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OMGZ NET NEUTERALITY WILL KILL US ALL!!1!

I’m personally pretty indifferent about net neutrality — while I think ISPs who try to blackmail service providers for QoS packet preferences are fairly scummy (and having worked for an ISP 10 years ago, I’m still well aware of their capability for scumminess), I also don’t believe that the Internet was brought to us by pixel fairies and needs no income beyond the milk of loving social kindness.

So I was pretty amused by this latest article going around: ISPs want to kill MMOs. It’s amusing because it ignores, you know, facts.

If written correctly, MMOs are actually among the best behaved of network applications around. Ideally, MMOs will run well on 3k/sec of bandwidth – low enough to be playable on a dial-up connection, and low enough to keep the network costs for the MMO providers down. Of course, it’s pretty easy to spike that higher – say, during any event where large amounts of people gather, bombing the user’s client with requests – but there isn’t a dedicated need for a broadband-level connection. Unless, say, you’re Second Life and are constantly streaming music streams of Suzanne Vega and texture maps of pixelated strippers every time you enter a new building. But that, like Second Life in general, is the exception. Again – bandwidth requirements are a cost of doing business for an MMO provider, and it’s in their direct financial interest to keep those as tiny as possible. Keeping MMOs playable for the folks still on dialup is just a bonus. This is the sort of traffic ISPs love. As opposed to BitTorrent downloads of multi-gigabyte movie files, which is the actual target of ISP traffic shaping.

Of course, this would require research, something we probably shouldn’t expect from, er, a market research consulting group. No, instead, the article goes on to describe the horrible life of mobile gaming vendors (which doesn’t jive with what I’ve read for years) and then, as proof that this is the dark future we can expect from a non-regulated Internet – World of Warcraft and Second Life have never appeared on a mobile phone. Yeah. Damn you, ISPs, for blocking Blizzard from sticking Naxxramas raids on my cell phone. Issues like interface form factor, hardware requirements, and what would actually be fun to play on a cell phone? Irrelevancy! It’s all the fault of those evil capitalists.

But truly, truly the shining jewel in this wonderous story: the paper’s suggestions for what MMO providers should do about this oncoming dystopia, and what they say about the writer’s actual opinions regarding the market s/he never bothered to do actual research on. I’ll just reproduce them without comment.

Flexing some muscle as both big spenders and influences on the user is the optimal path for guarding the status quo. Given that operators of online games have spent millions on network infrastructure and hosting contracts, directing the spending to ISPs that commit to keep their network neutral can be extremely powerful. From a consumer perspective, gaming companies have on occasion succeeded in forcing regional European monopolies to build better peering networks because they directed users to complain to the ISP about slow performance.

It may be difficult to invigorate the entire horde of gamers to engage in direct political action (to paraphrase South Park , \’e2\’80\’9chow can you mobilize that which has no life?\’e2\’80\’9d). But game developers have many carrots to dangle in front of an unmotivated user \’e2\’80\ldblquote from virtual gold to \’c3\’bcber equipment — and creativity is their strong point, so perhaps some incentive can walk the fine line between mobilization and buying petition signatures.

In short, I love reading papers like this, because it makes me feel hope that someday, I too will be given a platform to blather about things I know nothing about. I hear the Internet is free.