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id's Carmack & Stratton QuakeLive Interview


Author: Roger LaMarca & Drew Campbell
Published: 2009-02-24

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QuakeLive Development Challenges

Although no core changes were made to the game engine, the entire process of transforming a game such as Quake3 into QuakeLive was not as easy as id expected. When I asked Carmack how much of a challenge it was for the programmers on the team to implement the statistical engine, he responded:
"Obviously, that is what took a lot of the development time: the web part of it, the statistics gathering. There was a degree of hubris at the start where we thought, 'We're hot shot game developers, all this web programming, anyone can do that, it won't be that hard,' and we learned a whole lot through that process about all the tasks that go into that and all the browser compatibility issues. There was a lot of work there that we weren't aware of when we started the project that grew to be more and more sophisticated in all the different things that it did. One of the early decisions to go about licensing the GaimTheory stuff on there its going to be interesting to see how that turns out because. We were going to be a premiere customer for their technology and then they went out of business kind of left us with the situation we hired some of their core people as contractors to windup finishing things up it did saddle with us with this big database load and there is definitely a part of me that sits back and again it might me that naive part that doesn't understand all of the complexities some of this, but there is a part of me that thinks some of this might have been implementable better as just some big gigantic master server written in C code that sits on one big box that doesn't require an Oracle Enterprise edition database server to run it all. but we don't have back to back comparisons so we can't really say for sure, but there are things we are learning there and the jury is still out on some of the decisions whether they are particular good or bad. We definitely got an incredible amount of functionality early on by starting with the game theory stuff, but there may be some pain and suffering on the backend side of it scalability wise that may cause us pain and grief in the coming months." -- John Carmack

Licensing the QuakeLive Technology

id Software has always been a big player in world of licensing their technologies to other companies. When asked if they have been contacted by other companies about licensing their QuakeLive code, they answered in a cautiously optimistic manner. They really don't have a good idea on how popular QuakeLive can really become. Stratton went on to tell me:
"Because it's free and as accessible as typing a URL in your web browser, I think we could be underestimating just how many people try and connect that first week or so. It isn't like publishing a traditional game where you try and hit them in the magazines and on TV where you have to beat them over the head with it so that the next time they are at the game store they pick up the box off the shelf."
Carmack and Stratton really made it clear there are waiting for the full onslaught of the Internet to try out their latest project before coming to any realizations that licensing might be a possibility.
"I think everybody is in a wait and see mode right now. Six months from now, if we have five million users, there is probably going to be a lot of people interested in trying to duplicate it. I'm sure a lot of people will have the same impression I originally had, 'This stuff isn't too hard and let's dust off an old game toss it in there.' There will probably be a bunch of people who lose a few million dollars in development before finding out it was a lot harder than expected. I do think that Quake Arena is in almost a unique position for being the perfect game for doing this type of thing. Most titles would not fit in as well. I always look to Quake Arena as game as activity rather than game as movie. That is one of the core distinctions I always make. This was always an activity based game that you could continue playing for an arbitrary amount of time. I think we had the perfect content for this. We got off to a pretty good start with a lot of things and we learned a lot of lessons. It's tough to say how easy it would be to license or retarget this type of thing for somebody else. We certainly have considered extending it to Wolfenstein, as a separate brand. I think it would be tough to just hand off the technology to somebody else, but we'd entrain offers." -- John Carmack
The closed beta, which grew to over eighty-thousand, expanded almost exclusively by players inviting their friends. To build on this success, id will activate some features shortly after release that allow players to import their friends from social networking site and services such as Gmail. These lists will then be compared to the global QuakeLive registration list which will automatically tell you which of your fiends are in signed up for QuakeLive. It will allowed you to add them as friends inside QuakeLive if they are registered already and if they're not, it will allow you to send them an invitation to join you. For the first time, id will be able to tap the full power of the internet.

Cheating inside QuakeLive

Cheating has plagued just about every online first person shooter game. id Software finally got serious about cheating in their games when they contracted Evenbalance to include their controversial Punkbuster software in all of their recent titles. The software, which is present in Quake III & IV, is also included with QuakeLive. Although measures such as Punkbuster have been implemented, a cheating controversy has already erupted on the QuakeLive forums during the closed beta. Being account based, Carmack told me, does make things fundamentally different than the complete anonymity of anyone that has a copy of one of their past games.

Stratton assured me that combating cheating has been a priority from the very beginning of QuakeLive's development. Cheating has been a serious problem inside Quake III and Quake IV for id. He told me things should be significantly better for QuakeLive. id has a much better and active working relationship with EvenBalance than on previous games. The QuakeLive team works with them on a weekly making sure that their work is up to the task, not kicking players than shouldn't be kicked and such. He mentioned that QuakeLive's statistical analysis system will aid them in determining if an individual is using some type of cheat, although he didn't we to go into detail on how they handle it.
"I think you'd be surprised actually what we know about players and how we handle the process of cheating. I really think for a PC game, players will find that people who are really cheating are very few and far between. Hopefully we frustrate those cheaters enough early on that they basically give up trying to write the hacks."
Advertising Model

The entire QuakeLive business model revolves around the in-game advertisements reaching their target audience. To make sure this is done properly, id has teamed up with IGA to take care of finding clients. When I asked if there will be any issues serving ads to such a global audience, Stratton explaining the advertising system serves ads by geographical location. They can target individual countries if not even smaller regions with specifics ads. Players in Germany and the United States for example will see totally different ads. He shared an interesting story where the Croatian Air Force of all organizations purchased ad space inside QuakeLive.

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