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Setting the record straight: Massively's interview with Pando Networks


In a recent installment of The Daily Grind, we mentioned the use of third party downloaders for MMOs, asking your opinions on the topic. The general consensus seemed to be an overall negative opinion of these clients, including a (sometimes quite strong) dislike for Pando Media Booster -- a piece of software that's mostly known in MMO circles from games like Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online.

After the post ran, Pando Networks contacted Massively hoping to clear up some of the questions and concerns surrounding the Pando Media Booster. We called up CEO Robert Levitan, who was eager to set the record straight with much to say about the technological features -- both real and misunderstood -- about his company's product.

Follow along after the jump for the complete interview.

Massively: Let's start from the beginning. What does Pando Media Booster actually do and why do companies go to you for your services?

Robert Levitan: So, Pando Media Booster accelerates the download speed of game clients and, just as Blizzard with World of Warcraft has used P2P -- just like a lot of people have used torrents to download game clients -- lots of companies have experimented with peer-delivery of their game clients. We have developed a P2P platform that accelerates the download of games and does it in such a way that gives the end-user and publisher control, and it is a much better user-experience than having to install a different torrent for each game and having multiple torrent clients on your computer.

So that's why companies come to us because we help them accelerate the delivery speed, increase their completion rates and provide them with data regarding how many people successfully finish the download. The reason they like our system versus others is that we give the end-user and publisher a lot of controls so they can regulate the experience.

"Pando Media Booster can be disabled, uninstalled and regulated... If I heard that it can't be disabled, I'd be pissed off too."

How does the tech actually work? What technology is behind it? Is it pure P2P?

Well, it combines both peer delivery with HTTP delivery. So the client, the Pando Media Booster engine, can speak to other client nodes and can also speak to HTTP servers. What it does is that it allows the publisher to set a delivery speed and then the client will look to what Content Delivery Network (CDN) servers are available -- what peers are available -- in order to meet that delivery speed. The client is also complete, it's not bundled. There was a reference in the Daily Grind piece that it's bundled; it's not bundled at all. It's a separate client; it can be uninstalled by any end-user easily from the control panel and it can be regulated in terms of how much bandwidth an end-user contributes. So you can choose to regulate how much bandwidth you contribute or you can decide, as an end-user, to download a game and then uninstall Pando completely.

It has no effect on playing the game. In fact, it's not required to play a game. One of the claims is that some games don't function well without it, but actually it has nothing to do with the playing of the game.

OK, but your software has a pretty bad reputation amongst some gamers for running in the background and stealing bandwidth even when not downloading a game. For example, one commenter on Massively wrote, "I refuse to install, and thus play, Lord of the Rings Online because it uses that Pando crap." And another commenter said, "in the cases like Pando, they are distasteful enough to discourage me from even trying an MMO." Why do you think people have that view of Pando Media Booster?

I think if you read the Daily Grind and read the author's summary, I would react badly to that as well. Her summary, before the comments, is: "am I alone in loathing MMO patchers that are really torrents I can't disable?" Well, no! We all hate torrents that can't be disabled! Pando Media Booster can be disabled, uninstalled and regulated. So, I have no idea. If I heard that it can't be disabled, I'd be pissed off too. Then she goes on to say, "launchers that lump the entirety of a company's games together, and third-party [downloaders] that won't go away." Well, yeah, I'd be pissed about third-party downloaders that won't go away, absolutely! It would piss me off. But again, it's not true.

What does "won't go away" mean? Does that mean that you can't uninstall it? Of course you can uninstall it. So I think that the facts are that there are some downloaders out there that you can't uninstall and you can't regulate -- Pando Media Booster is not one of them. And if you were a sophisticated gamer, and you have Pando Media Booster, you can get rid of it if you don't like it. You don't have to have it.

"As we have gotten more popular with game companies, it's our job to listen and be as responsive as possible. So we take it very seriously."

If companies each had their own torrent files, which is the things you see in the post: "why don't they just do a torrent file and say 'hey, if you want this you can use this, or you can uninstall it'?", well, the answer is, you know, that is what exists with Pando. But if every company had their own torrent file and you, on your computer, had 10 or 20 different torrents, different clients, for different games, that's worse than having one instance of Pando Media Booster that 1) you can uninstall if you don't want but 2) that can be used for multiple games. So instead of having multiple clients in your system, you only have one. But even if you don't want it, you can uninstall it. So it's actually, we believe, better for gamers than every game having their own peer delivery engine.

Why do you think you ended up with this reputation in the first place?

Well, I think we've reached a point where there are almost 75 million people who have installed Pando Media Booster on their machines. At that point, there will be some people who do not know that they can uninstall it. There will be some people who believe what's written in the Daily Grind, believing incorrectly that you can't uninstall it, that you can't modulate it, that it's bundled (which it is not). So I think that maybe we've reached that point. But listen, as we have gotten more popular with game companies, it's our job to listen and be as responsive as possible. So we take it very seriously. We don't like it when things are written about us which are false, but we do learn from them. We understand that there are real issues that people are concerned about and we share the same concerns. We try to make the software as friendly as possible, as polite as possible, to both publishers and gamers.

So what changes have you done to the Media Booster over time due to feedback from users?

Specifically, we've made it much more polite. We've made it so it dials back or shuts off if there's gameplay. That's a specific change that was made based on feedback. Number two, we gave our publishers control over turning it off, so when they publish a game they can set rules around when to turn off Pando Media Booster. And number three, always there, right from the start, we allow people to uninstall or modulate the bandwidth they contribute. That was right from the beginning. We thought that was sufficient, to give end-users the ability to easily uninstall, the ability to easily modulate their contribution to the peer cloud. We thought that was a basic that had to be there from the beginning and we thought that was good at the time. Based on feedback, we then added the dialing back if there's gameplay or shutting off. And then, also added more publisher control.

We're open to suggestions, but I do believe that we built in a lot of the controls that people want. In addition, there were comments that we saw in regards to the Joystiq piece about having disclaimers. We do have our publishers have a disclaimer -- we do suggest that and most of them have it -- it's just a question of how prominent, but we have made efforts to make the disclaimers even more prominent. Disclaimers that say, "hey, you're going to use Pando Media Booster to download this game, you control it, do you agree to that?" and be more upfront about that. We've taken measures on politeness, we've taken measures on user controls, publisher controls, we've taken measures on legal notices. We've tried to be very reactive, because we take this seriously too.

So how do you plan to go forward? What can you as a company do more to remedy your tainted reputation?

"When someone writes a post that says you can't uninstall and it won't go away and it's bundled with a game, these are things that are simply not true and they are very upsetting for us to read."

Well, you know, again, when you say "our reputation", we have 75 million people who have used Pando Media Booster to download a game in the last three years. There are some people within that group who have some concerns about things that we have addressed, and will continue to address, but these are things that need to be reported factually -- especially in places like Joystiq.

When someone writes a post that says you can't uninstall and it won't go away and it's bundled with a game, these are things that are simply not true and they are very upsetting for us to read. If I were a gamer, I would be very upset to read that too. But we're going to continue to make it as polite as it can be. We're going to continue to find more and more ways to give users control, to give publishers control, and to be more and more transparent about the whole process. These are things that we've been doing and will continue to do.

Then we need to help educate people that they are in control. I mean, right here [in the Daily Grind] people are pissed that you can't uninstall it. Well, they are pissed at something that's not true! I mean, what would you do about that, you know? If a columnist writes that you can't uninstall it, man, I'd be up in arms! Of course I'd be pissed. And we have not seen that factually, we have not seen facts -- especially with our latest versions -- that we affect gameplay at all, but I think there's a perception.

We have to deal with reality and we have to deal with perception. On the reality front, I think we have been very proactive in making Pando Media Booster as publisher-, user- and bandwidth-polite and friendly as possible. On perception, we need to be proactive in reaching out to people, like Massively, to make sure there isn't misinformation out there. Other than that, I am open to any and all suggestions. I am happy to listen and engage. But we believe -- we really believe -- that Pando Media Booster helps deliver the games faster, gives end-users control and that it is better than every game publisher having a different peer delivery engine and having multiple engines on your computer. That's going to be worse. We really believe we provide value.

Thanks for your time, Robert!

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