Online gaming is intense and immersive; its success depends on the gamer experiencing total absorption in the game so that playing it generates emotional responses from tension and fear to excitement and elation.
At its best, gaming is pure, adrenalin-filled entertainment where rapid reactions, skill and experience give the player an advantage over opponents and create the ultimate buzz of a victory. Anything that gets in the way of that total immersion destroys the gaming experience and that's exactly why gamers are some of the most demanding network users. Keeping them immersed and happy is one of the biggest challenges facing online gaming providers, whose reputations live or die by the performance of their networks. Get it right and they can grow their share of a global industry that's predicted to reach a value of almost $109bn (approx. £80.5bn) by the end of 2017; get it wrong and face the wrath of 2.2 billion gamers worldwide.
The key is high performance and low latency. Any stalling or slowdowns detract disastrously from the quality of the gaming experience and cause instant user frustration, at worst rendering games unplayable. This frustration is more often than not vented in a negative social media wave that sweeps through the gamer community, with damaging repercussions for the provider in question. Gaming networks need to be fast, scalable, reliable and secure, with this last being one of the biggest challenges for an industry that sees more than half of all distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks globally aimed squarely in its direction - more than any other industry.
Motivations for DDOS attacks can be anything from a straightforward quest for notoriety or an extortion attempt, to vengeful gamers apparently trying to kick users off PlayStation. Whatever the reason, the result is an interrupted game. Attacks are often timed to cause disruption at peak usage times, such as the holiday season, meaning maximum misery for gamers and providers alike. Even after an attack has ceased, resulting latency issues can leave a long tail of reputation management and customer support problems for the provider.
Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming (MMOG) networks present particular security challenges due to the scale of player access and geodiversity of users. Additionally, the need for speed means gaming providers have to prioritise physical proximity to their users, creating massive points of presence via distributed platforms that, regrettably, are vulnerable to attack. Clearly, eliminating the impact of these near-constant incursions has to be the top priority for providers.
The most effective solutions protect against the threat of multi-vector DDOS attacks using a dual aspect defence system that focuses on detection and mitigation. Network traffic is monitored continuously using behavioural indicators that distinguish between innocent and malicious traffic so that bandwidth, application or network attack vectors are immediately detected and neutralised. Providers also need to be prepared to scale quickly and cost-effectively, to meet increasing demand without compromising on security or speed.
Ensuring that the network is armed against DDOS attacks is critical in guaranteeing a fully immersive experience for gamers, thus leading to commercial success and protecting the company's reputation. The goal for game providers is uninterrupted uptime, maximum speed and gamer satisfaction. A user community that can be fiercely critical, but fiercely loyal, deserves nothing less.