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August 21, 2018   •   Robert Gibb

Why Game Companies Use Content Delivery Networks


Today game developers and publishers face challenges to successfully delivering online games. Content delivery networks (CDNs) help game companies overcome these obstacles by improving the speed and performance of game downloads, updates, and patches.

The size of game downloads are increasing exponentially as new tech comes to market, hardware is improved across consoles, PCs, and handheld devices, and internet speeds improve. These technology advancements improve the gaming experience but can hurt the pre-gaming experience (downloading the game client and subsequent content updates). While most gamers won’t abandon a download after paying for it, making gamers wait hours to download content is a downright bad user experience. Also, many games are offered free-to-play, meaning the initial download and playing the game are free for end users. Gamers may show even less patience when waiting to try something new that they didn't pay for. Those games, and a majority of all popular online games, depend on revenue models that include in-game purchases, upgrades, and micro-transactions such as buying downloadable content (DLC). Therefore, the performance of updates and patches can be as important as the initial download to the overall success and profitability of an online game.

Content delivery networks solve this problem. By leveraging content caching and a global network of servers, a CDN gives game companies the ability to quickly deliver core downloads and patches to gamers. In addition, download failures and server crashes are prevented. All of this immediately improves the pre-gaming experience.

Delivering large files quickly is just one challenge faced by game companies. Traffic spikes and slow connections also make things difficult. And while connection speed on the gamer’s end is outside of the company’s control, the CDN makes it possible to deliver large files as fast as possible.

Buyers of Boxed Games Are Affected Too

Most boxed games require large post-installation downloads. For example, a boxed version of a popular game will still require a “Day One” patch during installation. Further, as a player advances through new levels, worlds, and additional in-game experiences, they're required to download additional content.

For any game, but especially games boasting massive sizes, post-installation downloads upsets gamers. And how long it takes for them to download the files upsets them even more. 

CDNs Take Guesswork Out of Server Placement

Deploying and managing servers that address speed and uptime is resource intensive. It requires upfront costs, ongoing costs, and personnel with experience building and managing global infrastructures. It also requires educated guessing that can lead to a misuse of money.

For instance, how do you know in which countries your game will do well? Do you have a server there? If not, users may experience lag and downtime. By leveraging an existing network of global servers, particularly a network already delivering games for dozens of other leading publishers, you don’t have to answer these tough questions. A CDN provides a relatively inexpensive platform to deliver game content at scale.

How a CDN Delivers Game Content

A CDN increases the capacity of the game server with dozens of points of presence (PoPs) across the world. This literally puts the game content closer to the gamer, thereby improving download speed. Here is an example of how it works:

  1. Gamer #1 in Frankfurt requests game content
  2. CDN server in Frankfurt pulls game content from original game server in Seattle
  3. CDN server in Frankfurt caches content and delivers to Gamer #1
  4. Gamer #2 – #100+ in Frankfurt request game content
  5. CDN server in Frankfurt delivers game content directly to them

This doesn’t just happen in one location (Frankfurt) – this happens across the globe. Multiple download locations prevent server overloads that often occur from a surge of requests, which is important as companies are prone to server overloads on the day of a new release or patch update. And since CDN servers don’t rely on the main server after caching the file, the CDN can continue delivering game content even if the origin server fails.

StackPath is one of the largest CDN providers to the game industry. You can read quotes and view case studies about some of our clients such as Valve (Steam), Hi-Rez Studios, and Chartboost. You can also learn why these and so many other game developers and publishers choose StackPath as their Game Delivery Network and select a time to meet with us at gamescom in Cologne on August 21/23.  

Have a question about game delivery? Chat with one of our CDN specialists by clicking the chat icon in the lower right-hand corner of this page.

Editorial note: this post was authored originally by Robert Gibb. It has been edited for content by Jay Moore and republished on August 21, 2018.


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