Nothing is more human than playing games. Boards and pieces can be found from the beginnings of civilization — little scraps of technology we created to entertain ourselves. No wonder, then, that gaming is a dominant force in mobile tech. What's more surprising is that some of the most successful mobile games are versions of some of the oldest traditions.
Take Ludo. A classic board game for up to four players, it can trace its direct ancestry to 6th-century India and is built from much older ideas. Players roll a die to move pieces from home along a track to a finish; the first to get all pieces there wins. You can't pass an opponent on the track, but if you land on them they go back to the start. That's it. Simple. But the way it brings players together has been enough to make Ludo the national game of the subcontinent.
Now Ludo is king of the phones, in the shape of Gametion's Ludo King app. A faithful yet stylish rendition of the board game, it retains the game's simplicity and social interaction, but at an epic scale. It topped the charts for Google Play downloads in India and reached the top ten internationally, with tens of millions of players chalking up a quarter of a billion minutes of playing time a day. At one point, numbers quadrupled overnight. Yet all this was managed by a tiny team of developers who'd built their platform on MongoDB Atlas, the global cloud database service.
Ludo King's authentic board game emulation quickly tapped into the Indian psyche. "We had strong takeup right from 2016, when we launched the first version," says Gametion founder and CEO Vikash Jaiswal. "A million downloads in the first 25 days, and up to a million minutes of play a day by the start of 2020. We were doing very well already. Then came the lockdown and we went through the roof."
"We Just Wanted to Concentrate on the Game"
Gametion was the quintessential small gaming startup. In 2015, it had a couple of developers out of a staff of four or five, and they'd produced a suite of in-browser Flash games. The next move was obviously mobile. But at first, the company didn't move far from the idea of a simple gaming experience.
Jaiswal says: "There was no database component to the Flash games, no login or user ID. We launched Ludo King in 2016 as a single player game, and soon got the user feedback that they wanted multiplayer features. You need user accounts and user data for that."
The company takes pride in how quickly it can adopt and incorporate new technologies, explains Jaiswal, but that means finding the right technology to adopt. And the game was exhibiting demanding growth. "Ludo King was becoming very popular, so we knew we needed something that could scale. It had to be quick to learn — we didn't have time for complexity or long learning curves."
MongoDB seemed a good fit for an underlying database. I knew it was fast and very flexible to build on, and it had lots of features. And it turned out to be a really good fit for mobile gaming — MongoDB integrates very well into our Node.js architecture. It's a native speaker.Vikash Jaiswal, Founder and CEO, Gametion
Jaiswal's team was able to rely on MongoDB's flexible data model to continually expand the game's features, including more options for players and monetisation tactics. That's never stopped. In 2020, Gametion introduced two new in-game features: voice chat and egreetings to users.
But they had no interest in the nuts and bolts of database administration. "We didn't want to make our own backend or worry about scaling, management or any of that. We just wanted to concentrate on the game," says Jaiswal. MongoDB Atlas hadn't made its debut yet at the time — Gametion being ahead of the game -- so the company chose the third-party mLab platform for hosting. Then in 2019, after mLab was acquired by MongoDB Inc, Gametion transitioned from mLab to MongoDB Atlas, the platform made and managed by the company behind the database.
MongoDB Atlas: A 'Native Speaker' for Mobile Gaming
Transitions can be challenging, but with the same underlying architecture and the support of MongoDB itself, this one was straightforward. In fact, it was so uneventful that Jaiswal says he can't remember it happening. "I don't recall any problems at all. There was no downtime, which I definitely would have remembered. MongoDB managed it all for us. The migration must have been very smooth."
Once on MongoDB Atlas, running on AWS's cloud infrastructure, the team — which was now five developers — quickly found the features that mattered, such as Continuous Cloud Backup and Performance Advisor. "The dashboard is very cool. We can dial up the performance we need when we need it, and see exactly what's going on."
Ludo King's Lockdown
Gametion's emphasis on common open standards and a component approach has made it easy to add other functions as the game demands, maintaining a regular schedule of updates that keep the users engaged. "You can think of it as a microservices architecture. We use Kafka to manage data movement and synchronize between services. It's another way to optimize resource use across the board without sacrificing scalability or release cadence."
That's something you need when you go from being one of the top mobile games in India to the uncontested champ.
"At the start of March 2020, we had between 150,000 and 200,000 simultaneous users, but when lockdown hit that month, it jumped to a million, 1.5 million. We went from 8,000 IOPS to peaking at 35,000."
"With 145 million downloads in the first week of lockdown alone, quickly finding the rights answers was important," says Jaiswal. "We have 50 million users a day, averaging 50 minutes of gameplay each. Some of them are on for five, six hours at a stretch."
MongoDB is Integral to Future Growth
The future will see more features on Ludo King, such as league tables and what Gametion sees as its primary revenue generator: in-app purchases. It'll also see some brand-new games. MongoDB is integral to this strategy, both to power innovation and to manage the consequences of success. And Gametion's roadmap is growing with its market, which means it will need features for economically managing huge numbers of casual users. "Atlas Data Lake looks useful," says Jaiswal. "We want to move inactive players — those who haven't been online in a while — away from the main database, but we don't want to just delete them."
Efficiently managing hundreds of millions of users — and supporting near-instantaneous, 1,000% growth — would have once required the resources of a large corporation. But for Gametion, which still has fewer than 100 employees, these aren't limiting factors. In August 2020, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi even highlighted the success of the the game during his monthly radio programme. Ludo King is helping to fulfill the vision of popularising Indian games with a global audience.
For now, Gametion's focus is growth. And MongoDB is part of that experience, the game piece that shows where you are and implements your strategy, quietly and efficiently.
MongoDB Atlas is not just a database, it's a genuine game changer.