As streaming continues to gain popularity among players and spectators alike, online gaming is a more social environment than ever before. For Polystream, creator of the groundbreaking Command Streaming technology, this meant building a platform that game companies use to instantly enable passive viewers to become interactive spectators in a live game. Supported by Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines, Polystream is reaching global audiences by streaming completely new forms of high-performance gameplay.
Thanks to the incredible developments happening in Azure, we're able to build these tools to make our customers happier and offer gamers entirely new experiences. -- Bruce Grove: Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer Polystream
The evolution of social gaming
From passing a controller between friends to YouTube "Let's Play" videos, video games have always had a second life as a spectator sport. But as streaming platforms like Twitch continue to grow in popularity, some games are evolving beyond simply playing or watching—they're becoming truly social environments.
As online games introduce mass social experiences such as in-game concerts and movie screenings—on top of multiplayer modes, chat functions, and voice channels—technology that supports fast, reliable, and interactive streams to large groups is becoming an increasingly important part of the delivery puzzle.
Platform provider Polystream has invented an innovative technology that gives its customers the power to stream 3D interactive content, applications, and video games from the cloud to people around the world, at huge scale. "If something exciting is happening and you suddenly need 100,000 people to instantly jump into the same experience, and if you also want them to have a presence within a game where they can engage and interact with each other without having to download anything, existing technologies will never be able to do that," says Marek Rubansinski, Chief Commercial Officer at Polystream. "No one is going to sit with 100,000 servers waiting in case the demand comes."
To support the high compute power and near zero latency requirements of streaming games and other high-demand media, Polystream built its platform infrastructure using Microsoft Azure and Azure Virtual Machines. This provides the elastic, dynamic resources it needs to provide the software-defined layer that enables high performance and availability for every experience it delivers.
Proximity and power equal performance
Polystream is a cloud-native platform that's supported by on-premises development environments for its engineers to work in. The company's proprietary software, Command Streaming, relies on containerized services and Virtual Machines to deliver high-quality gaming experiences at scale.
"One of the most difficult challenges for us is building an infrastructure that expands and reacts to demand for the service," says Craig Sawyer, Senior Software Engineer at Polystream. "To deliver interactive content with as low latency as possible, you need to get your cloud infrastructure as close to the players as possible with a high-quality network to support it."
With players, spectators, and everyone in between engaging with these new gaming experiences all around the world, reach is crucial. Azure has a presence in more than 60 regions—more than any other cloud provider—offering the widest possible range of locations in which Polystream can seamlessly deliver near zero latency content. And with virtual machine (VM) load balancing, the team can distribute traffic and spin up new VMs whenever it needs to, using each datacenter's local storage to get up and running faster.
"It's a brutally simple equation," says Rubansinski. "The closer the datacenter is to the players and spectators, the better the average experience is going to be."
Figure 1. Polystream architecture diagram
Groundbreaking technology in action
Polystream is starting to make its mark on the world of streaming, introducing its Command Streaming technology to key industry players and their customers. "Thanks to the work we did with Azure, we successfully completed a trial that supported 40,000 concurrent users across multiple platforms," says Bruce Grove, Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer at Polystream.
That showcase, which featured a catalog of high-profile intellectual properties such as Rocket League, Life is Strange, and even Epic's resource-heavy Unreal Engine editing environment, helped Polystream demonstrate the value and potential of the platform and its unique distributed graphics processing unit (GPU) technology. From there, working with Azure has helped accelerate its interactive in-game spectator mode, which next-generation game development studios around the world are adopting.
Building a whole new technology is an intensive process—one that usually must be balanced with everyday infrastructure management. But for Polystream, much of the standard tooling and maintenance work was already taken care of. "Working with Azure, we've been able to focus entirely on Command Streaming," says Grove. "The datacenters, the security, the tooling, the telemetry, the scaling—all that is already handled for us."
With dynamic scaling in Azure, Polystream can adapt its resources based on the exact amount of power the platform needs rather than paying for resources that are sitting idle. And there are other ways that this approach is helping control expenditures, too.
"The Azure portal gives us access to all our costs, current and predicted," says Cheryl Razzell, Vice President of Engineering at Polystream. "That visibility means that we're making more informed decisions about our future as we scale."
The future of streaming and digital social experiences
Polystream's customers want a powerful, reliable way to put their content in the hands of their own customers, and Command Streaming is delivering that. "We need global reach, affordability, scalability, and resilience, which we can build into our platform with Azure," says Razzell.
As Polystream continues to grow and its platform evolves, the company is always exploring how new developments in cloud and VM technology can help it offer the gaming and social experiences of the future. "Streaming is unlocking a whole new level of in-game interactions that have never been possible before. Our vision for cloud gaming has always been that it should be experiential. We're working with game developers on cloud-native projects where the technology should feel integral to the final product, not simply act as another option for accessing content that already exists elsewhere," says Grove. "Thanks to the incredible developments happening in Azure, we're able to build these tools to make our customers happier and offer gamers entirely new experiences."
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