With a mission to delight and entertain users across the globe, Rovio Entertainment is the Finland-based game developer, publisher, and distributor that owns the Angry Birds franchise. Initially released in 2009 as a mobile game designed for Apple iOS, Angry Birds is now a household name, and Rovio has gone on to release versions for Android devices and Windows Phone, as well as for games consoles and PCs. It has achieved more than three billion game downloads since 2009, and its ToonsTV—a video streaming service featuring Rovio and third-party family entertainment content—has reached five billion video views. The firm continues to expand the Rovio brand with new games and characters. The Angry Birds Movie, a 3D computer-animated comedy, is planned for release in mid-2016.
Mobile games are at the heart of Rovio’s business, and delivering those games seamlessly to users around the world is a challenge that its employees face every day. To meet this challenge, Rovio has built Hatch, a state-of-the-art service platform, which supports all of Rovio’s games and apps. Mikko Peltola, Senior Manager of Cloud Operations at Rovio, runs the team that’s responsible for developing and operating the infrastructure side of the platform. He says, “Hatch provides our games teams with the backend services they need to build great games. My team makes sure the services are always up and running, and that our game developers don’t need to worry about scalability, hardware, networking, or any other infrastructure-related components. Essentially, we want our games developers to concentrate on making sure our games are the best in the market.”
With an extensive and expanding portfolio, the games platform has to handle significant traffic. And with its games being played around the world 24/7, service availability is vital. Peltola says, “My team has to provide the technology to ensure our developers have a dynamic platform that scales up and down easily. It has to be reliable and redundant. We also have to manage a lot of server instances with a small team, so automation is key.”
Why Amazon Web Services
“For our games platform, we had the luxury of not having any legacy infrastructure to incorporate,” says Peltola. “This meant we could pick the technologies and frameworks that worked best for us. Because the platform had to support enormous volumes from the start, using on-site data centers would have been impossible—both in terms of the upfront investment and the build time.” When development of the Hatch platform started about four years ago, the firm knew that it needed a more agile offering, so it looked to the cloud. “We saw that AWS was the most advanced player in the cloud services field at the time, so it was an easy choice,” says Peltola.
For its compute and storage needs, Rovio uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). It operates its SQL Server databases through Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), and Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) provides the virtual network in which the AWS resources reside. AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) allows Peltola and his team to securely control access to AWS resources. It uses Amazon Elastic Transcoder to transcode media files for its ToonsTV video service.
Amazon Elastic MapReduce (Amazon EMR) is used for analytics processing and Amazon Redshift provides a central piece of the firm’s data warehousing and reporting toolset. Peltola explains, “Our analytics stack is a combination of in-house code and AWS technologies, linked to a number of commercial reporting tools.”
Peltola measures success in the availability of the infrastructure, and the experience this gives end users around the globe. “Our games are played worldwide, so having good connectivity helps us ensure that users have a seamless experience with quick response times, wherever they are. We can’t provide a reliable service unless we can rely on AWS, so for us, the most crucial measure of our success is our uptime—the fact that our services are up and responding promptly. We’ve always had good availability with AWS.”
Rovio takes its responsibility to customers seriously, and understands that the way it handles customer data is crucial to this. “If our users don’t like what we do or how we do it they can go elsewhere, so if we give the impression that we haven’t taken care of our customers’ data, this would have an instant impact on our reputation,” says Peltola, who finds that the cloud helps him in a number of ways when it comes to security. “One is that with AWS we have fewer security concerns—we don’t have to worry about data center access controls on a physical level, for example. We also get to benefit from all the development work that AWS does in control, auditability, and encryption. In the AWS cloud environment we have better, more affordable security tools available to us than in a traditional infrastructure.”
The Hatch team at Rovio also values the automation of AWS, and its flexibility—both in terms of ease of use and the scalability of resources. “With AWS we benefit from being able to scale on demand, and we also have access to APIs to automate how we use the service. Automation and scalability go hand in hand: you can’t scale on-demand if you can’t automate, and automation is no good if you have to wait a few weeks for a server to be installed. Being able to easily automate our infrastructure and scale to meet massive spikes in demand are two of the things we value most about AWS.”
An example of the scale required comes from the August 2015 launch of the sequel to the original Angry Birds game. “Big launches are always exciting times, but they’re also extremely nerve-wracking,” says Peltola. “With the Angry Birds 2 launch, we reached 10 million users in around three days. We were picking up about 120,000 new users every hour, and our AWS-powered platform had to keep up with this level of demand all weekend.”
Analytics has become a key part of how Rovio gets insight into its games to ensure they stay attractive to users. “We started to use Amazon Redshift in addition to Amazon EMR to give more power to our analytics. To give you an idea of scope, our analytics stack receives about three billion events a day,” says Peltola. “We can do the heavy computational jobs a lot faster than we could do with most other systems out there. This gets vital KPIs to our internal teams faster, enabling them to understand how games are performing and ultimately improve the end-user experience.”
“With the Angry Birds 2 launch, we reached 10 million users in around three days. We were picking up about 120,000 new users every hour, and our AWS-powered platform had to keep up with this level of demand all weekend.”
Mikko Peltola, Senior Manager—Cloud Operations