Kobojo is a young company that develops online, casual games for social networks, such as Facebook. It is not unusual for social games to reach millions of users in a short period of time. After the tremendous success of one of the company’s games, the 10-server infrastructure that Kobojo had in place was nearly at capacity. Kobojo needed a highly scalable infrastructure—one that it could quickly scale up to respond to unpredictable game demand. The company decided to adopt Windows Azure to host and manage its latest game, RobotZ. By using Windows Azure, Kobojo now has in place an infrastructure that it can rapidly scale up—a component that is critical to the company’s success and future growth. Also, by relying on Microsoft data centers, Kobojo simplified IT management while avoiding capital expenses—helping the company focus its efforts on creating compelling games.Situation
Headquartered in Paris, France, Kobojo is a software development company that produces social, casual games that customers can access online. The company’s games, including the popular Goobox, are available on Facebook and some mobile phones, and will soon be available on MySpace and other social networking websites.
||You can have a great idea, but then you need to find the ingredient for success. For us, scalability and the ability to scale with Windows Azure is that secret ingredient.
Chief Executive Officer, Kobojo
In the competitive market of casual, social games, Kobojo sets itself apart from other software companies by analyzing data about how gamers interact with their games, such as which features they repeatedly use or ignore while playing games. It also uses the agile development methodology to rapidly produce games. “As part of our agile development, we never spend more than three months developing a game,” explains Sébastien Monteil, Chief Technology Officer at Kobojo. “Based on the data that we gather about gamers’ behaviors and our analysis of that data, we focus our energy on developing the core game. That way, we don’t have to worry that we’re spending time developing features that gamers won’t use and that are a waste of our development energy.” The company’s success with this method is demonstrated by the fact that Kobojo has had 41 million total users since its creation in 2008 and currently has more than five million active users each month.
In order to support the traffic for its portfolio of online games, Kobojo has created an on-premises infrastructure composed of 10 physical application and database servers. However, this physical infrastructure was difficult to scale as quickly as the company needed. This situation was not unique in the casual and social gaming market, where successful games can quickly attract millions of users in a short period of time. For instance, Goobox attracted three million unique users in just less than one month after it was released. With that kind of popularity, Kobojo needed to scale up its infrastructure quickly in order to support a dramatic increase in the number of users it serves.
Kobojo considered expanding its existing physical server infrastructure as the company outgrew its 10 servers. However, building additional infrastructure posed several challenges. First, although Kobojo uses its extensive data and business intelligence to predict general usage statistics, the company can neither predict which games might explode with popularity, such as Goobox, nor how many servers it should add to handle unpredictable traffic.
Second, Kobojo knew that it was both time consuming and cost-inefficient to build additional physical infrastructure. “When we purchased our original 10 servers, it was a good investment,” says Vincent Vergonjeanne, Chief Executive Officer at Kobojo. “But to continue to grow our infrastructure with physical servers would ultimately be both inefficient and costly.” Also, adding physical servers would draw resources away from the company’s core focus, requiring Kobojo to dedicate fewer resources to game development and more to server maintenance and management.Solution
Kobojo wanted a cloud-based computing solution that offered both scalability and simplified IT management. In early 2009, the company evaluated Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) when it implemented that cloud service to host several of its internal tools, such as its system for logging and storing game information. “We gained a lot of insight into cloud computing and storage, but ultimately, we consider our use of Amazon EC2 an experiment,” explains Monteil. “We knew after using it internally that it was not the solution we were looking for to achieve quick, efficient, and cost-effective scalability for our games.”
|RobotZ, the latest game developed by Kobojo, is hosted on Windows Azure|
and takes advantage of the Windows Azure Content Delivery Network.
In particular, Kobojo wanted a service-oriented approach to its hosting environment. Though the company eliminated the need for on-premises servers for internal systems by using Amazon EC2, it still had to worry about deploying virtual servers and, subsequently, managing those servers. “We may have had a hosting environment in the cloud, but it was still one that we had to manage and we wanted to avoid that as we evaluated cloud services providers to support our core business,” says Monteil.
In June 2010, the game developer decided to host its latest game—RobotZ—on Windows Azure, a technology hosted in Microsoft data centers that serves as the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform.
RobotZ uses the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 and developers built the game with the Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional development system and the C# programming language. When it decided to implement Windows Azure, Kobojo had already begun developing the game and was mid-way through the coding process. However, developers easily ported the existing code to Windows Azure and had a working version of the game in only one week. Kobojo finished developing the game, including Alpha/Beta testing, and released the beta version of the game to a production environment. “We were excited with how easy it was to port our existing code and deploy using Windows Azure,” explains Monteil. “We operate with an agile development methodology and Windows Azure fit right in with our methods.”
In addition to using Windows Azure for its compute needs and as the hosting environment for its games, Kobojo also uses Blob Storage in Windows Azure to store game assets, including images. The company takes advantage of the Windows Azure Content Delivery Network, by caching its game content at strategically placed data centers around the globe. By using the Content Delivery Network, Kobojo can serve up game content to worldwide gamers without the latency issues that often accompany content that is downloaded by a customer who is not in close proximity to the data center location. “The Content Delivery Network is a great asset for us, helping ensure that our customers experience high levels of performance, no matter where they’re located,” says Vergonjeanne.
Kobojo also uses Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software in its existing on-premises infrastructure. “We already had an existing database infrastructure, so in order to optimize our resources, and because Windows Azure works well with on-premises servers, we are using the SQL Server databases we already have,” says Monteil. In the future, however, Kobojo is considering partitioning its data and using multiple 50-gigabyte Microsoft SQL Azure databases for hosting its relational data in the cloud, too. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 technologies.
With 87,000 users participating in the Beta release of RobotZ, Kobojo plans to release the final version of RobotZ by September 2010. Benefits
As a result of using Windows Azure, Kobojo is confident that it has in place an infrastructure that can scale up quickly to meet the demands of the unpredictable social, casual gaming market and is prepared for future growth. By relying on Microsoft data centers and the service-oriented structure of Windows Azure, Kobojo also simplified IT maintenance and avoided capital expenditures.
Achieved Critical Levels of Scalability
For Kojobo, scalability is crucial. The game developer knows that at any moment, any of its games could attract millions of visitors in a short period of time, in the way that Goobox did. By using Windows Azure, the company does not have to worry about adding and configuring physical servers to scale up. “You can have a great idea, but then you need to find the ingredient for success,” says Vergonjeanne. “For us, scalability and the ability to scale with Windows Azure is that secret ingredient.”
Simplified IT Maintenance
By using Windows Azure, Kojobo also simplified IT maintenance. Now the company can rely on Microsoft data centers without worrying about managing either physical servers in its own data center, or virtual servers hosted with another cloud provider. “Not only do we get the scalability that we need, but we don’t have the hassle and the headaches that come with managing servers—we put our trust in Microsoft and know that everything works,” explains Monteil.
Avoided Capital Expenditures
By relying on Windows Azure and Microsoft data centers, Kobojo avoided capital expenses associated with its RobotZ game, which the company estimates at €40,000 (approximately U.S.$52,685) for its initial launch. As the company relies more and more on Windows Azure for future games, its savings will continue to compound. Kobojo will also save on operational costs. In total, over a three-year period, the company expects to save U.S.$81,328, or 65.1 percent by using Windows Azure, compared to an on-premises, virtualized infrastructure.
Prepared for Future Growth
With only 11 employees, Kobojo has lean operations and, as a best practice, uses the agile development methodology. With Windows Azure, Kobojo has implemented a solution that it can use to grow its infrastructure without compromising its efficiency. “Windows Azure helps us ensure that we have a dynamic infrastructure in place that scales up quickly when we need it—we’re better prepared for our future growth and expansion,” explains Vergonjeanne.
Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:
Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through Microsoft data centers.
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 technologies.
Windows Azure AppFabric. With Windows Azure AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.
AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST web services.
Microsoft "Dallas." Developers and information workers can use the new service code-named Dallas to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.
To learn more about the Windows Azure platform, visit: For More Information
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