Comments on the assessment of game consoles for BOINC.

The BOINC community tends to be a bit pessimistic about using game consoles for distributed computing. Some of the reasons are given here in an unofficial BOINC FAQ.

Now, I do take on those assessments below, but a random computer fanatic arguing for the use of game consoles does not carry much weight. The only advocates that will be incredibly persuasive to the BOINC developers in convincing them to invest time and effort in utilizing game consoles would be A) game console manufacturers themselves and B) software companies which write very popular games.

If a BOINC client, possibly with a set of projects, were to be bundled either in the base operating system of a game console, or along with a very popular game, that would win 90% of the battle. The other 10% is just getting the console owners to volunteer by turning it on.

So why would a company do such a thing? Two reasons. The first is that they would get underground publicity among the "geek" community, which would help to drive up sales of their product by increasing its chic quotient. The second is that it would be possible for a charitable organization associated with a BOINC project to count the publicity value of this distribution as a contribution that would be applicable to a tax deduction. Advertisement on digital media is a good way to get write-offs, because unlike print media and other forms of contribution, the value of the write-off can exceed the cost of resources used to produce it.

So here is my pitch

If you know someone who works close enough to a new game console project or to a popular software gaming title, please send them here to this page, so they can consider whether to pitch the idea to their management. A vendor-side overture to the BOINC community from a major player would certainly trump the skepticism against utilizing these computing resources for the greater good.

As an aside, the above argument could also be expanded to vendors of PC-based software. If, for example, a major vendor of anti-spyware applications were to bundle BOINC, more people might elect to turn it on.

OK, now my inconseqential opinion

Taking the reasons from the FAQ linked above, one-by-one:

1) They are specialized, purpose built systems.

This is changing. The upcoming consoles are more general purpose devices that are encroaching on the territory held by Home Theater systems, WebTV and even the PC. We saw with the Sony PS2 the game station take on the role of a DVD player and even run Linux, though the latter was a geek-niche market. The rumors surrounding the upcoming Sony PlayStation 3 involve a multi-core chipset that is likely to be incredibly powerful in a manner useful to BOINC projects. The processors used in these systems are no longer the cheap, low-end things that were in older systems, because they have to compete directly with PC-based games.

2) though many are Internet capable, other are not

All the major competitors are recognizing that "the future of gaming is online". The next generation of consoles will all be network capable, and will feature network capable games.

3) the participant base may be even less computer savvy than participants of a typical PC

Choice of sensible defaults and five lines of printed instructions will allow even a luddite to simply "turn BOINC on" from a setup menu.

4) they have to know of BOINC and the science projects

They only need to be told by a friend or peice of publicity that "BOINC is cool and you should turn it on." As long as registration to projects is streamlined, the only reason for them to need to know about individual science projects is if they want to tune their preferences. If they have no preference, they don't need to know. The fact that the BOINC community has inadequately addressed the issues surrounding solicitation of computing resources from the general public is another good reason for the involvement of vendors who make products for general public use, to bring their expertise in the matter to bear on the problem.

5) they have to be willing to install the program on the targeted system.

See above.

Copyright (c) October 2004 Brian S. Julin