Today's launch of Titanfall, a major title for the Xbox One console (also available for Windows PCs and on the Xbox 360 later this month), is not only a big milestone for Microsoft's latest video game machine, it will also test the mettle of the company's Windows Azure cloud computing platform.
Although Titanfall is developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by video game giant EA, Microsoft is providing the cloud servers that power the multiplayer, first-person shooter's AI combatants. It's a tactic that frees up local computing resources, enabling the game to deliver a fluid, fast-paced experience that has won raves from the gaming press and helped the game score generally favorable reviews.
Titanfall's dependence on Azure means that the title is an online-only affair. Offline play modes are not supported, nor are player-hosted servers.
Azure dynamically allocates computing resources as activity levels rise and fall, wrote Respawn engineer Jon Shiring in a June 24 blog post. The software giant "built this powerful system to let us create all sorts of tasks that they will run for us, and it can scale up and down automatically as players come and go," he wrote.
Microsoft's massive cloud footprint also has benefits for far-flung gamers. Shiring added that "Microsoft has data centers all over the world, so everyone playing our game should have a consistent, low-latency connection to their local data center."
Shiring told Engadget in a March 10 report that having Azure's cloud servers "with a significant amount of CPU power and bandwidth available is absolutely essential to our game: Having these machines that are regional and servers that have good ping—that's huge." Despite some reservations among game developers, a successful beta test of 2 million players has made converts out of some of his peers, he claimed.
"I've heard that since our beta ended, they've been pounding down the doors at Microsoft because they're realizing that it really is a real thing right now," said Shiring.
So far, it appears that Azure is holding up to the launch-day crush, despite some early stumbles. Xbox One and PC users took to Twitter in the early morning hours of March 11, unleashing the "Titanfail" hashtag after encountering connection issues. At 1:46 am, Jon Shiring (@jonshiring) reported that things were on the mend.
Shiring tweeted: "Patch is out. Things are starting to recover quickly now—you should get onto that Private Lobby server much faster soon."
Microsoft has a lot riding on Titanfall and its cloud-reliant model, which mirrors the Xbox One's cloud-friendly software foundation and the company's own shift to cloud-enabled business and consumer services. Yusuf Mehdi, chief marketing and strategy officer for Microsoft's devices unit, told Businessweek, "It's hard to overstate the importance of Titanfall to the Xbox One release this year,"
"For us, it's a game-changer. It's a system seller," he added.