Star Stable Reduces Build Times by 50% Using Amazon EC2 Mac Instances
Star Stable Entertainment (Star Stable) creates games, apps, music, and books to deliver immersive adventures, inspire girls, and build an inclusive gaming community. For the company, continuing to develop, test, and deploy its popular horse game, Star Stable Online, was a key priority when stay-at-home orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic went into effect and the game’s player base increased by 39 percent. However, Star Stable’s on-premises Mac hardware hindered staff productivity. It was difficult to maintain with staff working remotely because the machines required regular restarts and upgrades.
To build on its existing cloud infrastructure that uses Amazon Web Services (AWS), Star Stable looked to a new solution from one of its existing AWS services: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. Amazon EC2 Mac Instances enable customers to run on-demand macOS workloads in the cloud and extend the flexibility, scalability, and cost benefits of AWS to Apple developers. The service is built on Mac mini computers to enable developers to provision macOS workloads without needing to maintain physical hardware. And it’s powered by the AWS Nitro System, the underlying service for the next generation of Amazon EC2 instances.
When Amazon EC2 Mac Instances launched in November 2020, Star Stable quickly became an early adopter. “We have been very happy using AWS services,” says Martin Blomgren, head of operations at Star Stable. “So when AWS released Amazon EC2 Mac Instances, we realized we could use them for our build-and-test pipelines and immediately reached out to adopt them.” Using Amazon EC2 Mac Instances to produce the game, Star Stable reduced build times, using on-demand scaling to adjust the power of its build environment as needed to deploy changes faster to a rapidly growing user base.
Over the course of 1 year, we doubled the number of concurrent players and increased our player base by 39 percent. Improving the game quickly wouldn’t have been possible without fully managed Amazon EC2 Mac Instances and on-demand scaling.”
Head of Operations, Star Stable Entertainment
Improving the Remote Workflow
Star Stable’s main product, Star Stable Online, is a massively multiplayer online horse game. Published in 2011, it’s one of the biggest horse games in the world, with 1.5 million monthly active users, including 256,000 in the United States and 76,000 in Sweden. Star Stable has been an AWS customer since 2012, using compute services such as Amazon EC2 and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS)—a managed relational database service that provides cost-efficient, resizable capacity while automating time-consuming tasks such as hardware provisioning, database setup, patching, and backups.
Star Stable previously ran eight onsite Mac mini machines supporting 60 developers. In combination with the on-premises macOS hardware, it used Amazon EC2 C5 Instances—which deliver cost-effective high performance—for the build and Amazon RDS instances to update translations in the game. However, the on-premises hardware required maintenance and upgrades that were not feasible in the new remote work environment.
Star Stable spent 6 months searching for an alternative to its on-premises Mac hardware. The company considered adopting virtual macOS hardware with a partner company, but that would be costly and complex. But using Amazon EC2 Mac Instances, Star Stable allocated an Amazon EC2 Dedicated Host—which enables users to use their eligible software licenses with the resiliency, simplicity, and elasticity of AWS—and tested the build tools, then brought each machine up, creating snapshots that the service could revert to if an update failed. Star Stable then migrated its build pipeline to the new service. “We spent a lot of time trying to find a partner for this,” says Blomgren. “But once we had the Amazon EC2 Mac Instances running, we migrated basically all our builds in about 2 weeks.”
Increasing Productivity, Innovation, and User Experience
Because Star Stable was running new hardware, its developers could push builds through faster, cutting build times by 50 percent. “The first comment we got from the development team was that this was the first time our Mac builds were faster than the ones for PC,” Blomgren says. This improved the remote workflow for coding and content creation. “If you can push more builds through, that means more tests, more quality, and a better game experience for the players,” says Blomgren.
The solution also minimized maintenance, enabling developers to work remotely and avoid slowdowns related to onsite maintenance, upgrades, and network glitches. Regarding the new macOS build workload, Blomgren says, “We just keep it running, and for the past month, we haven’t done any maintenance. It’s easy to see why it was a good decision.”
The migration to Amazon EC2 Mac Instances helped Star Stable accelerate development to improve the game experience for a rapidly growing number of players. “Over the course of 1 year, we doubled the number of concurrent players and increased our player base by 39 percent. Improving the game quickly wouldn’t have been possible without fully managed Amazon EC2 Mac Instances and on-demand scaling,” says Blomgren.
Star Stable plans to further reduce operational overhead and enhance delivery of its core services by migrating its applications and services from legacy hardware to AWS serverless services, including AWS Fargate, a serverless compute engine for containers that removes the need to provision and manage servers and makes it simple to build applications, and AWS Lambda, a serverless compute service for running code without provisioning or managing servers. Star Stable is also considering replacing its gateways with serverless API gateways. “We want to focus on our core business of producing games, music, and books,” says Blomgren. “There’s no gain for us to have a lot of staff maintaining machines. Shifting infrastructure management to AWS fits well with the work-from-home scenario, too, because it’s simple to set up access rules.”
Focusing on the Future
Using Amazon EC2 Mac Instances, Star Stable replaced its on-premises Mac hardware with a remote macOS build environment that scales to push more value to players faster and enables the development team to focus on innovating on behalf of players and delivering new ways to play. As a result, Star Stable was able to foster positive connections among its user community, which increased rapidly and then remained steady even after stay-at-home orders lifted. Blomgren says, “There is so much going on in our communities. Our users engage with us and even record their own music and publish it on YouTube.”
After migrating most of its test cases to the new build machines, Star Stable plans to migrate its graphical tests, develop several new games, and publish one game in 2021. Star Stable is also preparing for the release of Star Stable Online on mobile, anticipating a soft launch in Australia before a wider release. Star Stable expects the number of players to increase; so to launch the app and scale accordingly, the company is updating its build-and-release pipeline and migrating even more of its live services to AWS. Using Amazon EC2 Mac Instances and serverless AWS infrastructure, Star Stable can continue to deliver engaging experiences to its users and support future innovations.
About Star Stable Entertainment
Star Stable Entertainment is a global cross-channel entertainment company that creates games, books, music, animations, and stories across multiple touchpoints. It is the creator of horse game Star Stable Online, which is live in 180 countries.
Benefits of AWS
- Reduced build times by 50%
- Scaled build and test power to deploy value to players faster
- Migrated to Amazon EC2 Mac Instances in about 2 weeks
- Built a steady community of 1.5 million users
- Removes the need to maintain physical hardware
- Improves staff productivity and innovation
AWS Services Used
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.
Amazon EC2 Mac Instances
Amazon EC2 Mac instances enable customers to run on-demand macOS workloads in the cloud for the first time, extending the flexibility, scalability, and cost benefits of AWS to all Apple developers.
AWS Nitro System
The AWS Nitro System is a combination of dedicated hardware and lightweight hypervisor enabling faster innovation and enhanced security.
Amazon EC2 Dedicated Hosts
Amazon EC2 Dedicated Hosts allow you to use your eligible software licenses from vendors such as Microsoft and Oracle on Amazon EC2, so that you get the flexibility and cost effectiveness of using your own licenses, but with the resiliency, simplicity and elasticity of AWS.
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