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A Successful Pre-Launch?

Elder Scrolls Online Columns - By Ryan Getchell on April 02, 2014

A Successful Pre-Launch?

MMORPG launches in the past have never had a good reputations. Players that are waiting for the servers to go live for the first time are usually met with an array of issues, ranging from not being able to connect to the game, stuck in a queue, or even persistent roll backs. If this is such a common problem among MMOs why hasn’t a developer come up with a solution to fix them?

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In a way, they have, using early access options. The most recent MMO launches such as Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars: The Old Republic, all offered a form of early access, but does that mean their launches were smooth? No, not even close. Final Fantasy XIV had a horrible launch, players unable to login, hitting queues that seemed to be endless.

When speaking of launch disasters, you can’t forget about, Diablo 3’s error 37 issue, SimCity’s week of unable to play. World of Warcraft had such a horrible launch that the issues it experienced continued for nearly an entire month, Blizzard even provided players 30 days of free game time.

So, when a game is released and launches without many issues I take notice. The Elder Scrolls Online, even though it is still in Early Access, and not officially launched, has been one of the smoothest MMORPG launches I’ve had the pleasure of being part of. I have to admit though, I was worried for a bit.

For almost a year now, I’ve had the unbelievable privilege of playing ESO on the Private Test Server. During this time, I reported many bugs, glitches, and exploits most of which have been fixed. However, during the last beta test, there were hundreds of bugged quests that made the game feel completely broken.

This wasn’t something that was happening on the PTS, it was a direct result of the mass amount of people playing and doing those quests at the same time. Something we can expect to happen at launch, so of course, this put a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. People began to say (again), that ESO will fail, it’s the next SWTOR.

On Sunday March 30th, I was sitting at my computer at 4:45am, preparing to do our ESO Pre-Launch Party, and I was thinking, what happens if no one can log in. ESO has been hyped for the last year, as one of the biggest MMOs to hit the market, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall. However, that didn’t seem to be the case.

At 6:00am EST Zenimax flipped the switch and allowed users to log in, one hour before the scheduled time. Now, some people were a bit heated at this, claiming that it gave people who spammed the login button an advantage, but honestly, does it really matter?

From 6:00am Sunday morning, until Tuesday at 11:45am, the servers were live, never crashed, and more importantly everyone was able to login without issues caused directly by Zenimax.

I was able to go from level 1 to 18 without a single bugged quest, or encounter. I did get some graphical glitches that prevented me from handing in a quest but a simple logout / login corrected those.

So, did ESO have a successful launch? Yes, yes it did.

Some of you might be asking, how exactly can I say ESO had a successful launch, days before the official launch happens?

If you look at how Zenimax proceeded with their pre-order process, April 4th, will not be the busiest day for the servers. March 30th and April 1st will be. Zenimax offered 5-day early access to the game to anyone who purchased the Imperial or Standard edition directly from the Zenimax Store. If you purchased the Imperial Edition, either physical or digital from a third party retailer you were still granted the 5-day early access. If you purchased the standard edition from a third party, physical or digital, you were granted 3-day early access.

Anyone who has been following the game, will have pre-ordered it for the early access, since even purchasing the physical copies still allowed you to play the game early. Because of this, players will not be forced to stand in line on April 4th waiting for stores to open at midnight to buy their copies. April 4th will see an increase in population for sure, but it will not be anything that could potentially cause the servers to crash.

According to Dealzon, the Imperial Edition of ESO was selling 5x better than that of the standard edition. This, with Zenimax allowing everyone the access to downloading the game, even if they ordered the physical copies just shows that gamers will no longer have to wait in those freezing cold, midnight release lines again. 

Bill Murphy's Take

I'm adding onto Ryan's article just a couple hours before it goes live, because Ryan wrote this yesterday afternoon, before the ongoing maintenance that began at 1am ET on Wednesday. Also being his editor, I get to do things like that. I'm glad that ZOS picked a very early morning time (though it was in prime time I suppose for the Pacific coast folks) to bring down the servers.  They've also been updating the service page and the forums quite often to communicate progress.  I'm writing this bit at just before 1230pm ET, and there's finally an ETA of 1-2 hours for the finish of maintenance, as well as bug fixes incoming for the quests and bits that are the most broken.

It was really nice to see the update on what they're working on and what they're aiming to fix this morning via the official forums, as it shows that they're dedicated to putting out notices when things go "boom".  See Jess Folsom's notice over on their boards.  

Elder Scrolls Online's biggest problems so far has been its numerous bugged quests, banks getting wiped, and mail being broken... I wouldn't exactly call that a silky smooth launch just yet. What there's no mention of in the patch notes, and what I suspect is the major reason for taking so long is that people were logging into other folks' accounts, on accident.  Somehow, somewhere, the account server would take someone and when they logged in, it would put them in someone else's account. No hacking, just a big bad terrible bug.  And it's one I hope they've fixed, even if they don't mention it.

Now, I get Ryan's logic that the pre-order access is very much a launch for a game like ESO, but what needs to happen now is for ZOS to make sure everything is running and quests and bugs that were fixed on the PTS prior to launch stay fixed on the live servers.  If they can use this maintenance window to course correct the bank, mail, and quest issues they're having, then Friday's official launch day could be tagged as a "success". For now though, I'd call ESO's launch a bit rocky all things considered.  

Ryan Getchell / Ryan is our resident Elder Scrolls nerd, and columnist for Zenimax's MMO. When he's not out killing things in Tamriel, he's working in IT professionally.