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The distributed computing program SETI@home is touted as the fastest (virtual) computer ever created thanks to being run on millions of users' computers simultaneously. Imagine the extra processing power that could be reclaimed if games did similar calculations on the side while you play. The game code
would obviously have to be smart about it so as to not interrupt your gaming experiece while still performing useful calculations and returning results to a central database system.
This would not have to be limited to huge francises like Everquest or Sims Online. This could even be developed in small "web only" games on sites like Popcap.com. Imagine the many online casino's java games where on average a few thousand people are playing at once. In fact, simpler games require less processing power and woud be able to perform more complicated calculations without sacrificing game speed/quality.
Finally, and as always, there is a buck to be made here. If the game companies were able to get some money for every successful result they return for the calculations, I'd bet every game designer will jump on the band-wagon. This is also a self correcting system because a game that tries too hard to run calculations instead of being a good game will fail and no one will buy/play it. Thus, good games are still the goal of the developers and the consumer does not suffer.
||This could provide an alternative business model for game creators. The game could be provided 'free', and surplus processing power sold off to make a profit. A symbiotic relationship between author and gamer.
||The ideal problems to be solved by such a system would presumably be capable of being broken down into sub-problems, of small size but high processor demand.
Also, the sub-solutions must be of small size and easy to check.
||I would imagine that you would have to pay a deposit for your game (in processing time) before you started, then the game and payment-processing could proceed in parallel.