[MUD-Dev] re: Sun's Sim Server and Gordon's 10 Reasons (the first one :))

ceo ceo at grexengine.com
Wed Mar 31 13:54:53 CEST 2004

At the GDC Sun released a new technology, a protype MMOG server system.
I'm guessing quite a few people on this list saw it (I'd be interested
to know what you thought).

It was built by someone at Sun's "Game Technology Group", who have
had a slightly shakey start, being both a rallying point for the
java games dev community, but also burning a lot of bridges with
said community. I mention this only to cushion against the tone of
the quoted post :)...it came after a separate discussion where their
claims to being the only group who had *ever* produced a system with
things like failover and duplication prevention were countered, and
several people asked them why they were trying to roll their own
rather than working with partners.

The developer apparently hadn't heard of Gordon's "10 Reasons" talk from
GDC03, and seemed to feel  that the few key problems solves by their
tech was the holy grail for MMOG development that would make it easy and
cost-effective. I disagreed, and asked for his reaction to all the other
issues. This is his blow-by-blow response; it gives some interesting
insights into what Sun's strategy is with this Sim Server:


(note: pasted the 10 responses to the 10 questions below)

His summary is "So in short, which of Gordon's 10 does the Sim
Server adress?  My answer is every one thats real!" which I find
somewhat blinkered. It appears he chooses to ignore all the
non-technical problems, including issues of maintenance, customer
support, ongoing development, etc.

Adam M

  Jeff's 10 Answers to Gordon
  « on: Today at 1:39am » 	Quote Modify

  Sicne BBB asked for it, I looked it up. here's my 10 answers to
  Gordon's (IMO in some cases naive) 'reasons":

  JEFF'S 10 Answers to Gordons 10 Reasons not to do a Massively
  Multiplayer Game:

  #10. Too many are being built. Walton compared the current crop of
  in-development games to the "RTS frenzy" of a few years ago. It's
  a fine genre, but there are just too many in development.

    Answer.  This is like saying there are too many single player
    games. The category is huge.  There are too many almost
    IDENTICAL online RPGS being built.  That I agree with, but thats
    a tiny tiny slice of the potential market.

    We are seeing so much "me too-ism" mostly because of the
    difficutly of building good scalable games today.  There is a
    (actually pretty lousy) existing model of a scalable RPG in EQ
    and everyones basically tryign to copy that one model for fear
    of failure if they try something new.

    As in ANY place in the game industry if you stick to the safe
    ground you will be in with lots of competiotrs.  If you go new
    places and do new things there are a wealth of new
    opportunities.  As for their difficulty, well thats what we are
    *solving* with the Sim Server.

    This actually becomes a reason TO do Massively Multiplayer
    games-- unlike the platform game market there are all kinds of
    well known genres that havent even been touched yet.  Break out
    into a new area and you will have 0 competition.

  #9. The craft requires mastery of too many disciplines. These
  include managing a huge team of dozens of people, customer
  service, community relations, network operations, billing,
  marketing, and communication and service coherency. Most MMOGs
  fail in at least two of these crucial areas, Walton supposed.

    The answer to this is simply not to try to do it all. A
    technology like the Sim Server allows non networking or parallel
    processing savvy engineers to be fully competant massively
    scalable server programmers. It "knows about" databases and
    multi-processing and such so the game programmer deosnt have to.

    Simialrly rather then trying to do all your own customer
    service, there are well known (by the rest of the computer
    industry) third party solutions you can engage.

    HOWEVER the Sim Server helps here too.  It provides a common
    back end administration interface to many games at once. It also
    shares the laod across those games. The result is that one
    operations center, and thus a single operations center team, can
    handle ALL the back end administration functions for a whole
    raft of games.

    This makes the epicenter/hosting model a good model for both
    developers and hosting centers and offloads that
    responsabiltyifrom the developer. All the back office services,
    including customer support, can by handled one outsourcer for
    any number of games-- splitting costs between all clients and
    taking the load off the developer.

  #8. It requires a huge time with multiple, diverse skill
  sets. These include client, server, database, and Web programming
  skills and generating gobs of content. Walton said a game that is
  three times bigger is at least 10 times harder to develop.

    Not with the Sim Server.  It handles all your persistance.  It
    handles your scalable server design.

    You, as the developer, write what appears to be event driven
    monothreaded code.  All your sim objects automatically persist
    and your code gets automatically scaled out across the entire
    back end.

    The result is deadlock proof, race proof, massively scaled code
    that is as easy to write as a mono-threaded app.

  #7. Getting the credit card from the customer is hard. Not all
  customers have credit cards, and consumers are generally
  suspicious of online transactions. New customers don't always
  fathom the value proposition of an MMOG until they try it.

    I don't see this slowing Sony down.  Getting the CC is easy if
    the user trusts you.  People trust Sony so sony ahs no prolbem
    with it.

    This again is where large hosting providers can help.  The
    customer trusts them and they hanbdle the billign for you.  In
    addition, they use existing Sun enterprise billign systems which
    are already highly secure adding to that sense of trust as well
    as providing other ways to bill.

    The last point is just silly.  How many "cancel in 30 days"
    offers has Gordon recieved. Why does he think they structure
    things that way?  All packaged MM games come with at least a
    "free" bundled 30 days for exactly that reason.

  #6. Online games are completely counterintuitive to packaged-goods
  game company management. MMOGs are essentially launching all the
  time with staggered launches and new content being added, rather
  than centering around a single one-shot launch as packaged
  software is.

    I'm sorry but this is insulting to the industry.  Its like
    saying there is no way a book publisher can publish a
    magazine. Sure the model is different. Packaged games, like
    books,are all about acquisition-- the original sale.  Online
    games are exactly like magazines, while acquisition is
    important. retention is the key to real money.

    This is exactly why they are so good for the game industry.  In
    the old model every game has to be marketed, sold and then the
    process is doen all over. And that marketing is very expensive.
    Acquisition is the hrad part of any sales mode.  With MM online
    games once yo uhave acquired subscribers you keep them ,and keep
    makign money, as long as you put a reasonable amount into
    keeping the service they paid for interesting to them.

    But saying publishers can't grok this is calling them low grade
    morons who can only mechanically do what they have done before.
    This isn't exactly phd level economics here and there is an
    existing successful industry to emulate.

  #5. Everything developers know from making single-player games is
  wrong in MMOGs. Well known formulas of discovery and secrets don't
  apply to online communities, and cheats that in a single-player
  game affect only the player who chooses to use one can ruin the
  experience of hundreds and even thousands of paying subscribers in
  a persistent world game. Walton also pointed out the importance of
  documentation and maintenance issues to MMOGs that often fall by
  the wayside in single-player-game development.

    The last one was insulting to people who publish games, this one
    is insulting to those who design and develop them.

    "Well known formulas" (formulae, properly) are a road straight
    to chapter 11 in ANY entertainment medium.  People crave new
    experience and the only reliable "formula" there has ever been
    in entertainment is "be different."

    Good game deisgners and developers are pushing the envelope
    daily in their work-- thats their job.  Sure there are new
    challenges in the MM space but thats what makes it interesting
    and fun!  And the fact that so much design hasn't been done yet
    means theres a ton of low hanging fruit before we get to the "oh
    god what do we do THIS time" phase.

  #4. The Internet sucks as a commercial delivery platform. Not only
  that, when players have a bad Internet experience, whatever the
  reason, they blame the game providers.

    Frankly, this sounds like a bad artist blaming his medium.

    All new game paltforms bring with them new challenges and
    limitations. Designing around and for them is the essence of
    real game design.

    I haven't noticed Sony suffering for the problems of the
    medium. or Bioware.  Are there new challenegs?Sure.  Thats what
    we are paid for-- to solve them.

  #3. Customer service is hard. Walton cited customer service as the
  single biggest cost variable in online game development, and the
  ramifications of the customer service strategy and project
  planning are far-reaching. Walton pointed out that whereas in most
  traditional businesses customer service is a cost center whose
  expense is to be minimized (like the call center you phone to
  complain about your cable bill), in MMOGs it is essentially the
  entire business. And that 24x7x365 business is extremely
  people-intensive, which by definition is costly and messy.

    Okay a few comments. First one is this: "...in MMOGs it (the
    call cnter) is essentially the entire business."

    To be blunt: Only if you have a crapy service.  The vast
    majority of the time the customer should be happily using your
    service.  If they arent then thwres something very wrong with

    If telcos operated like MMOLRPGs today do then yes, their call
    center woudl be flooded with complaints/questions/issues.  but
    they don't. They deliver the service reliable, as promised and
    as expected.

    Quality of Service on todays MM games is terrible, there is no
    doubt. Thats someplace the Sun Sim Server halps.  It provides
    the tools necessary to allow game developer to reach the "5
    nines" that telcos tlak about-- where the service is up and
    functioning 99.999% of the time.  We do that for the telcos,
    we're going to do it for online game services.

    Once you are AT the telco stage the question is how do you
    minimize the cost of even that?  Well again the telcos (who Sun
    is very familair with and works intensely with today) have some
    standard answers.  The first is automation.  As much as possible
    is handled by computer systems.  On the second line, they go to
    ecomonies of scale in large call centers. In many cases they
    actually outsource these call centers to companies that
    specialize in 24x7x365 service.  All you need to do this is a
    scale of usership thats appropriate.

    AND again thats where the Sim Server comes in, by making the
    game hosting epicenter possible. With a single administration
    team and call center servicing all games installed in the call
    center you can share expenses with all the other game publishers
    uisng that provider.  The hosting provider handles user
    accounts, customer service and the rest and you pay a small
    amount per account as "your share."

  #2. There are lots of legal issues. These issues range from
  terms-of-service contracts to end user license agreements,
  frivolous lawsuits, the commonplace use of "volunteers" to help
  administer the game, IP protection, and the question of legal
  ownership of virtual "property." All these laws and regulations
  are in constant flux, which put legal issues so high up on
  Walton's list. His advice? Get good lawyers and be sure to budget
  to protect your IP.

    Where has he been?  Certainly not in the US.

    Anyone who runs an IP based business without an IP and contract
    lawyer is 100% certifiably insane.  Any packaged game developer
    who signs publishers' contracts without a lawyer's assistance
    will be out of business within a year.

    My parents have had a 2 person IP company (print text and
    photography) for 40 years. I grew up knowing the name of their
    lawyer as well as I knew the names of any of their friends.

    This is a non-issue because anyone in a real business already
    has to deal with this, MM or not.  Where it comes to the
    specifics of TOS and billinf contracts, again a service provider
    who handles that for you will have standard stuff of their own
    from their pet shark.

  and last but not least....

  And Gordon Walton's #1 reason You Don't Want to Make a Massively
  Multiplayer Game;

  #1. They cost too much money to build and launch! This of course
  is the ultimate gotcha that turns the best laid plans of mice and
  game developers to very costly muck. Development costs continue to
  rise, and, in Walton's words, "the faster you go, the slower you
  get there."

    Today, he's right.  To go online for massively multiplayer you
    need to build a machine room designed to handle your maximum
    expected load. Thats very expensive.

    We put a million dollars into our machine room at TEN before we
    even put in any computers. (Switches, racks, climate control,
    telco equiptment, fire supression, statid supression, power back
    up, etc).

    Even if you cheat on that stuff (which will come back to haunt
    you) you still have to build out a machine back end itself
    capable of handling your maximal load. Failure to do so can
    result in the "success disaster" wher you get too many users to
    handle, your system goes down in flames, and you gain a
    permenant reputation as a crappy game.

    Whats worse, that means a lot of equiptemnt sitting ideal adding
    to your ongoing operating costs. Try to do fail-over by simple
    replication and youve just doubled that cost.  Fill it up past
    expected maximal capacity and you are in shard-ville and have
    another set of mostly unused hardware again.

    The Sim Sever addresses this on two levels. To begin with, you
    can invest in a minimal set of hardware.  Because it scales
    symetrically, handling additional load is as simple as calling
    up your Sun rep and slapping in some more blades as your user
    base expands.

    More so, when deployed in a hosted environment you can start by
    using a fraction of a blade.  You pay the hoster a micro-payment
    per user account.  As your user base grows you automatically
    user more resources and pay him for those new accounts.  Your
    costs scale as your incoem scales and you can make money from
    the very first day.  In fact, you can make as much money from 5
    games that only ever reach 500 accounts as you would from one
    game that has 2500 accounts.

    As I may have mentioned we already have a very very major
    outsourced computing resources supplier (one of the biggest in
    the world but I can't name names) who wants to do just this--
    encourage a market of hundreds of niche games rather then juat a
    few big ones.  The ones of those that take off and become huge,
    thats gravy for everyone involved.

  So in short, which of Gordon's 10 does the Sim Server adress?  My
  answer is every one thats real!
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