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Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"

ghamorra
So there's been a lot of talk on almost all the boards here about dedicated servers and how they should be used for all platforms of Call of Duty. Many think it's a simple fix, some don't know the economics, and others don't really understand anything about them aside from it's the solution to lag issues. Like all "Warning: Wall of Text" posts let me start out with the basics:

WHAT IS A DEDICATED SERVER?
Well...it's a computer dedicated to being a server for a specific networking purpose. Because it's being dedicated to one use there's less of chance for connection issues. Much like we see now in CoD, the host can use their network for hundreds, if not thousands, of uses. Like Netflix, torrents, gaming, web browsing, streaming, and so on. Below is a picture of (supposedly) Epic Games dedicated server for Gears of War 3:

"Do too this forum being a failure just google image "Epic Games Dedicated Server"

Most companies use dedicated servers for various reasons. For instance your e-mail provider/s uses a dedicated server, your phone company has a dedicated server, Hell...even your utility company uses a dedicated server to insure everyone is getting water and power. They have millions of possibilities but are only used for one specific purpose

HOW DOES A DEDICATED SERVER IMPROVE CONNECTIONS?
It's quite simple really and I'll quote a passage I found that explains it really well:

 

"Think of the dedicated server as being an invisible, [13th] player who doesn't do anything. It hosts the game, meaning that no single player has a host advantage over the rest."

So essentially, unlike the hosting system we have now (which everyone connects to a general host who then connects to Activision's servers), everyone just connects straight to Activision. This means that as long as Activision maintains their servers players can reliably count on a virtually lag free connection. There will be no host advantage, lower tolerance for high ping (making lag switching an impossibility), no host migration, no hacks or cheats, and for the most part a worry free experience. Dedicated servers have one use and one use only, as I mentioned above.

This means, in theory, there should be no reason you don't have a flawless connection. At least from the developers perspective. Lag will still exists but mainly the only cause would be the players own fault, and I'll go further into that later

ECONOMICS OF USING DEDIS
Unlike the hosting system Call of Duty uses now, dedicated servers are very costly and require quite a bit of babysitting. Netcoding (ins and outs of who goes where and who gets what), installing patches and updates, and physical cost of the servers and the moderators who maintenance them. It all adds up and it adds up very quickly.

What should be noted here is that although Activision owns the rights to the most successful video game in all of ever, this isn't about whether or not they can afford them. This is strictly information on dedis in general

Let's start out with the numbers (Playstation 3 only):

1. How much internet is being used currently
a. The average video game utilizes roughly (and I mean roughly) 1.5mb/s
b. On average 10 million people play CoD at any given time
10million x 1.5 = 15,000,000mb/s (X)

2. Dedicated server (softlayer.com)
a. Going rate for high end (but no extras) dedis would cost $1,699 per month (Z)
b. These will max out at a 5,000,000mb bandwidth connection (Y)

3. Total Monthly Cost = (X/Y)Z
a. 15,000,000mb/s needed divided by 5,000,000 offered by one server
= 3 servers needed to support CoD community
b. So 3 servers multiplied by the monthly cost of $1,699 per server
= $5,097 per month (servers only for PS3)

But there's a catch with this statistic. Where do the servers get placed. You can't put them all in one location. CoD is played internationally, and just like distance from the peer-to-peer host effects your connection same goes for a dedicated servers. If you live in Japan and you're trying to connect to a dedicated server in New York you'll undoubtedly experience lag. So the Servers need spread out. The above number does not take into consideration the cost of linking multiple servers located in different countries.

And who's to say 3 servers spread out over the globe will be enough. Chances are there might need to be 5 servers to meet the needs of an international community. And again this is strictly for the PS3. So, say, 5 (not including Africa) servers spread out on each major continent for all platforms can really change the bottom line costs

Third, what's the maintenance cost for each server. That statistic too is arbitrary as the staffing for each server varies on it's individual needs. Also that doesn't take into consideration the cost of the terabyte/s internet needed to facilitate those servers or the software, monitoring system, cables, buildings, or insurance (for people, places and things). So it's more than just the cost of the server, there's other hidden costs we, as a community, will never become aware of

And again this is just for the Playstation 3

CONS OF DEDICATED SERVERS
So now that we've explored nearly all the ins and outs of how servers work and how much they cost it might still look manageable to do, but there are some downsides.

First let's talk about maintenance. If anyone has ever played World of Warcraft you know that every Tuesday morning the servers go down for so many hours to do updates and patches. World of Warcraft is fairly simple to maintain as it's a predetermined setting with fairly simple needs. With Call of Duty though whole new "worlds" are created each month. New maps, gamemodes, and sometimes prestiges. These are a bit larger than your average WoW update and could take much longer than a Tuesday morning/afternoon to roll out. Especially if all three debuted in the same update.

Now let's discuss responsibility. What happens when a server goes down? Under the hosting system, if someone fails to adequately provide for the lobby a new host is picked. When a server goes down it won't be possible for 1/3 of the community to jump onto another server, it can't handle that many people. And, if it tried that server too will most likely crash and now look at the mess we're in. These problems can take weeks to fix, cost a lot of money, and cause massive frustration amongst the people of the community. And trust me when I say, some of us no what it's like when an entire community cannot get online ( PS3 users, remember April 2012)

THIS IS THE BIG ONE! You were all expecting it, so here it is, costs. Let's continue to beat this resilient, but not dead horse.
I showed you the rough numbers of what one company offers as far as server costs. Those numbers are moderately arbitrary in the sense that they are not promised. But I can assure you they're in the ballpark of what dedicated servers alone physically cost. When you factor in all the other "hidden" fees and salaries it's not hard to get those costs into the millions for just a month of ownership. Naturally Activision or any other company won't foot the bill themselves out of the goodness of their heart. Some how, some way the cost will fall onto the shoulders of the consumer. Would you be willing to pay? Probably not. So that means not only will Activision be stuck with some of costs but it will in turn lose millions of consumers. If this does in fact happen there will be a snowball effect and after all is said and done, Call of Duty will be forever different in the worst of ways

LIFE AFTER MW3
So this all begs a question, we all know every year Activision wants to bring out a new game. All the economical data and all the information I've graced you with is strictly assuming we're discussing Modern Warfare 3. What happens when Black Ops II comes out in November. Will we completely abandon the dedicated servers and move them on to bigger and (hopefully) better things?

The overhaul needed to transfer one game off a server and placing another onto it will be ridiculous. But forking out the money for a whole new system of servers to play the game on will be equally insane. As the number of players who buy the game increase, within a few years don't be surprised when 20million people are playing the game and number of servers per game double

BOTTOM LINE
It's just not practical. Too many people play the game, too many editions of the game exist, and the ever expanding need for bigger and better things just don't equal the demand for dedicated servers. Sure it would be nice, and from the outside looking in it seems like a no-brainer. But if you sat in on a meeting between the Board of Directors and the Developers you'd be surprised what all is needed to make this happen. Instead of investing all the resources in dedicated servers, I think better use of time and money can be used to try and perfect a more reliable hosting system that works.

The formula for better Call of Duty should be:
practicality/cost = happiness for both community and Activision

Thank you for reading, and as always if you feel something should be changed or you have a question/concern feel free to message me

 

Message was edited by: ghamorra

  • 1. Re: Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"
    RepublicSoldier

    OK then how does EA get away with it for Battlefield 3? and they have several and local specific

  • 2. Re: Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"
    ghamorra

    Believe it or not BF3 doesn't have anywhere near the amount of people playing. Last I heard it was only a few hundred thousand playing at a time. Also EA has probably has Dedicated Servers for with left over space from other games like Madden and MoH they use to help facilitate BF3

  • 3. Re: Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"
    maccabi

    Nicely written post there.

     

     

     

    To put the amount of infrastructure neeeded into context.(sure some of you have seen me write this one or 10000 times before over the years on here )

     

    To service the entire cod community of one game you'd need basicaly the worlds entire world of warcarft infrastrcuture in EACH server farm in Each geographical location.

    Even using the cheapest options in location ie spreading stuff out to the max distance between server farms you'd be looking at either 3 or 4 of these in the usa alone.

     

    Rough guide to what the costs are... WoW was 100's of millions of dollars in setup costs, and with monthly running costs around $4 million a month.

  • 4. Re: Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"
    ghamorra

    They also charge monthly too, that really cuts down on the cost. I don't see too many people paying $20 or so a month, especially since most of the community is under the age of 18

  • 5. Re: Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"
    sennalike

    WoW charges are $15 per month for the privilege to play.  For me I'd pay that to play CoD on dedicated servers, it would see a lot of the casual players and kids disappear - another reason it will never happen.  Of course you could go for a split community with pay to play dedi and the "what we already have" running separately, but that doesn't eliminate all the difficulties highlighted in the OP.

     

    Good post G, and maccabi you may have said it once or twice before but the truth is always worth repeating.

  • 6. Re: Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"
    ghamorra

    sennalike wrote:


    Of course you could go for a split community with pay to play dedi and the "what we already have" running separately, but that doesn't eliminate all the difficulties highlighted in the OP

     

    By my estimates I got $2 million a year for all systems. It was rough and I was figuring on the high, taking everything into consideration. But you also have to remember, once a new game comes out those costs would double

  • 7. Re: Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"
    sennalike

    New games was the main one of "the difficulties" I was referring to.  I'm sure you could work around it, but it wouldn't be easy or cheap.  I know it is never going to happen, Activision like the casual players and kids and having no responsibility for the performance.  I'm sure if there was a way to do it cost effectively then MS would have stumped up the cash to do it for Xbox users.

  • 8. Re: Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"
    maccabi

    ghamorra wrote:

     

    sennalike wrote:


    Of course you could go for a split community with pay to play dedi and the "what we already have" running separately, but that doesn't eliminate all the difficulties highlighted in the OP

     

    By my estimates I got $2 million a year for all systems. It was rough and I was figuring on the high, taking everything into consideration. But you also have to remember, once a new game comes out those costs would double

    Actually it would be slightly less than double as you could swap over alot of the server blades to the new game, but then you'd have to obviously leave a % for the older game.. eventually though you'd ned to kill the games servers completely like EA do with older games.

     

    once you set up your infrastructure the running costs continue round about the same every months as you need to consider staffing, backups, power costs , rental of space ect ect.

  • 9. Re: Dedicated Servers Explained "Warning: Wall of Text"
    kellysa111

    I would pay monthly...if they didn't make us pay $15 for new map packs.

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