Video games are great teachers. Whether simulations, world economies, human ingenuity, sociological experiments, economic issues or security, we can learn a lot from minds virtual offspring.
Can Tech Giants Really Learn from an MMORPG game?
Life imitates art. Our art is video games, and they are a microcosm of issues we are facing today. We see this with patches to address issues (laws), economic interventions (inflation), and of course new content (advancements in tech). Technology companies of the future are going to face some key issues: scalability and security. Both of these issues are present in large scale virtual words as seen with World of Warcraft and it’s predecessors, Ultima Online, EverQuest, and the other hundreds.
Scalability – Separate but Equal
Ultima Online had duplicate worlds, known as shards hosted on separate servers to accomodate it’s millions of users worldwide. This was simply not possible by leveraging the power of one network. The solution was clear. Use the power of multiple machines, in a joint effort to run multiple shards. The redundancy of hosts meant the whole operation would continue running even if one or more major servers failed. We see this with the cloud computing advances for both text based applications, graphical ones, and collaborative efforts, including virtual worlds. The solution is a completely formless server setup, which gives more flexibiity to allocate resources in times of demand, or back up failing servers.
Security – Does the Left Hand Know What the Right Hand is Doing?
One of the greatest learning tools of Massive Online Games is their ability to escalate a simulation very rapidly. Their solution for supply and demand was partitioning their userbase into “instances” where player A and B could occupy the same time and space without intervening with each other for resources. Otherwise the userbase would overun areas and lead to a poor user experience. Since hardware can only be created so fast, companies will need to find a way to leverage all it’s computing power not only for one task, but another simultaneously. In order for this to work properly, the data should never be shareable amongst those accessing it. Much like Player A and Player B will never be able to “meet”, the data will exist much like a multi-verse, accessible by all, but only understood depending on where you access it from.
Cloud Hosting Might not be the Answer
Online games also teach us that not all data flows are important or as consistent as others. Take for instance, Ultima Online. Atlantic shard was down well beyond the others because it was the most popular. Magnfiy this principle out to assume someone in the cloud, somewhere is either hogging up resources, or attempting to (out of necessity, not greed). This then leads back to the original problem, of finite resources and unlimited demand. Tech giants don’t want to hear that their competitor is paying X amount more and getting more use of the cloud. This will most likely cause a rift, from hobbyists that can afford to share resources and data within the cloud, and ultra secure behemoths removing themselves and focusing primarily on local storage options, much like we see with Google (no one handles their servers but them). While ideal, bringing together resources only works when their is either a benevolent dictator at the helm, or no one risks ruining the setup, out of retaliation fear, aka game theory.
Companies often move in large shifts, as seen now with the cloud. It doesn’t look like this trend is going to stop anytime soon which opens up new industry such as technology insurance to help mitigate the crippling losses data driven companies have to suffer during malfunctions or security breaches. EVE Online is breaking the mold, with one amazingly powerful server, but even those machines are backed by a nexus of smaller ones. There is a tradeoff of scalability and security. Virtual worlds are a window into our psche and future; we’ll be heading towards collaboration for the forseeable future.