That’s just a few of the headlines from last year’s holiday game rush. We’re four weeks away from Christmas. Are you ready for the battle against holiday shoppers? With the increased traffic, security concerns and high customer expectations, the holiday period is a stressful time for you and your servers. So how can you prepare?
The key to surviving any battle is preparation. Surviving the holiday rush is no different. We suggest a three pronged approach to ensuring you’re ready.
Prepare For Increased Traffic
With stockings stuffed full of games and kids super excited to jump on and play, holidays are traditionally the busiest time for game servers. Last year Steam hit a new record with 12 million concurrent gamers on Jan 3rd, 2016. This holiday season will only bring more traffic with revenues from the Top 25 Game companies up 22% year over year.
Increased traffic means four things – increased latency, frequent traffic jams and more refused connections as more users try to come online. In order to scale gracefully, you’ll need bandwidth and hardware capabilities at the ready. If you’re building on a server backbone provider, this is easy enough to do by adding more server clusters. If you’re hosting your own servers locally, you’ll want to think proactively and have resources on hand. It might be time to make the jump to a multi-region host network. Using a provider, like 100TB, that offers a presence on multiple continents will greatly reduce any latency to gamers outside your primary region.
To support using dispersed server clusters, upgrade to make sure you have the most intelligent load balancing services working for you. Advanced load balancers use algorithms to make sure new connections aren’t just finding the shortest path to the server, but also the most efficient one. For example, 100TB’s Premium Network uses fully redundant connections to Tier 1 backbone carriers to ensure high availability. Networks are monitored by Noction’s intelligent routing platform to avoid the overloading of any particular provider or connection – meaning that your keen holiday gamers will never see lag or latency issues. With time quickly running out it’s worth having that conversation right now.
Conduct Thorough Security Checks
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say last year’s security issues were a disaster for the gaming industry. Between Playstation Network and Xbox Live being taken offline (for several hours over a week) and Steam’s leak of over 34,000 gamers’ personal information, security issues and breaches were at an all-time high.
To prepare, start with a security audit. Double check that sensitive information is encrypted. Sony was hit twice by this issue – once with the 2011 Playstation hack, and again in 2014 with the massive email hack. With the cure so simple to enforce, it shouldn’t have even happened once let alone twice. Ensure you have 2-factor authentication turned on for all access points, and that employees have updated their passwords in the last 30 days. Reduce direct server access to the bare minimum to ensure no errant access points.
Secondly, it’s time to make sure your DDoS protection is up to date. If you’re using a brew-your-own infrastructure, you may need to update your subscription to a DDoS protection service provider. If you’re forced to turn on DDoS protection in an emergency, many providers will charge exorbitant “mayday” fees, so ensuring you’re already protected during a vulnerable time might save you some money in the long run. In fact, preparation is absolutely essential so start now if you haven’t already.
Be Ready For The Worst
Even if you’re on the nice list this year, holidays have a habit of creating a mess. Not only are the holidays busier with more people having time to jump online and play (hey, we all need time away from the in-laws), many players are just being introduced to new games through their gifts. This means many customers are first-time players and how you recover could determine how they perceive your brand in the long run. It really is like playing a long game. Plus, consumers are more demanding than ever. Amazon set new expectations when they released their “Mayday” button three years ago. If anything went wrong with customers’ new purchases, they could simply press the Mayday button and get an answer in an average of 9 seconds.
With the stakes this high, how can you help your customers still feel cared for when the worst happens? Customer service is often the only differentiator between brands these days. The key – focus on internal tools to help detect and resolve issues faster. When the stakes are this high, you don’t want your customers to find out about issues before you.
Beef up your monitoring tools to ensure all services are running as planned, and test them. ServerDensity has a great article about their DevOps team “War Games” procedures – essentially a crisis simulation. Running through situations before they actually happen ensures everyone has everything ready for the real deal. They found gaps in their documentation and limitations in their workarounds that were easily resolved with a test run. If you take nothing else from this article this suggestion alone could have a profound impact on your business.
Finally – make sure your front line team has access to monitoring tools and key stakeholders. If things do go wrong, they will be hearing from frustrated customers and need the information to help them.
Winter Is Coming
Thinking about these three areas before the storm comes will help you survive the holiday rush with your sanity intact. Pass the eggnog, mincemeat pies and game controller and we’ll show you the real meaning of multitasking!!