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Cyberspace in the 21st Century: Part One, Mapping the Future of Multiplayer Games
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Cyberspace in the 21st Century: Part One, Mapping the Future of Multiplayer Games

January 20, 2000 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

The Next Os War

And now for something completely different!

Remember the first OS War? That ancient struggle to obtain supremacy in the bootstrap disks and ROM chips of the business machines of the seventies, and subsequently revisited in the form of the GUI-WIMP wars? Well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

The first operating system war was all about becoming established as the de facto, generalized model of a stand-alone computer - presenting a consistent face to the user and the application, and latterly a consistent face to the firmware supporting it.

The next OS war (if you believe there will be one) will be all about becoming established as the de facto, generalized model of the Internet as a single computing resource - presenting a consistent face to the user and the application, and of course to the supporting software on each connected computer.

The Web is not it. Well, how can it be? How could we arrive at the perfect system so soon? OK, this is a rather spurious basis upon which to argue the point, but the Web, or HTTP, HTML, and even XML are pretty new arrivals and have simply had the field largely to themselves. It's like MS-DOS and the IBM PC. Just because it's popular, it doesn't make it the best, but then something like Windows will come along as something better and despite the uphill struggle that it will undoubtedly face, it will eventually supersede.

So, I will place my bets that one day there will be a new protocol, or as I would say, a "Distributed Internet Operating System", that will facilitate the equitable pooling and exploitation of all resources and information around the world. Read some science fiction, Greg Egan say, for examples of developing this (old) idea.

Even today, everyone brings resources to the Internet, typically their computer, its storage, processing, and the bandwidth of a network connection to it. Everyone also makes demands upon these, and the balance between provision and consumption is continuously changing. I'd say there is a vacancy for a DIOS that does this transparently.

Yeah, right on brother, but what does this have to do with games? Well, I have a hunch that the most likely place in which to look for a suitable candidate for a DIOS will be in the field of interactive entertainment technology, specifically massive multiplayer games and the engines that support them. The fittest ones to survive will be scalable, distributed systems, and I suspect the fittest will also be the most intensively used examples of such things. I have a feeling that the entertainment industry will make more intensive use of distributed systems than financial, military, and other industries.

So, not only are massive multiplayer games going to be where games, per se, are going. And not only will massive multiplayer games be the primary form of entertainment this century. They will also end up defining the future of the Internet itself. Or it's all hogwash - as an alternative proponent exclaimed earlier.

Where To Next?

All I've done so far is to take a brief look at the past and the present, and then gazed into my crystal ball and spouted some nonsense about billion player games and a whacked out idea about another OS war. You don't have to buy any of it really - and you probably won't. However, some of you may have a bit of interest in multiplayer games technology, and might wonder if any harebrained ideas about developing a game engine to support billions, could possibly be relevant to your next project, probably with more modest numbers in mind…

See you next month!

Further Reading:

Oh yes, don't just take my word for it, read some books and get a second opinion.

For the hard core coders out there who can't wait to roll their sleeves up, I suggest a good grounding could be obtained from the following textbook:

Coulouris, George, et al. Distributed Systems: Concepts and Design. 2nd ed. Harlow, England: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1994.

If you're a generalist and want to know about the technical issues, but would appreciate things at a higher level, how about:


Singhal, Sandeep; Zyda, Michael. Networked Virtual Environments: Design and Implementation. New York, New York: ACM Press - SIGGRAPH Series, 1999.

If you're more the futurist and just want to keep tabs on where it's all going, try this one:


Dodsworth Jr, Clark. Digital Illusion: Entertaining the Future with High Technology. New York, New York: ACM Press - SIGGRAPH Series, 1998.

Crosbie Fitch is currently the Senior Systems Engineer at Pepper's Ghost Productions, which he joined in 1997 to develop a network games engine, reluctantly leaving special effects house Cinesite. In a deft twist of fate, PGP shortly decided that a radical change of direction away from games, toward an animated TV series was in order, and so Crosbie found himself writing plug-ins for Discreet Max - plus ça change... He can be reached at [email protected].

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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