Increasingly, game companies are using peer-to-peer powered solutions to deliver games and updates to their customers. While the use of P2P technology could be beneficial for publishers, consumers, and the image of file-sharing in general, the use of P2P by game companies still lacks transparency, privacy and control. A newly published best practices outline aims to change this.

In the past we’ve praised game companies who adopted P2P-based solution for the distribution of their content. Through the use of P2P, the game companies can save resources and consumers often see improved download times. However, there is also a dark side to this apparent synergy.

Although the use of P2P technology has many benefits, it is not always implemented with the interests of consumers in mind. In fact, quite often gamers are simply abused as cheap bandwidth sources by million dollar corporations, often without their knowledge.

Akamai, one of the largest content delivery companies around, has a P2P-based product called the Netsession Interface which is rather abusive towards customers. The software is installed as a Windows service and it is always running in the background. Even worse, most users wont even know that it’s running because it doesn’t show up in task manager. Nothing of the above is mentioned in their EULA.

The NetSession Interface is used by game publishers including Kuma Games, Aeria Games and NetDevil. Customers who play the games have no user controls or visible indicators, while the software uses ‘their’ upload bandwidth to deliver content to other users for an indefinite period after the download is completed.

Besides Akamai there are various other P2P-based solutions that lack transparency, control or privacy, such as Pando’s Media Booster. Blizzard’s BitTorrent Downloader which is used for the distribution of StarCraft 2 and World of Warcraft is one of the more transparent solutions, but that one is not perfect yet either.

From the Akamai example above it is clear that something has to be done to ensure that consumers are not exploited as bandwidth slaves. P2P technology is great, and many consumer would love to donate some, but there has to be a clear set of rules to guarantee that consumers have a choice.

To address this issue, game publisher company Solid State Networks has just released a best practices document (pdf) which emphasizes giving users transparency and control over their resources. According to the company it all boils down to the following directives:

1. Transparency – Make visible and readily accessible information about the presence and operational activity of the P2P technology.

2. Control – Provide the ability to manage, operate and remove the P2P technology in an intuitive and conspicuous manner to the user.

3. Privacy – Ensure the absolute privacy and security of personal information and user originated files.

We think this is a great initiative and sincerely hope that the gaming industry will adopt this, or a similar set of rules, in the interests of the consumer. A quick search on Google shows that most of it is much needed, as there are are many complaints (1,2,3,4,5) from gamers about the lack of transparency and control that most of the current P2P delivery systems offer.

Surprisingly enough, Solid State Networks already offers their very own P2P-based delivery solution for game publishers that adheres to all three directives. However, the other P2P-based solutions that already exist out there can be easily adopted to become ‘fair’ as well.

Below you’ll find an additional PSA, summarizing how and why game publishers should handle P2P-powered game distribution.

Best Practices P2P Technology in Online Games