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Some game downloads will be throttled to preserve bandwidth

Akamai is throttling games at key times

Over the coming weeks and months, you may find some of your games are downloading slower than usual. That's because Akamai, a global server host used by a number of gaming companies, is starting to throttle video downloads in certain places at key times to make sure bandwidth is available particularly for healthcare workers. The Akamai content delivery network (CDN) have been used for gaming companies and services including Microsoft and Riot games, and they'll likely be affected. You might also notice that, for much the same reason, YouTube is starting to show lower-quality versions of videos by default.

Akamai have all sorts of servers around the globe, spreading the load of downloads and letting people get faster speeds from servers in their area. With so many kept at home by the Covid-19 pandemic, more people are jacking in for work and entertainment and using a lot more bandwidth than usual. It's now a concern for some that huge game downloads are gobbling up a lot of bandwidth and causing problems for everyone - which is particularly a problem for online medical services.

"In regions where demand is creating bottlenecks for customers, we will be reducing gaming software downloads at peak times, completing the downloads at the normal fast speeds late at night," Akamai CEO Tom Leighton said in yesterday's announcement.

"This approach will help ensure every internet user and consumer continues to have the high-quality experience they expect across all of their internet services, and that gamers will still get the download they want, though it may take longer than usual during peak usage times. Even more importantly, this will help ensure healthcare workers and first responders working hard to contain the spread of COVID-19 have continual access to the vital digital services they need."

Normally I'd think the onus would be on Akamai to add more bandwidth to accommodate all the services companies are paying for but, well, that's not quick and this isn't the easiest time to carry out infrastructure work.

I couldn't tell you exactly which gaming platforms will be affected by this, and there's not a clear list of who uses Akamai. The company have at times talked about working with Microsoft, Riot Games, Ubisoft, and Roblox, but they could have shifted off them. Steam does use Akamai but it's in conjunction with several other commercial CDNs and as well as a CDN Valve have built themselves, so that might not effect everything. I know the Epic Games Store use the Cloudfront and Amazon Web Services CDNs, though it's possible some Akamai is thrown in somewhere I haven't seen? I do not know. But Microsoft definitely are still on it, because their Dave McCarthy piped up in Akamai's statement.

"As people look to gaming for play and social connection, we're seeing record engagement across Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live, and Mixer," the corporate vice president of Xbox Product Services said. "We're actively monitoring usage and making temporary adjustments as needed to ensure the smoothest possible experience for our gamers. We appreciate the collaboration with partners like Akamai to deliver the joy of games in these unprecedented times."

Watching games might be bumpier right now too. YouTube videos will now default to running in a low resolution to save bandwidth, though you can bump the quality up manually if you want.

"Last week, we temporarily defaulted all videos on YouTube to standard definition in the European Union (EU), United Kingdom (UK), and Switzerland (CH). Given the global nature of this crisis, we are expanding that change globally starting today," they said on their Covid-19 update page. "This update is slowly rolling out, and users can manually adjust the video quality."

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