Building Scalable Social Gaming Platform using Clouds

This week, I ran into many social gaming related posts.  First thing that surprised me was the social games are not played predominantly by teens and the average social gamer is around 40s.  This illustrates why these social games attract tens of millions of players every day.

When I read the high scalability article about How Zynga scaled Farmville to Harvest 75 Million Players a month, I was intrigued by their scaling challenges and requirements:

* Read-write ratio: Interactive games are write heavy unless traditional web applications. Seems intuitive when you think about the fact every move is recorded in a datastore.
* Users are disturbed by high latencies and variability in latencies:  Note that I called high latencies and latency variations as two different entities. As we noted in Dynamo, Amazon also cares about the variability in latencies (percentiles) and build our services to make sure we can constantly keep the variability in control.
* Dealing with latency and failure characteristics of external dependencies: These applications need to deal with external platforms like Facebook which may or may not be available all the time.

I like the way Zynga approached this problem:

* For solving heavy writes, looks like they have partitioned heavily. Seems reasonable – however, I’m curious to see how they handled “hot spots” (wherein the most active users are the ones constantly generating more data) and whether simple hash-based partitioning is good enough to spread the hot spots.

* For handling latency variations, they went for isolating each component and built graceful degradation at each layer. This is a common practice in building large scale systems . The thing what I would be curious to see is how “gracefully” does their datastore degrades and also which datastore they are using for that.

* Finally, to deal with failures of external dependancies and still meet latency SLAs, looks like they cache the responses of external dependancies.

These are very good lessons for building scalable systems.

An interesting followup to this, I saw that Rightscale (which is apparently helping Zynga run on top of AWS) is using its expertise to offer a social gaming platform for other aspiring Zyngas out there! Seems like an exciting internet industry at its really nascent stages.

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