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rileyriley

centralized server vs. smaller, peerish servers

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I help run and maintain a multiplayer game that has, at any given time, about 100 people logged into the chat server, and maybe 35-60 people logged into the game server. For the last seven years, there has just been one centralized server that hosts many instances of the game (each instance has between 2 and 8 players, and then an arbitrary amount of "observers" who receive information but send none). Ping is extremely important in the game, which is a kind of sports simulator. It is hard for someone with a ping of 200 to compete with someone with a ping of 20. As our game becomes more popular, we are getting a wider range of pings. The server is in New Jersey, and we're getting a lot of players from California all of a sudden, and a lot of players from England and Portugal. If six people from Portugal want to play, right now they all have to connect to New Jersey, and all have pings of 200. It is not currently an option for them to host their own server. So here's the dilemma: do we allow people to run their own servers? It would be good because: * People could play on LANs and in Portugal with much lower pings It might be bad because: * We only have maybe 200 regular users. If 100 of them discover that they have friends near them with whom they can play, it could be very bad news for the other 100. We currently have a very close community with many "well-known" people, and we're afraid of losing that. Thoughts?

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If keeping the community together is important for the well-being of the game, and it sounds like it is, then I wouldn't switch to a p2p mode. I think people living in England and Portugal are probably used to low pings when playing American games, so they mostly know what they're getting into. If there were a lot of people from Europe or Portugal, and they were all complaining about low pings and said that they wanted their own server, then you could probably lease a single server in Europe.

If you did decide to switch to a p2p mode, you should make sure you develop a good centralized lobby server with a nice chat interface. That way the community can still log on, see which servers their friends are playing on, and talk to people to try to set up games. And since the lobby server is mostly just chat and shuffling people off to different p2p servers, it doesn't matter if people have low pings connecting to it.

Also, I don't know what your financial model is, but having centralized servers means you could charge monthly fees to cover your bandwidth. If players host their own servers, you probably need to rely only on game sales. But p2p games that allow the players to set up a LAN or avoid the lobby are usually easier to pirate than a game that requires logging in to a centralized server with a unique CD key.

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There's always the option of running your own servers in the newly popular areas. Server hosting has gotten relatively cheap compared to the old days.

Have you investigated the option of finding a company local to these areas to host a server on a partnership basis? I had a similar situation, and we found the local cable ISP receptive to the idea of sponsored partnership and let us stick a box in their server room.

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We actually do have the ability to make several official servers without publically releasing any server binaries... I'm just trying to weigh possible outcomes.

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