Oct 09

Can Peer-To-Peer Downloads Help FML Patch Distribution?

 

The dust has finally settled and most Football Manager Live users have upgraded their clients to the newest build. It was a pretty hectic release day for FML v1.3 on October 7th – the usual characters on the official forums eagerly checking in every few minutes for a status update, when game worlds would finally be up and eventually, of course, coming on to vent about their inability to patch the game properly. After the debacle that was the v1.2 deployment that made late June a frustrating experience for managers, we were satisfactory with the response from Sports Interactive as they admitted “it was’t good enough”. Given the opportunity to correct their short-comings this time around, unfortunately, the company left a little less than to be desired.

In order to put things in perspective though the 1.3 deployment did indeed have some positive notes. Although the total downtime of game worlds did exceed Sports Interactive’s prediction by approximately two hours, the community was much more well informed on the progress. SEGA Community Officer Bertie BG and forum moderator Robson Brown can take a bulk of the credit for this – dedicating most of their free time monitoring the official forums, answering inquiries and generally maintaining the morale of the community during this tenuous process. In addition, Football Manager Live users also congregated heavily on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to more easily spread the word of the ongoing status and keep people occupied with FML-related banter while they waited.

During the beta period of the FM Live’s development, updates to the game’s code were regularly riddled with unforeseen problems causing many testers to get login errors, long ping times and the inability to upgrade to the correct build. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then as the process has become much more refined throughout the developer’s experience deploying these patches. As the code handling on the server-side of the updates has been well improved, it seems as if the client-side upgrade has not suffered the same good fate.

Even though the game worlds were officially re-opened and ready to handle an influx of eagerly awaiting managers, the official forums were still flooded full of inquiries of people having great difficulty getting their FML client up to speed. Auto-patch download times were at a virtual standstill at times, some cutting off file transfer completely. Users were uninstalling, re-installing, turning their computers off an on, clearing cache, finding hidden files, editing shortcuts and going through extraordinary efforts to make their way into a game world that was supposedly up-and-running and ready-to-go.

While the frustration point of the user base was just about to reach a boiling point, we saw Football Manager Live’s top selling point head directly into action – the community. In the efforts to help others help themselves, managers took the effort to bundle up their completed patched client download install and share or mirror these files themselves. Links to these alternate locations spread like wildfire across the forums as well as virally on Twitter. (A special thanks to @fredondoXI for the original tweet I received as well as all others who then proceeded to retweet this across the FML social landscape!) Through these mirrored downloads, managers were able to end their frustration with the official auto-patch process and quickly get to playing. This unprecedented sequence of events obviously begs the an important question…

In an open letter to Sports Interactive posted by Andy Thom on the official forums:

“Can you seriously look in to a peer-to-peer distribution system, or a stand-alone download (mirrored on several servers), or even allow us to download the latest version in the background in the few days before the release? If your problem is bandwidth – and it looks that way to me – then allowing players to download parts of the files prior to release would free up a fair chunk of bandwidth on release day i’d imagine.”

The sentiments of gearing the update process in that direction are backed up by Robson Brown:

“The biggest issue came with the auto patch servers not taking the strain. Because of this I really feel we should move towards a P2P basis in the future as it would solve those issues completely. If it wasn’t for the autopatch issue the update would’ve probably have been my easiest so far.”

It’s a good sign that Sports Interactive has easily identified the client patching procedure as a major concern, echoed quite quickly in the release day ordeal by SI developer Graeme Kelly on their forums – but it’s of this author’s opinion that these type of current technical problems will have more far-reaching effects around the FML community. No one can question that game world activity has been at a sub-par level, but as new updates try to please subscribers; having something fresh in the horizon to look forward to – will frustration in these auto-patching ordeals tip people over the edge in quitting the game for good?

Lukekarts sums up that concept quite well:

“The thing that is more frustrating is that it has happened twice; and I’m concerned that problems on each update are going to put people off: Each time they come back to FML in the hope that v1.x reinvigorates their interest in the game, they can’t download it. I don’t expect compensation or an apology, but what I do expect is that there will be some extensive testing on the patching systems before 1.4 rolls out so we don’t have problems like before.”

I won’t speculate on the exact behind-the-scenes and under-the-hood procedures undertaken to effectively patch Football Manager Live game clients. While I do have experience working with server-side technologies, it would be wrong of this author or anyone within the community to jump to irrational conclusions to the root cause of these technical incapabilities. From bandwidth issues to server request handling, no matter what it may be, this process still needs to be improved dramatically.

Could peer-to-peer distribution be the solution?

By the sheer fact that ordinary FM Live users were able to circumvent the official auto-patch procedure to update their client proves that the capability does exist – the process is not solely dependent on the use of SEGA’s server protocols. In addition, Sports Interactive is also widely known to use peer-to-peer technologies to distribute such things Football Manager PC game patches as well as pre-release demo software.

While some game developers automatically associate file sharing to the word “piracy”, it’s quite evident that SI/SEGA embrace the P2P system as a valid means of effectively distributing urgent code to their customers. By use of torrents, the company can significantly decrease server load and bandwidth while still hosting originating files. It’s users themselves that are making up for this bandwidth by sharing whole copies or relevant parts of the necessary files as other pull and then subsequently share this widely-needed executable.

On the non-technical end of the spectrum, this peer-to-peer distribution model will also go a long way to ease the bottleneck of inquiries submitted to SEGA support. While I don’t have access to the actual number of support tickets raised, one can assume that on 1.3 release day, the staff was overloaded with users looking for solutions – many that didn’t have their frustration subdued as the issues laid solely on the speed of the auto-patch server and not on the actual user’s computer themselves.

Was it a strategic decision by the company not to embark in a P2P distribution system from the get-go? Did they think with the current amount of subscribers that such an endeavor was unnecessary? After this recent round of deployment, in tandem with previous issues in past updates, will we soon see patches handled much differently by SEGA / Sports Interactive?

This author hopes to see a change and so I believe do the rest of the Football Manager Live community.

NOTE: Any response by Sports Interactive on this issue will be duly reported by GameWorldOne.Com – we will aim to keep our loyal readers up-to-date if any changes in the patching procedures are being implemented by the next 1.4 upgrade.

Was the client download for FML v1.3 a breeze or a nightmare for you? Feel free to share your experience by posting a comment below!

Written By Jordan Cooper
A moderator on GW Fowler and a co-founder of Gameworld One.Com, he has hosted/produced the Get Sacked! podcast for nearly two years providing humor and strategical insight to all about the FM series.
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  • MooSys_FC

    I think its the way to go!

  • Hi Jordan

    Well written article and I think you summed up the problems we had really well. However, you have got the facts slightly wrong.

    The statement "managers took the effort to bundle up their completed patched client download install and share or mirror these files themselves" is just not what happened (if it did it was on a small scale and is not supported officially). The links that @fredondoXI gave to you were direct download links for the client that were released officially by Sports Interactive. Go look at them again, and you'll see that they are from the download.footballmanagerliv... domain. This was released as part of a backup plan once we realised that the autopatching system (again) wasn't working and was a learning from the fiasco that was the 1.2 update.

    Although I by no means think that the system we've got at the moment is perfect, I do think that the autopatching system (albeit a heavily improved one) is the best way for update distribution. Fully working, it would mean that people wouldn't have to go and "download" anything, as double clicking on the game client would do all the work for them. The team have already identified what went wrong this time round and are working hard to fix it and try to ensure that nothing of this sort goes wrong again.

    That said, it doesn't mean that peer to peer couldn't work as a viable backup and is something we are looking at as a possibility.

  • TomHales

    I must admit, I seem to be one of the lucky ones who had few problems with the update. I had a steady download speed (in comparison to most) of about 30-40kb/s and my client was ready to go well before the servers were back up. The only problem I had was the repeated attempts at trying to log in before anyone else! There were only me and 4 or 5 others when Keane was eventually accessable, growing to about a dozen in the next half-hour or so.

  • Seamus Harte

    You need to offer both option. A direct download from the sega which kicks in automatically when there isnt a minimum amount of users seeding and for people who have bittorrent throttled of turned off by their isps. And a bittorrent method that kicks in for when a few hundred people need a patch or update.

  • Chris Wilson

    i think so, peer to peer is great for patchs but what might also help is could the patch be ready like a week before its something that they do in wow, with it you get the patch 3 or 4 weeks before the actual launch date of the patch so on the big day its a case of just installing or just downloading the latter part of the patch.

    dont ask me how it works

  • You don't think releasing a new client build before it's needed would cause more confusion? I could imagine the rants of people not being able to sign in when they're using the new build they just downloaded instead of the current one.

  • Fantastic review of the current system, Jordan, and I'm very interested in hearing any official word from SI on the matter. The thread you linked to seems to suggest that it's "under review", but let's hope it isn't put too far down the priority list.

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