Updated: Jul 8
As most LittleBigPlanet fans have seen by now, the LittleBigPlanet servers went up on March 31st temporarily. The HTTP side of the server, the part that handles published levels, was slow during this time, but peer to peer multiplayer connections worked mostly fine. After the 31st, the servers went down again and haven't been up since. Why are the LittleBigPlanet servers still down?
On April 2nd, the branded @LittleBigPlanet Twitter account tweeted this status update:
The update comes after a deadline that they had defined: the end of March. This was never a guarantee, but it was a date that many had been hoping would be the return of the LittleBigPlanet servers.
To make matters worse, on April 17th players began to notice that PlayStation Vita's servers were experiencing unusual intermittence. MysteriousCube, owner of popular LittleBigPlanet modding and archival Discord server Dreamiverse, reported that "The LittleBigPlanet Vita server is reportedly getting ddosed," citing that the server was "going on and off abnormally." Although no formal evidence exists that the LBP Vita outage was due to an attack, the irregularity of the server's uptime is certainly not normal, suggesting that the outage was unintentional.
Why Did the Servers Go Up on March 31st?
First, let's talk about why the servers went up briefly in the first place. In short, we don't really know. All we can do is speculate. One of the best theories we've heard so far is that the brief uptime was a 'stress test' of the server.
What is a stress test and why does the server need it? Video game servers need to allocate a certain amount of bandwidth in order to support a large quantity of users. If too many users try to connect at once and there isn't enough bandwidth, it's possible that the server won't be able to support them all and it might slow down the experience for everyone. This is technically what happens during a DDoS attack, but in this case it's unintentional.
It's possible that they underestimated the amount of bandwidth that they would need to turn the servers back on. The #SaveLBP movement on Twitter has driven many players back to the game that weren't playing before which may have raised the demand. Therefore, they had to shut the servers down in order to allocate more bandwidth and resources. Again, this is an unconfirmed hypothesis.
Why Is It Taking So Long to Restore the Servers?
Again, we don't know for sure. There are tons of possibilities and all we can really do is speculate. We do have some reasonable speculation to consider that can give us a better idea of the task that the LittleBigPlanet team faces.
LittleBigPlanet Uses Amazon Web Services
When I previously talked to Shanzenos about the LittleBigPlanet servers, he informed me that they use Amazon Web Services. It's possible that since the servers are managed by a third party, they are at the whim of Amazon's network engineers.
Depending on how Amazon handles its servers and how much free will they give to their customers in terms of server maintenance, it's entirely possible that the process depends on Amazon's cooperation. Over two million companies utilize Amazon Web Services, so performing maintenance may require the LittleBigPlanet team to wait in line until technicians are available to assist.
Ensuring Server Security
Although we still do not know the official cause of the server outages, the most widely accepted hypothesis is a denial-of-service attack. How can the LittleBigPlanet team stop DoS and DDoS attacks from happening?
As Shanzenos pointed out to us, a leaked HMAC key is allegedly the vulnerability that was exploited to disrupt the LittleBigPlanet servers. To prevent the problem from happening again, the LBP team would simply need to change this key. However, since the servers are taking so long to restore, there must be something else going on.
To protect against denial-of-service attacks, the LittleBigPlanet team needs a few security upgrades. It would be ideal if the LittleBigPlanet servers were distributed in multiple locations to make it more difficult to disrupt the entire network. Modern hardware can better support firewalls and security software that can help mitigate attacks. More bandwidth can help handle attempts to overload the network. Finally, outsourcing connections to third party services can allow for 'scrubbing' of malicious traffic, eliminating the connections before they can affect the larger network.
These kinds of upgrades require a lot of time, resources, and funding to maintain. It's possible that the process of acquiring these resources and putting stronger infrastructure into place is taking some time, or the team is forced to do their best with what they already have due to limitations.
Fixing Script Manipulation
Prior to the servers shutting down in March, many players in the community had become aware of script manipulation and abuse in the game. For example, according to BlazingVictini, a player named TechnicalSock created a script that would force users who played one of several 'Sonic Skit House' levels to add a list of players to their hearted list. Scoreboard manipulation has also been noted, among other examples.
It's possible that the LittleBigPlanet team is attempting to fix these issues before bringing the servers online. Players noticed on March 31st when the servers briefly came online that the developers had supposedly restored a backup from February 18th. It's possible that this was an attempt to eliminate some of the abusive scripts in the community without having to comb through published levels by hand.
Cumulative Level Size
In 2009, LittleBigPlanet reached over one million published levels. Level sizes can vary, but let's assume that each level is 2 MB in size. That means that the server has to support at least two million MB or data, or 2,000 GB.
I don't know for sure how many published levels there are now, but if LittleBigPlanet was able to reach one million levels in one year, I can only imagine how many levels there must be published now. Let's assume there are 10 million levels published. That means there's at least 20 million MB of data on the server, or 20,000 GB. That's a lot of data!
When dealing with this much storage space, it can be challenging and time consuming to manage and load. Server backups may take a long time to process for engineers, making this a painstaking process.
When Will The Servers Come Back?
Unfortunately, this is yet again unknown. However, we know that they haven't given up:
It is in Sumo Digital and Sony XDEV's best interest to restore the servers as soon as possible to maintain customer loyalty. Sackboy: A Big Adventure and the #SaveLBP movement have both proven that an audience and market exists for LittleBigPlanet over all these years. To burn the bridge now would be a poor decision for Sumo Digital, as they have positioned themselves well to continue the franchise with another title.
The best thing that we can do is keep being supportive of the team and express our passion for the game. Don't let the server outage stop you from enjoying the game! At the same time, don't take out your frustrations on the LBP team. They are doing everything that they can for us.
What About LBP Reconnected?
LBP Reconnected is supposed to be a celebration of the LBP servers coming back online. We would like to extend the opportunity to participate in the event. When the servers return, we will choose an appropriate deadline which will be around two weeks after.
In the meantime, we would love to share the work that you have done so far on social media. Although the servers may be down, your passion for this great game is not. Thank you to all who have signed up so far!