Dark or Light

Botched Launches

Christopher Coke Posted:
Columns Player Versus Player 0

Welcome back to another edition of Player Versus Player! Each week MMORPG pits two of its writers against each other in a battle to the death – or at least a spirited debate. Final Fantasy XIV relaunched last week and reminded us all of how disastrous the first days and weeks of a new MMO can be. This go-round, our combatants step to their podiums ready to duke it out on a topic you probably have first-hand experience with: MMO launches.

Here are the stances:

Players Deserve Better: Players have dealt with launch problems for too long. We shouldn't accept the status quo. We deserve better.

Welcome to MMOs, This is Launch: Unless you're new, MMO launches have problems. It's time to accept it and move on.

Our goal is to make sure your voice is heard, even if our authors don't agree. Representing the issues we have:

Bill “The Angered” Murphy: Bill is the Managing Editor at MMORPG and has seen his fair share of launch debacles.

Chris “The Realist” Coke: Chris is a columnist, podcast host, and somewhat of a launch aficionado. He's been there, done that, and is still waiting for his Vanguard t-shirt.

Chris: Thanks for letting me start things off, Bill. Let me just say, I understand players being upset with a poor launch. They're no good, especially after you've just spent money on a box and subscription. What really gets me, though, is that everyone acts like they didn't see it coming. It's time to get real folks, MMOs are the hardest games to make and the hardest to launch. Launch issues are the norm. If you rush to buy on day one, then get upset because thousands of other people did the same, I think it's time to look at your expectations.

Bill: The problem I see is that this isn’t new territory anymore.  Just because something is and or has been the case in terms of MMO launches doesn’t mean it always needs to be that way. We’ve seen enough smooth launches (looking at Rift as one of the most recent examples) to know that it can be done if the tech and preparedness is in place.  You buy a game, it “launches”, and then you’re unable to play it? Every developer wants us to treat their product as a service, so we can claim “crappy service” if there’s no access to the product.

Chris: There is no good solution to these problems. Anything we've seen tried still separates players, still keeps them waiting, and still forces them to do things they don't want to do to play. Is it good? Definitely not. But there is a reason we're in this pickle: launch demand is greater than the technology to support it. The reality of today is one of stop-gaps until servers can breathe again.

Bill: The best solution we’ve seen in recent years would have to be Guild Wars 2’s “Overflow Servers”. It’s not ideal, being that it separates you from your server’s players and keeps you out of WvW, but it’s close. Mainly, you can still play the game while you wait for a spot to open up. Going forward, more games need to implement this, because what good is a head start or an early launch if those players who are your more hardcore and ready to play are unable to get in the game?

Chris: But since we've all been through this before, I think we can safely say that it's impossible to make everyone happy. Players hate queues but they hate server locks too. They hate overflow servers but they also hate lag and stuttering. No matter how you cut it, MMO studios are under fire from the minute their game goes live. Players demand the server experience of a game six months out with the activity and excitement of a game at launch. Those expectations (entitlements?) don't match up.

Bill: Why shouldn’t they expect this? Isn’t that what a real beta test is for?  To gauge and prepare for the influx of new players?  Thing is, if you handle the beta poorly, use it solely for marketing, or make it too short and hard to access to accurately collect the data you need... you’re setting yourself up for launch failure.

Chris: I want to look at Final Fantasy XIV. Players have absolutely railed against it because of login problems, server locks, and error codes galore. On the other hand, Square has compensated players with an entire week of game time, essentially nullifying the wallet argument, refunded anyone who asked, and fixed virtually all of the errors. They righted the ship. Yet if you ask players how launch went, they're going to say terribly. I would argue this: our definitions of “launch” are unrealistic and too narrow. Launch is the first two weeks, at least, and definitely the isolated day one attempts.

Bill: I think FFXIV: ARR did right the ship, and relatively quickly. But there’s still no excuse for the poor state of affairs at launch.  They should have made their open beta longer, and put more time between that date and the launch to prepare their data center.  I’d imagine, given the issues we saw in the open beta, that Square Enix would have liked to delay the launch a week or two to set things up... but that’s the problem you run into when you set hard dates without appropriate time in between beta and launch.  They were damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t.

Chris: Here's the thing, Bill. I think we need to content ourselves with queues and instance servers. If we can't do that, the problem isn't with the game-makers, it's with us. I can wish for the smoothness of a six year old game the same way I can wish for a flying car, but neither is going to happen with today's technology. I have been burned as much as anyone, even recently with FFXIV, but instead of grinding my teeth and typing out angry rants, I went and played RIFT. There are too many good games to spend time angry because an MMO launch is an MMO launch. We need to find the fun where it lies.

Bill: But it can happen with a game today. It happened with several game years ago. You said you went and played Rift, and Rift is the game that proved smooth launches are possible in the MMO world. Look, Diablo 3 and FFXIV, and every other game that has hiccoughs can apologize forever, and truthfully nothing is really lost but a few days of leveling time for most gamers.  This isn’t that serious of a problem in the grand scheme of things. But just because getting a launch right is hard, doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and we as gamers should expect better if we want to get better.

That's all from us folks. What do you think, are players being unrealistic or do they deserve better, and what is the better option. Sound off in the comments with your thoughts, and remember, our authors argue your side, even if you're mad as a hatter.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been an MMO player since the days of MUDs. He is expecting his first baby in March. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight.

Bill Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com and RTSGuru.com. He loves his Hyur Lancer, but will not wear a summer festival bikini because he’s got love-handles. You can follow him on Twitter @TheBillMurphy.

Read more Player Versus Player:


Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight