Internap team at GDCIt’s time for our annual GDC wrap up! We were back at this year’s conference in San Francisco last week to learn about the state of the industry and listen to both large and small developers discuss their online infrastructure needs. Just like last year, we hosted our own session: “Learn from the pros: building fast, massively scalable games,” which included a great panel of industry leaders consisting of Steward Chisam (Hi-Rez Studios), Haitham Rowley (Square-Enix) and Tachu Avila (Crowdstar). Look for it on the GDC vault in a few weeks.

At GDC 2015, there was a lot to experience both on the show floor, and during the diverse conference sessions. Here are some big takeaways:

A VR Explosion
Walking down the show floor this year, you could quickly see that VR was well represented. From cool new VR demos (especially the double light saber demo courtesy of Sixense) to new VR headsets (from Sony’s and Valve’s to the fun Google Cardboard), VR was almost everywhere you looked. And the lines for the Oculus demo were just as long as last year!

Broadening Audiences has been growing in popularity for a while, and the fact that a lot of players learn about new games through the service has made Twitch a valuable marketing tool. Recently, many players have begun using Twitch to see their favorite streamers review new games, expansions or patches, using them for pre-purchase research instead of traditional game journalism. This new-found audience will definitely encourage other streaming providers to jump in, which in turn will increase the demand for high-performance networks and Content Delivery Networks (CDN).

Big Data and Analytics
Throughout the conference, there were many sessions devoted to understanding your audience better through behavioral analytics. Common questions included: Who buys your games? Why do they start (or stop) playing? How many sessions do they play? There were good discussions about the scalable infrastructure required to handle data from a growing player base, including high-performance cloud solutions needed for Hadoop deployments. I was surprised that other solutions for resource-intensive use cases (like bare-metal servers) were not brought up more often. Another analytical tool that has become popular in the industry is Tableau, which is used to analyze and draw conclusions from player’s activity and purchase behavior.

The state of Free to Play
What about F2P? Last year there was a bigger emphasis on the morality of F2P, while this year the focus was on different strategies to monetize players. That’s not to say the user experience should always come second, since most developers by now realize that pay gates (where only paying players can enjoy the full experience) are not well-received. In-game ads were widely talked about as speakers highlighted the importance of recognizing how and when to use ads, as well as the pitfalls of overusing them to the point they hinder the experience. Another takeaway was that developers should not underestimate the value of nonpaying gamers, since they bring others through word of mouth, help maintain a healthy community and may transition to paying customers with time.

Managing your Traffic
One of the biggest challenges developers face is providing a seamless experience for their players, with low load times, a stable connection and as little lag as possible. While discussing that SMITE is coming to consoles (to Xbox One specifically), Hi-Rez Studios shone some light on how they handle their traffic. Currently Hi-Rez uses a mix of bare-metal servers and cloud to handle their typical day-to-day traffic (around 84% and 16% respectively). However, during events or times when a high number of players is expected, Hi-Rez switches to a higher percentage of cloud, allowing the cloud’s flexibility and scalability to successfully accommodate the incoming traffic.

That’s all for now. For more information about Internap’s gaming solutions, check out our gaming resources, scalable media streaming solution and the ParStream report on database performance. GDC was fun and we learned a lot, looking forward to next year!