Game of Roams – How the Real Battle isn’t for the Iron Throne, but for Optimizing Data
The arrival of the infamous coffee cup in the world of Game of Thrones (GoT) may have revealed an uncomfortable truth. (That, and the plastic water bottle behind a council member’s leg in Tyrion’s appeal scene.) Perhaps there was more than magic fueling the characters and their quest for the Iron Throne and maybe they took advantage of some more ‘modern’ perks. If Daenerys had a taste for coffee, it’s not too farfetched to imagine she used Google Maps on a phone to find the best coffee shop in each area she visited. In fact, throughout all the character journeys in GoT, we rarely saw characters checking a paper map—leading us to believe they plotted their whole journeys on an online map of some sort.
If that’s the case, there’s a whole new element to consider in GoT—how are mobile operators keeping data costs down for their customers, especially given how far each character traveled, and the number of different countries they visited? In this Game of Roams Report, we look at the countries key character’s journeys and the potential data costs and issues they would face as they enjoyed their streaming video and mapping apps while they traveled to the ultimate destination of Kings Landing and the final battle for the Iron Throne of Westeros. We also speculate about how important mobile data optimization could be to GoT characters.
- We charted each character’s journey and the areas of the GoT world they travel through by using each character’s page on the Game of Thrones wiki
- This information is up-to-date as of Episode Five, Series 8, when most everyone arrived in King’s Landing.
- We then used Quora user Poulomi Hari’s breakdown of which GoT regions correspond to which real-world locations
- Using publicly-available data from each of the UK’s major mobile operators, we were able to calculate average roaming charges to non-EU and non-Roam Like At Home (RLAH) locations
- Netflix’s guide to the size of streaming television allowed us to further calculate the cost to characters and operators based on roaming charges to locations
- Using this data, we were able to select two key use cases which demonstrate the challenges to mobile operators and MVNOs, as well as the issues facing consumers going on holiday with their phones
- All character journeys are tracked in the table in Appendix 1
- We must be aware that GoT is a fantasy world and, while we can roughly chart equivalents to real-world locations, they may not be one hundred percent accurate
- RLAH and EU roaming regulations may not exist in a world of more than seven kingdoms that are constantly at war—there may be more risk of out-of-control data costs than there would be in our world
- Roaming charges have been calculated as an average cost of major UK operators
- This report may spoil some events and character-arcs in GoT if you haven’t followed the series to the end.
Why is this important to operators and MVNOs?
RLAH considerations across the EU are extremely beneficial to consumers who are able to freely use their mobiles on holiday and business while they travel. Customers are able to stream video, use maps and send and receive emails or Whatsapps without worrying they will be charged anything above their current plans. However, for operators who are in agreements with overseas providers, RLAH can mean that they are faced with extra charges to supply the same amount of data to their customers.
At the same time, wherever customers are, they need to be aware of their data use, particularly as we are living more and more of our lives on mobiles. We use them for streaming movies and TV programs, finding our way on mobile maps, listening to streaming music sites and for a wide variety of purposes above and beyond simply communicating with each other. It’s therefore important for both operators and customers alike that, while we’re using our phones for data-heavy purposes, we’re also making sure that we’re optimizing our data use to make sure we are able to view and stream the maximum amount of content for the least amount of money and data usage. This helps avoid ‘billshocks’ and minimizes complaints to mobile operators that are often blameless and have their hands tied in these cases.
Use Case 1 – Daenerys the consumer
As a consumer, Daenerys was most at risk of a massive ‘billshock’. She traveled through a wide range of non-EU RLAH countries, including some of the most expensive, namely Iran, China, Morocco and Egypt. We know that Dany liked her coffee and, as a traveller, likely relied on maps to get her to her next destination as she tried to reach Westeros and claim her place as queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Dany travelled through countries that generally incur very high roaming charges. Iran, for example, can be as high as £7.20 per megabyte, with China, Morocco and Egypt also around that level per megabyte. If she streamed maps to manage her journey, this would soon rack up high charges. It would get worse if, after a hard day training dragons and freeing slaves, she decided to unwind with her favorite TV program. With Netflix calculating a single hour of Standard Definition TV coming in at one gigabyte, Dany would have experienced charges of over £7,000 just to keep up with a couple of episodes of Doc Martin to take her mind off the serious business of day-to-day life. If she did this, she could have a bill like this holidaymaker in Turkey who ended up paying £8,000 for just a few moments of data use.)
While it’s tempting to say ‘caveat emptor’ and that the Mother of Dragons could afford it, this poses a serious problem for operators. Dany wouldn’t have complained to the Iranian network that her bill is too high, but she definitely would have complained to her mobile provider. Of course, they’d likely have capped her usage when she started racking up charges and would have contacted her to let her know this was happening, but that still doesn’t mean that she wasn’t faced with a very high bill, especially if she decided that her mobile was too important to put down as she went about her conquests.
Naturally, Dany would have been better off connecting to Wi-Fi wherever she could but, on the road and in campsites, the Wi-Fi signal might not be great. In the heat of battle, a dead zone caused by switching the connection from Wi-Fi to mobile also might have caused her to pause, which could have resulted in a disaster. If she couldn’t get on a reliable Wi-Fi network, then Dany and her operator needed to make sure she was getting as much data as she could for her money.
Dany had two options. One was an optimization service, which automatically reduces data usage without throttling. That means the Khaleesi could to get where she’s going and then enjoy her TV, or download an Avengers movie to unwind—doubtlessly curled up next to one of her dragons.
The other, which could have made more sense for her, was to buy a SIM card in each country that she visits. These can usually be bought in airports or tourist shops and she could find one that gave her the best data value for the least cost. She could have sent Jorah Mormont (until his death) to find one for her, and probably get a couple for himself and Tyrion while he was there.
After her destruction of Kings Landing, it’s not likely that many people will be mourning Dany, although Drogon, her dragon, was pretty emotional. Her mobile operator is definitely upset. The Mother of Dragon’s demise at the hands of Jon Snow was probably a benefit for Westeros as she was clearly on the route to becoming a tyrant but there could be a significant, unrecouped mobile bill left to pay. Her mobile operator may be writing off a very large sum and probably wishes that Jon had stayed his hand—at least until she’d paid up.
Use Case 2 – Arya and the RLAH conundrum
Arya was lucky with her phone. She mainly traveled though RLAH nations, including Scotland, England, Germany and the amalgamation of Rhodes, Greece and Venice, Italy that represents Braavos. She was in good shape with her data usage as she wasn’t charged extra on top of her plan for data roaming. However, given her travels and that most of her journeys were alone (and even blind), she likely relied heavily on online maps and GPS to see her to her next destination. As a top assassin in training, it was also likely that she browsed YouTube to find instructional videos on fighting techniques, weapon maintenance and other such subjects. Given the darker nature of her job and her maturation into a warrior, it’s not hard to imagine she was a fan of programs such as Killing Eve, or that she streamed music heavily when she trained, especially while she practiced her swordsmanship or did that important cardio.
Arya was able to use her data with impunity. She still had similar usage caps that she needed to be aware of but wasn’t in the position of being charged more by her operator.
This is the problem for Arya’s operator – under the RLAH rules, her operator is charged by the local, out-of country-provider for data usage. Due to RLAH, Arya’s original provider won’t be able to pass these costs onto her, but it certainly doesn’t want her to not be able to use her phone. Imagine if she hadn’t been able to use maps to find her family and get on the path to ultimately kill the Night King—Westeros would have been in a lot of trouble.
For Arya’s provider then, there’s an issue. They couldn’t control her data use (and nor would they want to), but they also had to make sure that she received the best value for her data and they were able to supply it at a reasonable cost so as not to affect the service they provided. Again, an optimization service which allows users to view content at their normal rate, without incurring huge data requirements would have helped Arya on her mission to eliminate her list of enemies, while she still enjoyed her music and YouTube videos at a cost that worked for her and her mobile network provider.
Extra use case – You know nothing, Jon Snow
Our last use case is Jon Snow. Famous for ‘knowing nothing’, Jon spent a lot of his time ranging north of The Wall, battling Wildlings (and living with them) and combatting White Walkers. North of The Wall is notorious for not being well-mapped out, for being a snowy, dangerous place and easy to get lost in. There’s not likely to be much wi-fi up there. North of the Wall also loosely equates to Greenland, another £7.20 per MB location. A solid data connection would be of crucial importance to Jon, particularly when he headed south to warn the Night’s Watch of the impending invasion of Wildlings, with the White Walkers hot on their heels. Given his ignorance of a lot of things, it was unlikely that Jon was careful with his data usage—or that, with his pride and stubbornness, he’d likely heed data usage caps. If Ygritte had lived, she could likely have helped him find a different provider, or at least show him how to make the best use of his data plan beyond The Wall. Sadly, since her death (and before) he was probably racking up huge data charges. Perhaps Arya was able to educate him about managing his roaming charges before she split to explore the west side of Westeros. Ghost, Jon’s beloved direwolf, has his own wolf-roaming issues.
Conclusion – Optimization in GoT and the real world
It’s important to remember that GoT characters tended to be covered regarding their text messaging and even voice as they used ravens to send messages from place to place. There’s a cost associated with ravens, which likely increased with distance, but the birds were a good way to keep communication flowing at a decent cost. It’s streaming data the characters needed to be really aware of.
As detailed above, there’s a number of ways that operators and consumers can work together to reduce billshocks, as well as make sure that operators are able to provide high levels of service at a cost that’s bearable to them. As well as helping users find local SIMs for travel to expensive countries, operators can offer an on-device solution that seamlessly reduces data requirements for streaming, reducing network burden without throttling. As all of the GoT characters might have found out, not paying attention to data usage while on the move could prove costly, not just to consumers, but also to networks.
Mobile operators would do well to consider how they can optimize streaming video to make sure that their customers don’t miss out and end up blaming them. An optimize service could mean the difference between keeping customers and losing them to competitors that have kept a smooth service running in the face of huge network burdens. As Cersei Lannister, who optimized nothing, once said, ‘When you play the game of thrones, you either win, or you die’. And look what happened to Cersei.
Further possibilities for research
Back in the real world, GoT has been the most-watched TV series of all time, especially once downloads and streaming are taken into account. GoT has already seen HBO app downloads quadruple and in-app revenues triple. The final episode on 19th May, 2019 was a huge event, with more people than ever before tuning in to see Bran win the Iron Throne; Jon Snow kill Daenerys, then head north; and Arya continue to be the explorer.
Of course, it’s not just the characters that travel long distances. Summer is coming and die-hard fans from around the world are embarking on long holidays to follow the filming locations and their favourite characters. This could tangle them with the same, real-world issues that their fictional counterparts faced.
We will explore these topics in further updates.
For more information about how Mobolize Optimize can work with existing customer care apps and offerings and help customers experience up to 80% more data without impacting cost or performance, please visit https://www.mobolize.com/optimize/ or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Appendix 1 – The Character Journeys
1. Theon Greyjoy
Places Stopped: Iron Islands → Winterfell → Whispering Wood → Pyke → The Stony Shore → Torrhen’s Square → Dreadfort Castle (The North) → Deepwood Motte → Moat Caitlin → Iron Islands → Essos → Volantis → Westeros → Sunspear → Dragonstone → The North → Winterfell
Real World: Norway → Scotland → Germany → Scotland → Norway → Scotland → Scotland → Scotland → Scotland → Norway → Turkey → Europe → Europe → Malta → Scotland → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: Turkey
Places Stopped: Dragonstone → Free Cities → Vaes Dothrak → Red Waste, Far East Qarth City → House of the Undying → Astapor, Slaver’s Bay → Yunkai → Meereen → Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, Vaes Dothrak → Meereen → Westeros → Dragonstone → Eastwatch → The North → Winterfell
Real World: Malta → Greece → Asia → Iran → Eurasia (China) → Morocco → Egypt → Asia → Egypt → Europe → Malta → Scotland → Scotland → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: Iran, China, Morocco, Egypt
Places Stopped: Winterfell → Castle Black → Winterfell → Green Fork → King’s Landing → Blackwater Bay → The Free Cities → Pentos → Volantis → Meereen → Dragonstone → King’s Landing → Dragonstone → King’s Landing → White harbour, The North
Real World: Scotland → Scotland → Scotland →Germany → London → London → Greece → Greece → Turkey →Malta → London → Malta → London → Scotland → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: Turkey
Places Stopped: Dragonstone→ Stormlands → Blackwater Bay (battle) → Dragonstone → Braavos → The Wall → Castle Black → Bear Island → Winterfell → Dragonstone → Kings Landing → White Harbour
Real World: Malta → Italy → London → Malta →Italy → Scotland → Scotland → Scotland → Scotland → Malta → London → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: N/A
5. Jon Snow
Places Stopped: Winterfell → Castle Black → Ranging in the North → Craster’s Keep → Shadow Tower → Skirling Pass → Wilding Camp – Frostfang Mountains → Fist of the First Men → Castle Black → Craster’s Keep → Castle Black → Hardhome → Castle Black → Winterfell → Dragonstone → Eastwatch-by-the-Sea → White Harbour → Winterfell
Real World: Scotland → Greenland → Malta → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: Greenland
Places Stopped: Renly’s Camp, Storm’s End → Robb’s Camp, Westerlands → Harrenhal → Red Keep → Kings Landing → an inn → Moat Cailin → Winterfell → Wolfswood → Castle Black → Mole’s Town → Riverrun → Winterfell → Kings Landing → Winterfell
Real World: Italy → England → Germany → London → London → Scotland → Scotland → Scotland → Scotland → Germany → Scotland → London → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: N/A
Places Stopped: Kings Landing → Stormlands → Harrenhal → The Eyrie → Runestone → Moat Cailin → Winterfell → Kings Landing → Runestone → Moat Cailin → Winterfell (Battle of the Bastards)
Real World: London → Italy → Germany → Switzerland → Switzerland → Scotland → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: N/A
Places Stopped: Kings Landing → Winterfell → Kings Landing → Golden Tooth (Battle) → Whispering Wood (Battle) → Tully Castle → Harrenhal → Red Keep → Kings Landing → Castle Stokeworth → Dorne → Kings Landing → Riverrun → The Twins → Kings Landing → Highgarden → Kings Landing → Winterfell
Real World: London → Scotland → London → Italy → Italy → Italy → Germany → London → London → Spain → London → Italy → Italy → London → France → London → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: N/A
Places Stopped: Winterfell → Kings Landing → Harrenhal → Riverlands (Brotherhood without Banners) → The Twins → The Eyrie → Braavos → The Twins (Westeros) → Winterfell
Real World: Scotland → London → Germany→ Germany → Germany → Switzerland → Italy → France → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: N/A
Places Stopped: Winterfell → Kings Landing → The Vale → Moat Cailin → Winterfell → Castle Black → Bear Island → Deepwood Motte → Winterfell
Real World: Scotland → London → Switzerland → Scotland →Scotland → Scotland → Scotland → Scotland
Non-EU / RLAH countries: N/A