Leveraging P2P for MMOGs

As broadband connections get wider and more prevalent for consumers, the desire to interact with others over the web in rich media formats will no doubt continue to grow. MMOGs are a great example of this trend to-date.

With IMON Media, we are currently developing a massively multiplayer online entertainment property. As we start to contemplate the notion of having hundreds of thousands to millions of SIMULTANEOUS users/players, having enough bandwidth to support this from the server-side becomes a huge problem. This is particularly so in cases where the game itself may not be suited to a subscription based business model, but rather an ad-based play-for-free model.

For example, a “small” 4kb message that is transferred to 1mm players in a second requires bursting capability up to 32mbps of bandwidth just for that message. If the number of players gets to 5mm or 10mm, or the message sizes start to grow (and they will), then we start to drive up the peak bandwidth requirement and therefore cost and complexity rapidly.

As for the ongoing bandwidth costs …. here is a link to some good information on the costs of running an MMOG at levels of 10,000 to 30,000 subscribers. To get to millions of simultaneous players cost-effectively, we need to continue to make strides in increasing the size of the pipe at lower costs, while also being smart about how we use bandwidth and distribute MMOG information to the players.

My thought is to finally leverage P2P for something other than stealing large protected media content. It seems that a BitTorrent client embedded in the MMOG application is one way to go here to significantly reduce bandwidth consumption. It would be a hybrid P2P approach, where the server is handing a lot of the load of managing an MMOG – authentication, processing, etc. But the client will take on some of the responsibility of communicating the game messages to the other players. If distributed among enough clients and intelligently enough, this approach could work to allow games to be played among millions of people simultaneously.

I’m beginning to research the possibility of this approach to MMOGs, and here is a link to a post from Eran Globen at HellOnline.com with a similar notion to that listed above.

Please point me to other sources that have begun to explore P2P for MMOGs, and provide your insights. I’m eager to begin this discussion.

— bkm