Disc Jam Case Study: Supporting a Mission for Fast-Paced Competitive Gameplay with Amazon Gamelift
About High Horse Entertainment
Having gained over 20 years’ experience at both Treyarch and Activision, where they worked on successful titles from the Call of Duty and Guitar Hero franchises, Software Engineers Jay Mattis and Timothy Rapp chose to leave the AAA landscape to co-found an independent game studio that focuses on their shared mission to develop fast-paced, competitive gameplay online. Jay and Tim co-founded High Horse Entertainment in 2015, and are the sole creators of Disc Jam, an arcade-style action-sports game that pits players against each other in a frantic combination of air hockey and tennis. In Disc Jam, players scramble to retrieve and throw a glowing disc while unleashing devastating abilities and defending their end zone.
Despite having a development team of just 2, Disc Jam gained popularity long before launching earlier this year. After just an 8-week development cycle, High Horse Entertainment showcased their prototype at IndieCade 2015, where they received a hugely positive reception. This propelled co-founders Jay and Tim to launch Disc Jam as a first-class console and PC game that earned numerous awards, media coverage, launch day promotion from Sony PlayStation Plus, and a 92% score on Steam.
But when High Horse Entertainment began to receive complaints about matchmaking and game session quality for PS4 and PC, they knew they had to take action. Tim explained, “We began getting email complaints, including taped clips sharing bad player experience of jitters, lag, and lost connections. Players didn’t know or care that it was a localized P2P issue. They assumed the game was at fault and jumped to thinking you’re not ready for primetime.”
Disc Jam’s home grown P2P network had been rigorously tested prior to launch, but real-world elements such as Wi-Fi connection and interference can have a huge impact on player experience and need to be factored into the equation. Jay added, “You can have a top 300 Mb connection, but in games network quality is about more than just bandwidth. Is one of your players piggybacking on their neighbor’s Wi-Fi? Are they running their microwave? These things can impact the experience of everyone in the game if you don’t have dedicated servers.”
With a combined experience of 20 years as Network Engineers, Jay and Tim certainly have the expertise to utilize raw AWS components to build a robust and reliable infrastructure that would have resolved their issues of inconsistent and jittery gameplay. However, in a development studio where its 2 founders are the most valuable and already over utilized resource, the team were understandably hesitant to build their own dedicated server solution because of the time and effort that would be required, not just to build, but to also manage their infrastructure on an ongoing basis. With troubles growing, High Horse Entertainment were introduced to Amazon GameLift, Amazon’s managed service that provides game developer’s with both a flexible matchmaking pipeline and simple, fast and cost effective dedicated game server hosting for multiplayer games.
Migrating to Amazon GameLift
Amazon GameLift makes it easy to manage server infrastructure, to autoscale your capacity to achieve lower latency and cost, to match players into available and appropriate game sessions, and to defend your game against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
“Amazon GameLift enabled us to set up fleets all over the world and deliver the best network experience possible for Disc Jam” said Jay. Tim expanded on this, stating, “Amazon GameLift is a unique technology. It makes hosting machines in the cloud easy, but it also gets them to report back on how occupied instances are and exactly when to scale up and down. Without Amazon GameLift this would usually take a lot of people, time, code, and money.”
With 14 globally distributed server locations, Amazon GameLift enabled High Horse Entertainment to deliver more reliable connections to their players, almost entirely eliminating bad feedback. In an announcement to players, Disc Jam explained some of the immediate benefits of implementing dedicated servers through Amazon GameLift including drastically improved matchmaking, more reliable connections across the globe, less volatility in latency, and simultaneous queuing for different match types and regions.
As well as immediate benefits, Amazon GameLift enabled High Horse Entertainment to implement completely new features for Disc Jam, including cross-platform play between PC and PS4. The Co-Founders said, “our recent infrastructure upgrades have paved the way for a very important feature: cross-play between PC and PS4. This means that players from both platforms are now able to play against each other, effectively joining our player pools and providing more competition for everyone.”
Saving with Autoscaling
A major part of the benefits gained by moving to Amazon GameLift was the potential for cost-savings. “One of the business realities facing High Horse was that in a two-man company like ours, all the costs come out of our pockets. So, saving a lot of money by being able to automatically scale up and down to meet capacity, globally, was huge.” Said the team.
Typically, manually managed game servers can be idle 60% of the time. Amazon GameLift’s autoscaling feature can start one, hundreds, or even thousands of instances simultaneously, and stop unused instances in just minutes. The service automatically scales capacity based on available player sessions, idle instances, or the average player wait time, all to ensure Disc Jam provides the best experience for its players without incurring any unnecessary costs.
“It all added up to the bottom line,” Tim and Jay explained, “We’re two extremely experienced people, but at the end of the day, we wouldn’t have been able to do it if Amazon GameLift didn’t exist. Period. Certainly not in the time frame we did. It wouldn’t really have been possible.”
High Horse Entertainment channeled decades of experience from AAA development into revitalizing an arcade-inspired action sports game, with only a fraction of the resource. By listening closely to their player-base and making the informed decision to enlist services such as Amazon GameLift, Jay Mattis and Timothy Rapp can now spend more of their time focusing on the main reason they moved away from the AAA landscape – creating deeply engaging, competitive gameplay online.