[vworld-tech] Ultimate MMO Platform

Jim Purbrick Jpurbrick at climaxgroup.com
Fri Apr 2 05:07:53 PST 2004

> 'punk rock' eh? Sounds like a politer version of 'brute force 
> & ignorance'. ;-)

Sorry, that sounded more derogatory than it was meant to be. I was alluding
to the DIY approach of punk rock bands making music themselves rather than
through the music industry, which at the time was in the business of making
bloated, flabby cape wearing prog rock. In some ways I wonder if we're there
with computer games: a lot of studios are making vast, epic, impressive
worlds on a huge scale with questionable amounts of fun and game play
involved. The industry is playing 8 minute guitar solos, are we going to see
lots of little, dirty, fun, 3-chord-wonder punk rock games in the near
> As you've intimated, it's a matter of getting the 'ball 
> rolling'. It's not a matter of making a perfect system on day one.

Again, punk rock, not epic.
> Let's not get bogged down by itemising all the reasons why 
> manned flight is impossible and why velocities in excess of 
> 35mph will cause brain damage, etc.

Or get bogged down playing harmonised ionion licks when we could just turn
the amps up to 11 and hammer out some chords to make a glorious noise.
> If we were proposing a mechanism whereby people could share 
> their CD collections online, I daresay many people would say 
> it would never work because you couldn't trust people not to 
> corrupt the data, nor could you guarantee that a particular 
> CD that was entered into the system would always be 
> available. Moreover, you'd get a load of people suggesting 
> that such a system would be unviable because you couldn't 
> charge for it.

I'm not sure that I've seen a viable business yet, although it may be
happening now. As far as I can see it file and music sharing is still mainly
copyright flouting anarchic piracy.
> You only worry about trust when you have something to lose.

Like hundreds of hours advancing your character. With p2p sharing you go
online if you're lucky you find something you want, so you download it. Then
you keep it safe on your machine or back it up. With an MMO you expect your
character and the bits of the world you're in to be available when you want
to play.

In a file sharing system you don't care what rubbish people pollute the
system with, you just ignore it. In an MMO you need to be careful that
people can't just add a level 50 character, or even a slightly more powerful
axe to the system as it all get unbalanced. This is hard enough to do when
you own the servers let alone when you sprinkle the persistent state across
hundreds of machines potentially owned by people you don't trust.
> Be careful of applying the same values and expectations that 
> you may have from existing game genres and reapplying them to 
> p2p based games.

Absolutely. You can probably do some really interesting games p2p, I'm just
not sure about MMOs. My initial question was what is the Ultimate MMO
platform and, while I'd like it to be p2p, there are some really big issues
to solve before doing p2p MMOs. A p2p cyberspace might be the ultimate X
platform, but I'm not sure that X = MMOs, at least in the form we currently
see them.
> All existing games (apart from say, Diplomacy or table-top 
> RPGs, or other games where people can make the rules up as 
> they go along) have a cast iron ruleset at their heart, and 
> we find that the computer is a perfect match, indeed, a 
> better than human invigilator of games. It is part of the 
> sacred unwritten laws of games development that a game must 
> have an uncorruptible ruleset or the game isn't fun. Ipso 
> facto nothing can be entertaining that isn't such a game.

And the hard part with online games is ensuring that the rules are adhered
too when there are lots of people out to break them or find loopholes in
them. This is hard enough when it's just the players you don't trust, let
alone when you can't trust the judges.
> I appreciate that a 'virtual world' kind of thingy that is 
> run on a p2p infrastructure is inherently unable to enjoy 
> perfect invigilation. Indeed, I never try to say that without 
> perfect invigilation entertainment will be unachievable. 
> Instead, I try to persuade you that a p2p type world isn't 
> necessarily going to be a 'game' as we know it. I also try to 
> persuade you that nevertheless, what is created on this 
> imperfect distributed modelling system will indeed be entertaining.

I'd prefer to try to look for solutions to those problems, whether they are
social solutions like NWN where players nominate players they trust to run
servers and store state, or baroque automated systems where multiple
computers have to adjudicate and compare results and form an automated web
of trust.

> For comparison, the Internet is entertaining/useful, 
> nevertheless it is still prone to spam, pop-ups, unwanted 
> advertising, corruption, scams, viruses, porn, DoS attacks, 
> phishing, and anything else that naysayers might suggest it 
> would be subject to prior to its creation. We still see great 
> value in it. And yet it is free - or rather, people only pay 
> their ISPs for a network connection and bandwidth.

The Internet is an information delivery tool and is entertaining/useful
because there is entertaining/useful because there is entertaining/useful
information on it. The web developed after the information it linked and was
only used because it allowed access to the information.

Your current experiments with Quake mimic this progression. Quake is
entertaining/useful cyberspace content and you're linking it together.

Building infrastructure before the content seems to be a bit like trying to
sell TVs before there's any channels. The infrastructure and content must
develop together and there needs to be some nascent content before you

> The biggest problem with an 'unowned' p2p virtual world is 
> that it is difficult for anyone to monetise it. Business 
> models rely on control, and how can you do business without 
> control? Who will invest in the p2p infrastructure on a 
> purely philanthropic basis? That's the key problem. 
> Otherwise, we'll just see corporations like IBM working with 
> ring-fenced MMOG farms like Butterfly.Net. They feel that 
> they have to control it to make money.

Maybe the EQs and DAOCs are the AOLs and Delphis that existed before the
web. When people start adding content to MMOs and making them their own
(which they will do in the near future), maybe you'll find that they would
rather add content to a free, global infrastructure than a proprietary one.
> So, probably even before you worry about the technical 
> details, it may be best to confront this business dilemma 
> first: Do you want to control access to this 
> platform/technology/environment?

I don't much care at the moment. I'd rather have the thing open, but if the
best way to fund technological progress is to build controlled environments,
then so be it. The tech will trickle down in to the public domain. I don't
think you need to have a free or nothing attitude up front.
> Will it be like Gnutella? Cool software, but no-one owns it? 
> Or will it be like Quazal/Eterna - proprietary middleware 
> available under license? Or perhaps one can develop p2p 
> software that is never expected to remain viable in the wild, 
> but can be viable if it is run on a ring-fenced 
> distributed-CPU-farm a la Butterfly.net?

There will be proprietary commercial software and there will be free
software, just like with everything else.

> There is a clear progression (in my mind) for many of the 
> contemporary games development problems we're facing:
> <snip>

I think all of those things will develop in parallel.

> Let's just start with a very simple (UNAMBITIOUS) set of requirements:

I'd rather start with the state-of-the-art in academic research and build a
system used by people from there. At the moment the best place to do that
seems to be at one of the AOL precursor companies.

> Something I've concluded about a 'public cyberspace' is that 
> it's not the technology that's a problem, the problem is that 
> it's a proposition with a severe 'business case' deficit. 

Net VR has always had a killer app problem. It is a siren tempting
businesses towards it's technologically attractive rocks. The only killer
app it's got at the moment is games. That's fine by me, because before then
it didn't have any. I'm interested in general purpose metaverses, but the
best place to work on them is to work on games, because at least you can
charge people and so get paid.

> However, it's not that "It's impossible to retain control of 
> the system and thus make money" it's that "Why would anyone 
> want to produce a system, if one can't make money out of it?"
> Why would anyone want to create the Web if no-one can control 
> it and charge for access?

Because they work in academia, had a bunch of information resources that
needed to be organised and after doing that decided to throw a bone to the
rest of humanity.

There are cyberspace equivalents, academic systems you could download and
start building a universe with tomorrow. The problem is that unlike the web
the information to link together doesn't already exist.

The web started by linking together existing documents, it seems to me that
cyberspace needs to start by linking together existing virtual worlds.

> It just needs the right person(s) to be in the right place at 
> the right time and have the right resources.

And I salute you! (and may try to help in the future if time allows)

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