What The Internode/GameServers Deal Means

We know that GameServers.com has exclusive rights to host servers for the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops, and last week Kotaku AU exclusively reported that GameServers' Australian operation would be handled by Internode. We talked with GameServers and local server admins to find out what the deal really means for Black Ops in Australia.

It's not the first time a developer has kept their server files from the public by only authorising trusted server providers - but it is the first time only one provider has been authorised. There are no guarantees on the prices of GameServers' middle-man monopoly, but more concerning for us is how they could handle global demand on one of the biggest launches of this year.

"Prior to forming our partnership with Internode and games.on.net, we did have plans to expand our locations beyond Sydney," says Anthony Quon, Head Admin at GameServers. "However, given Internode's huge network presence in the region and with games.on.net's dedication to the gamers of Australia, forming this relationship was much more in line with our goals for Black Ops."

GameServers has been setting up new locations, with France and Spain recently announced. But a global launch needs more than partially global server coverage, or some areas might experience unwanted traffic from regions less fortunate.

"We are taking all requests very seriously for expansion," says Quon. "However, there are a great number of variables that come into play when expanding into new regions and every region is very different in how they approach gaming. If there are local ISPs in Southeast Asia that have a focus on gaming and Black Ops for the region, I would be more than happy to brainstorm potential ideas."

There's still plenty of time before Black Ops launches, but without a specific southeast Asian solution our Australian servers could be targeted as their de facto home, causing some local slowdown in the process.

Locally, the games.on.net effect has been instant. A yellow ping to GameServers' only Sydney data centre has been replaced by a green one to both Sydney and Adelaide.

Matthew Lyons, a Head Admin over at Internode, shed some light on how the deal will work:

"We have exclusive hosting rights, not renting rights. We'll basically be setting up hardware for GameServers, who will then add in their software. We'll be able to rent our own servers for free, as part of the deal, but other providers or individuals will go through GameServers if they want their own server, and that will then be on our infrastructure."

Starting off, Black Ops servers will be hosted in Sydney and Adelaide, though if the demand is there, Internode has space for additional servers in Sydney and Brisbane. So is it fair to say your current experience with Internode servers is what you can expect in Black Ops?

"Different games calculate ping times differently," says Lyons. "But the Black Ops engine will calculate it similarly to Modern Warfare, so your ping should be around the same as what you get to Internode servers in that game."

Some would call the "trusted server provider" trend a troubling one, but even they'd have to agree it's not nearly as troubling as Modern Warfare 2's matchmaking system, especially for us.

When it comes to LAN play, however, the two are equally weak.

Tweets from Treyarch developers "PCDev", in response to a PC enquiry, have suggested it's possible for the host server to be on LAN.

Yet technically, we don't see how this is possible. Neither does Matthew Lyons:

"All servers need to be approved by GameServers, so I can't imagine how that'd work, unless they're lugging hardware out to a LAN."

And the chances of that happening down under? Not likely.

With no LAN play, Black Ops will lack competitive credibility. And instead of admins having access to server files, they'll use Treyarch's control panel, capable of changing minor settings like perks, amount of players, etc.

FPS communities are built around servers, sites and forums, and the less control an admin has over a server, the harder it is to shape a unique community.

Jeremy "Asterix" Klaosen is a co-founder of CyberGamer, now Australia's biggest competitive gaming website, with strong roots in the Call of Duty series. Their automated ladders make it possible for clans to challenge each other and play a match without micromanagement from the site's volunteer admins. With the limited control panel that will come with a GameServers server, will such a system be possible?

"Yep, that should be fine actually. All we really need for that is a server, and I don't mind buying servers from Internode, they're pretty good," says Asterix. "The bigger concern is the game's modability.

"Call of Duty games don't have by default good design for competitive play, so they'll need to be modded. Stuff like grenade launchers and certain perks aren't good for competitive games, so you'll need the ability to tweak. Usually you can't disable much without a mod."

While mods are what's needed to save competitive play, Treyarch have no qualms about taking ideas from mods to bolster their public game modes, as evidenced by the inclusion of GunGame. So is Asterix confident they'll give back and allow a competitive mod?

"I've basically just learned to wait and see. You never know with these guys.

"If they get it right, the community is split across four games at the moment so there could be a big uptake of Black Ops."

It's also hard to see, financially, why two effective middle-men are necessary between Treyarch and the Australian public. But as the industry continues to find a business model that supports core competitive gaming, could Activision have found the answer in making extra money from server providers, rather than customers?

"I assume Gameservers are paying Activision for the monopoly on the servers." says Asterix. "Maybe partly they want to limit dodgy servers, or they think this'll be easier for them to release a server patch. But that's not a big problem, really."

The line from Treyarch thus far has been that a trusted server provider will cut down on cheating. But that's a job VAC does well enough. Other, more understandable benefits of such a deal would be cutting down on PC piracy, additional revenues from server providers, and maintaining control over the game experience.

Still, barring a torrent of interest from Southeast Asia, and as long as you don't plan to LAN, it looks like we Aussies will enjoy good, low latency Black Ops public play, and competitive ladders won't be effected. It could be better - but as we've seen with Infinity Ward, it could be a lot worse.


Comments

    unless you live in WA

      No. As long as you have a stable broadband connection, the performance will be fine, wherever you live in Aus.

        ehh im one of those from WA, horrific trying to play any game because of high ping not to mention our RIM has high traffic at certain parts of the day making it shoot out of the roof and unable to join any games. CoD4 on pc i can only join about 8 of the 1000 or so servers with the ping being 80, hopefully black ops wont be too bad

        I live in Vic, I get about a 15ms ping to Melbourne, 80ms to New Zealand and 90ms to Perth. From my experience in most games you don't have noticeable lag with a ping under about 60ms, and is playable up until about 100ms after that the lag is distinct(that's why onlive would epicly fail in Australia[until we get the new fibre based internet the Government is doing]).

          OnLive would not work in Aus unless there is a physical server in Aus. the reason? there is a base ping to the US due to the speed of light and that of the server that will make it unplayable, no matter the speed of your connection

      Don't you just love how when eastern state gamers connect to a perth server complain that there ping is over 70-80 when they are used to 20-30. I say "Yeah - must be a real pain in the ass... Being the first time to have to play on a ping of 80 - how will you survive? :P"

      I couldn't be happier about the Internode servers. But I have two problems with this article:

      The first is the Cybergamer rep proliferating his viewpoint that you need to strip away a games unique features "perks and grenade launchers" to make it competitive. I've played a few Mw2 matches with cybergamer and it just stripped out everything that makes Call of duty unique and fun.

      They are also overlooking the fact that Treyarch is making provisions for this type of play with an improved barebones mode.

      But it just irks me that these competitive webmasters think they know how to balance a game better than a million dollar team of devs.

      And I also just want to quickly point out to the writer that VAC does nothing. Go online and see for yourself, 1 in 2 matches easily has someone hacking, and thats the blatant hackers. Who knows how many people wall and cover it well.

      Rant over

        Treyarch's focus is on public play, and it looks like they'll do a good job on that side of things. But Asterix is 100% right about needing the mods. I'm all for not stripping EVERYTHING out of the game (which basically makes it Counter-Strike with better graphics), but many of the perks, weapons, and even modes in recent CoDs are too exploitable. I'm sure if Treyarch set out to design a competitive game they'd do alright, but the reality competitive players have to deal with is, eSports isn't on their radar.

        Also, I place more faith in VAC 2'a ability to stop hackers than Treyarch's post-game support.

          Just for reference here are the rules that Cybergamer enforces, they change slightly between game modes, but thats pretty accurate.

          http://www.cybergamer.com.au/pc/codmw2/rules/

          Maybe I stand alone, but I just don't see why you have to change a game to make it competitive, even if it was designed for casual play, I feel like all you should have to do is substitute casual players with competitive players to make this transition.

          And I don't disagree that you can't count on Treyarch/IW post game support. They've never claimed they were going to be proactive there. But VAC does not work either. VAC is just a diversionary tactic to point at when people complain.

          Personally I'm hoping that whoever rents the dedicated server will have some semblance of Admin powers. I've also read that they'll have a report button in game, which I'm sure will be useless technically but will probably have a disturbingly high psychological effect... hack users aren't the brightest.

            It's a rare game that ticks all the boxes to be competitive. Capturing the "easy to learn, hard to master" sentiment is crucial, yet more and more a developer's definition of "hard to master" comes in the form of persistent rewards (XP, unlockables) rather than gameplay.

            Server admins will have access to kick/ban, so there's that at least.

              XP/Unlockables are not mutually exclusive from skill though. I agree you don't need skill to get either, but it doesn't prohibit skilled play either.

              Coming back to my original point if you look at sports, the rules very rarely change from High School to Professional. Way more sophisticated strategies come into play, using elite competitors, but the game stays the same.

              This stripped down mindset is so backwards, I think it really stems from people averse to change who really do want to just play Counter Strike in COD's skin. It's not more hardcore to disable perks, it's boring and narrow minded.

    Never herd of Cybergamer.com.au before. Ill be happy if I can play it with out match making but I do not like Treyarch/Activision restricting ranked games to only 18 players, This to me shows they only had consoles in mind. Generally for PC games, its 18-32 ranked and more for unranked.

    PC gamers will just go back to Cod 4/2 anyway. Nothing to see here, move along

    I look at South Korea and see the awesomeness the E-Sports can lead to. But without LAN play, any serious attempt at competitive play is removed. I think with the growing interest in games, E-Sports could really start to take off, but without LAN play it would be like two runners competing in different stadiums.

      Funny you should mention South Korea, they just held an $87k 1st place tournament for Starcraft2, which has no LAN and is very competitive. Lag issues were generally minor, I don't think anyone claimed it effected the result of a match.

      No LAN does not kill competitive play, crap infrastructure does. LAN just masks the pain.

        They are different types of games, therefore no comparison can be accurately made.

        It does work for South Korea where they've had 100Mb broadband to the home since the mid nineies. They also happen to have servers in their own relatively small country. Keep in mind their E-Sports was built on LAN support back in the BW days.

        Other tournaments around the world haven't gone so well, the GamesCom Intel Extreme Masters had a few interuptions where games needed to be paused due to laggy performance. A University in the US tried to host a tournament and was held up by only allowing 12 hosts to be connected.

        As for comparisons FPS games are a very different beast.

        Can you link me to the $87k tournament please.

    can they stop fidling with dedicated servers and copy what the battlefield series has been doing for years

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