The evolution of MMO game servers
Create a multiplayer game that can be turned to a MMO server has always been and will continue to be rather expensive, considering the costs of maintaining the servers and the infrastructures involved. [See Wikipedia first]
If we take a look to the present, there are some examples of games that close their servers after some years working: FIFA's, NBA's, Madden NFL, The Sims, Everybody's Gold World Tour, Monster Hunter Tri, ... including World of Warcraft (in Korea), etc...You may ask why, perhaps you are already conscious of the expenses of having a game server always online, 24/7,...and you will know that even depending on the number of users ,it is hard to see clearly whether the benefits of a game will be enough to keep them up and running.
We are here to discuss this, because one of the rules of gamification is to include other players in the game, a logical consequence is to know how to maintain the servers that connect our players to the worlds. And this is one of the things I love more about gaming.
Let me put this in another way:
To avoid things like happened with WoW: the lost of more than two million players in one year (2011-2012) which is hard to recover, and it resulted in some of the servers closed, we need to find a balance between tech and costs. If the money income can't pay the servers bills, we have to move the users to another server/s or shut down the game, that is the worst scenario, so this is what we will discuss in this article: the evolution of online game servers for a search of the true balance.
In order to give a historical perspective of a server technology and its costs, first we need to know what are the associated maintenance tasks. And this depends on the operators that keep it running everyday of its life.
Let's check the common beta launch games such as GoW: Ascension, FUSE, Dota2, LoL, Final Fantasy XIV, (same as WoW -several years ago-) and so on, where developers must test the server efficiency at high load, they can observe the behavior of the players and the maximum values of lag / load balancing / ping / server connections - number of users - synch data, etc., with these information values you can make the necessary adjustments to the server and find a more smoothly flow as well as correct possible bugs.
Some of the administrators tasks are:
We can find Quake I servers online and running even today, they are not dependent of nothing more than a small machine that does host a repository of names and IP's of the nodes that host online matches, and even that main node is not necesary because you can provide the IP of the server and connect to the match.
It's easy to understand why these are not closed, the cost of this kind of servers is practically zero, it can be mounted by yourself with an Apache and MySQL.
I myself have mounted several servers for games such as for Ludum Dare Jams or games produced and that are currently working, using Glassfish, Apache or Google App Engine, which I maintain and I would like to keep them alive forever, ...well, they are not consuming so much so it can be done.
ID software knew how to do the things right, a first glimpse of the perfect balance.
So, the big difference between an expensive present server and another old is not only determined by the gameplay logic included or not in it, but in the connection too. Look at today's QuakeLive servers (Quake 3), you need to be a Pro user (for a fee of about $40 or prepare to get banned) to create a dedicated server on your machine, here we have a hybrid strategy, now we will discuss this strategy as a solution to the problem of the closure of servers in this evolution of online game servers.
Sometimes it is difficult to check such things as the use of special devices, such as CoD: MW3 hacked pads which can automatically target - duck - shoot once it "sees" an enemy, which is solved by placing a reporting service that other players can use when they detect the cheaters.
This is a contra, because, have a cutting edge technology does not relieve us of possible attacks, just take a look to the daily EVE online hack attemps ...
The use of hacks/cheats/bugs to be above the other players are breaking the balance of the game ,so there is a tendency to "spy" on the players, storing the messages, VoIP conversations about the game, etc.., to analyze the behavior of its participants and to ban, punish or warn those who do not follow the rules, for example by insulting, threatening, etc.
Or maybe it is something that is on the agenda. The cost is high if we consider that we must review thousands of reported conversations or conversations that have detected the improper use of language, or a derogatory / threatening (cyber-bullying) against other players, cheaters, and so on.
Another contra of hacking is that although the game logic is included in the server part, the messages can be analyzed and replicated, this is the case of rogue/private servers of World of Warcraft, Guild of Wars, etc.., which are still in operation right now a punch for the designers..., think of the investment , not only in technology but in qualified personnel to support the service (forums, game managers, beta testers, etc.) costs...
Not everything could be bad, the experience provided by an online server with game logic can be better for management and gameplay improvement.
Being able to change the game from the server side and turn it into something else, just adds to the social gaming a whole new experience, always from the point of view of the player. And since you can keep it alive longer thanks to the players, these will be attracting new players too, this allow to pay the server bills.
In principle it seems that cloud computing is what will ultimately be implemented at large scale, because the costs are lower if we do not have the infrastructure to provide these services.
Some examples of massive cloud computing not only for games are the use of processing data sent from mobile, like: patterns recognition, voice recognition, processing of big volumes of social data, etc..
But we have seen that game users have been able to replicate the behavior of a server that needs a supercomputer on a basic web hosting, the future is uncertain, but knowing this, we also can say that this is the future and that things will not change unless there is a radical change today, right now!.
So we are back in the present , where we live with lag servers because of more income and that is not a trivial issue.
Lag have turned some players in "lag warriors" where they use the lag of the opponent as a weakness.