For nearly a decade, Space Ape Games has been producing exciting and engaging mobile games for millions of people around the world. Today, gamers can test their strategic prowess with Rival Kingdoms and Transformers: Earth Wars; experience an adrenaline rush with Fastlane: Road to Revenge; and interact with music in a new way with the recently released Beatstar rhythm game.

In the past few years, the U.K.-based gaming company’s user base has increased significantly. “We’ve seen an uptick in players across all of our games during the pandemic,” says Nic Walker, head of technical operations at Space Ape Games. “With everyone stuck at home, people are pulling out their phones and playing games more than ever before.”

To help ensure that these gamers always have an exceptional experience, Space Ape Games relies on VMware Aria Operations for Applications (formerly VMware Tanzu Observability). With this cloud-based monitoring solution, the company’s teams can quickly find potential issues during the game-testing process and rapidly resolve any problems that arise while games are running in production on AWS. The VMware solution has helped Space Ape Games keep users captivated, wherever and whenever they happen to be playing.

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Overcoming the challenges of remote work

While demand for mobile gaming has increased during the pandemic, developers have faced challenges in creating new games. “When the pandemic hit, we all immediately had to work from home,” says Walker. “It can be difficult to share information and collaborate remotely, especially when you are used to having conversations between desks.”

Fortunately, this born-in-the-cloud company has no trouble remotely accessing its cloud-based IT infrastructure. “We built the company to be operable from anywhere,” says Walker. “By running on AWS, we can carry on our work even if our London office is inaccessible for some reason. And of course, using the cloud lets us avoid hardware management. We can leave that complexity to the experts.”

Quickly adjusting to new working conditions, the Space Ape Games team was able to build and deliver an engaging new game during the pandemic. “Beatstar is a good example of what you can do when you’re remote,” says Walker. “We’ve taken the game all the way to launch while working remotely for a year and a half.”

Monitoring development and operations remotely with VMware

VMware Aria Operations for Applications has played a key role in enabling the Space Ape Games team to build and run Beatstar—as well as the company’s other games. The cloud-based monitoring tool from VMware accelerates testing during development and helps ensure that players have consistent, engaging experiences once games are live.

The Space Ape Games team chose VMware Aria Operations for Applications for the same reason it decided to use a public cloud rather than managing its own IT infrastructure. “VMware provides a much better observability platform than we could build ourselves,” says Louis McCormack, lead DevOps engineer at Space Ape Games.

The platform rapidly generates deep insights into even highly complex DevOps environments. “We’re able to ingest hundreds of thousands of data points from disparate sources all around the globe and have them processed by [VMware Aria Operations for Applications],” says McCormack. “We can apply advanced mathematical functions, and within seconds, we’re able to see all of this data in the form of a dashboard. That dashboard becomes the embodiment of our systems.”

Team members can find specific answers they need fast. “[VMware Aria Operations for Applications] provides a single platform with great flexibility,” says Walker. “You can access high-level views of what’s going on in the systems or very detailed, low-level dashboards and charts that show you the real minutia of what’s going on in a single application.”

Importantly, VMware Aria Operations for Applications enables team members to access insights no matter where they are working. “Sharing charts in [VMware Aria Operations for Applications] is dead simple—no challenge at all,” says Walker. “We can all be looking at the same data at the same time. That’s really cool.”

Speeding testing and reducing risks with new game launches

During the continuous development process at Space Ape Games, VMware Aria Operations for Applications helps team members quickly understand the impact of even small changes. “If developers make a change, they want to know whether that change produces a desired improvement,” says Walker. “The metrics that are emitted by these applications are collected and analyzed by [VMware Aria Operations for Applications]. A developer can see what’s going on and understand the effects of changes.”

Meanwhile, operations teams can evaluate how well prepared they are for a spike in user demand. “Before we launched Beatstar, we ran a series of load tests,” says McCormack. “We spun up numerous pretend players and put our systems under stress. When a load test finished, we looked closely at the VMware Aria Operations for Applications dashboard. We examined anomalies and errors so we could eliminate any potential issues before going into production.”

Maintaining engaging mobile game experiences

Once a game launches, VMware Aria Operations for Applications is critical for helping operations teams keep the game available and responsive, no matter how many people are playing. “At the moment you launch a new game, you go from no players to a huge number of players. For us to have a game break at that point is terrifying,” says Walker. “We use [VMware Aria Operations for Applications] to give us an early warning when something might break.”

The Space Ape team can monitor key metrics that indicate an emerging problem. “We look at our service-level objective (SLO), which is essentially the ratio of successful things happening to not successful things happening on your system,” says Walker. “The SLO number should always be one. If it’s not, something’s broken and the people playing Beatstar aren’t having a good time.”

The number of concurrent users is another essential metric. “If too few people are playing, it might indicate that something is going really wrong inside the system,” says Walker.

When key indicators suggest a problem, the Space Ape team can easily dive into more detail. “Within [VMware Aria Operations for Applications], we have details about memory utilization for individual applications or containers; network measurements; CPU and load measurements about different systems; and more,” says Walker.

VMware Aria Operations for Applications alerts team members whenever issues occur. “We can get notified 24x7,” says Walker. “It’ll wake up people any time, day or night, if something goes wrong. And that’s great. That’s such a power.”

Efficiently scaling up operations

With a tool to help with load testing and real-time performance monitoring, Space Ape Games can scale up quickly and efficiently. “When we launch a new game, we’re not entirely sure how many people will turn up and play it,” says McCormack. “We have to make sure we can automatically add capacity in the background to accommodate all of those players.”

The company also needs to grow cost effectively. “Spinning up new systems to support additional players can be costly, and we want to keep expenses as low as possible,” says Walker. “[VMware Aria Operations for Applications] helps us understand how we can make the most of our systems so we can scale as economically as possible.”

Staying focused on cutting-edge game development

As Space Ape Games moves forward with its next new projects, the company maintains a singular focus. “My advice to anybody just starting out at a game company—or indeed any company—is avail yourself of the third-party SaaS tools that can take away some of the heavy lifting,” says McCormack. “[VMware Aria Operations for Applications] lets us focus on our core business, which is creating fun and exciting games.”