The Early Access program for Age of Conan launched this weekend. So, how'd Funcom do here?
The Saturday launch was kicked off 3-4 hours after it's scheduled time. Servers came up between 8-9PM GMT, which gave us EU players only a few precious hours to dive in before keyboard facing on a load screen in the early hours of the morning.
Funcom kept the users somewhat updated - the official forums were not operational, but they at least updated the patch message to tell people what was going on. They gave us the following "Welcome to Hyboria" message:
By Crom! By Mitra! By Set! They day is here! I bid you Welcome to Hyboria!
For 5 years, we, the galley slaves of Funcom, have toiled on the oar for your future pleasure. For 5 years we have felt the merry whip inscribe the letters “Conan” on our backs, mixing sweat with blood, reminding us to pull harder. Now we have at last reached the shore. The barge now transformed into a luxury ship and we bid you welcome on board. Not as slaves, naturally, but as captains, esteemed passengers or pilots.
The point is - from now on, Hyboria is yours as much as ours. We will build this world with you. We hope you will fall as much in love with it, as we have. Know though, that we might experience a bit of rough sea the first days. This is the nature launches… Let me take this moment to apologize for any bumpiness. Smoother waters are sighted ahead!
Welcome to Hyboria, welcome home!
Game Director, Age of Conan
I don't really get the whole "luxury ship" analogy. So, we're pilots and captains and passengers? How many people can steer a ship? I envision some sort of sausage-fest party near the ship's steering wheel as 50,000 geeks battle to be pilot/captain of said ship. The whole "slave whipping" thing is a bit odd to. Anyway, this is probably one of the weirdest welcome or official messages I've seen for any game. Anyway, moving on.
Shortly after server launch, Funcom updated the patch message to tell us:
Due to the incredibly high demand, we will be launching two more PVP servers in the North America and English-EU regions.
Cool beans. At least they had a couple spare servers lying around to use for this. Weird thing was - this was predicted, especially by forums users, a few days before the launch. I guess Funcom didn't believe us. What is a bit amusing (or sad) is that they seemed to not care about the RP-PVP server in North America being horrifically overloaded. Cimmeria, the only NA RP-PVP server, was so crowded that people are even still experiencing bad lag problems and overcrowding issues. I know there is supposed to be more servers at launch, but that won't solve any problems as almost everyone playing AoC has friends they are going to join on one of the Early Access servers.
Server stability at launch was pretty good. Once the servers were up, there were very little latency problems that I saw. Also, the release client is about a million times more stable than the Open/Closed Beta client. It's not perfect, by any means, and there are still quite a few bugs (some game breaking) that you can experience early in the game. If you're lucky, like me, you'll dodge these bullets and be able to glide through and get the hell out of Tortage, which should be any sane person's goal.
Back to the launch: One thing to note about this "3-4 hour delay" is Funcom's patch server welcome message. After explaining that they are ironing out the servers, and there will be a 3 hour delay, they nicely told us to go "sharpen our weapons" one more time before we plunge into the world of Hyboria. At first, I didn't think much of this. It's cute that the Funcom Community guys (or whoever writes these messages) come up with witty little antidotes like this.
However, the next day (Sunday), during server maintenance, we had the following message (in regards to a bit more downtime for maintenance):
... and just when you thought. There is one more little tweak that needs a tad bit more testing. But Hyboria will open the gates in just a few more minutes. The servers will come up in about 30 minutes from now. Just enough time to sharpen your weapon of choice.
Ok, this is just weird. Does Tarib and the other Funcom guys picture gamers sitting near their desk, waiting for the servers to come back up, with some sort of medieval weapon-of-choice in our hands, grinding away on a sharpening stone? It was cute the first time, but if this is an ongoing theme, I think the CM's might need to have a bit of an in-house psych check or something.
So, Funcom, keep this in mind: Sharpening our weapons in a gaming sense really means practicing the actual game. We need the servers up to do that. I don't think you want to encourage MMO geeks to have sharp object lying around near their gaming PC and to be sharpening it constantly. Hey, I'm just trying to save you a lawsuit here, you know?
Anyway, Early Access launch went pretty smooth overall. The game, in it's current status, looks quite playable. A few bugs need to be ironed out and the server crowding issue needs to be solved (allowing free character transfers might do it). Other than that, a pretty smooth launch from Funcom.