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How to Gamifying FinOps in a Games Company

By an anonymous FinOps engineer at a gaming company

Here’s how we motivated young engineers in a gaming company to adopt FinOps practices, engage with usage optimization challenges, and support the organization’s drive to improve cost efficiency.

The Situation

My previous company was well-established in a traditional sector and most of the engineers were mature and accustomed to a relatively slow pace of change. My current company produces games and has a much younger workforce and less formal working practices.

When I looked at the cloud usage, I could see that there were a significant number of discontinued services that were still attached to active cloud resources. We were still spending money to support them, even though no-one was using them. In addition, it was also clear that many resources were not configured optimally. Some resources were over-sized, and others could be modernized and there were examples of auto-scaling that were poorly configured.

The Approach

I created two initiatives to attack this problem, ‘The Cleanup Challenge’ and the ‘Financial Improvement Sprint’.

The Cleanup Challenge

This initiative consisted of making a list of all the resources that appeared to be attached to discontinued services. Together, with all team members, we could save by shutting them down. 

Before the activity, I created a short kickoff that presented the initiative to all technical teams. This was supported by managers and team leaders.

This cleanup list contained service names, owners, and costs that we paid monthly. I shared this list with the team in many versions so that  teams could take it for action offline. Some approved cleanup so I could do it myself.

I tracked the progress once a day, handling communication between teams using slack or email. Actions include verifying that disconnected services are also cleaned up from all other automation routines like backups, notifications, and alerts to our Network Operations Center (NOC), so that we don’t waste our Savings Plan or Reserved Instance for them.

Challenge is limited with time – 1-2 sprints

By the end of the challenge, we could remove 70% of planned resources. For the rest we were required to do more complicated research and termination using separate Jira tasks to coordinate work with teams. I made personal recognitions to those people, giving them small gifts and sending thank you letters to their managers.

It helped to encourage the other members, to make it more fun and easy going. As an additional output of this activity we could create Financial Management EPICS in Jira per team, so we could measure work hours and work power for FinOps tasks by engineers. 

Our team found this initiative to be very successful. We were able to reduce 20% of total monthly costs, discover owners of resources, update tags, and discover FinOps champions inside teams.

Strengthening our FinOps Discipline

This initiative allowed us to improve many facets of our FinOps practice:

  • Cost optimization – focuses on identifying and eliminating wasted spend and improving resource utilization to reduce overall costs. 
  • Cost allocation – is closely related to unused resource cleanup. Cost allocation involves identifying the costs associated with each resource or service and attributing those costs to the teams, projects, or individuals that are responsible for them. 
  • Cloud financial management – this capability focuses on creating financial transparency and accountability across an organization’s cloud infrastructure.

The organizational goal in cleaning up unused resources is to optimize cloud spending and reduce unnecessary costs. When an organization uses cloud services, they are charged based on the resources they consume, such as computing power, storage, and network usage. Unused resources, or “zombie resources,” are resources that are no longer being utilized but are still incurring costs. These resources can accumulate over time and result in significant wastage of cloud spending.

By identifying and eliminating unused resources, organizations can reduce their cloud spending and allocate resources more effectively. This helps organizations to optimize their costs and increase efficiency by ensuring that they are only paying for the resources they actually need. Additionally, eliminating unused resources can help to improve the security and compliance of an organization’s cloud infrastructure, as it reduces the number of potential attack vectors and helps to ensure that only authorized resources are in use.

Financial Improvement Sprint

The purpose of this challenge was to optimize some resources using small efforts with big impact and a high success rate. The sprints involved improvements that are simple to do without hard planning, like improving autoscaling of services (maximal targets too high), improving backup routine and adding lifecycles, or implementing a resource scheduling strategy to turn off or scale down resources during off-peak hours or when they are not needed. This can help reduce costs by only paying for resources when they are in use.

I set goals and objectives and created Jira tasks for teams together with managers. Every goal also includes cost impact, such as how much money we can save and even how we can improve performance by some easy-doing infrastructure changes.

Teams could follow cost impact on change in cost dashboards. Process was tracked once a week,using a dashboard and other tracking tools to monitor each teams’ progress and provide feedback to teams to help them improve.

Teams and individuals that achieved the highest scores or met certain milestones were rewarded with gift cards. We celebrated the success of each team at the end of the Financial Improvement Sprint, and recognized the efforts of each team member, encouraging them to continue improving their financial practices.

By implementing these improvements, we could help reduce cloud services costs and optimize our usage. These improvements are relatively easy to implement and can be a good starting point for any cost optimization efforts.

Strengthening our FinOps Discipline

This initiative allowed us to improve many facets of our FinOps practice:

  • Cost optimization capability – the focus would be on identifying the areas where resources are being consumed in an inefficient or suboptimal manner, and then implementing changes to optimize the usage of those resources.
  • Cloud financial management is another capability – by having a clear view of cloud spending and usage, it becomes easier to identify inefficient resources and take action to optimize their usage.

In addition to these capabilities are also very important collaboration and communication across teams and departments. Optimization for inefficient resources may require input and cooperation from different stakeholders, such as developers, IT operations, finance, and business units. Therefore, effective communication and collaboration are crucial for the success of any optimization initiative.

What lessons did you learn from these gamification initiatives that you would use in future?

Gamification can be an effective way to engage and motivate teams to participate in cleanup unused resources initiatives. By adding a competitive element or rewards, it can encourage individuals or teams to proactively identify and eliminate unused resources.

Clear communication and education about the importance of cleaning up unused resources and optimizations is crucial to the success of the initiative. Teams and individuals need to understand the benefits of the cleanups/optimizations and how it aligns with the overall goals and objectives of the organization.

The use of data and analytics is essential in identifying unused/inefficient resources and monitoring progress over time. Providing real-time feedback and visualizations can help teams to understand the impact of their efforts and adjust their approach accordingly.

Collaboration across teams and departments is critical in achieving success in initiatives. A cross-functional approach that involves stakeholders from different areas of the organization can help to identify areas of overlap and duplication, which can lead to greater efficiency and cost savings.

Finally, both initiatives should be an ongoing process, rather than a one-time event. Regular reviews and monitoring can help to ensure that unused/inefficient resources are identified and eliminated in a timely manner, leading to long-term cost savings and improved efficiency.