Written by Aubrey Hansen
The fact that multiplayer games are typically hosted on centralized servers doesn’t matter to giants such as Blizzard. When WoW peaked at 12 million active players in 2010, this would have been no problem: their subscription-based model easily pays for heavy server costs from running the most successful MMORPG in history.
This doesn’t mean that WoW doesn’t suffer server outages. Indeed, finding a better solution has been the subject of intense debate in academia over the last decade and one conclusion has predominated for a long time now: MMOs need distributed peer-to-peer networks.
A giant like Blizzard might be perfectly happy swallowing the market share with massive data centers – and with their annual revenue in the several billions, why should they care about the cost? But no matter how big you are, the security of a centralized system cannot be guaranteed. There is always a point of entry for hackers.
Blockchain may be what online gaming needs
Academic consensus says that p2p is the best way to scale to connect hundreds of thousands of gamers while keeping network requirements ‘reasonable’. This all made possible without a central server.
Peer-to-peer architectures run on a distributed network which means that infrastructure costs can be kept exceedingly low. But, as of yet, there has not been a solution which addresses the challenges of security and cheating that such a network faces.
A working p2p network wouldn’t just slash the overheads of Blizzard, who would be able to use the savings to either make better games or give higher dividends to shareholders, but would also make it possible for upstart MMOs to compete with the big boys.
Indie devs could do multiplayer on their own
Throwing resources into making a game can be risky business. Steam Direct has been of great benefit to independent games developers by giving them the opportunity of wider exposure at relatively little upfront cost.
This comes at a price of course: Steam take a direct cut from games sales and microtransactions. Access to multiplayer infrastructure is a benefit that many take up, although it locks developers into using centralized Steam servers and their offer of p2p networking is severely limited.
Advances in blockchain technology means that an inherently secure peer-to-peer network now seems possible. Qlear Protocol propose a solution just like this, billing themselves as “The trust machine for online gaming”.
By taking a novel approach to their blockchain, they stand out as a candidate with the potential to create a platform that fits the bill.
Decentralizing servers, making game functions secure and transparent
The clever part of Qlear’s design is that back-end game functions – usually controlled by the developer, or indeed a platform such as Steam – are processed by the users themselves.
It’s a p2p network that runs off of the community’s efforts, who ‘blindly’ compute the mechanics of games they have no part of.
They’re not the only startup making inroads to multiplayer gaming: Bountie and Firstblood are others looking to create secure online gaming environments on blockchain, though with stronger emphasis on the competitive scene.
Two key aspects set Qlear apart, however. They use a novel multi-party computation (MPC) engine which in their words “delegates functions to a network of strangers”. Further to this, they’ve opted to use sidechain technology in Ethereum Plasma which they claim makes the platform able to work at speed and scale to millions of users.
If correctly implemented, a blockchain solution has potential to give independent publishers the freedom to scale their next-big-thing MMO without handing control to a central authority, and without forking over a healthy slice of the profits.
This may prove to be a big opportunity for budding indie devs, and who knows — maybe a few of the next-gen multiplayer hits will come to fruition out of dorm rooms and garages.