Check out the new USENIX Web site. next up previous
Next: Conclusions Up: Potential for multiplexing gain Previous: Games exhibit strong, diurnal

Game updates significantly impact resource usage

The infrastructure required to host on-line games must also account for the mutability of the games over time. Software patches to fix bugs, prevent cheats, and deliver new content to end-users are an expected component of many on-line games. These patches can vary greatly in size, from a few bytes to several gigabytes. Understanding the impact of these patches on hosting, and adequately provisioning for them is an important part of supporting on-line games. We use the trace of the Steam content delivery network to examine this aspect of games. Our Steam trace includes the initial download of the popular FPS game Half-Life 2 as well as a number of sizable content updates for both clients and servers.

The Steam network is utilized for both player authentication and content distribution. Players are authenticated to Steam for each game session, via the download of an authentication module. Content is distributed to players (and servers) via Steam at irregular intervals and irregular sizes. These two functions are not distinguished in the data set we have collected. However, we can differentiate them by utilizing the GameSpy dataset, which tracks player load, by assuming that player load and game authentication are linearly correlated.

As a way of validating that the Steam data and the GameSpy data are tracking the same thing (i.e. player load), we consider a week without a Steam update. Figure 15 shows a scatter plot of Steam data (in megabits per second) versus GameSpy data (in players), and the least-squares fit line. The correlation coefficient for this week is 0.86, indicating a roughly linear relationship. We attribute the inexact nature of the correspondence to small changes in the size of the authentication module and sampling error.

We use the GameSpy dataset to subtract the authentication data from Steam and focus on the bandwidth requirements of a patch. Figure 16 shows a two week period of Steam activity, with a single patch occurring three days into the period. Also graphed is the authentication data component, computed from the GameSpy dataset with a ratio of players to megabits/second of 1 to 0.0291. By integrating these two signals and subtracting, we estimate the patch burden on Steam for this patch to be 129.7 terabytes, which is 30% of that week's total load including authentication.

{\figurename} 15: Half-Life player population versus Steam CDN usage

{\figurename} 16: Steam bandwidth during a patch release

{\figurename} 17: Excess bandwidth consumed by users downloading patches via Steam

{\figurename} 18: Cumulative distribution function of patch data.

We use this same methodology on four patches delivered during our trace, and chart the bandwidth impact of the patches over a two-week period in Figure 17. Three anomalies deserve explanation: patch p3 is cut short of the full two week period analysis because of the release of p5, patch p2 shows a rise in bandwidth after one week due to erroneous player data from GameSpy, and (according to Steam's press releases) the two weeks of patch p7 contain numerous patches. One question to address is how long it takes to deliver a patch: the cumulative distribution function (CDF) of the patch delivery data in Figure 18 shows that 80% of the load occurs in the first 72 hours for the three single-patch traces, whereas the various patches in trace p7 are delivered throughout a two-week period.

Our observations on patch distribution bring up several issues. We believe content delivery for games is a significant burden that must be provisioned for, as it can greatly increase the hosting bandwidth requirement. At this point, however, it is unclear what the optimal strategy would be for delivery and scheduling. Our inital observations are that to avoid the stacking effect seen in Figure 18, content should be spaced for delivery such that the bulk of each patch is delivered before the next patch begins. Further, if minimizing the combined content and authentication load is a goal, then patches should be released at the lowest peak in the weekly and daily cycle. For example, a patch released Monday evening may potentially miss the daily afternoon peak as well as the weekend peak. As part of future work, we plan on examining the proper scheduling of patches based on measured game workloads.

next up previous
Next: Conclusions Up: Potential for multiplexing gain Previous: Games exhibit strong, diurnal