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  • Using Electroserver To Make an Online MMO

    Posted on January 11th, 2010 IndieGamePod 1 comment

    Mike talks about the benefits of using Electroserver for your Indie MMO

    You can download the podcast here…
    http://www.indiegamepod.com/podcasts/engage-expo-electro-server-interview.mp3

    Or listen to it here…


    Show Notes:
    Interviewer: I’m here at Engage Expo and with me is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?

    Mike: Mike Grundvig from Electrotank.

    Interviewer: What’s Electrotank about?

    Mike: We’re kind of a game studio that develops custom applications for building virtual worlds and multiplayer games. It’s primarily web-based Flash although we do Unity 3D, and we’re soon to release Objectives CAPI as well.

    We also develop straight virtual worlds and game content for companies like MTV, Comedy Central, Disney, Pixar. And then, finally, we develop our own games as well.

    Interviewer: You know, for smaller developers how would they use your service? I mean, what can they do to actually use your project or product to develop their own MMO?

    Mike: So, we’ve two products that are of interest. ElectroServer itself is used to build lots of virtual worlds and multiplayer games. It’s ultra scalable, very reasonably priced, incredibly powerful, can run on mobile machines concurrently. It’s used by Meez, ActionAllStars, Upper Deck U and quite a few other virtual worlds.

    It would provide a network communication layer between all your clients, and then you would build your functionality on top of it, you know, what makes your world: players, Avatars, accounts, whatever.

    Now, the other product we offer is ElectroServer Universe Platform, EUP. EUP is a virtual world in a box. It’s been used by about 10 virtual worlds right now. What it provides is all the functionality of a triple A title, virtual world MMORPG with the ability for you to extend it and customize it for your specific game.

    A good example would be: it already has Avatars and accounts and items and inventory and vendors and trade and questing. We also provide a Unity 3D API for it and an access for API, source code included. So, we know you’re going to extend it heavily.

    I can’t list who it’s been used by for another 45 days, but one of our big clients is a big deal, a big name game publisher out of Europe. They’re porting a series of DS titles over to it. It’s also being used by a huge toy company here in the U. S. Like I said, there’s about 10 virtual worlds built on it. MTV’s got a pair of virtual worlds using it as well.

    Interviewer: You know, for smaller developers though, isn’t the price range for something like that much more expensive compared to just using the raw server itself?

    Mike: So, the raw server is priced very competitively for indie developers. When it comes to EUP, it very much depends on what you’re trying to do, and we’re really hoping to negotiate on it. There’s a lot of options for revenue share and the like, so it depends a lot on the project. I would say though that indie developers, where you’re talking one or two developers, building a whole virtual world is a bit of a stretch, to begin with.

    Most companies are investing somewhere between a million to two million dollars on a flat space virtual world, and it goes up from there. Cheap is, maybe, a half a million. So, any developer in this garage it’s a multiyear effort. We do not say it can’t be done. Club Penguin was started by a couple of guys in their garage as well as several other virtual worlds.

    But it is a substantial undertaking. The way we can work with indie developers is we can talk about potential rev share options, fitting you with a developer license that you can play with until you get it running, particularly if you’re seeking investment elsewhere. We can get you something you can to play with and like.

    As it is, the source code is included, we also include to help the indie guys. We include a virtual world. That’s what we’re showing on the screen here. That virtual world actually includes the source fully if you license our technology. So, it provides a really good starting point trying to bring that half a million price tag for your own world down far, much farther than that.

    Of course, we also don’t require a huge upfront price compared to a lot of our competitors. Many of the MMORPG engines have an initial launching price of half a million to a million dollars. We’re substantially lower than that.

    Interviewer: You know, in terms of the core server itself, that seems to be what some other indies use. Why use your service versus something like SmartFox or something else? What’s the differentiator?

    Mike: So, there’s a couple of big things. ElectroServer has single server scalability that’s unmatched. So if you need to run tens of thousands of people on a single machine, ElectroServer supports that beautifully. And that’s, in no small part, why a lot of the movie studios and television and media companies use ElectroServer because they’ll advertise a game on TV and it must stay up. It’s got to be up. It’s got to be available, so ElectroServer prepares your game for the beginning, for instance.

    Also, when you hit 10,000 users overnight, ElectroServer will handle that fine. Another thing that ElectroServer provides is it has an excellent horizontal scalability from the standpoint of a concurrent number of users. It’s been load tested over 200,000 concurrents.

    In single server deployments, it runs some massive virtual worlds on a single machine, so ElectroServer is not worried about that. On top of that, it also has superb firewall support. ElectroServer goes right through pretty much every firewall out there.

    There’s a lot of efficiency in our protocol. We use an exceptionally low level binary protocol which will reduce your bandwidth costs. Administration of Electro Server is done entirely through a web-based admin, making it very easy. It also has a lot of advantages from a developer’s standpoint.

    We are able to isolate custom code, so if you run multiple versions of the exact same game, you can actually run them all inside ElectroServer without, using shared libraries, their stomping on each other which is really nice for deploying one version for your clients to see while you’re developing another on the same server instance.

    Interviewer: The thing is, though, when you talk about scalability, there’s some MMOs that now have millions of users a day. So what happens if they do need more than 200,000 concurrents? Is that something you guys handle?

    Mike: Actually, there’s an easy way to handle that.

    Interviewer: Is that even an issue? Is 200,000 concurrents just so ridiculously huge that it’s never an issue?

    Mike: That’s a good question. Usually what happens is you need to support a maximum number of users based on your land mass, and then you start shorting your world. And so, there’s a fine line between how many users your world supports directly on a single instance and then how far you want to go.

    Now, depending on what you’re building though, the number of users can really get up there. MTV, for instance, uses our system for a few things where they need to support tens of thousands.

    Interviewer: Sure.

    Mike: Because it’s primarily a big chat engine where they’ve tied into a TV show and they need to get lots of chatter, things like that. I can’t remember the name of the exact project they built internally, but they were over 10,000 users and they were running single on that. We have a few other clients like Neopets and things that are running huge numbers of users, and they do it via just a couple servers, and they want all of their players in one place.

    In the typical MMORPG virtual world what happens is you run somewhere depending on, like World of Warcraft primarily runs less than 20,000 on any given server which involves a couple of physical machines, I believe. In many of those cases, you’ll need to run some combination of one to many servers, and then your land mass is going to dictate the maximum number of people.

    So, what we like to provide is by having the flexibility to go huge chat systems into the hundreds of thousands or as small as 20,000 on a single machine. By being able to provide all of that, we kind of hit every aspect of what people might need. We like to think that what the big server provides is let it grow with you.

    Interviewer: Aside from that, one thing I noticed is that SmartFox has much more documentation it seems or examples than you guys. Is that going to change? Is that something that you guys… or, maybe, we missed something. How can we find out where are good concrete examples we can use to actually develop with ElectroServer?

    Mike: This is mostly from the website design, and we’re actually replacing the ElectroServer website to solve this. ElectroServer has a significant manual, both PDF format online and the like We have full sets of AS3 and AS2 and Java docks available for everything. Additionally, we have dozens of examples that install when you install the server.

    On top of that, there are multiple books written about ElectroServer which is unique to us as well as some very substantial games developed on ElectroServer that are freely available. For instance, in this game everything on it is all based on ElectroServer.

    Interviewer: That’s the book action script for multiplayer games and virtual worlds.

    Mike: Yes, and also there’s all of Joe Maker’s game design books of which there are, I think, three now. All of those use ElectroServer extensively. There are several other books that use ElectroServer internally as well. So, actually, there is a huge amount of documentation. A lot of the problem has been that the site doesn’t make it very obvious, and that’s something definitely worth addressing.

    Interviewer: What about the community? You get some of these other sites that are SmartFox, they have a nice dev community forum. Do you guys offer it?

    Mike: We do. We have a very active forum. One of the big things we offer is unparalleled support. Being that we have more than 20 employees, we have dedicated developers that are support only.

    So, if you run into problems or questions, how do I do something? We’re there for you. We also offer paid support, too. If your company needs it, I guarantee I can get somebody on the phone right now. Electrotank is able to offer that as well.

    So, on top of the straight formulas we also have a Wiki for ElectroServer, the mistake has been – and I’ll be very honest about this – the website itself has not made it obvious. And so, while there’s been many presentations and articles about it, they’re kind of linked in a hodge podge fashion, and the new website brings it all together into one cohesive place, making it very easy.

    The big thing we recommend is simply installing ElectroServer will give you tons of examples, and then the Wiki provides quite a few more.

    Interviewer: Where do you see now this whole back end server stuff going? What’s next in store for you guys, and where do you see, I guess, the relevance of this technology?

    Mike: Due to the nature of this market, I’d got to be very careful because more than once we’ve publicized that we’re building something and had other people copy it. So, I will simply say that ElectroServer has some big plans coming up very, very soon and I mean imminent. The ElectroServer report has been out for quite some time, and we haven’t been sitting on our laurels.

    We’ve also had a lot of experience with some very large scale projects using ElectroServer, and so we’ve got a very good understanding of it. Some big performance enhancements are coming. It’s already, as far as we’re concerned, the fastest server on the market by an overwhelming magnitude, and that’s going to get even better.

    We’ve got a few things coming up that our performance is just going to be mind-blowing. We also have some big scalability features that are imminent and more APIs are definitely coming.

    Interviewer: You mentioned performance, Can you talk more about performance differences between your project and your product and some?

    Mike: Well, single server scalability is part of the reason why we get a lot of our big clients, and we also provide load testing software so you can do your own load testing directly. You don’t need to take our word for it. We actually have an open source load test software for anybody who is interested that allows you to spin up as many users as you want.

    Again, without getting in too specific, what it comes down to is they we feel that latency on a single machine and the number of concurrent users on the commodity OS and hardware, we feel ElectroServer is unparalleled from that perspective. And we feel that we have many production worlds that bear that out totally where we’ve got many clients with tens of thousands of users on single machines.

    And we feel that speaks for itself, but also our client base is the bigger companies who demand perfect scalability, expect it to always be running. They expect it to never crash. They expect it to be high performance with whatever they throw at it. So, we feel that’s definitely our forte.

    What’s coming up is we’ve inspected how many of our clients’ applications work, and we tuned our TCP stack and our network infrastructure to support that better to reduce latency even farther and to increase the number of per core connected users as well as reduce the memory footprint for messaging. And so, the next release will contain quite a bit of that effort.

    Interviewer: You know, with Flash 10 there’s a client to client interaction. So, do you think that’s going to change even the need for such a system? Why is your system even more needed now?

    Mike: That’s a good question. Peer-to-peer did not change multiplayer games in general, and there’s no reason to assume it will in the Flash site either, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. As soon as Adobe gets around to actually publishing enough information that other people can use it, you can assume that we’ll play with that as well.

    Without being specific, we were one of the first players out there to get video running, and video on ElectroServer is natively ingrated so it doesn’t require separate applications, plug-in or anything. It’s actually built right in the server, same thing with HTCP support. It’s actually a native component of the server. When you install separate anything, you just go in the admin panel, turn it on.

    So, peer-to-peer, I think, will fall under the same behavior. As of right now, we’re currently waiting with bated breath with how Adobe is going to cover it. Unfortunately, Adobe’s usage of security policies and things limits what we can do in many cases.

    For instance, we had SOX proxy support working, and they broke it with the latest policy changes a few years ago. It caused problems with the HTCP support as well. We had to do a lot of things that we would have liked to have done differently but to support Flash we had to do in this way.

    For instance, Adobe, if you guys actually listen to this, please make it so that we can open an HTCP, upload an outbound HTCP connection and upload data as a stream as opposed to a single message; right now, of course, a single request.

    Interviewer: Are you even then able to record audio using ElectroServer? Is that something that then you’re going to have to use RedFiber Flash media server?

    Mike: We support that.

    Interviewer: And so, the recording audio you can actually say that then, or is it…

    Mike: You just says it’s in the format as I recall that the mechanism uses. We actually have a TV studio using ElectroServer for streaming video.

    Interviewer: So, now, pricing. So, how can indies – it seems like you guys offer a lot. What is the tier level that indies can get into in terms of being able to use it? I know you talked about being flexible with the dev license, but if they just want to run a small thing that can have a couple hundred concurrents or 500 concurrents, do you have pricing structures for that?

    Mike: If I had 500 concurrents per usage, it’s only a couple hundred dollars. Fifty users is free.

    Interviewer: Sure.

    Mike: And I will say that there will be, when we announce a bit more details in a month or two, a new pricing scheme as well, and we’re definitely bringing the indies back in the fold. So, the pricing scheme will be very indie friendly.

    Interviewer: Where can developers get started? What’s the website that folks can use?

    Mike: Electro-server.com.

    Interviewer: Thank you very much.

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