Part of the fun of my job is that I legitimately have a business case for installing games on my PC. And one Friday, that's what I wanted to do: I wanted to play Star Citizen.
But not long after opening the launcher and waiting for the game to patch, everything ground to a halt. Then the internet dropped out. But it wasn't just a one-time thing — I'd been blacklisted from the company network.
This story has been republished to commemorate two things: Star Citizen surpassing $US250 million (!) in crowdfunding, and also because I had the good fortune over the weekend to meet the former IT staffer responsible for banning me from the network that day. I still haven't tried to download Star Citizen in the office again since.
Our IT department is used to me downloading large files before. That's pretty standard for video games. A 20GB day one patch here, 60GB of downloads there.
But we've got a nice fat fibre connection. Our office can handle that sort of stuff OK. So when Star Citizen wanted to download about 25GB in the middle of the day, I thought, sure. That's nothing in the grand scheme of things. No-one will notice.
Problem is, people did notice. The whole office in fact — because not longer after the crowdfunded gargantuan space epic began patching, the internet for the whole office went down.
Apparently, my single machine went from using largely nothing to choking out all of the bandwidth for Allure Media within seconds. It's a company that operates several sites viewed by millions of Australians every month. Having reliable internet is Kind Of Important.
So IT took the only reasonable course of action: they literally blacklisted my machine from the internet.
While they were in the middle of a phone conversation trying to work out what the hell was happening, someone from IT walked over. "Alex," they said tentatively, "what's going on?"
The Star Citizen patcher is a peer-to-peer client, which isn't anything new. World of Warcraft has been doing it for ages, and plenty of other games use the same technology as well to make life easier for their servers.
But Star Citizen wasn't happy just downloading from a handful of ports. According to the friendly but slightly perplexed bloke from IT who walked over, the Star Citizen launcher began aggressively opening so many ports that it more or less caused the firewall to shit itself.
Here's a more technically accurate explanation:
"Star Citizen was seen downloading a series of part files via Port 80 from multiple hosts (#.webseed.robertsspaceindustries.com - # being numbers ranging from 0 to 999) similar to P2P (Torrents) or Usenet," our support staff told me via email. "It then established as many simultaneous connections as possible and saturated the internet allocation."
"The simultaneous connections continued to increase which drained the anti-malware protection filtering on Port 80 on the firewall, this in-turned impacted the performance of the firewall and traffic shaping began to queue up. I believe Star Citizen just continued to seek as many connections as possible until the max bandwidth was reached (basically an octopus was trying to put as many tentacles into peanut butter jars as possible)."
After having a quick chuckle at the whole instance, IT happily lifted the blacklist — but they continued to monitor Star Citizen for the rest of the day. And to make sure nothing went too awry, they limited my bandwidth to a measly 1.2MB a second — you know, the kind of performance you get from an ordinary ADSL2+ connection.
Needless to say, I didn't get to play Star Citizen that day. But at least the rest of the office were able to get back to work. Which is probably more important.