In a webcast this morning, Robert Bowling revealed the existence of IWNet, a matchmaking service Infinity Ward will operate beginning with Modern Warfare 2. But it ends dedicated servers, and fundamentally changes the culture of the game's PC community.
Bowling, the Infinity Ward community manager, said IWNet makes multiplayer more accessible to the PC community on Modern Warfare 2, replacing the need for dedicated servers that are hosted and managed by players. But the hardcore PC crowd to whom he was talking, on BASHandSlash.com's webcast, did not take the news in a completely positive light.
"The silence you hear is because we've got a community right now structured such a way that relied on having dedicated servers," one of BASHandSlash's moderators told Bowling.
"You're definitely reshaping the way the community has been set up," another said later.
"Definitely," Bowling acknowledged.
Here's the score: by building up its own matchmaking service riding shotgun with Steam, "you can get in and play with players your same rank," Bowling said. However, "You're completely reliant on IWNet and there is no dedicated server or server list. You rely on IWNet for matchmaking and your games, but you still have your private matches."
The level of control over those matches allows players to set a wide array of parameters and rules for the game. But community features such as clans, and the high level of customisation available in hosting a modded game or custom map on one's own dedicated server, face an uncertain future, if not their end outright.
"Custom content, after the fact, keeps the game alive for us a lot longer," one of Bowling's questioners said.
"This is the first time we've ever done something like this, obviously," Bowling said, "and I know the team has huge plans for what IWNet develops into, and this is just the beginning. It's hard for me to speak personally toward IWNet, because that is a code heavy project."
Bowling reminded that this method of multiplayer delivery also allows Infinity Ward "a lot more control and structure for the PC version. From a development standpoint, it's very good on how we can access and update the PC community."
But before this is taken as the definitive end of modding and custom maps, Bowling clearly said "I don't have those answers yet," when asked further about how IWNet would affect that aspect of PC Modern Warfare play.
The entire conversation is archived here, and Bowling comes in at the 1:39:00 mark (that's one hour, 39 minutes). If this matters to you I definitely encourage listening to all of what he has to say before reacting.
But the news is not being taken well. The BASHandSlash guys referred to the vehemence in the chatlog running concurrent with the program, and terms such as "Black Saturday" and "a day of infamy" are being thrown around. "They've made Jesus cry," is another reaction, particularly from the competitive PC community whose future also is affected. "The server community is what's made us. It's what defined us," says Josh Pickler of planetmedalofhonor.com "IW.NET is getting the PC community to turn into consoles. You're trying to re-write our history."
Bowling was steadfast in telling BASHandSlash that, for the whole of the community, IWNet will be a benefit.
"It's definitely going to be a change. It's going to be a very different setup than what we're previously used to in the Call of Duty franchise for the PC," In the long term it's going to help the community. It changes the way and how we're able to update and support the PC version."
It definitely bears watching, and keep in mind the story could change as Infinity Ward releases more information on IWNet.
MW2: Our Game Has Changed Forever [BASHandSlash.com, thanks to all who tipped this]