How Milestone turbocharged the ‘Hot Wheels Unleashed’ franchise with Amazon GameLift
When game developer and publisher Milestone released a third-person racing game based on Mattel’s Hot Wheels toy line, “Hot Wheels Unleashed,” in September 2021, it quickly gained a dedicated following. The game sold more than one million copies in less than three months, making it Milestone’s fastest-selling title ever. By April 2023, Milestone had sold more than two million copies, and the game registered more than eight million active players. When developing the recently released sequel, “Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged,” the Milestone development team set the bar high; they aimed to take all the elements fans loved from the original and elevate them in a meaningful way.
Establishing a strong foundation
Most of Milestone’s online game features are based on its backend-as-a-service that’s custom-built inside Amazon Web Services (AWS) using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances and REST API architecture. When Milestone migrated its game server hosting from a primarily peer-to-peer network to Amazon GameLift in 2019, the team was able to spin up its first session in less than three days, including integrating with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. Since then, Milestone has continued building out its Amazon GameLift implementation and use of AWS solutions, including Amazon EC2 Spot Instances, ultimately reducing latency by 75 percent and costs by 70 percent, with negligible interruptions.
“We’ve seen how AWS is committed to their customers and appreciate how they’ve supported us. We’re able to address issues or evaluate new solutions or techniques way earlier than we would be able to otherwise,” noted Fabio Segantin, Lead Online R&D Programmer at Milestone.
“Our players can be confident they’re receiving the best experiences with our games because they are stable and low latency. We don’t have to waste time monitoring our game server because it’s managed by AWS; it works great, never fails, and the costs are reasonable.”
In addition to Amazon GameLift, Milestone uses Amazon API Gateway to create WebSocket APIs, Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) and Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) for managing messages, and AWS Lambda for triggering AWS services.
In developing “Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged,” the Milestone team broadened its usage of Amazon GameLift, adding true matchmaking capabilities with FlexMatch to enhance the game experience. Players can pre-aggregate friend lists and merge with groups before undergoing the matchmaking process, which is now more attuned to specific player needs. Like the first installment, the sequel has players compete in 12-vehicle races on the iconic orange Hot Wheels tracks, with new environments, track configurations, vehicle designs, jump and dash actions, and a story-driven career mode, among other new features.
“With the first game release, we received a lot of player feedback that they wanted a better way to aggregate and connect with each other, so the sequel was a good opportunity to rewrite our infrastructure with matchmaking in mind and leverage more Amazon GameLift, features, like FlexMatch,” noted Segantin.
When Milestone first began evaluating cloud-based services before adopting Amazon GameLift, the studio was unsure how the new approach would impact budgets. After gaining a better understanding of cloud costs and best practices, Milestone found that it was less expensive to use AWS, and it could accelerate the development process, especially as multi-region support was added to Amazon GameLift.
“During the first Hot Wheels game release, we were amazed at how little it cost to use GameLift. We compared our usage to what it would cost to buy the required machines to handle our workload; even if you spread the cost over three years, using AWS is less than purchasing machines, without taking into account the additional costs of running and updating those machines,” explained Segantin. “With GameLift, the machines we need are ready and provisioned by Amazon, and when we need to add a new region, we can do so with a few clicks.”
While matchmaking for “Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged” is still currently done within a single platform, Milestone is working on an update to connect players across platforms for a true cross-platform experience. The studio is also looking at broadening its use of AWS services and features, such as autoscaling with Amazon EC2 and enhanced analytics capabilities with Amazon CloudWatch.
“Hot Wheels Unleashed 2 – Turbocharged” is now available worldwide on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and for PC via Steam and Epic Games Store.
Learn more about matchmaking with Amazon GameLift.