Scalability is a major technical focus for MMOG, but there are actually many different meanings and assumptions hidden behind the word. In general, Scalability is
the capability of a software system to be adapted to meet new requirements of size and scope (Taylor et al. p467).
For system and network engineers, scalability can be achieved in two ways: horizontally (load balancing and clusters of multiple computing resources) or vertically (adding more power to a current computing resource). In both cases, if any of the layers of the stack (hardware, database, application and so on) does not scale, then the whole system won't.
For software engineers, a system scales well
if its rate of growth is not greater than the corresponding rate of complexity increase (Taylor et al. p468-474). This definition looks a lot like
positive scalability in system and network. However, software architecture scalability also deals with adding new components and takes into account the dependencies between components and connector logic.
To my mind, there are so many definitions of scalability that it makes more sense to talk about domain-specific metrics meaningful to the end-users and stakeholders. The number of users is a perfect example. So here is a list of situations illustrating different meanings of scalability with different numbers of users.
|Scalability milestones reached so far|
|2 or more players sharing the same game world state||Game development platforms such as Unity have quite hard times providing a transparent interface to sharing game world state. Each object in the world has to explicitly contain a Network View for it to be sent to other players.||Being able to send all relevant game objects to other players without the hassle of having to add a networking layer on top of them.|
|From 40 to 100+ users in the same world||Throughout 2009, Intel has worked on scaling OpenSim. They noticed that the number of users (as well as the number of object prims and scripts) were |
independent of the number of hardware threads available. This meant OpenSim could host no more than 100 clients, even if more resources were added.
|Scalability was achieved through an impressive cleaning and optimization work from both software and netsys engineering perspectives. Adding a server to the back-end means being able to handle more users (thanks to an inter-shard daemon mechanism of some sort). There is still a problem, though: if everyone goes on the same shard, the shard crashes. Sharding originally comes from the database community. It has been applied to the software architecture of military simulations in 1995: 1000 users can be supported simultaneously. Current MMOG architectures still cut their world in maps (shards) to be able to use this principle.|
|Inter-server events||Cross-realm pick-up groups in WoW.|
foreign user informationstored locally and non-persistently on remote servers.
|In this case, scalability sounds more like portability and data compatibility (as the number of users involved stays relatively small). Also, an extra layer of logic can be added: in WoW, experienced players can be grouped with novices so that cross-realm groups are more balanced. But ... on which server shard(s) are these instances stored and computed?|
|Cloud gaming (Gaikai or OnLive)||Streaming video to computers that do not have enough graphics power to run the game themselves||A pure example of horizontal scalability: more computers in the cloud means more users.|
|Scalability milestones not reached yet|
|1000 players seeing and interacting with each others||Giant boss battles, live events, voting in Parliament||1) Clients must still be able to compute the graphics and 2) the server has to be able to cope with the sudden and unusual overload (dynamic resource re-allocation? Hybrid architectures mixing P2P and client-server?)|
|Cloud gaming for MMOG||Cloud gaming NOT as a service on top of existing gaming infrastructures, but as a graphics help for weak clients of an MMOG||Some MMOGs have high-end graphics. And there is always a server doing various computations. In the end, the overall architecture would approach something like: weak client <-> "middlebox" shared with a few other weak clients for the graphics <-> game logic server. But this naive method consumes a lot of resources and can certainly be optimized. It sounds a little bit like booster boxes.|
|10.000+ players seeing each other and interacting with some||Stadiums, French demonstrations||For the server, scalability means 1) being able to distinguish who can interact with who, 2) allocate resources dynamically (as these events are temporary and can be spontaneous) and 3) approximate distant actions and determine which clients share the same content locally so that some computations can be factorized. For the client, graphics might get demanding.|