A Preliminary Report on the Project Darkstar Anthropological Expedition into the World of Massively Scaled On-Line Games and Virtual Worlds

October 9, 2008
2:50 pm - 4:00 pm
Halligan 111


While the culture of enterprise computing, transaction processing, and web services has developed, an entirely different culture centering on computing has evolved in an entirely different ecosystem. While those in our culture tend to play the artifacts produced by their culture, and those in their culture tend to use the programming languages produced in our culture, in fact the two groups lost contact somewhere in the Collossal Cave, and have had little real interaction since.

These cultures are about to be brought together again. The architectural move to multi-core, multi-threaded chips will require changes in the way games are programmed, while the requirements of scaling in games such as World of Warcraft require the use of distributed systems. As virtual worlds begin to emerge, the distinction between business or scientific systems and games will begin to disappear.

During the past two years, I have lead a project at Sun Microsystems Laboratories trying to build a highly-scalable, highly-concurrent infrastructure for massive-scale on-line games and virtual worlds. This work has brought us into contact with the culture of games and the inhabitants of that culture. In this talk, I will describe some of the ways in which the game world differs from the computing world most of us are used to, and talk about the particular challenges that are facing that world that might profitably be approached in a cross-cultural fashion.

If nothing else, the work that we have done in trying to make games scale to large numbers of threads and large numbers of processors offers an interesting contrast to the approaches that have been taken by others, such as those in scientific computing or large-scale search. The contrast may help us to understand that one size does not fit all when it comes to these problems, and may show alternate avenues of research into making use of the computing infrastructures that are being built.