Why Call of Duty Will Not Be On Dedicated Servers

This post was written by Akin Fagbohun who is a writer, researcher and content
editor on behalf of Six Degrees Group.

Akin Fagbohun of the Six Degree Group sent us this article to post on the lack of dedicated servers for the Call of Duty Franchise which has been a big lament for gamers and fans of the series.

*PS3/XBOX Version of the game

Prior to the release of Black Ops 2 there was a lot of talk about dedicated servers and now that news of Activision’s 2013 edition of the shooter has been released, we’re sure that the debate will resurface. I raised the question with UK based cloud company Six Degrees Group who had their tech team chime in and give their opinions on the subject.

What is a Dedicated Server?

Before we delve in to the details, let’s briefly touch on what a dedicated server is, in gaming terms and how it differs from Call of Duty’s current networking system.

In gaming, a dedicated server is essentially a computer that hosts the game on a high speed, low latency connection. It serves the simple purpose of allowing all members in the game to connect to a stable gaming environment. In Call of Duty’s current game hosting system the player with the strongest connection is often allocated game host responsibilities; that player then connects to the Activision servers. You’re probably familiar with the player that always has four bars that you just can’t seem to take down despite seemingly getting the jump on him. This is often the result of having an unstable connection to the host otherwise known as ‘lag’.

The benefit of a dedicated server is that it removes the host advantage that can often be seen in Call of Duty. It also means that everyone is connected directly to Activision’s high speed, stable servers which should result in very stable game play; provided that your own internet connection is reasonable.

Economics of Dedicated Servers
After trawling through a number of gaming sites for some information I could rely on, I got the general consensus that the typical internet usage in Call of Duty (multiplayer) is 1-1.5mb/s. For the sake of this example we’ll run with the upper figure to get an idea of the costs to keep some dedicated servers online.

According to VGCharts Black Ops 2 has sold approximately 20 million copies globally across the Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms. It’s unlikely that all of these copies will be online at any one time but it’s wise to have a server set up that can accommodate a good portion of this, so what might that cost? It’s impossible to say, but consider this; 1.5mb/s from a potential 20m games is 30Tb/s. You can be sure that this kind of task cannot be outsourced to a service provider as it would simply drain their entire resources. Activision currently run a reported 32 datacentres worldwide that service all Call of Duty titles that are still in play online, as well as popular titles like World of Warcraft and Guitar Hero. If they were to provide dedicated servers to the millions that play Call of Duty they would need a number of server farms specifically for that purpose.

In order to acquire the real estate for these farms, they would either need to buy land and build, or buy out existing datacentres which is a cost that would run in to a number of millions even before they’ve fitted any hardware or employed a single person to maintain the servers. As you probably know, Call of Duty Multiplayer is ‘free to play’ once you’ve bought the game (and Xbox Live if on the Xbox) so unless the gamer base were prepared to absorb a substantial fee to play online it’s not really feasible for Activision to go down this route and pour away millions in profits in order to appease a small minority of the community.

Why the Current System Works

Costs aside, even a dedicated infrastructure would struggle to cope with the demand. You might have heard about the Activision servers that went down following hurricane Sandy that resulted in substantial loss of online service to gamers in some regions. Under the current model, if an issue with a server arises the game will migrate host responsibilities to another user that has a better connection to a working server, and at worst you would have a regional issue. If it were a case where all players were connected to a server that went down, there would be a total loss of service in that region and a whole lot of gamers that have no choice but to attempt to connect to another server in a different location. The result of this is would be an overload of the next server which in turn would crash.

It’s without a doubt that the current model doesn’t sit well with some of the more mature gamers in the CoD community, however the fact of the matter is that it’s the model that best suits the community as a whole. We often talk about dedicated servers being ‘the answer’ without really thinking about the cost implications or the logistics of creating a gaming infrastructure on such a monumental scale. I can assure you that Activision and the developers at Call of Duty have thought about this in great detail and are exercising the most practical of procedures to support their online gaming community.

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