tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Why dedicated servers matter

Yes, this is with regards to that Modern Warfare 2 controversy.

A lot of the people pooh-poohing the concerns of the PC gamers who have spoken out against IW’s move to exclude modding and dedicated servers from the game. I figured I would add my voice to the cacophony that has already risen in opposition to this move, but also perhaps explain why dedicated servers matter for multiplayer games.

There are two ways to organize Internet multiplayer games on a PC:

  1. Listen servers, where one player ‘hosts’ the game and the others connect to him
  2. Dedicated servers, where games are hosted on a server machine that all players connect to

It goes without saying that dedicated servers offer players a fairer and more robust multiplayer experience, for a number of reasons. The server doesn’t have to contend for resources with the host’s client game software, the host doesn’t get an advantage in terms of ping (his commands have to make the exact same round trip to the server as everyone else’ commands) and of course the server doesn’t go away as soon as the host decides he’s bored. On top of that dedicated servers are connected to the Internet by connections that are better equipped to handle the network traffic caused by dozens of players connecting and playing at the same time, as opposed to your garden-variety ‘broadband’ that most gamers have.

I can speak from personal experience too – I’ve hosted and connected to listen servers for Left 4 Dead, and the experience wasn’t as smooth as when I connected to a dedicated server to play (and when I hosted games the people playing on my server certainly complained about it).

And let’s not forget that having a place to go when you want to get your game on helps gaming communities to form. You might scoff at this notion, but a friends list isn’t really a good substitution for having a regular server that’s configured just to your tastes, where the regulars are people you have fun playing with. It’s a supplement, but not a replacement.

And lest you think this is a vestige of PC gaming, there are console games that use dedicated servers as well. Warhawk, for one.

So yeah, not having dedicated servers is a big deal for any predominantly multiplayer game. Some people are saying to ‘wait and see’ to see what Infinity Ward has up their sleeve with their new matchmaking service, but as long as it’s based on listen servers I don’t see how it can replace what they’ve taken away.

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