These days it's pretty inconcievable that a developer would ship a game with an online component - but do they understand quite what they're letting themselves into?
That's the question we asked online middleware providers as we scope out the online field - and discover that, these days, lag isn't the main thing you should be worried about.
The biggest change, especially as games begin to integrate more social networking features directly within the front-end, is the necessity for a strong back-end infrastructure to track scores, performance and user-generated content - which, according to GameSpy director Todd Northcutt, "complicates the picture, both financially and operationally, for most developers and publishers."
It's this necessity not only for network code but also infrastructure support that's seen middleware providers in this field to morph into service providers as well, working with developers to build and host the server back-ends that power things like 24/7/365 in-game content stores such as in Rock Band or SingStar.
And it's in that area that developers need help, because the potential problems are orders of magnitude bigger than in offline code.
”Imagine this scenario: a single, difficult to replicate bug in a game that happens once in a while may lead to ten crashes a day across all the gamers that bought your game,” says Quazal's Henry Ryan.
“However, if a similar bug on the back-end would make it crash ten times a day – effectively disconnecting all players – the affected number of players would be considerably higher than a client-side problem."
For more of our overview on the online space, check out the full article here.