Why Scale of Simulation Matters to Game Developers

10 min readMay 23, 2023

With successful video game franchises building engaging, immersive, profitable and scalable games for years — the gaming industry has demonstrated and proven the power of virtual worlds.

These gaming worlds span a variety of genres including First-Person Shooters (FPS), Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO), Role-Playing Games (RPG), Real-Time Strategy (RTS) and Sandbox games.

The global video game industry is valued at a staggering $220 billion in 2022, with consumers spending more and more time every day in-game environments. Online multiplayer gaming, in particular, has been a high-growth area.

However, current game engines are usually constrained by having only 40–100 players in a single game shard or instance. Given the success of these games, does multiplayer scale really matter? Does anyone truly care about the number of people in a game?

To answer these questions, let’s look at some key metrics and trends in the gaming industry.

Scale and Complexity in Current Gaming Trends

  1. Longer Player Time and Tenure: Recent industry trends have shown a significant increase in the average time players spend in a game, as well as the duration for which they remain committed to a single game. This is a strong indication of players’ preference for larger, more complex worlds. Such expansive universes offer a rich variety of experiences, narratives and challenges that keep players engaged for extended periods. In short, players are investing more time in games that can consistently deliver novel and more immersive experiences — a feature more achievable in larger-scale environments.
  2. Game Size and Genre Shifts: With rapidly advancing technology, the sizes of game applications have been steadily increasing. This trend indicates a move towards creating larger, more detailed and complex game environments. At the same time, there has been a noticeable shift in popular game genres. And while First Person Shooter (FPS) games remain popular, there’s been a surge in the popularity of Sandbox and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, which inherently offer larger scales and freedom, providing players with a more immersive experience.
  3. Recent Game Releases Reflecting Scale and Complexity: Reflecting the ongoing trend in the industry, many recent game titles are prioritising multiplayer scale and complexity. From expansive open-world games to detailed simulation games, developers are pushing the boundaries of scale to deliver immersive environments. These games offer players a sense of vastness and depth, adding layers of realism and immersion that were previously impossible. This trend only emphasises the industry’s move towards larger, more complex and ultimately more engaging gaming experiences.
  4. Profitability Tied to Complexity: Some of the most profitable games in recent years are also those with the most intricate gameplay. This correlation between financial success and complexity suggests that gamers are willing to invest in games that offer detailed, diverse experiences. These games often feature larger scales, as developers incorporate more characters, varied locations and intricate mechanics to sustain player interest and provide a richer, more immersive experience.

By looking at these trends, it’s clear that the complexity of games and therefore the scale of simulation in games matters significantly to both players and developers alike. This is only going to increase with Generative AI and User-Generated Content. The appeal of expansive and complex game environments seems set to continue shaping the future of the gaming industry, particularly in the context of the emerging metaverse.

The Promise And Opportunity Of Cloud Gaming

The advent of cloud computing introduces some tantalising opportunities which the umbrella term ‘cloud gaming’ is often thrown about to describe. Cloud gaming is sometimes conflated with cloud (game) streaming. While the latter may be an optional component of the former, the two are not the same.

Cloud streaming is a mode of game delivery aimed at removing the consumer need for gaming hardware. There have been several incarnations of this over the last two decades, from early attempts such as OnLive to the more recent, and now defunct, Google Stadia and the on-going Microsoft XCloud and NVIDIA GeForce Now.

The more general cloud gaming trend opens up completely new avenues for game design experiences that did not exist in the static, privately-owned data centres of yore. It promises, if the computational problems behind scale were solved, to open up creative direction and design experiences for studios that would never have been possible before the advent of cloud hardware.

The same advantages presented by cloud computing hardware to the web and enterprise worlds are tantalising for games — adaptable, elastic scaling, programmatically available hardware, on-demand and in real-time, with zero-capital expenditure & global reach.

But actually making use of this hardware for games is a much trickier problem than a web or enterprise application due to the significant leap in high-performance, low-latency demands of games and the enormous difficulty in parallelising and scaling game worlds. These difficulties being fundamental computer science and mathematical model problems rather than mere software engineering ones.

Embracing a New Frontier: The Unleashed Potential of Infinite Simulation Scale

Let’s flip the script: envision a metaverse where the scale of simulation isn’t a hurdle to overcome but rather a high-speed avenue leading us towards previously unexplored realms of immersive gaming experiences. This is not just about amassing more players in a game. It’s about maximising unfettered and deeply-connected experiences between arbitrarily-many simultaneous concurrent users in a way that enhances (and not congests) the gaming experience.

Visualise a sprawling in-game landscape, buzzing with thousands of sophisticated AI and non-player characters living their digital lives. The world teems with activity as these characters shop, commute, and interact in a bustling virtual existence pulsating with vibrant stories and adventures. This isn’t just another level to beat — it’s an entirely new world to experience.

Now for the game-changer: infinite scale doesn’t automatically translate to an overcrowded digital sandbox although there will inevitably be game play events where crowds congregate. Instead, it paves the way for vast, shared realities where every player shares the same exhilarating, immersive experience, regardless of their location in the game universe.

Arbitrary simulation scale means game developers don’t have to choose between CCU scale and engaging gameplay. It’s about driving unlimited player agency and freedom, not constrained by realms or shards, but rather addressing the entire user-base as a single collective, coming together to connect and shape a shared digital experience and world. It’s the full package: grandeur and complexity with compromises removed. In other words, you can eat your cake and have it too.

Picture the transition from pre-production to production as smooth as a summer breeze, unencumbered by technical constraints. Bid farewell to the annoying load screens, endless queues, and artificial boundaries that have limited the gaming world since its inception. Even clustering effects — the constant headaches in MMO sandbox environments — won’t slow us down anymore.

We’re talking about obliterating the shackles that have traditionally limited the scale and complexity of the simulation.

Imagine a gaming world unfettered by compromise, where every detail — from the physics to the pixel — is designed for maximum immersion. That’s the promise of a metaverse unhindered by scale. It’s not just the future of gaming, but the future of digital experiences, redefined and unlimited.

The Cost and Scale Equation: An Energy Puzzle

Let’s take a moment to talk about a core challenge that goes hand in hand with the scale of simulations: the cost of cloud compute capacity.

As the saying goes, bigger is always better. But it also comes with a bigger price tag. And as we push the boundaries of scale, we require more cloud capacity to support those expansive, bustling game worlds. More cloud capacity translates into more costs, and not just financial ones. We’re also talking about a significant increase in energy consumption and impact on the climate.

Think of it like a virtual game of Jenga. As we stack up the scale, the tower of costs and energy usage teeters precariously. And here’s the kicker: as we continue to expand the scale, these costs don’t just increase linearly — they rocket upwards exponentially.

The tech titans of our age (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and Oracle) are preparing for this surge. They predict that cloud gaming, along with its insatiable appetite for scale, will be one of the largest drivers of cloud capacity growth in the next decade. But here’s where we hit a bump in the road. This expansion isn’t just about dollars and cents, it’s about the very planet we live on.

As we use more cloud capacity, we consume more electricity and therefore leave a larger carbon footprint — which cannot be the goal.

The problem essentially becomes a high-stakes balancing act between creating breathtaking, immersive experiences and ensuring we’re not overtaxing our planet’s resources. And it is this balancing act which is what makes the metaverse and its potential scale one of the most exciting, and challenging frontiers in gaming, as it is a problem that is yet to be solved.

Genshin Impact: An Example of Cost Efficiency

Consider the gaming sensation Genshin Impact (which is set to become the most expensive video game ever) costing a staggering $500 million by its second anniversary. A lion’s share of this cost, approximately $200 million per year, is spent on generating new content and maintaining a release schedule for their vast user base.

Introducing the concept of unlimited scale changes the game dramatically. It allows developers to craft immersive worlds upfront, eliminating the constant need for expansions to meet player demand. This will translate to significant financial savings.

In essence, game studios could reduce costs substantially, while still offering captivating experiences that keep players engaged.

The gains made from this efficiency could result in significant profitability, proving that infinite scale is both an innovative and economically savvy approach to game development.

The Future of Scale in the Metaverse: Looking Ahead

If we look into the application of gaming as it expands into new genres such as social platforms, metaverse reality applications, virtual worlds and entertainment — the potential here is enormous. But to fully harness it, we need to scale up. Let’s look at three key use cases that illustrate why scale is such a big deal in the metaverse:

  1. The Virtual Megacity Conundrum: Imagine strolling through the digital recreations of megacities like Dubai, Seoul, or New York. The skyscrapers loom overhead, the streets buzz with activity, and wait… you can only interact with 80 people? That’s not a bustling city, it’s a ghost town! Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok have spoiled us with the ability to connect with billions of people. We expect the metaverse to deliver that same level of interactivity rather than limit us to a small town gathering.
  2. Metaverse Concerts — A New Stage: Picture this: your favourite artist is performing a live concert in the metaverse. You’re in the crowd, the music is pumping, and the energy is electric. But hold on, the artist can only interact with a fraction of the audience? The rest are relegated to viewing video-streamed content in their separate game shards. That’s not a concert — it’s a disjointed, diluted experience. We need scale to bring the magic of live events into the metaverse.
  3. The Social Avatar Revolution: With scale and unconstrained computational power, we will create avatars so complex and realistic, they’re like digital twins of ourselves. We’re talking about breathtaking details and customization options that make every character as unique as their human counterparts. Couple that with interactive objects and persistent changes in the world, and we’re looking at a gaming experience that’s more tangible and real than ever before. People will invest a huge amount of time and money building self expression into their digital personas. Only then will it become natural for the large scale web 2 social platforms to migrate to more immersive experiences in the metaverses. Scale, easy interoperability and discovery are going to be the key to successful metaverse social platforms. None of this makes sense if the metaverse cannot deliver the scale that has been so transformational on web 2 social media platforms.

It’s important to note that these examples are not the only areas where scale will play a critical role. Think about ultra-high-resolution graphics that blur the line between the game and reality. The rise of User-Generated Content and General AI are also pushing the need for larger scale simulations. Because even if the sweet spot for a simulation is in the thousands, not millions of concurrent users, the total computational power needed to support metaverse game simulations certainly exceeds the hard limit that current game engines can support today.

In short, the push for larger scale simulations in the metaverse is not just inevitable— it’s essential. The metaverse holds the promise of new, immersive experiences, and to unlock that potential, we need to embrace scale like never before.

Building the Future: The Infrastructure for an Unleashed Metaverse

Harnessing the raw, boundless potential of cloud computing holds the key to the future of the metaverse. By building an infrastructure that supports arbitrarily scalable distributed cloud compute, we can blast through the current constraints shackling game development. This infrastructure has not existed yet and it’s not an easy problem to solve.

The novel approach we are taking at MetaGravity is showing extremely positive results and we are already paving the way. With the infrastructure of the future, the games industry will create incredible, immersive experiences without being hindered by the technological limitations of today.

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