Switchboard from Microsoft Research: Multiplayer Gaming for Smartphones
By on July 4th, 2011

Although casual gaming on smartphones is very popular, most smartphone-based games are single-player games or turn-based, in which two or more players queue up on a single phone to play games. Switchboard is a cloud service that enables smartphones to link to each other for multiplayer gaming.

Multiplayer Gaming for Smartphones

Microsoft Research presented a paper – Switchboard: A Matchmaking System for Multiplayer Mobile Games – during MobiSys 2011, the ninth international conference on mobile systems, applications, and services last week. Microsoft Research and the National Science Foundation are supporters of the conference, which is aimed at researchers and academics interested in topics such as security, location management, application support, mobile architectures, sensor networks, energy management, and ways to solve mobility problems.

Switchboard is a brainchild of Victor Bahl and a team of scientists and interns from Microsoft Research and Duke University headed by Sharad Agarwal from Microsoft Research Redmond. Bahl has been working on ideas to provide smartphone users the ability to engage in live gaming since 2009. He was fascinated with the technical challenges around it – hostile wireless channel, bandwidth, disconnections due to cellular handoffs, and energy constraints.

Switchboard finds suitable game candidates by “pinging” their phones to estimate latency: the time needed to move a packet of data. By collecting extensive data and studying wireless tendencies, the team was able to develop tools that could ping phones and reliably predict which potential game players could participate. Switchboard achieves the matchmaking by looking at the latency requirements of a game—a fast-paced shooting game might require much lower latency than another game—and then finding potential players whose phones can handle those requirements.

Switchboard is a proof-of-concept demonstrating that a phone-to-phone service with strict latency requirements can be built. One hurdle, however, is that a smartphone needs a public IP address to connect it to other phones. Although, Switchboard was developed using 3G wireless networks, it will work perfectly well with high-speed 4G networks being implemented.

Switchboard: A Matchmaking System for Multiplayer Mobile Games
Justin Manweiler, Duke University; Sharad Agarwal. Microsoft Research Redmond; Ming Zhang, Microsoft Research Redmond; Romit Roy Choudhury, Duke University; and Paramvir Bahl, Microsoft Research Redmond.

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Author: Abhishek Baxi
Abhishek Baxi is an independent technology columnist for several international publications and a digital consultant. He speaks incessantly on Twitter (@baxiabhishek) and dons the role of Editor-in-Chief here at Techie Buzz.

Abhishek Baxi has written and can be contacted at abhishek@techie-buzz.com.

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