Fast, faster, fastest: How Akamai makes games play better

Akamai's Nelson Rodriguez at GDC.
Akamai's Nelson Rodriguez at GDC.

SAN FRANCISCO – In a year when virtual reality is dominating the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC),  Akamai, the giant Cambridge-based content delivery services company, stands out as a reminder that technology infrastructure is as important as ever.

Akamai, which has 5,000 employees and a $10 billion market capitalization, has been helping make the Internet run faster since 1998. And for nearly that long it has also been helping online, and now mobile, games run faster, improving the player experience across many of the world’s top titles from publishers like Ubisoft, DeNA, Bethesda, and Kabam.

Akamai is demonstrating at the conference just how its technology can reduce much of the friction – such as poor Web performance – that can effect a player’s experience in a big way.

“We help make games fast to download, fast to start up, and fast to play,” explained Nelson Rodriguez, Akamai’s senior games industry marketing manager. “I’d argue that a lot of the innovation in games is around making games more convenient for players. Through our technology, we really impact the friction-to-gameplay ratio, improve that convenience, and keep players in the game.”

And keeping players playing is what it’s all about. With so many titles available, it’s easy for a dissatisfied player to quit and move on.

The company built an interactive demo for GDC called The Abandoned that uses actual gameplay to demonstrate the risk of bad player experiences. In the demo, the player has to quickly slide and match performance, download, and security icons to keep gamer characters happy. If too slow, the characters leave, time eventually runs out, and it’s game over.

“Digital distribution is becoming one of the most important avenues to get our games to our players,” said Kevin Clark, director of online services at Ubisoft. “Being able to utilize Akamai’s content delivery network allows us to deliver those files quicker and have a gameplay experience in the player’s hands as quickly as possible no matter where they are on the planet.”

According to Rodriguez, as global Internet penetration and network quality increases everyday, Akamai is making sure game publishers and their players are getting the best experience possible wherever they are, be it on the T or on the couch.

Timothy Loew is the executive director of the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI) based at Becker College in Worcester.

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