Trevor Hammond, Technical Director at Behaviour Interactive, discusses how cloud computing has revolutionized organizational practices and how it will continue to impact the gaming industry.
Avenue Code: Tell us about your personal career path. How did you get to where you are today?
Trevor Hammond: I think I was destined to go into IT and gaming from a very young age. As a child, I read PC Gamer magazine before my family even owned a computer. I recall my parents leaving me for five or six hours at a grocery store kiosk where you could pay for internet access as my first online experience, and I didn’t want to leave. We finally purchased our own computer when I was around 12, and the first thing I did was disassemble it to figure out how it worked.
I skipped university entirely. After completing a network administration course, I did SMB corporate network system administration, which gave me exposure to everything from CNC programming machines to routing cables to building computers. This led to a job at Puma doing system administration and managing our global network for all stores in North and South America.
During this time, I began freelancing in software development and decided to go that route full time. My former employer became my client alongside several other SMBs. This led to an interesting opportunity at a startup company called Beyond the Rack. They didn’t have a traditional data center and needed to scale very quickly, so they became one of the early adopters of cloud on Amazon AWS. We grew from about 12 employees to over 100 employees and a million members on our website within a year.
When Beyond the Rack hired a new CTO, I decided to move on. I took a role that paid well but wasn’t exciting before coming across an Ubisoft job posting on Craigslist, of all places. I applied, fully expecting the post to be a scam. Working at Ubisoft had always been a dream of mine, and I applied in past years without hearing back. This time, I got the job quickly. Ubisoft had cloud ambitions, and I helped them implement public cloud, private cloud, hybrid infrastructure, etc.
This was at the time when social networking grew popular. The first game I worked on was CSI: Crime City, which was a Facebook game. We needed a quickly scalable infrastructure, because we saw a trend where there would be a critical mass at launch time and then users would drop. Since it wasn’t a AAA game, we decided to risk using cloud infrastructure. It went very well, so we continued using the cloud more and more. Today nearly all critical workloads run in cloud.
AC: What drew you to joining the Behaviour Interactive team?
TH: I was at Ubisoft for over ten years, and as much as I enjoyed it, I’m very challenge-driven and wanted to move forward. I was drawn to Behaviour Interactive for several reasons: I wanted to stay in gaming, I am a big fan of Dead By Daylight (their best known game), and they were both well established and ambitious about future growth. Now I’m in technical management, bridging the gap between software and architecture.
AC: From an entrepreneurial perspective, what were some of your key learning experiences throughout your career?
TH: One of the things that stayed with me from my freelance experience was the idea of representing myself. Even when working for someone else, I consider myself Trevor Hammond, Inc. I represent the company I work for, but first and foremost, I represent my own standards of excellence and values. This helps me to be passionately engaged while disconnected from emotional investment. It’s a balance.
AC: What are you personally most passionate about in your career?
TH: I’m passionate about solving new challenges. I love it when leadership comes to me with a new idea and I get to figure out how to create a solution. Unlocking a challenge is the equivalent of an adrenaline rush for me, and it’s addictive. I’m still just as fascinated by games as I was when I played 2D, 8-bit, pixel art games as a kid, so problem solving in this space and creating the future of games using cloud is a dream. It’s interesting to note that gaming is one of the most challenging industries to scale due to high demands for concurrency, performance and latency.
AC: As an early cloud adopter who is currently leading infrastructure teams focused on public cloud, what cultural shifts have you observed related to cloud? Do companies still need to be convinced of its benefits?
TH: Cloud started as an almost mythical concept. A lot of companies put their less risky investments in the cloud to test it. In the gaming industry, a lot of people didn’t and to a degree still don’t trust the cloud fully. We’d primarily use the cloud to scale for millions of consumer users, not for internally-facing initiatives. Over time, I saw two major cultural changes regarding the cloud.
First, the DevOps evolution that occurred around 2015 started to drive how companies were perceiving cloud differently. DevOps teams wanted to go forward fast where results were happening. This caused a shift in how IT departments were perceived. The red tape of opening a ticket and then waiting for it to be resolved wasn’t acceptable anymore. IT was forced to evolve toward an agile, service-oriented model, removing the heavy lifting for teams so they didn’t have to recreate the wheel every time.
The second big shift we’ve seen is that companies have become more comfortable with the prospect of putting internal applications, unannounced game data, etc. in the public cloud. Some of this has to do with technological advancements like the advent of software-defined networking, and some of it is simply that the cloud has become normalized for users over time.
AC: What challenges and opportunities arose for Behaviour Interactive post COVID-19?
TH: There are two major challenges for the gaming industry. The first is bandwidth. Games have a lot of data, so it’s hard to access everything you need from home. We did a lot of quick transformations to things like smart proxies in the cloud, offloading from corporate VPNs. We also started using remote streaming solutions to test games.
The other challenge is infrastructure security - how do you send 10,000 people home to work on unannounced game titles without creating security holes or leaking information? I was at Ubisoft at the time, and fortunately, we were already moving forward on our hybrid transformation, so we were in a very good position to implement and advise people on best practices. Interestingly, the pandemic led to better collaboration between teams, and it felt like they understood one another’s requirements and needs on a deeper level.
From an opportunity standpoint, we gained a lot of users because games are a cost-effective form of at-home entertainment that also have a social aspect. In fact, many games are doing better than ever during the ongoing pandemic.
AC: What trends do you see within the gaming industry as a whole?
TH: There’s a global trend toward games as a service (GaaS). Rather than annual franchises or games that have a peak and then eventually die away, the revenue model for multiplayer games is iterative updates between new or customizable characters, maps and seasonal features. This doesn’t translate well to single-player games as much, but a lot of multiplayer games are now being built from the ground up with a long-term model in mind.
Another big trend is streaming. The streaming model for games will be similar to our streaming model for movies. This will drive a lot of developments. On the downside, it might lead to walled ecosystems. On the up side, the amount of people who will have access to games will increase dramatically. I don’t think streaming will take over completely for another 7-10 years, at which time next generation game consoles will likely support streaming-only editions. The industry itself will become hypercompetitive, which always yields good results for consumers.
Once you’re streaming from a data center, you also have low latency to massive computing and GPU capacity. There is substantial opportunity to leverage that to create innovative features based on natural language processing, dynamic hybrid AI backed by machine learning, massively multiplayer experiences, and so on.
The last major trend is cross-play and cross-progression. This allows people to play with their friends across gaming ecosystems and maintain their progress as they do so. More and more gaming companies are implementing these features. In fact, Behaviour Interactive just launched cross progression for Dead by Daylight!
AC: What is the key to successful strategic partnerships?
TH: Don’t fall into the trap of playing the role of “vendor” or “client.” Because everyone has a stake in the deal and expects a certain outcome, partnerships can easily become transactional. High-level executive teams brokering a partnership generally have good synergy, but that needs to carry to the grassroots of the teams working on an effort to achieve full potential. If you don’t have this in partnerships, you may have a basic delivery, but the outcome will never be as good as it could have been. The best partnerships are highly collaborative and build something together based on a common goal and the merits of the work itself.
AC: Thanks for a very insightful interview, Trevor! It’s been fascinating to get your perspective on the future of the gaming industry and of the role the cloud will play in that evolution.
Alfredo Moro is a Business Development Specialist at Avenue Code who is passionate about sales and loves to connect with clients all over the world! In his spare time, he enjoys watching the soccer games of his favorite team and cooking Brazilian BBQ in his backyard.