Much of my last year has been spent reading about distributed virtual environment scalability. As it turns out, perhaps it shouldn't have been.

A lot of research papers I've read begins like this:

"DVE's consume loads of bandwidth, and there are lots of opportunities to improve their network usage."

Network games researchers have source access to - such as Quake III - have different behavior than the latest generation of multiplayer online games. Being an avid player of World of Warcraft, I finally spent some time analyzing traffic usage for a few basic scenarios:

  • Sitting in a capital city with a few hundred other players
  • Playing a battleground with 79 other players
  • Fighting in close proximity to 30+ players and several computer-controlled avatars.

I was shocked at how LOW the traffic usage was. Even when I was beating on the keyboard and mouse along with 30 other players next to each other in the battleground, my upload bandwidth stayed below 5 kbps, and download below 50 kbps. Better still, when I moved away from other players - out of interaction and viewing range - I stopped getting information about them.

There could still be issues with massively scaled games where thousands of players will be within interaction range of each other, but it's unclear if other computing resources (such as video cards) can keep up with the demand of displaying those avatars.

Does this make scalability research in DVE's obsolete? Absolutely not, but it does mean we need to be careful about what we assume is and is not already implemented.

I wonder if Blizzard talks to researchers about their Networking design...