New distribution model for online games

17 January, 2007 (22:58) | Game industry

One of the issues a lot of game publishers have to deal with is the distribution of their games, patches and demos. Large publishers work with a load balanced geographical dispersed solution (ex. largedownloads.ea.com). Others use a single download location or even don’t publish large downloads on their servers, but ‘grant’ popular download sites the launch of a patch. For download sites, this is serious business. They will attract many visitors; most of these websites require people to signup before they can download any file.

Valve: Steam

A better model is used by Valve, the Steam network. Steam is an all-in-one solution for buying, playing, downloading, patching and previewing games. In Steam you can do everything you want as a basic computer user. Downside of Steam is you can’t do anything without Steam. If Steam is down, so are you, no online games, no new patches, nothing.
Another con is the lack of bandwidth around major releases like Half Life 2.

EA Link

EA Link is the Electronic Art’s version of Steam. It’s a bit beta, a bit buggy, but the basic features are present: you can buy, download and play games in one single interface. The worst part is installing a game. Instead of the way Steam handles installs, EA Link just downloads an installer and then it requires you to install a game manually, step by step. In these installers bugs (or features) are present disallowing you to install or upgrade the game because you need at least 2 GB free space on your main Windows partition. Funny, if your game should install on another hard disk.

Also most patches EA releases are large in size: 10 MB to 600 MB.

The solution: p2p

The best solution would be Valve’s Steam combined with peer to peer capabilities. The Steam network has a capacity of 30 gigabit (source) and uses around 60% of the available bandwidth at any given time. When a large patch or new game is released the network slows down. One weakness is the geographical servers. If one time zone hits primetime, it uses all servers in that area while the Steam servers on the other sides of the world are doing almost nothing. Second is the availability of these Steam servers: some countries have a dozen, other countries don’t have a single server.

To fix this weakness, the ideal distribution model should use peer to peer technology with the use of special authorized seeders to guarantee a minimum of bandwidth available. These seeders should be comparable with the Steam master servers.
The more players join the network, the more capacity you will generate. For the online publishers, peer to peer technology equals a major cutback on their bandwidth bills.

Note to all publishers: the peer to peer functionality should be automatically disabled as soon as the player starts a game so it won’t be the source of any lag.

Comments

Comment from EA john
Date: January 18, 2007, 8:47 PM

Ha Stewie, it won’t be long for the new version hits the internet, but you’ll find out more about it soon enough ..