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How does online gaming work?

Say for instance I'm playing GTA4 through the PS network I'll find myself playing alongside people from all corners of the US, Mexico, UK, Japan and occasionally Germany and the middle east. It never seems to be a mix of these all together but one day it seems just Americans are on, another day it seems like just Germans.
Do you randomly join a server which determins which area of the planet is best for you at the time or is it the luck of the draw?
Time can make a difference. Evenings here you'd expect more people to be online playing. So middle of the night over there you'll see more American players.
The Awesome One
Im usually on here for a bit then on Live at 9pm. I notice a lot of americans on at the time.
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