Friday, 11 May 2012

Lightweight models and cost effective scalability


Today we will discuss the pattern “lightweight models and cost effective scalability”. This is the final pattern defined by Tim O'Reilly at a Web 2.0 conference a number of years ago. What this pattern refers to is the ability to scale quickly when required. When we talk about scale, we refer to not just physical hardware, but the business model. The business model needs to be able to handle a rapid increase in customers. The lightweight model part of the pattern refers to being able to get to market faster with a lean business model.

In the Web 1.0 era the preferred method was to invest heavily in infrastructure, employees and generally spend a lot of money following a “bigger is better” approach. After the dot com crash, lessons were learnt. Web 2.0 follows the philosophy that “smaller is better”. Start as lean as you can, outsource your infrastructure and your employees if needed, to allow for scaling up and down as required. This approach reduces the need to invest heavily up front, thus allowing the business to get to market faster.


Minecraft Homepage

To illustrate this pattern, I will discuss Minecraft a popular online game. The game revolves around placing blocks to build anything you want. Its a very simple concept, but has proven very popular. The game was written in about a week, then released for public use still in the alpha phase of development.

So how does a game released after a week of development match this pattern?

Minecraft was released in alpha state, over a year later was moved to beta phase. The Minecraft user base tested the game, and provided feedback for the developer to use to create an even better game. This approach allowed the game to progress in line with user demand. This also guarantees good word of mouth. Users get excited about the game and its improvements and share this with their friends.

Screenshot showing classic version
In January 2011 Minecraft was moved to Amazon Web Services. This move shores up the ability for Minecraft to scale as needed. The company doesn't need to spend more on infrastructure than is actually in use with this approach. It also reduces the need to hire extra employees, as server hardware/software is outsourced. Maintaining server infrastructure can be a very costly exercise.

The creator of Minecraft followed the Web 2.0 standard practice of offering services for free. The classic version is free, but has limitations. This approach allows users to get addicted to the game, and when they want to explore more, they can pay to use the regularly updated paid version. This revenue model has allowed Minecraft to be improved over time as more customers have joined the game. There are rumours that developers will release Minecraft as open source once the money stops coming in. It will be interesting to see what happens, as time goes on.



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12 comments:

  1. Its quite interesting that a project that was probably originally designed as a weekend hobby, has made so much wealth from it..Minecraft is a light program that I can imagine doesn’t require a lot of resources to support the customer base. Do you know approx the amount of users currently using Minecraft? What is the payment for the full version?

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    1. There are over 28 million registered users. For an indie game, that's pretty impressive. It costs about $20 UK. Which is pretty cheap for a popular game.

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  2. Wow, a simple idea for a game has grown into something really big. Do you see the game itself changing much more? Maybe this could be another opportunity for development after the game stops selling and is provided for free? The way the games increasing popularity is dealt with is obviously very important for Minecraft's success. Great post Liz:)

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    1. There is probably room for minor changes to the game. It all depends on what the developers consider the cut off point, before no longer supporting the game, and moving on to other projects. If they do open source the game, there will probably be a million variants made available by fans. Which I think is a good thing.

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  3. Hey Elizabeth, im back to comment on your blog this week :). I always like the way you describe and analyse the topic for the week, very well constructed and delivered. You picked a fine example for this week, minecraft certainly is lightweight, it can be played on laptops, desktops, iPod touches and web browsers. Minecraft has also proven to be cost effective in terms of scalability, they really dont need to do much at all to host their game, simply find a reliable content host and away they go. Good post, you continue to make me posting on blogs every week rather pleasant.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. Always appreciated. I agree Minecraft is a perfect example of lightweight business model.

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  4. i think "minecraft" implement the concept of "Lightweight models and cost effective scalability", even in the game concept. i like "Its a very simple concept, but has proven very popular". i think the simple idea is still a good example for "Lightweight".the simpler idea, more easier to be achieve. in other word, it save money and make the idea fast to the market.the "building" idea is also scalability. "minecraft" will more popular in future.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. As you have explained above minecraft is a lightweight concept game, that's one of the reasons I picked it for this weeks pattern. Minecraft is like lego, a very simple building block, that can be expanded in many creative ways.

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  5. It is the first time I go through. I like it because the blog and posts are created very orderliness. For this topic, I have read another one which is same example but I do not understand very much. I like that you explain the game with a Vedic and using simple language. Especially the final paragraph which is a short summary is very good.

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    1. I am glad my content is easy to read. Thanks for the positive feedback.

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  6. Very cool. I watched the evolutionary video as well and that was pretty funny. I almost clicked register but stopped myself - thanks god for that :) I can see how it could be time consuming.

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