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Why Is It So Difficult To Allow Cross-Platform Play? 389

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-about-the-benjamins dept.
cookiej writes "I just got the most recent version of the Madden franchise ('10) for the PS3. Can somebody explain to me why EA has separate networks for the different platforms, only allowing players to compete with people using the same console? Back in the day, there were large discrepancies between the consoles, but these days it seems like the Xbox and the PS3 are at least near the same level. After so many releases for this franchise, they've got to have a fairly standardized protocol for networking; it seems arbitrary not to let them compete. Or am I just missing something obvious? Is it just a matter of Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network not working together?"
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Why Is It So Difficult To Allow Cross-Platform Play?

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  • Why would they... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tacarat (696339)
    ... sell you one copy of a game when they can potentially sell you two or three?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by tacarat (696339)
      Ignore the fact that you'd have to get Sony, Nintendo and MS to cooperate with their matchmaking systems and such first.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by KDR_11k (778916)

        Sony and Nintendo don't seem to care much, you run the servers, you do the matchups (though a PS3/Wii crossplatform game would likely have major version differences that would prevent multiplayer anyway). AFAIK MS is the problem with their paid-for XBox Live service.

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      ... sell you one copy of a game when they can potentially sell you two or three?

      Except they did and they still wouldn't talk (then ps2 vs xbox), I had a copy of the game (star wars battlefront) for each platform and they would not f*!k^%g talk to each other on my local network. v.annoying and v.lame!

      I also had the game on a pc and was about to experiment to see if the pc could host the game and the xbox and playstation join in. I even asked at the games store and they said 'they use a different network

  • vendor lock in (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:42AM (#29227035)
    That was most likely the decision of MS and Sony respectively. EA is evil, but you can't blame them for everything!
    • Re:vendor lock in (Score:4, Insightful)

      by EdIII (1114411) * on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:03AM (#29227489)

      I don't think you can blame anybody. It does not make sense for those two networks to allow people to play with each other. If I was making a purchasing decision, and most of my friends were playing some game on XBL, I would be more inclined to purchase the XBOX360 to play with my friends on XBL. Now, if the the PSN and XBL were linked, I could buy the PS3 instead.

      Same logic works the other way to Microsoft's advantage.

      So why would either of those two companies want to make it easier to buy the competitor's product?

      • I don't think you can blame anybody. It does not make sense for those two networks to allow people to play with each other. If I was making a purchasing decision, and most of my friends were playing some game on XBL, I would be more inclined to purchase the XBOX360 to play with my friends on XBL. Now, if the the PSN and XBL were linked, I could buy the PS3 instead.

        Same logic works the other way to Microsoft's advantage.

        So why would either of those two companies want to make it easier to buy the competitor's product?

        I don't know if I agree with your definition of blame.. By the same logic you can't blame the bankers who ruined the world economy because it was in their best interests to make as much money as they could while they could. It's a slippery slope.

        • by EdIII (1114411) *

          That's a pretty harsh characterization. I don't think that logic applies. There is a difference between greed to the point you don't care who you are hurting and not deliberately creating an equal opportunity environment.

          Do you think it is a right for XBL users to interact with PSN users? I don't think you are entitled to it. You bringing up totally unrelated issues and demonizing them for what is really not an issue.

          Microsoft and Sony deserve a LOT of criticism, but not for locking in their customers t

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by ImNotAtWork (1375933)
            I pretty much agree with but reading your post I came up with a hypothetical question.. What if desktops of different manufacturers dell/hp/etc. would refuse to talk to each other on the "interwebs"... I'm too young to remember but didn't AOL Online start out not fully integrated with the rest of the internet? I think MS and Sony are hesitant to open up there networks for fear of opening the "Those owners of console X are cheating and the company is failing to do anything about it."

            Maybe this is an opport

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Bert64 (520050)

            Games should retain the ability to play independent of the manufacturer supplied networks...

            You know, so people can run their own private servers, join third party servers and engage in lan play. I've noticed a lot of console games don't even allow lan play anymore, we used to get a large group of friends together to play network games years ago, but that's becoming difficult these days.

      • If it works both ways then it seems like the companies are just as likely to be losing customers as they are to be gaining them.

        OTOH, if the games were all compatible customer frustration over not being able to play with their friends will go down which could translate into more sales and a win for both customers and vendors alike.

    • Re:vendor lock in (Score:4, Insightful)

      by anti-pop-frustration (814358) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:21AM (#29228087) Journal
      That's a bullshit excuse.
      Street Fighter 4 has been released on both xbox 360 and PC. It's the same *exact* game. On PC, online play is enabled through "live - games for windows" (or whatever the hell it is called), bottom line: microsoft provides online gaming for both platforms.

      Not only that, but they are explicitly trying to market their pc and xbox online services as a single, unified product... Yet, they still won't allow cross-platform play.
  • Console != PC (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why would you want to allow your competitor console to play with yours. If one claims their network is superior to the others, that's a selling point and by allowing the other consoles to connect makes your "superior" network play a moot point.

  • same as the PC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ambiguous Coward (205751) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:46AM (#29227061) Homepage

    For the same reason console players can't play against PC players.

    If they allowed a direct comparison between different platforms, people would realize more rapidly which is better and which is worse.

    I'd love to see a match of TF2 between a bunch of console players vs. PC players. It'd be such a joke. :)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Toonol (1057698)
      I don't think that's true. One platform might be at an advantage over the other, but that is an entirely different matter than being better. For instance, it's quite obvious a mouse has a competitive advantage over a gamepad in a FPS... but that doesn't mean a mouse/keyboard is necessarily a better input device. A gamepad is more ergonomic and can be played more easily from the couch, for instance.

      A FPS designed for a console is best played on a console. One designed for a pc is best played on a pc.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by poetmatt (793785)

        Umm, FPS games are by definition, not typically "Designed" for consoles.

        Nobody said mice are better, but they are much better at controlling first person shooters for obvious reasons.

        For a racing game when you don't have a joystick/wheel, or a fighter, I'd much rather a controller than a keyboard+mouse. It's very simple, called "use the right tool for the job".

        Round hole, round peg. Easy comparison to your own: ever tried playing quake on a g1 or an iphone? It's kind of, you know, pretty hard to do. some in

        • by Toonol (1057698)
          Umm, FPS games are by definition, not typically "Designed" for consoles.

          Obviously not true. There are FPS games, successful ones, that have never been ported to the pc.

          Nobody said mice are better, but they are much better at controlling first person shooters for obvious reasons.

          I would dispute this, also. Mice are more accurate at controlling first person shooters. Better is something different, entirely.

          For a racing game when you don't have a joystick/wheel, or a fighter, I'd much rather a
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Phydeaux314 (866996)

            Some interfaces are inherently better for some tasks than others. That's why we use different interface devices, instead of having one "standard" one that has been proven to be the best possible choice. If we're restricted with regards to our input device, as we are with consoles, we work very hard on the game to make the input work with it.

            Mice are best for FPS games because they allow for a nearly direct mapping of mouse location to screen location. It's fast, accurate, and refining accuracy from a genera

          • by Rakishi (759894) on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:29AM (#29227867)

            I would dispute this, also. Mice are more accurate at controlling first person shooters. Better is something different, entirely.

            No in this sense more accurate is better. Why? Because no matter how much ergonomic something is if you spend 99% of your time lying dead on the ground you'll still want to chuck that lovely piece of plastic through the tv.

        • Putting the cross hair on someone's head doesn't have to be the point of an FPS. The game can be based on strategy, teamwork and experience indpendent of accuracy.

          In fact I would argue that an FPS with no aim what so ever that was purely random would be equally as fun as one which involves twitch aiming.

          In a game like TF2, unless you're sniping, most of the game is pretty accuracy independent. That being said.... the 360 version of TF2 is unplayable.

        • by mjwx (966435)

          Nobody said mice are better, but they are much better at controlling first person shooters for obvious reasons.

          Exactly, the right tool for the right job.

          FPS are better played with the mouse and keyboard. ARMA, Operation Flashpoint and Battlefield are some of my favourite FPS's but to try and fly a plane or helicopter with the mouse and KB is difficult and near impossible to do well. Joysticks are better for flying.

          Console controllers are a consoles only choice so they have to be designed to be a jac

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "One designed for BOTH is probably equally bad on either."

        There was Shadowrun, which was designed for both PC and 360, and for cross-platform competitive play. As far as multiplayer shooters go, it was a good pickup if you got it for $20. No single-player mode.

        But what's interesting is the balancing that went into Shadowrun. In playtesting, 360 players were getting massacred by PC players because their control over their aiming was so vastly superior.

        So on top of handicapping PC players by giving 360 player

    • I'd love to see a match of TF2 between a bunch of console players vs. PC players. It'd be such a joke. :)

      Just wait until the scripters and hackers get at them. I met a spy that gets ~80% hits with his revolver - most headshots. It was plainly obvious he was a hacker, because round after round, he'd run into crowds of people(Pyros, medics, heavies, etc.), owning them all.

      Or he'd just shoot you from across the map.

      I've also met genuinely great spies, like Jening. They're fun to play with, if you don't mind getting your ass handed to you over and over. Console players vs Jening... I wonder how many dozens he'd ki

    • I've heard that differing CPU architectures is a significant difficulty in cross-platform play and something that hampered Mac-PC online play before Macs switched to Intel. Online multiplayer games rely on players' own machines to perform practically all in-game calculations, and the game assumes that each machine is getting identical results from these calculations and passing those results into the next operation. But due to the nature of floating point arithmetic, the last few digits of a floating point

    • by crossmr (957846)

      This was done I think. I seem to recall reading a story about a cross platform FPS that ran between maybe the dreamcast and the PC. As expected PC users absolutely dominated the dreamcast users.
      of course google fails me and I can't find it now.

  • Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by marcansoft (727665) <hector@@@marcansoft...com> on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:48AM (#29227079) Homepage

    MS and Sony (and Nintendo) want you to use their respective online frameworks. They obviously aren't compatible or interoperable (different name/nick/whatever namespaces, different friends lists, different registration procedure, etc).

    You can't have cross-platform online interoperation unless EA uses an entirely custom online framework that is identical among platforms. The console manufacturers wouldn't be too happy about that, and neither would gamers (who want to register once and maintain one friends list for all games, not once for each vendor or game).

    The only sane solution would require heavy cooperation between all console vendors and standardizing quite a bit of the online experience, but that's never going to happen (at least not this generation).

    • Re:Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Laminan (1625947) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:13AM (#29227217)
      This reminds me of the classic prisoner's dilemna and nash equilibrium. Clearly if they all cooperate they could create a common platform that would allow people to use software across their hardware platforms. But those who do not participate and get exclusive titles, would then be at an advantage. People might buy their 'one extra' console just to get those exclusive titles. It is silly, but that is a peak in the mind of a video gamepublishing exec.
      • by mqduck (232646)

        I'm not sure what this has to do with the Prisoner's Dilemma. If a person buys all three consoles so they can play every game, all console makers benefit more than if everyone bought one console and they shared the profit.

    • Re:Obvious (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sparton (1358159) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:23AM (#29227287)

      That's pretty much it. My buddy is a test coordinator at EA, and his stories about games failing for the stupidest guideline violations never ends.

      And I think that's what it's really about: each company has their own guidelines (from Nintendo's save screen longer than 0.15 seconds has to have a message that you can read, to Sony's all of "PLAYSTATION 3" has to be capitalized). If a version of the game was submitted to one console maker, got passed, but failed at a different one, that means they need to change code for a version and still make sure it's compatible with the older versions that passed under someone else's watch.

      And never mind shinanigans related to updating the game (or virtual lack of ability in Nintendo's case).

    • Re:Obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:29AM (#29227329)

      Posting Anonymously for this. There is no software reason why the two consoles don't share games. In development as an online engineer for another title (I don't work on Madden so I can't say for sure for them) I've actually done some game play tests between development consoles, it helps work out some uninitialized values and corner cases that cause online crashes when dealing with sloppy programming. But development consoles can work in non-secure mode, retail consoles can't. As developers we have to send everything out as secure. That means that a PS3 can't talk directly to a XBox360. The consoles can't even talk directly to the servers, instead they have to go through gateways that decrypts the data. The gateways are located centrally, and you can bet that Sony's gateway isn't going to talk to Microsoft's gateway (And I'm leaving a hell of a lot out here), so that means for one console to talk to another console it has to hit a central server, adding three machines, and a lot of hops/latency to the mix.

      The gimped up networking layer is one of the reasons I'm glad I got out of online development, and into a much less stressful area. Everything, and I mean everything, can @#$@ up online, and its up to the online engineers to fix it. Someone forgets to initialize a variable in the game play engine, a bug only appears online, its up to online to find it, going though code that they haven't designed, written or looked at before. I've even had a mistimed animation cause a disconnect on me. That makes online very conservative, and you could say very religious as in 'please god don't let it @#&$ up on my watch'. The typical Online engineer is only about 5 hours from burn out, they aren't going to suggest xbox 360 - PS3 gaming. Besides I'm pretty sure that both MS and Sony have their lawyers on the case that you can't interpenetrate between the two. But also Online Engineers want to help make a great game. And they would love to add in cross platform play if they could, and if they had the men to do it, don't get me wrong about it, but online has never been a focus in most sports games, and are constantly over capacity.

    • by moon3 (1530265)
      Also client/server model of these networks would require Live servers (Xbox) to enumerate Sony clients on PSN and vice-versa, that would mean sharing network authentications/certs/codes and such. That can't happen as it would give the enemy access to your network, for example all updates to your protocols and similar things would require negotiation with the other network, managers on both sides would be scared to do that.
  • Anonymous Coward. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I actually read something about this the other day... Sony doesnt care about it. They are actually allowing cross platform with the upcoming FFXIV MMORPG on Windows/PS3. I can't say I agree or disagree with MS's reasoning, but it has to do with Quality Control on XBOX360. Back in the PS2 and XBOX days, all servers were managed by the developer. After a few years, servers shut down, and people still continue to buy the game only to find out that when they try to go online, it doesnt work anymore. Since XBL u

    • MS and Sony do not host the servers, the game company does, and it is up to them to decide to stop hosting them, and as far as I know, all that money goes to MS for xbox live subscription fees, none to the developers. However, Microsoft is very interested if one of the big titles on their platform experiences outages while many people are playing.
      • Re:Anonymous Coward. (Score:4, Informative)

        by assassinator42 (844848) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:41AM (#29227377)

        Where did you see that?
        I'm pretty sure Microsoft by default handles all of the server for matchmaking and leaderboards. I remember back with the first Xbox that Microsoft had to develop a protocol to allow Live games to communicate with the game company's server. This was done at the insistence of EA, who would not release titles with online play unless they could control the servers. This is why you have to accept a separate EULA and make a separate account to online with some EA games. I remember games like Burnout 3 and Revenge not working right for a few days after launch because of problems connecting to EA's servers. This is also why old EA games like Timesplitters 3 no longer work on the Xbox while you can still play all(?) of the older games that rely on Microsoft's servers.
        As shown by what they've already done, EA has enough leverage to force Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to allow cross-platform play. I doubt you'd find any resistance from Nintendo, as they lack a truly unified online play system like Microsoft and Sony have.

    • Now there's an oxymoron; XBox and Quality Control. "Multiplayer worked great until it melted through the floor."

    • by Nazlfrag (1035012)

      The existing FFXI MMORPG already works on PS2, PC and 360, so it's definitely possible to do, probably just more effort than it's worth for a non-MMO title.

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

      Network access on the playstation isn't free. It's just a different model. The person providing the content pays for it essentially. So if you download a 'free' wallpaper from the PSN the guy who put it up there pays. If you buy FFVII from the PSN, Square Enix pays. I haven't looked at the PSN contract lately (not being in the PS3 dev business so much anymore), but I think it was a per gig rate too, so if you had something big, and free you could bankrupt yourself if it was sufficiently popular.

      There's

  • Merge Difficulties (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quanticle (843097) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:48AM (#29227083) Homepage

    Even if Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo were to come to an agreement about common online elements tomorrow, it'd still be nontrivial to merge all the player data, handle duplicate usernames, handle comparisons of records between different platforms and the such. Even if we disregard the political aspects, the technical aspects are daunting, and likely to grow even more so as these services continue to grow independently of one another.

  • by JeanBaptiste (537955) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:48AM (#29227085)

    but I do know that the keyboard+mouse guys would _destroy_ the gamepad people in any sort of FPS.

    also emacs is better than vi.

  • Sony's infrastructure is basically open. Yes, it has some commonalities between programs, but in the end it is the game developer that has control of the network for their game. Ms took the opposite route and went with a closed network where they control almost everything. So, unless they make a special deal (ala what's been done with Final Fantasy XI), cross platform isn't allowed. For example, Live has it's own user account with all the capabilities to talk, block, etc with other live users. However,
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RoadDoggFL (876257)
      I agree with this, but didn't notice until now that cross-platform gameplay (PC-to-console) has been done on the 360 with Live (Shadowrun, FFXI) but not with the PS3/PSN. Even the Dreamcast let console players play in games with/against PC players. Just find it odd. As for the initial question, MS has a lot more to lose by letting PS3 players play online with players on the 360. It'd hugely tarnish the perceived value of Live if every game you joined was already full of people playing online for free.
  • by Nyall (646782) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:10AM (#29227197) Homepage

    PS3s are big endian machines.
    Xbox 360s are little endian.

    Q.E.D They can't talk to each other.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      That's not true, actually. Both the Xenon and the PPU are PowerPC derivatives and run big-endian. http://blogs.msdn.com/robunoki/archive/2006/04/05/568737.aspx. [msdn.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by marcansoft (727665)

      Uh, no, otherwise PowerPC Macs wouldn't be able to talk TCP/IP with Intel-based PCs. What you do is define the protocol to use one endian and the platforms that use the opposite just convert incoming data. Usually you'd define the on-wire protocol to use big-endian (also called "network endian" - it's also what TCP/IP uses). The same thing works for file formats, though there a third option that seems to be reasonably popular is to allow for both endiannesses in the format, using a magic word to distinguish

    • by Desler (1608317)

      PS3s are big endian machines. Xbox 360s are little endian. Q.E.D They can't talk to each other.

      Gee, if only someone would discover the mystical secret of translating between big and little endian [devx.com].

    • PS3s are big endian machines.
      Xbox 360s are little endian.

      Q.E.D They can't talk to each other.

      Epic failure to grok network byte order seen on Slashdot. Film at 11.

    • by cskrat (921721)
      Maybe if you were trying to tie them together on the same mainboard. But over TCP/IP not an issue.
    • by Jthon (595383)

      I hope you're joking since the TCP/IP and UDP protocols have the concept of "host order" and network order. All packets should be translated to network order before sending them over the network.

      Plus both systems run PowerPC based chips which run big endian so even if they didn't bother doing the host to network order translation you that won't be the cause of your networking failure.

      • by 49152 (690909)

        This only applies to the protocol part of the packet. The payload part of the packet may contain anything.

        But converting between endian systems is both quick and easy so it is not a real problem. The real reason is that the console vendors put strict rules on how online gaming must be implemented and you do not get your game published without their permission, period.

  • I'll put my 2 cents on the economics of the matter, rather than "vendor lock-in" or whatever. The platform gaming networks provide frameworks for the game developers plus the operational infrastructure (servers, server-side software, bandwidth, ops staff, etc.) and distributes that cost across all of the games on the platform that utilize it. This is likely to be far more economical for the publisher, as compared to coding and testing the client and server side code and paying the capital and upkeep costs

  • The Xbox and Xbox 360 use encryption implemented in the kernel as part of the Xbox Live matchmaking. There are many reasons for this but the main ones are security to help stop people altering the packets and cheating. This encryption is a requirement mandated by Microsoft before a title can be published. The encryption does mean the other consoles cannot decode those packets, unless a lot of effort is spent to reverse engineer the encryption and Xbox Live protocols. I have a feeling that if a publisher/dev

  • A monopoly is one of those things there can really only be one of.

    The fact that MS, Sony and Microsoft are viciously competing for video game market share (see, e.g. the recent price drops) is a sign of a fairly healthy and competitive market.

  • Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sleeponthemic (1253494) on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:30AM (#29227875) Homepage
    because it costs money, money that doesn't translate into sales.

    A lot like linux native support is perceived.
  • Controller Advantage (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Setheck (1317019)
    I'm sure there are some architectural reasons why games don't talk, but just think if TF2 was cross platform online play. How bad would XBOX 360 players do vs people with keyboard and mouse. I think they would be at a HUGE disadvantage because they don't have anywhere close to the same control scheme. This destroys all balance to the game. Granted you can buy an adaptor to use keyboard and mouse on the 360, but i don't think that more than the top 2% of hardcore games go so far as to buy a $100 add on to do
  • The implementation of cross platform wouldn't be out of the realms of possibility.

    However, cross platform integration would definitely be a TRC/TCR/lotcheck breaker. Failing them means no platform holder approval, which means your game isn't coming out until you fix the non-compliance, and your development budget is pissed down the drain if you don't fix it.

    Rare even managed it with a DS 360 implementation for Viva Pinata - however I think despite their 'late in the day' talk, that the real reason is it wa

  • Network code (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I used to work at EA and once had a conversation with a guy who wrote network code for an EA sports title. Basically, instead of proper servers controlling game state and updating clients, everyone sent their controller infomation and each client worked out where everything was independently.

    I said "but since difference processors calculate floating point values differently, you'll never be able to play against different consoles"

    I guess they haven't fixed it yet.... a lot of those titles are rehashed each

  • It's the same reason why Final Fantasy XIV is "exclusive" to PS3 initially, because Sony allow you game alongside players from other platforms, which in this case is the PC version. Microsoft policy is not to allow this, although there have been exceptions like Final Fantasy XI and Shadowrun.

    Besides, do you really want 13 year old Xbox and PS3 owners with headsets in the same game together? It would instantly set a world record for the most times the word "gay" was said in a single minute.

  • "antifeature" (Score:3, Informative)

    by amn108 (1231606) on Friday August 28, 2009 @05:27AM (#29228387)

    It is called anti-features. The "Windows 7 Sins" website mentioned it. I love that term. When it costs more for a vendor to remove a feature they sort of got for free - natural effect of smart design - yet they remove it anyway for political, administrative, and marketing reasons - it is an anti-feature. Manually and permanently reducing amount of concurrent TCP/IP connections available in Windows NT Workstation versus Windows NT Server (which does not cap the limit) despite both versions sharing the same code - antifeature. Limiting amount of applications that can be open simultaneously on one Windows version versus not doing so in another, when both share the same code again - antifeature. Filtering game client list based on platform, despite protocol potentially capable of providing inter-platform gameplay - antifeature. Everything that is destined for the consumer goes through marketing before it leaves the vendor. It is the fear of not making enough money.

  • It can be done and has been done. Final Fantasy XI allows cross-platform play between PS2, Xbox 360 and PC. In fact, it breaks pretty much every supposed rule in the book, by not only allowing cross-platform play, but by 100% requiring console peripherals (hard disks for the PS2 and 360, though the 360 one is almost ubiquitous these days), and virtually requiring the use of a keyboard and mouse (which both . Despite all of this, it was the largest non-Korean MMO around prior to the World of Warcraft launch

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