Massively multiplayer online games are big business. Blizzard's World of Warcraft, for example, has over 6 million users paying up to $15/month to log into the game (though an oversimplification, it is probably safe to assume that they're pulling down in the tens of millions of dollars per month from subscription fees). But running a successful online game is not an easy and can be a very costly endeavor. Scaling a system to support that many users can require a grid of hundreds or thousands of machines, a very fat pipe, and expertise in managing large, distributed systems.
Web application providers are often faced with a similar problem: how to scale their app when it gets popular. In September of last year, Richard MacManus reviewed a new company called 3Tera - whose AppLogic utility computing suite helps web app and software-as-a-service providers to scale their applications. 3Tera's powerful management solution makes it easy for developers to build, deploy, and monitor virtual server farms across their grid of thousands of commodity servers.
It makes sense then that 3Tera, which touts itself as an expert in the field of utility grid computing, would get into online games, which live and die by their ability to scale to meet the needs of their customers. This week 3Tera announced a partnership with Emergent Game Technologies, the makers of the Emergent Platform, a complete solution for developers of online games that encompasses development, deployment, billing, metrics, scaling, and customer support and relationship management.
According to a press release, the two companies have entered into an agreement to explore the possibility of integrating 3Tera's AppLogic suite into the next generation of Emergent's online game development platform. 3Tera hopes their technology will "meet the scale and performance requirements of the high-demand online games industry."
In our review of 3Tera last year, Richard made the prediction that "in the future specialist companies like 3Tera, along with the big Internet companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon, will operate 'server farms' that become too cost efficient for other companies not to utilize."
That is essentially what Amazon has done with their Elastic Compute Cloud service. EC2, along with their Simple Storage Service, are pay-as-you-go grid computing services that compete on some level with 3Tera's AppLogic (though I don't know that Amazon offers anything to compare to 3Tera's management tools).
I wonder if the same thing will happen in the world of games. Linden Lab have successfully created a platform for their online virtual world Second Life that can handle 300,000 users logging in ever week. Linden pitches their platform, the Second Life Grid, to businesses and developers, but they still confine development to within the Second Life universe. Would they, like Amazon, consider opening their infrastructure to outside companies wishing to build their own persistent virtual worlds? Would Blizzard do the same with their World of Warcraft platform? Would Turbine?
3Tera and Emergent obviously think there is a market for managed infrastructure solutions for game developers. Considering how much middleware is used by game development studios (most studios create only game content in house, turning to outside companies for things like the 3D engine, sound engine, cinematic production, voice over recording, etc.), and given how expensive massively multiplayer games are to create and deploy it's not surprising that there is a market here.