Monolith vs microservices in gaming architecture

Monoliths vs microservices in gaming architecture: striking the right balance

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Ascendion December 19, 2023



In the ever-evolving landscape of game development, architectural decisions are pivotal to achieving optimal performance, scalability, and maintainability in gaming applications. Among these decisions, the choice between monolithic and microservices architectures stands as a central debate. Let’s dive into the world of Monoliths vs Microservices in Gaming Architecture, as we explore a compelling problem statement and insightful solutions.

From a business perspective, microservices architecture helps handles complexity in the app or the platform, by breaking the game into manageable service sets that are faster to develop and easier to maintain. Services or updates can be independently deployed and can interact with one another through APIs. On the other hand, Monolithic architecture is simplistic, easy to maintain and well-documented, offering easy error tracing, and enables similar structuring across the app.

In the contemporary landscape of gaming, the requirements vary based on factors such as game size, genre, and mode. Although Microservices align well with the needs of many games, smaller gaming studios aiming to develop uncomplicated games with steady, non-exponential growth may find Monolith architecture a more straightforward choice. Monolith’s singular deployment and streamlined maintenance of the codebase make it a convenient option for smaller teams seeking manageable growth. Given the dynamic nature of today’s game development industry, characterized by constant changes, adaptability, and scalability, Microservices emerge as a preferred model. This architecture allows for seamless iteration, flexibility in selecting programming languages, and efficient load balancing across diverse geographical locations.

Furthermore, games that demand a continuous server connection, particularly in the realm of Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs), must scale effectively to accommodate peak concurrent users on any given day. This scalability becomes even more critical during busy holiday seasons. By incorporating a redundant and reliable service architecture, uninterrupted service can be guaranteed. Microservices offer an additional advantage by allowing targeted fixes and updates to specific service components, isolating them from the broader backend. This approach ensures that game services can be seamlessly managed and updated in real-time.

Ascendion is assisting studios in sustaining the operational integrity of their servers, catering to the expanding customer base, and overseeing the upkeep of the platform. Our teams specialize in managing platforms that cater to millions of active users monthly, adapting to the ever-changing dynamics of peak daily usage, enhancing performance while optimizing costs.


The challenge

Imagine yourself as an architect at a medium-sized gaming studio. Your mission: to develop a portfolio of mobile apps, each operating in a server-authoritative manner. This means that nearly every in-game action triggers a request to the server platform. You’ve embraced the world of microservices, a modular approach that allows for the independent development and deployment of code. It has empowered your engineering teams to work efficiently and make thousands of deployments without risking other components.

However, a question looms in the minds of the technical leaders at your studio. They propose a different path, advocating for a “single binary” system that would enable real-time functionality across the entire game ecosystem. They envision a unified “Real-Time Game Engine” application capable of keeping all components in sync. This prompts you to question whether the pervasive use of monolithic architectures in the gaming industry is rooted in purposeful design or simply the inertia of legacy code.


Navigating the architectural landscape

  • Understanding architectural pros and cons
    In the gaming world, as in any domain, architectural decisions should be driven by a deep understanding of the pros and cons of each approach. Consider the size of your project. For smaller teams handling approximately 100,000 lines of code, a monolithic structure may be more pragmatic. In contrast, if your project expands into the million-line territory, microservices could offer the needed modularity.
    Microservices are akin to a set of interconnected building blocks. They allow horizontal scaling, meaning you can selectively scale individual components as required, mitigating resource overhead. However, it’s crucial to recognize that monolithic applications excel in low latency due to local execution.
  • Scaling according to real needs
    Remember, not every project needs to reach the dizzying heights of scalability witnessed at tech giants like Netflix or Google. Microservices, in essence, can be viewed as “monoliths with network communication” with inherent benefits. Hence, starting with a monolith and transitioning to microservices when warranted is a prudent approach. Tailor your architectural choices to the specific demands of your project.
  • Real-world examples of microservices
    It’s a fallacy to assume that all gaming companies exclusively rely on monolithic structures. The gaming industry has witnessed successful deployments of microservices for non-real-time processes. If your goal involves real-time multiplayer gaming, where HTTP request overhead could prove problematic, a more monolithic approach might be worth considering.
    Developers looking to build a game that’s compatible across multiple consoles can leverage microservices structure for scalability and multiple capabilities. If you’re working on a game with multiple journeys, levels and data that needs to accommodate several players, microservices is the way to go. In this, individual modules are separated from one another, assuring isolation. Therefore, even if one component fails or faces an error, the other parts of the application won’t stop working.
    Ascendion worked with a tech giant to improve in-app gaming purchase experience for players while driving cost efficiency. We boosted their engineering velocity, resulting in accelerated product release cycles. This led to a 25% surge in player engagement and 1.25x improved revenue for the client. Since in-app responsiveness had to be quick, we opted to build a microservices architecture.
    Personal preferences and industry experience wield significant influence over architectural choices. Senior staff may harbour suspicions about adopting modern approaches, while junior developers may enthusiastically embrace the hype around microservices. Balancing these perspectives is crucial.


Monoliths as the default

Monoliths can serve as the default choice in many scenarios. Only pivot towards microservices when scalability takes precedence over performance. This underscores the importance of performance considerations when charting your architectural course.

The speed at which a game loads is very important for players. Lower the latency, better the user experience. With monolithic architecture, communication is realized within a single instance, as soon as its deployed. Since there are just fewer network communications, data packet travels quickly. Gaming skins or updates can be launched very quickly with monoliths. Since it’s on a single code base in most cases, time-to-market is swift.


Hybrid approaches in gaming

In the realm of gaming architecture, hybrid solutions often reign supreme. In practice, real-time components are frequently managed as monoliths, while ancillary services, such as store, catalogue, chat, and leader boards, assume the form of web services. This hybrid model marries the strengths of both monolithic and microservices architectures to address specific gaming requirements.

Game development studios creating content for immersive platforms such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) must prioritize the quality of the user experience. The efficiency of data transfer between the server and the presenter is crucial, as any delays in web requests or loading times can significantly affect the overall user experience. Therefore, careful consideration and optimization of data transfer processes through innovative technology are essential to ensure a seamless and immersive experience for the users.


Monolith vs microservices in gaming architecture, what’s the verdict?

The Monolith vs Microservices debate in gaming architecture is an ongoing saga. Each approach boasts its own set of advantages and trade-offs. It’s important to remember that choice in architecture influences infrastructure costs, so going with a unique approach that suits your business needs is highly important.

This discussion illuminates the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As a thought leader in the gaming industry, your responsibility is to carefully assess your project’s scale, performance requirements, and real-time necessities. Be flexible and open to reevaluating your architectural choices as your project evolves.

Ultimately, whether you choose monoliths, microservices, or a harmonious blend of both solutions, the goal remains the same: delivering captivating gaming experiences that keep players coming back for more.

Uncertain about the monolith vs microservices in gaming architecture approach that aligns with your game’s needs? Work with Ascendion! Schedule a free consultation to optimize your gaming backend with our expert assistance.

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