How 5G can Drive Mobile Multiplayer Gaming

Wednesday 4/14/21 09:51am
Posted By Ana Schafer
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Snapdragon and Qualcomm branded products are products of
Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

We’ve teamed up with the IMGA (International Mobile Gaming Awards) to bring you a whitepaper on the 5G Future of Mobile Games. In it we discuss with game industry influencers how 5G is impacting the mobile gaming space and areas of opportunity for developers such as Cloud Gaming, Mobile Multi-player gaming (MMP), Mobile eSports, extended reality (XR), and the future of storytelling (pervasive gaming) with AI in games. In this blog, we do a deeper dive into the MMP space.

Improving MMP
Online gaming is one of the fastest-growing industries globally and is expected to reach $196 billion in revenue by 2022. While 50% of gaming industry revenue comes from mobile gaming, there are more than 2.4 billion mobile gamers globally.

AAA mobile multi-player games are extremely popular in China and Southeast Asia, and they’ve reached growing audiences in Japan, Korea, Europe, and North America. Call of Duty Mobile is a good example of a title that is enjoying worldwide success and has successfully attracted professional players for their mobile eSports events.

Despite their overall success, MMP titles must deal with several technical challenges, including lag and latency, large downloads, and lack of reliable cellular connectivity.

5G is poised to solve many of these challenges by offering higher bandwidth of up to 10 Gbps, latency as low as 1ms, and 100x traffic capacity per unit area. 5G also makes more use of the wireless spectrum, including mmWave, while the rollout of 5G infrastructure can potentially cover a wider area than terrestrial-based infrastructure technologies like fiber.

Let’s take a closer look at how 5G can improve different aspects of multi-player gaming.

Maintaining Game State
One of the more challenging aspects of multi-player game development is keeping each player’s game client (i.e., game instance running on a player’s device) in sync. In other words, ensuring that each client has the same game state for each rendered frame.

5G has so many advantages to it from a gamer perspective in terms of just much faster latency anywhere. That dream of being able to just get together with friends anywhere. And play multiplayer real time and not just play, but rather participate in a space by both creating content, consuming content consuming gameplay being part of the experience fully, anywhere without consideration of are you in WiFi, are you somewhere with fast enough WiFi or not. It's really quite a game changer. Because if you think about it, you sometimes forget when you play multiplayer games on your PC at home, you've already optimized your networking set up in such a way that you know that you can rely on a reliable somewhat low latency connection. The minute that you're out there, you would not sit in a random public WiFi zone trying to play your competitive multiplayer game on PC. You would never do that and you can't do that on mobile either. So, you really rely on network operators to have a stable LTE service to do that. And that's, you know, it's hit or miss. And with 5G, and of course it will take a couple of years, I'm sure, for it to stabilize but that promise, taking away that anxiety taking away that frustration of, you have to run through this mental checker: is my network quick enough to be able to do this, am I competitive, can I play with friends. I'm going to log out and stuff. By that going away, I think we're going to see a huge additional growth wave in just adoption of even today's style multiplayer games.
- Kristian Segerstrale

Game developers use different tactics to try and solve this. For example, games with limited numbers of players (e.g., arena-based sports games) might follow a deterministic strategy where each client starts in the same state. Input is then collected from and shared with all clients each frame, after which each client advances its game state at the next frame in lock step. This is done under the assumption that each client is doing so identically. Of course, any lag, loss of connectivity, or bandwidth variation amongst clients can impact performance or even contribute to clients going out of sync.

Games with larger numbers of players (e.g., MMORPGs) can’t practically wait for all players’ inputs, so they often employ less-deterministic strategies. For example, an MMORPG server could maintain the official game state, and clients predict the game state while waiting to receive the official game state from the server to maintain framerate.

Alternatively, cloud games whereby a game engine on a cloud server sends clients rendered frames to display, can more easily solve game state issues while offering many other benefits.

These strategies can benefit from the low latency and high bandwidth of 5G, as data can now be communicated faster and more reliably. With 5G, developers might now consider different game state synchronization strategies than they would have usually chosen for their genre of game.

Overcoming Large Downloads
Multiplayer games are packaged with large quantities of digital assets like character and environmental textures, video and audio files, etc. This means that the size of AAA titles along with their major updates can force the gamer into long and painful downloads. This can pose a risk of losing players, but thankfully the high bandwidth of 5G could be the solution.

Developers of Call of Duty Mobile expressed in the whitepaper:
“Our game is very big, it’s more than 2GB. So, I think the advance 5G will bring us is that we’ll be kind of like a mini app. You can download wherever you want. Now every time we release a new update, it’s very tough for players to download and install it. That's very, very painful for us. So maybe in the future with 5G, the bandwidth will be large enough, and the speed will be fast enough, that the players will never need to download again. They can simply play wherever and whenever they want. Just like with a web game on PC. You just open a small application and you can play immediately.”

For developers, the high download speeds of 5G could mean a couple of things. First, for games that continue to have large downloads (e.g., installed games, legacy games, etc.) 5G could significantly reduce download times to the point where they are no longer an issue. Secondly, cloud gaming could become a more attractive option for game developers who would not have considered that approach using older communication technologies.

Overcoming Network Congestion
Current stay-at-home orders have been a boon for online gaming because of the limitations to in-person activities. As a result, many networks have been overloaded with congestion.

There are many aspects of 5G that could help solve this. For starters, 5G makes better use of the available wireless spectrum, including mmWave, to provide more capacity while handling significantly more players. Since lower frequencies are heavily congested (e.g., with TV and radio signals), mmWave makes use of faster, wider bandwidth frequencies. mmWave is effective in smaller densely-populated areas with high concentrations of users (e.g., stadiums for eSports venues, Internet gaming cafes, etc.). In addition, unlicensed spectrum could also be used to offload gaming traffic in heavily congested areas.

Network slicing is another benefit of 5G as operators can dynamically configure the network based on gaming traffic conditions and priorities. Dedicated resources could be reserved for gaming by configuring and connecting computing and networking resources across the radio, transport, and core networks. Also, AI can be used to identify and accelerate gaming network traffic.

Greater Coverage
High-speed broadband coverage is sometimes limited to densely populated areas, while 4G connectivity can be affected by the surrounding environment (e.g., concrete walls). Such factors can create an uneven playing field where gamers with slower connections have more lag and a poorer experience than those with reliable, high-speed Internet access.

The rollout of 5G means that high-speed cellular-based connectivity can reach a wider area. At the same time, 5G’s infrastructure can include small cells, servers near the edge, and 5G consumer premise equipment. Collectively these elements can help bring gaming servers closer to gamers, improve hand-off for gamers on the go, and resolve problems encountered in the last mile.

Mobile Gaming with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
Our portfolio of Snapdragon® mobile platforms are great for mobile multi-player, content-rich games. Not only do they enable fast and reliable 5G cloud connectivity, but their powerful processors bring PC and console-quality gaming, including ultra high-resolution graphics, animations, and advanced visual effects to mobile.

Our latest iteration – the Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform¬– integrates our Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System with Qualcomm® Snapdragon Elite Gaming™ and features including ultra-smooth gaming, highest HDR quality, and desktop-level features. The Snapdragon 888 is expected to be in commercial phones in 2021, while our current SoCs, the Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform and Snapdragon 865+ 5G Mobile Platform, which use the Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System, are already powering a number of today’s premium gaming phones.

5G offers many opportunities for enhancing mobile multi-player gaming, providing solutions for common challenges, and opening up new opportunities. Mobile developers interested in mobile multi-player gaming development targeting devices powered by Snapdragon should check out the following resources:

The 5G Future of Gaming Whitepaper includes many more exciting details and ideas on how 5G is poised to drive the future of mobile gaming. And for additional information and context, we’ve put together the following series of blogs that provide a deeper dive into the Whitepaper’s topics:

Snapdragon, Qualcomm Adreno, and Snapdragon Elite Gaming are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.