Video game developer Saber Interactive recently launched its first self-published game, World War Z. To support its requirements for global online multiplayer and complex back-end services, Saber modernized its game infrastructure with Microsoft Azure. With virtual machines for compute resources, Azure Blob storage, Azure Table storage, Orleans for service performance, and Azure SQL Database and Azure Cosmos DB to manage vital game data, Saber provides high-performance, low-latency gameplay for thousands of gamers around the world. As Saber's player base expands, it has a cost-effective way to scale World War Z—and the services it needs to continue improving the game.
"With Microsoft Azure, our team focuses on providing new features and services instead of worrying about architecture, capacity, or configuration. We've made Azure the brains of our back-end system." -- Dmitri Brevdo: Lead Backend Developer, Saber Interactive
A global online multiplayer game launch
Already well-known in the gaming industry for its work on titles for other publishers like Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Quake Champions, video game developer Saber Interactive released its first self-published game in 2019. World War Z is a third-person shooter based on the popular book and film of the same name, and it launched across three major platforms: the Windows operating system, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. In May 2020, Saber released a "Game of the Year" edition and announced an upcoming port to Nintendo Switch.
With 11 million registered users, World War Z has a global player base, many of whom connect online to take part in a range of cooperative and competitive game modes. Up to four players can form a team to fight up to 1,000 active enemies, which the game can simultaneously render on-screen for immersive gameplay.
Providing worldwide multiplayer services across three different platforms—soon to be four—requires a robust server architecture. Combine that with player demands for low-latency and reliable connectivity, and Saber needed a solution that would provide global reach, high availability, and fast performance.
High-capacity infrastructure for high-demand gaming
With years of experience working with Microsoft on both infrastructure and game development across its five international studios and its US-based publishing arm, the team at Saber knew that Microsoft Azure had the resources it needed to provide high-performance online multiplayer gaming at scale. "Microsoft Azure is the ideal starting point for creating and supporting multiple services that have different requirements," says Dmitri Brevdo, Lead Backend Developer at Saber Interactive.
Saber modernized its game infrastructure to run in the cloud by using Azure Virtual Machines, which helped the team establish a presence in regions that it couldn't support with its existing on-premises architecture, including Asia and Australia. With its new cloud infrastructure, Saber can provide the reach it wants—with access to more than 60 regions—and rapid, reliable scalability, which is vital for online multiplayer games.
Saber interoperates Azure with its in-house automated scaling tool, which helps ensure that World War Z has the capacity to host any number of players. "We host dedicated servers in Azure to support the multiplayer architecture, and if we reach capacity during periods of high demand, we can spin up entire new fleets of Azure virtual machines within minutes," says Brevdo.
Saber also uses Azure to facilitate cloud bursting, which transfers some of its traffic to public cloud connections during peaks in demand. This is particularly useful during events such as new content launches or free-to-play promotions. A recent free week on the Epic Games Store saw 9.9 million people download the game and a peak of 250,000 simultaneous players. Crucially, cloud bursting means that players won't get turned away during these periods of high infrastructure demand, and they won't see a dip in performance or increased latency—a critical requirement in the competitive online gaming market.
Complex data storage for seamless experiences
Storage is a core part of Saber's online multiplayer service. The game developer needs high-availability, rapid-access databases, so it uses Azure Cosmos DB, Azure Cache for Redis, Azure Blob storage, Azure Table storage, and Azure SQL Database to store and access the complex datasets and Orleans-based framework that support the game client's back-end microservices. "We have more than 60 different microservices that cover functionalities such as matchmaking and cross-platform play," says Kirill Dushin, Backend Developer at Saber Interactive. "For our players, it's seamless. They just jump into a game."
Figure 1. Software architecture diagram; for a larger version, go to the Downloads section in the left-hand sidebar
Saber uses its cloud databases to store everything, such as character configurations and information about an individual player's skill level. When a player signs in, the matchmaking service processes that data to find other players in their local region with a similar skill level—all completed in as little as five seconds.
"We host dedicated servers in Azure to support the multiplayer architecture, and if we reach capacity during periods of high demand, we can spin up entire new fleets of Azure virtual machines within minutes." -- Dmitri Brevdo: Lead Backend Developer, Saber Interactive
The development tools to provide superior gameplay at scale
With its new Azure architecture, Saber is making development smoother, too. The development team uses a modular delivery model so it can select the specific tools and services it needs to work most effectively. "The Saber back end isn't a monolithic solution," says Brevdo. "We use Azure as the foundation for our games services, which are the building blocks for new projects."
As Saber's developers work on supporting and expanding World War Z to accommodate its growing player base, it uses the modern cloud infrastructure in Azure to help its teams concentrate their attention where it matters most.
With the system's modular framework and easily configurable logic, Saber developers can make adjustments and additions to World War Z quickly, simply, and cost-effectively. From the smallest quality-of-life changes to major new content releases, the team has all the tools it needs to deliver superior gameplay experiences at scale.
"With Microsoft Azure, our team focuses on providing new features and services instead of worrying about architecture, capacity, or configuration," says Brevdo. "We've made Azure the brains of our back-end system."
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