Pearl Abyss develops and runs some of the world's most popular massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPG). As the company approached the launch of a new action-packed player versus player (PvP) title, Shadow Arena, it needed a scalable server foundation that could deliver the high standard of low-latency player experience that the company set as its goal. By moving to Microsoft Azure, Pearl Abyss gained a robust cloud platform that can support explosive growth while keeping latency low for players around the world and costs low for the company itself.
"Before launching Shadow Arena, we conducted a major latency test. Azure was about 10 percent above other cloud providers, making it the clear choice for us—and our players."
-- Younhyung Nam: Director, Platform and System Management Division, Pearl Abyss
Bringing incredible virtual worlds to life
Pearl Abyss builds and operates some of the most visually stunning and deeply engaging virtual worlds in gaming. Its Black Desert (BD) franchise has been enjoyed by more than 20 million players in 150 countries across mobile, console, and PC platforms, remaining one of the most popular games in the highly competitive massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPG) market.
In the world of online gaming, server performance makes a huge difference in player experience. With millions of players issuing billions of requests to the server every minute, milliseconds matter—and can easily mean the difference between total player immersion and deep dissatisfaction.
Previously, Pearl Abyss operated its own servers in regional datacenters around the world. While sufficient in the early stages of BD's growth, this setup quickly led to scalability issues, and it remained both costly and complex to operate.
With plans to launch a mobile version of BD, Pearl Abyss decided to switch to the cloud. It sought the ideal cloud platform for stable, scalable gameplay that could support its ambitious expansion plans. The company conducted three months of cloud testing, assessing all the major provider options to better understand the performance they could bring to Pearl Abyss's games, before choosing Microsoft Azure.
"Our IT team, developers, and database engineers all conducted their own tests," says Younhyung Nam, Director of the Platform and System Management Division at Pearl Abyss. "Ultimately, we chose Azure because of its stability. It had all the functions we needed, and Azure delivered them more reliably and at a lower cost than many of the other options we assessed."
After identifying the stability and cost advantages of Azure, Pearl Abyss worked with Cloocus, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network with Gold Cloud Platform competencies, to begin the early stages of its migration. Pearl Abyss wanted a stable cloud foundation in place before the Black Desert Mobile launch.
Preparing for launch
At the beginning of 2020, Pearl Abyss was almost ready to launch its new action-packed title, Shadow Arena, which is a faster-paced game focused on player versus player (PvP) combat.
This resource-intensive PvP style of gameplay made low and stable latency critical to delivering a strong experience to players across the globe—especially in the early days of the game's launch. If a player feels like they lost an important fight due to slow server response times, they aren't likely to come back for more. So, the Pearl Abyss team conducted fresh testing to ensure that they had chosen the right cloud for the task.
"Before launching Shadow Arena, we conducted a major latency test," says Nam. "Azure was about 10 percent above other cloud providers, making it the clear choice for us—and our players."
Like BD, the new game's servers are run through Azure Virtual Machines, alongside Pearl Abyss's web servers and back-end management tools. Using Azure Virtual Machines helps dramatically reduce latency and offers easy scalability as the game attracts more players. That meant the team also saved a lot of time and could focus more resources on making sure that the game itself was of the highest quality before it launched for players with early access.
"To launch a game, we'd usually have to start by buying and building equipment like physical servers. But moving to Azure made everything much easier," says Nam. "Setting up security and preparing all the equipment with Azure Virtual Machines took less than three days, versus the month that it would have taken with physical servers."
Pearl Abyss takes advantage of Azure Load Balancer to direct traffic as players sign in to games. This helps keep play experiences stable as traffic increases—vital as Shadow Arena grows in popularity. The team uses Azure SQL Database to store the vast quantities of player data generated by its game environments, maintaining millions of player profiles for rapid, reliable access. The company stores long-term data such as gameplay logs in Azure Blob storage.
Providing first-rate experiences for gamers around the world
Today, with Azure as the foundation for Black Desert and Shadow Arena across the world, Pearl Abyss delivers seamless, low-latency gaming experiences to millions of concurrent users. Plus, the company has cut update deployment times by as much as 15 percent using an Azure-based DevOps tool.
Because Pearl Abyss has multiple Windows Server licenses, it was eligible for Azure Hybrid Benefit discounts—reducing the cost of running its virtual machines even further. Azure migration paired with Azure Hybrid Benefit pricing has helped the company run its games at a fraction of the cost and complexity associated with managing its own physical infrastructure.
The biggest benefits of all have been gained by Pearl Abyss's players. With Azure, Pearl Abyss players—whether connecting to a persistent online world with thousands of other gamers or facing off in intense PvP combat—enjoy stable, lag-free experiences. And it's not gone unnoticed in the company's market.
"When we migrated to Azure, we were one of the first major online game providers to do so," says Nam. "Shortly after making the switch, I had colleagues from other companies coming up to me and asking about the platform. Since then, many more have made the change, and it's clear why."