Tomorrow Zenimax/Bethesda will migrate The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) European megaserver to their Frankfurt data center. There are several lovely pictures of the server hardware in the announcement for those who want to geek out a bit. I know I did. 😉 But on a more serious note, I want to discuss what I feel is the real reason for this server migration.
You get all the same old reasons why they are doing this migration. It’ll improve performance for European customers, etc, etc. That’s all a bunch of smoke. Today’s Internet is more than capable of hosting servers anywhere while maintaining respectable TTL times. It’s all a matter of top-level ISP usage and domain placement. It’s been a long, long time (at least two years, haha! 😛 ) since circuit lag has been an issue for international companies. If there is circuit lag, it’ll be the so-called last mile circuit that causes it, and it will only affect a limited number of users. Most lag that occurs in games today are server-side lag caused by a lack of computing cycles to service all the interrupt requests. Just have a look at EVE Online and the lag their thousand ship (and ten thousand drone and hundred thousand missile) battles cause when they happen. That lag has nothing to do with Internet speeds. So I don’t buy lag as the reason for this server move.
Furthermore, server moves are risky business. I’ve done a few in my day. No one breathes easy before or during a move. At no other time do you face a total risk of failure quite like moving from one set of machines to another. So why do it? Especially if lag and game playability isn’t the issue. Point of fact, I’ve not read anything about lag on the European megaserver being an issue. Now, people always complain, and there have been some complaints of lag. But from what I can tell it’s all been that last mile stuff I mentioned. It’s not a server wide issue where everyone playing has unacceptable lag. So if the servers aren’t over loaded, and the Internet in general is up to the task, why is Zenimax/Bethesda taking this risk?
It’s the only good reason I can come up with for them doing this when it really doesn’t make business sense to do it at all. Now, when I say the concern is privacy it DOES NOT mean I think the TESO servers are in any way insecure. Security and privacy are two sides of a coin, but they are completely different pictures if you follow the analogy. I believe the security of the TESO servers is as good as any other game server. When I say privacy, I mean personal information privacy, as in that stuff the United States National Security Agency (NSA) is so intent on collecting.
It’s well known at this point the NSA, in its efforts to find terrorists, has actively tracked gamers. You just need to click on this Google search link for the evidence. As a U.S. citizen, I find this alarming in the extreme, but there is nothing I can do about it until the next election cycle. And even then, there are plenty of ignoramuses out there who actually agree with what the NSA is doing to probably allow them to keep doing it. But those fortunate enough to live in a more enlightened Europe do not have to put up with this sort of anti-democratic behavior. And indeed, many European countries have taken steps to protect their citizens from this sort of governmental excess.
In that regard, I find no coincidence in Zenimax/Bethesda picking Frankfurt as their hosting city. Germany strongly disagrees with the United States government over this spying, even before it came to light the NSA in effect tapped Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone. By placing the European megaserver in Germany, Zenimax/Bethesda is fairly assured of not running afoul of the new privacy laws emerging in Europe. I’ve no doubt that data center is protected from the NSA.
And there’s a warning in that for those in the U.S. government that think these privacy intrusions are a good thing. This is the Internet age. I doubt anyone with any sort of degree, economic or otherwise, will argue with that statement. And in this new age, companies will need to make decisions on where they want to set up shop. Now, during the industrial revolution that decision was predicated on (simplistically, to make a point) two things: access to resources (iron ore) and capable workers. That is why the U.S. midwest became the backbone of North America’s industrial revolution. The great lakes provided the means of getting a virtually endless supply of iron ore, and the people of Ohio, Pennsylvania and upstate New York were a hard-working and educated (for the times) work force.
But this is a new age and it has new requirements. But it is still mostly about resources and workforce (and those other things I didn’t mention.) Now ask yourself, what would have happened to the U.S. industrial revolution if every ship carrying iron ore on the Great Lakes was boarded and searched? What if every ship owner had to place government agents on their docks and their ships, and these agents required everyone who did business with that shipping line to hand over their identification and submit to warrantless background investigations, home invasions and tails (as in being followed) wherever they went? Would the industrial revolution have happened in the U.S. midwest, or would it have willingly chosen to relocate to Quebec?
That’s where we are today. If I were going to start a game company, I’d think long and hard about where I was going to put its assets – hardware and data. And to be completely honest, I wouldn’t put them anywhere within reach of the NSA. Even if I believed in what they are doing, my customers might not and that’s what drives my decisions. It’s about profit, and you can’t make profit if you don’t have customers.
So how does this end? Well, Chinese gamers are segregated from the rest of us by the Great Firewall. People in the United States point at the Great Firewall as proof of a totalitarian state. So what is it when the only one playing on American megaservers are U.S. Citizens, and everyone else chooses to go elsewhere? I suppose you could call that the Great Cold Shoulder.