E-Sports

Amazon servers gave us cross platform play, should gamers be worried?

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Amazon runs the Fortnite servers, and much much more.

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Sony didn’t want cross platform

Fortnite players can now play together on all platforms. PS4’s inclusion doubles matchmaking options, players need one account now instead of several, and households with multiple systems can play simultaneously. Cross platform play is objectively better for so many reasons, but Sony didn’t want it.

In their blog post announcing cross platform Sony admitted: “This represents a major policy change for SIE…” That policy was that everything is better on Playstation. But that policy didn’t really change – the release said: “We see the beta as an opportunity to conduct thorough testing that ensures cross-platform play is best on PlayStation…”. Point being – Sony didn’t change their minds, they were forced to change their practices, despite having the top selling system.

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Sony waited because they held a sales lead. Even with PS4 sales on the decline from previous years, Sony was still outselling their competitors. But their declining sales was a concern, if players bought V-bucks (Fortnite’s in game currency) on other systems, that could compromise Sony’s lead, or drop their sales even more.

Gamers got mad

Gamers were angry because Sony was effectively holding Fornite accounts hostage. Playing on Playstation even one time meant you could not use that account on any other console. In an effort to compete with Sony’s lead Microsoft and Nintendo began cooperating. Microsoft and Nintendo teamed up, not just in Fortnite, but other games like Minecraft. Microsoft even went so far as to openly blame Sony for not working with them. It was a bad look for Sony, their competitors were teaming up and calling them out, gamers were pissed, and even game developer Bethesda voiced frustration.

Sony finally relented because their stocks fell due to the Fortnite controversy. Despite their sales lead, they were forced to lax their policy due to consumers leaving them for the competition. So why should gamers worry? Because Amazon has no competition.

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Alexa, crush my enemies

Amazon is the last one standing

Amazon runs every single Fortnite server, whether it be on PC, Xbox, mobile, or Playstation: “Since launch, Fortnite has been powered by AWS, relying on its game server fleet and back-end platform systems.” AWS is short for Amazon Web Services, and they have destroyed the competition. Amazon designed their systems with cross platform in mind, and AWS has more cloud servers, in every region, than anyone.

 

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Even Microsoft, the distant second place competitor, uses Amazon servers. From the AWS faq: “Amazon Web Services and Microsoft have worked together for several years, starting with AWS launching Windows Server based instances in 2008.”

Amazon’s cloud isn’t just bigger than the competition, it’s bigger than Microsoft, Google, and IBM combined.  At Game Developer’s Conference 2018, Amazon announced that more than 90% of the world’s largest game companies use AWS. Epic Games, Activision, Square Enix, Bandai Namco, Ubisoft, and so many more rely on AWS servers.

And its not just game development, Amazon bought Twitch in 2014, and some developers have attributed as much as 25% of their sales to Twitch. On the AWS blog they promise to reduce company server costs by 90%. If these numbers are accurate, its no wonder Amazon boasts about them, nobody could ever compete. Only problem is, what if something happens to Amazon servers? Well, something did.

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Fallout 76 is set in West Virginia, near Amazon’s own server apocalypse. But they still use AWS

Amazon isn’t invincible

Last year on February 28th, AWS had technical difficulties. Amazon revealed that the fault was employee error in a summary of the incident:

“At 9:37AM PST, an authorized S3 team member using an established playbook executed a command which was intended to remove a small number of servers for one of the S3 subsystems that is used by the S3 billing process. Unfortunately, one of the inputs to the command was entered incorrectly and a larger set of servers was removed than intended.”

TL;DR – Someone accidentally turned off the lights, and left everybody in the dark.

That “larger set” of servers was a data center in Virginia. The shutdown stopped users of the business messaging service Slack from uploading, technology news site The Verge wouldn’t display photos – and Quora, a popular question-and-answer site for students, couldn’t even load. There were more issues caused by the shutdown, but more importantly the incident showed the danger of extreme resource consolidation. This was in 2017, but there have been other issues with AWS.

One year earlier a DDoS attack (Directed Denial of Service) knocked out Amazon and AWS customers for the whole east coast. In an effort to increase security, Amazon Shield launched shortly after. According to Amazon:

“AWS Shield Advanced protection provides always-on, flow-based monitoring of network traffic and active application monitoring to provide near real-time notifications of DDoS attacks. AWS Shield Advanced also gives customers highly flexible controls over attack mitigations to take actions instantly.”

TL;DR – It stops most DDoS attacks, but not all.

To Amazon’s credit, outages have been relatively rare since AWS Shield launched, but the possibility should give gamers pause. The strongest shield can still shatter.

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Mouse and Keyboard support means new crossplay possibilities.

What’s next for gaming?

Even if they aren’t cross console, most games still run on Amazon servers. But now that crossplay is here, its unlikely that players will want to go back. If anything, cross console play will spread to other titles already running on Amazon servers, the transition is simple, and will quickly become industry standard. Amazon is pushing for this, they know that their infrastructure is the only one that can support crossplay. Which is why they have videos urging developers to design their games for cross platform. It won’t be long before popular titles like Overwatch, Call of Duty, and Rocket League become cross platform, because they all use AWS servers. This deepens Amazon’s foothold in gaming, for good or ill.

More than likely, the immediate future looks good. Crossplay can keep the player base active on multiplayer games where numbers are vital. MMOs like Destiny 2, shooters like PUBG, and fighting games like Dragonball Fighterz, all rely on an active, large player base. Now that Xbox will be adding mouse and keyboard support, we could even see longtime PC games make the leap to console, such as popular MOBA League of Legends.

Its an exciting time, but the real concern is the future. If Amazon ever decides to pull a Sony and flex their market dominance, there’s no competitor that could support crossplay. Amazon just increased their price for prime memberships, again, and if that happens to AWS there’s no way to cancel without wiping out gaming. While AWS servers are numerous, and designed to ensure DDoS attacks don’t effect all servers, large scale attacks can bypass these measures. The crossplay rewards are great, but so are the risks. Lets hope gamers outrun the storm.

Until next time,

GG

-Dan

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