This survey was based on a sample of 60 respondents to a questionnaire posted to rec.games.backgammon in July 1996. All respondents were self-selecting. The major characteristics of respondents were that they play backgammon on the Internet and they read the rec.games.backgammon newsgroup
Four respondents had a special interest in one or other of the servers; two of them (by my understanding) had a vested financial interest.
This survey was conducted and authored by Marina Smith (email@example.com) with assistance from me (mail form). Background section and HTML markup by me.
The survey is also available by email from firstname.lastname@example.org. (State whether you require a Microsoft Word 2.0 or an ASCII text file).
22nd July 1996
A central issue of the debate surrounding the new backgammon
servers is openness of architecture. The terms 'openness'
and 'architecture' may mean little, or seem of little
importance to those outside the computer industry, but they
are fundamental concepts that affect one's ability to use
any Internet resource. Anyone expecting to use Internet
resources in the future may benefit, therefore, from an
understanding of these concepts.
There are three simple measures of 'openness' of any Internet server, including backgammon servers.
|Description||Protocol type used||Availability of protocol spec.|
|Open||Existing Internet protocol||Public domain|
Internet backgammon servers currently fall into two categories: open and closed (there are currently no semi-open backgammon servers to my knowledge.) Note that I am talking about transport protocols, not data formats.
In the case of open backgammon servers, the protocol is telnet. As telnet is a simple, character-based interface that requires negligible local processing resources, telnet clients are available for most if not all Internet access devices. Therefore, most if not all Internet access devices can be used to connect to open backgammon servers.
The convenience of being able to pick up any Internet device and connect to any open server is countered by the unsophisticated nature of a generic interface and the requirement, often seen these days as regressive, to use a command line interface (these apply to telnet). Neither restricts one's play or withholds functionality. However, as the protocol is in the public domain, any interested developer is able to write a specialised client for any platform, either in response to requests or for other reasons, for a prettier interface at the expense of portability.
As the protocol is standard and public domain, other servers can use the same protocol. This means the same clients (either generic [telnet] or platform-specific [graphical backgammon interface]) can be used on different servers. For example, NOBS (New Other Backgammon Server) was written by someone unconnected to FIBS to mimic FIBS, for the times when FIBS is unavailable, and can be used with any FIBS client.
As a sidenote, JavaGammon, a backgammon server that uses the Web's http protocol and supplies its own client as a Java applet is currently under development. This satisfies the principle requirements of openness, but currently cannot be said to be open to all, for the simple reason that Java itself is an immature technology that requires a relatively high minimum level of local processing resources. In time, Java is expected by many to become the default method of deploying and executing applications, and it will be supported by all types of client.
An example of an open server is FIBS. It runs over a plain telnet session, and several third-party developers have written platform-specific graphical clients.
The number of client platforms, as we currently understand the term, is considerable, comprising, among others, desktop computers, portables, home computers, and dumb terminals. However, when we define the term 'client platform' to mean any device which can be used as a client to an Internet server or application, the number increases many times. Such devices as game consoles, set-top boxes, Network Computers, and personal organisers are included in this definition and, for the purposes of accessing Internet resources, are of equal status as traditional computer systems. Some believe that such devices will open Internet access to 'the masses' and will outnumber traditional platforms for Internet access within five years.
To write, test and support a backgammon server's client interface for all of these platforms is beyond any single developer or organisation. (Don't forget that within all the above categories will be many different products based on different architectures, each of which needs special attention and support.) Therefore, one of two scenarios will emerge:
A closed server's protocol, however, is unpublished. Clients for different platforms can be developed only by the owner of the server or by a licensee of the protocol. If the protocol is not licensed, it is inevitable that most types of platform will not be supported by a client - the server's owner cannot possibly write clients for all platforms. If the protocol is licensed, then potentially more types of platform will be targeted by client developers, but licensees will restrict themselves to high-volume platforms in order to recoup their licensing fees, which we must assume would exist in the case of a closed server. (If no license fee is charged, one could question why the protocol specification is not in the public domain.)
Closed servers tend to feature a strong level of integration between client and server. Functionality provided by the server typically has to be catered for by a mirrored 'function request' feature in the client. Therefore, as the server increases in functionality, so the client has to be updated to be able to access that functionality. Some new server functions can potentially be accessed by generic elements of the client interface (for example, simple context-sensitive 'yes' and 'no' buttons), but many can not. For this reason, users will be required to upgrade their client to take advantage of new features. This incurs either a complete download and reinstallation of the client, or a download and application of a software patch. With current graphical operating systems, the size of file to be downloaded can be considerable.
Examples of closed servers include NetGammon, Games Grid and Outland. Each uses a proprietary and as yet unpublished protocol and requires a client to be installed. Each is currently restricted to either a single client platform or a very small set of platforms.
Thirteen people connect to the Internet using two different platforms, which accounts for this sample being larger than the overall survey sample of 60. Similar differences in sample size occur throughout the rest of the survey.
The percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding. This effect occurs elsewhere in the survey.
It should be noted that a leased line is one that keeps a permanent connection open whether there is traffic or not. An ISDN line is dropped when not in use in most countries. In the U.S.A. this is not necessarily the case - since local calls are often free of charge or there is a small charge for the initial connection only, it is more convenient and/or more economical to stay connected, in which case an ISDN line acts like a leased line. Also in the U.S.A., some so-called ISDN lines are actually 'switched 56' lines running at 56K bps; I have not differentiated here as it makes little difference for Internet access. I have also not made any differentiation between 64K bps access and higher speeds (some people have much higher speeds - up to 1.544M bps) since figures are often unknown with leased lines and because for games-playing purposes, 64K bps is enough to counter any access lag, most lag occurring at intermediate bottlenecks in the Internet. In fact, 1,200 baud, the lowest speed found in this survey, proves just about adequate for playing backgammon.
|Both home and work/university||48|
I found that, given this caveat, only 21% of people who play from home pay their telco for online time and only 23% of people who play from home pay their ISP for online time. At least 61% of people who play from home pay neither their telco nor their ISP, i.e. their online time is unmetered.
It should be noted that residents of many U.S. states enjoy unmetered local calls. While some are charged instead by their ISP for online time, it is clear that many are not. These figures may come as a surprise to some outside the U.S.A. As most of the survey respondents were from the U.S.A. (although I cannot quantify the amount, due to the non-geographical nature of many domain names), I would expect these figures to change in the future as the U.S.A. accounts for a decreasing proportion of the worldwide Internet population.
|Server||Clients Supported||Protocol *||Payment|
|FIBS||Any client||Open||None **|
|NetGammon||PC, Windows 3.1 upwards||Closed||Expected|
|Games Grid||PC, Windows 3.11 upwards||Closed||Expected|
All but two respondents currently play backgammon interactively on one or other (often more than one) of the servers. Two do not have access at present. One person plays by email, but also plays on a server.
NOBS was not given as a preferred server, as it is used primarily as a backup server for when FIBS is unavailable. While NOBS is very similar to FIBS in functionality, it is not always accessible, and is not intended to compete with FIBS.
Respondents were asked the reasons for their server preferences. Only FIBS users supplied enough comments to measure meaningfully. Games Grid users supplied 11 comments which, although not defensible statistically, also appear below to give a rough idea of their preferences.
|Unawareness of other servers||8|
|Ease of connection||2|
|Ease of connection||9|
All the current servers except FIBS and NOBS require proprietary GUIs (graphical user interfaces) to be installed on the client platform. A quarter of current Internet backgammon players are therefore unable to play on other servers using their current client software.
|Willingness to Pay||Percentage|
|Willingness to Pay||Percentage|
|Willingness to Pay||Percentage|
It may be surprising that unmetered Internet users (those who pay neither telco nor ISP for online time) are actually less willing to pay to play on a backgammon server than are metered Internet users. Perhaps this might be explained by the possibility that a number of people who access the Internet for free do so only because it is free. This body of people may be less likely to pay to access a backgammon server than those who currently pay for Internet access. Perhaps, realistically, it might also be explained by the small sample sizes involved.
|Willingness to Pay||FIBS||Games Grid|
As only one person gave NetGammon as preferred server, NetGammon was excluded from this table. It is highly questionable, too, whether the six people who gave Games Grid as their preferred server make up a statistically valid sample. Their responses are given here not as a statistical comparison with those of FIBS users, but as an indication of their apparent willingness to pay to play.
|Continued availability of free server(s)||42|
|Goes against Internet culture/philosophy||21|
|Concerns about stability and availability||13|
|Would rather pay for real-life backgammon||8|
|Don't play enough to warrant a fee||4|
|Too much trouble||4|
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