As the global telecom and Internet community works to address the surge in online traffic stemming from the spread of the new coronavirus, the online video gaming industry is the latest to begin tweaking its approach to the issue.
Specifically, companies including Microsoft, Sony and Akamai, the latter a content delivery network (CDN) provider, said that they are taking steps to reduce the amount of online traffic that video games generate during peak usage hours.
For example, Akamai CEO Tom Leighton wrote that "in regions where demand is creating bottlenecks for customers, we will be reducing gaming software downloads at peak times, completing the downloads at the normal fast speeds late at night."
In his blog post on the matter, Leighton continued: "This approach will help ensure every Internet user and consumer continues to have the high-quality experience they expect across all of their Internet services, and that gamers will still get the download they want, though it may take longer than usual during peak usage times. Even more importantly, this will help ensure healthcare workers and first responders working hard to contain the spread of COVID-19 have continual access to the vital digital services they need."
Leighton added Microsoft (which makes the popular Xbox video game console) and Sony (which makes the similarly popular PlayStation video game console) are participating in the effort.
"As people look to gaming for play and social connection, we're seeing record engagement across Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live, and Mixer. We're actively monitoring usage and making temporary adjustments as needed to ensure the smoothest possible experience for our gamers. We appreciate the collaboration with partners like Akamai to deliver the joy of games in these unprecedented times," Xbox's Dave McCarthy stated on Akamai's post.
Indeed, on the company's own website, Sony's Jim Ryan wrote that the PlayStation provider is working with ISPs in Europe to manage download traffic "to help preserve access for the entire Internet community."
"Players may experience somewhat slower or delayed game downloads but will still enjoy robust gameplay," Ryan wrote. "We appreciate the support and understanding from our community, and their doing their part, as we take these measures in an effort to preserve access for everyone."
Importantly, these efforts around video games are primarily targeted at software downloads, which can sometimes be as large as 100GB for a game like Call of Duty. But Cnet reported that such downloads are relatively few and far between: "It's a one-time event," said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wall Street research firm Wedbush Securities, according to the publication.
However, the situation is different for streaming video game services like Google Stadia and Nvidia's GeForce Now. Unlike traditional PC or console games, these services stream the whole game in real time across the Internet. GeForce Now, for example, requires a consistent 15 Mbit/s to 25 Mbit/s for a 4K video stream.
So far video game streaming isn't widely popular, but such services are likely to gain traction in the months and years to come. And, as a result, companies that stream video games may need to consider the same kind of throttling practices that Netflix and YouTube have recently engaged in amid concerns that rising coronavirus-related traffic could overwhelm some networks.
Finally, it's worth noting that COVID-19 network traffic increases aren't solely due to entertainment offerings like Netflix, Call of Duty and GeForce Now. For instance, Bloomberg reported that traffic volumes on Cisco's Webex online meeting service have more than doubled since the beginning of March. At peak hours, the publication noted, Webex volume is now up 24 times above its normal range.