major games and high-equity intellectual property, and it needed a platform that would deliver reliability, scalability, and peak performance. Using Microsoft Azure resources such as Azure Cosmos DB and Azure Service Fabric, Next Games now has a single platform for all its games, helping it accelerate and scale development and sustain its industry leadership.

​​With Azure, we no longer have to start new games completely from scratch. Our developers don't have to worry about the technology, so they're free to focus on creating more engaging gameplay. ---Kalle Hiitola: Chief Technology Officer Next Games​

Ever-growing expectations

Founded in 2013, Finland-based Next Games develops high-profile free-to-play mobile games such as Compass Point: West and official games for hit entertainment franchises like The Walking Dead and Stranger Things. Next Games has built a significant intellectual property (IP) estate that it wants to safeguard, and when meeting ever-growing gamer expectations requires higher performance, more accurate player data, and an environment that discourages cheating, little less than perfection will do. 

Next Games needed a reliable, always-available, scalable, and highly secure platform to help it host, update, test, and release its high-equity IP games using a single solution. And it wanted a way to boost in-game performance that wouldn't lead to increased costs. 

By using the powerful database and app lifecycle management resources in Microsoft Azure, such as Azure Cosmos DB and Azure Service Fabric, Next Games gained on-demand scalability and the capacity to build, release, and maintain multiple titles at once on a single custom platform. It can now accelerate game development and updates and build scalable games out of the box, which is critical for titles that experience regular traffic peaks. 

High performance for gamers and developers

The Next Games team was already familiar with what major cloud vendors had to offer, and it chose Azure to host its entire environment based on its scalability and managed services. "We couldn't scale our team fast enough, so we needed a managed service cloud provider," says Kalle Hiitola, Chief Technology Officer at Next Games. "Azure offered cost-effective managed services and supported our game engine's code. Microsoft was well ahead of the game." 

The company worked closely with Microsoft technical specialists to help set up each Azure resource correctly and to get the most out of Azure Cosmos DB, Service Fabric, and other Azure resources, including Azure Traffic Manager for load balancing. "The support from Microsoft has been astounding," says Hiitola. "We're a relatively lean team, so having that expertise on hand—especially when we adopt a new Azure resource—has been indispensable." 

Next Games uses Service Fabric to orchestrate the entire system and quickly create microservices to control costs while simultaneously boosting performance and allowing automatic updates on the fly. Next Games developers now have access to separate environments for development, testing, and production—giving them the possibility, flexibility, and stability to produce better games, faster. Azure Media Services helps deliver features such as opening cinematics, and Azure Notification Hubs provides in-game notifications to keep players up to date with what's happening. 

Additionally, the company reduced the risk of in-game cheating by maintaining the same code between the client and server and by helping prevent the transmission of modified messages. This delivers a better experience for gamers, sustaining game reputations, promoting player loyalty, and safeguarding revenues for IP owners. 

Using Azure Cosmos DB, Next Games developed an easier way to improve the social connectivity of its games and to store vital player statistics at scale. "We never quite know how popular a new game will be," says Hiitola. "Azure Cosmos DB gives us the flexibility and responsiveness to scale on demand, meaning that no matter how many players are in a game, it will always perform as expected." 

Next Games can now develop new games faster, with fresher content than ever before. "With Azure, we no longer have to start new games completely from scratch," says Hiitola. "Our developers don't have to worry about the technology, so they're free to focus on creating more engaging gameplay." 

Richer games, fresher content, at the top of the leaderboard

By running everything from development to real-time gameplay on Azure, Next Games has gained the benefits of a modernized platform infrastructure that can scale on demand—in a cost-effective way. The company has also streamlined game creation, using the sophisticated resources in Azure to create more memorable and fair gaming experiences for players, which helps foster loyalty. 

"Azure is constantly growing, and that offers us new opportunities," says Hiitola. "Add in its scalability, reliability, and cost-effectiveness, and we can provide richer games and fresher content like never before." 

Next Games is more agile than ever, too. For example, immediately after the latest episode of The Walking Dead airs, the company can push episode-related updates to its game, The Walking Dead: No Man's Land, providing a seamless experience for the show's fans across different media. 

Looking to the future, Next Games has its sights on global expansion. "Our games are currently available in the United States and Europe," says Hiitola. "But Azure's global coverage means that if, for example, a future title gains popularity in Asia, we're confident we can meet demand without breaking a sweat." 

Find out more about Next Games on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.​