“The neat thing about peer-to-peer,” says Kulkarni, “is that you only need to know about a few peers around you. Once you know that, then you can learn more and more and find out about all the other objects, and this way, you can scale to an unlimited number of users.”
There are other efforts at developing peer-to-peer networks for virtual worlds, such as Solipsis and VAST. These systems use different algorithms to map virtual worlds to peer-to-peer. VastPark CEO Bruce Joy says that the company chose to incorporate NICTA’s technology because it meshes well with VastPark’s existing structure. “We were trying to [figure out] how to make small spaces that connect together in order to form massive environments,” Joy says. NICTA’s approach involved subdividing a space so that it could be run by users and scaled as large as necessary. Joy says that initially, he thought the ideas were opposites, but he eventually came to see them as complementary.
Wu-chang Feng, an associate professor of computer science at Portland State University, who researches the network architecture of virtual worlds, says that NICTA’s technology is “not suitable for games, but pretty compelling for virtual communities.” He explains that games hosted through peer-to-peer networks tend to have problems with cheating, since users can easily access and alter information about, for example, whether an attack breached an opponent’s defenses. For worlds focused on social interactions, on the other hand, Feng says that reducing the infrastructure cost through peer-to-peer networks makes sense. He notes, however, that Linden Lab could provide formidable competition to VastPark’s approach if the company lets individuals host their own Second Life servers, which is common for popular first-person shooter games. Since Second Life has already made moves to open up its system, Feng sees this as a likely possibility.
While Kulkarni says that NICTA has researched ways of making the peer-to-peer network cheating-resistant, he thinks the system works best for social worlds that include a lot of user-generated content. VastPark is still working on integrating the peer-to-peer technology and expects to open it up for testing to a few members of the public toward the end of this year.