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An introduction to online games and e-business infrastructure
By Chris Sharp - 2004-08-12 Page:  1 2 3 4 5

The technical problem

The main technical problems that arise from these issues can be broken down into four main categories.

  • Integration logic
    In order to connect the members and fulfill the value chain, third-party-provided systems and services need to be connected and interoperate with each other. In a truly flexible solution, these parties may not previously be integrated or even aware of each other as consumer choice and business relationships combine into a solution instance.
  • Business logic
    The code to embody the business requirements of interaction between these multiple parties is neither germane or, in some cases, relevant to the game. At best, it is potentially required to change over time and should certainly be abstracted out of the game logic.
  • Delivery capacity
    When consuming and producing messages between the game and the service providers being used, it is important to be able to manage the resources involved in fulfilling this chain, and not to overload a single point in the solution with the responsibility of delivering the services to the game.
  • Security and trust
    The execution of this business logic may involve access to private information belonging to multiple parties. For example, to exchange funds from one party to another, an account and pin may be required. Consumers do not want to configure a game with their own private details, and they do not necessarily trust the game code (or the thing charging them for use) to manage the financial transaction. This problem is exacerbated if the transaction is between two players. Coupled with this trust issue is the problem of security and protection from malicious attacks, either from players, rogue service providers, or rogue games.
Each of these categories contains a complex set of issues and, although apparently orthogonal, all three categories must be addressed with a holistic approach to ensure that meeting the requirements of one issue does not reduce the efficiency of another.

The proposed solution

Our proposed solution to the development of online games takes advantage of a new technology in the world of software integration.

Web Services

Though the "dot com" craze has ended, business use of the Web is going strong. Over the past several years Web applications have evolved from simply rendering Web content to becoming a sophisticated business productivity tool capable of supporting dynamic and innovative business models while significantly lowering the costs of integrating businesses.

The current downturn in the world's major economies have driven customers to focus their e-business strategies on lowering expenses and increasing efficiencies, including the overall optimization of processes internally and with partners. Yet, these same firms are also trying to drive new or additional business by increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction through better personalization and service delivery. Now more than ever customer investments in IT technology, products, and services must have a direct impact on the business fundamentals. Business Managers are looking to:

  • Leverage IT to lower the enterprise cost and improve productivity and efficiency in business operations by improving integration, communication, and information exchange with suppliers, business partners, and customers
  • Leverage IT to support new and innovative business models that penetrate new markets and provide direct access to customers and business partners.
Attaining these goals using IT as a productivity lever has been both problematic and challenging. In the IT world seemingly simple things like exchanging data within a firm's heterogeneous systems is a challenge today, not to mention trying to transparently deliver data to users from across a network of business partners and affiliates. The promise of IT in leveraging the Web for linking heterogeneous cross-enterprise, cross-platform, and cross-vendor solutions has not been met. Companies have been unable to deliver bottom-line cost savings or achieve top-line growth because, until recently, the following basic infrastructure services have not been met:
  • Finding services :
    A standardized way for customers and business partners to find the available services of a given business, and to seek the services they want.
  • Accessing services :
    A standardized means for sophisticated consumer and business applications to programmatically use services provided by other businesses.
  • Communications security :
    Standardized mechanisms to provide sophisticated user authentication and attribute information in a secure way over a communications channel.
  • Federation :
    A standardized means for allowing businesses to directly provide services for customers registered at other (partner) businesses or institutions. With Federation, a business gets trusted information about an accessing user from the user's home organization. The business doesn't need to register that user, and the user is spared from having to get and remember a new login in order to interact with the business.
  • Cross-enterprise trust :
    A standardized means for establishing and reflecting trust between organizations. This is a key issue for Federation.
  • Federated Identity and Attribute Mapping :
    Well-understood mechanisms and procedures for mapping trusted information about a foreign user (users from business partners) into authentication and authorization information usable to an enterprise's existing services.
Today, these requirements are now in the process of being met by Web services standards such as SOAP, WSDL, UDDI, and others. IBM is a leader in both the development of these open standards, and in providing product implementations of those standards.

Some have learned that the most flexible and cost-efficient way of addressing systems integration is through Web services, where the reusable function is made available to the world as well-defined interfaces, accessible using open standards and protocols, where integration can effectively be achieved at run-time through the use of directory services to discover and determine the integration requirements. This dramatically reduces the software development and systems integration requirements and cycle times. The proposed solution builds upon the IBM existing scalable, reliable and secure infrastructure for multi-channel e-business (such as WebSphere, MQSeries, and Digital Rights Management technology). IBM has thirty years of experience in transactional middleware technology.

But, making various services available on the network to perform generic function such as payment and transaction control through a Web service interface is not enough to be of immediate use to the gaming industry. Games developers are not interested in a new layer of complexity with which they must cope in order to build their systems. Therefore, the proposal embodied within this article is to develop a piece of middleware that provides a layer of simplicity, tailored to the industries requirements, to act as the service layer between the games environment and the intelligent infrastructure.

This architecture isolates the e-business-specific technologies from the game environment, allowing for upgrading and extensions to function to be carried out without affecting game code. It would also mean a native client interface could be provided suitable for whatever the target-client game platform is, and reduce the memory and processing costs within the game code. What is more, the Web services would be usable for a wide range of applications and industries, not just the gaming industry. The games would become just another source of interaction with these e-businesses.

Figure 2. High-level architecture
High-level architecture

In figure 2 you see an architecture divided into three layers. In the center of this is the Service-Oriented Architecture as proscribed by Web services. These are the functions made available by service providers to their customers over the internet, and we consider those kinds of functions that could support the online games business models that may evolve, such as payment provisioning, location and notification, e-commerce, rights management, and directory lookup.

At the periphery of the architecture we have the potential game platforms that access the network through their relevant point of presence. These may be PCs and servers, mobile devices, consoles, Set Top Boxes etc. The common feature across all of them is that they contain a thin client to connect them to our middleware infrastructure.

Between these two layers we have the Process Brokers. These form an enabling backbone of servers that provide the abstraction of business and integration logic using open standards and provide a Process-Oriented View of the network of e-business services within it.

View An introduction to online games and e-business infrastructure Discussion

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First published by IBM developerWorks

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