Time to Slow It Down, ZeniMax
Timing is everything. The last time in this space, I wrote about The Elder Scrolls Online rebounding from mistakes and negative first impressions moving forward. Since that was published, a major error happened with the latest round of patching, causing discrepancies between what was supposed to be included and what actually made it to the live server, as well as additional bugs, and, for a time, major login errors. As of this writing, the fixes haven’t yet been completely implemented. Though the overall response hasn’t changed my opinion, ZeniMax having to put out fires of its own causing does take a toll.
To understand the situation, patch 1.5.3 was sent out early late in the weekend before it was actually done. An earlier version was put up on the server, affecting mostly EU players. This version lacked some of the features promised in the update, but also led to compatibility issues that were locking players out temporarily. The mismatch led to many players being unable to access the game at all when booting up the launcher. Some tried to uninstall and reinstall, some only to find their downloads stalling and timing out. Others tried patching with older versions of the files obtained from other players. ZeniMax, to its credit, did respond to the situation, but a broken patch is a broken patch. It was also a weekend, so the response may not have been what it could (some might say should) have been.
On Monday, there was an attempt at applying patch 1.5.3 to the servers, but for some reason, it was only “partially applied”.
“We are investigating an issue that prevented several of the fixes and improvements intended to be in the deployment of today’s v1.5.3 incremental patch to make it onto the North American megaserver.”
Some of the scheduled changes wound up not going live as promised, and players didn’t know about that for a while between announcements. While it’s not clear how many this affects, but those who decided to run the new Undaunted pledges were not receiving the right amount of reputation. The amounts assigned were lower and those who did the pledges won’t be seeing any adjustment in experience or reputation to make up for it. That’s fairly standard, if unfortunate, as assigning retroactive experience is tricky and only a portion of players were affected. Several major portions of update 4, including access to Upper Craglorn, were blocked until a hotfix.
As it stands, the patch implementation isn’t yet complete, and attempts will be made to put in all the promised changes of 1.5.3 (which isn’t even a major update) with the week’s regularly scheduled maintenance on Thursday. Until at least then, certain things like the Undaunted pledges and certain crafting writs will be working incorrectly.
Ultimately, it’s probably a good thing that this break happened with an otherwise minor patch. Sure, there are those naysayers already out there in the community practically calling for heads to roll, but aside from the major problems some people had accessing the game, most of the problems are relatively minor in the overall scheme of things. One of the major issues here was communication. Much of it was done on Monday, and it was up to players in the forums, on social media, and by word of mouth (through guilds and otherwise) to spread the word not to update or that there were things that didn’t add up. We all love our weekends, and mistakes do happen, but communication in light of this is so important.
The ESO community has been critical of ZeniMax for the way updates are sometimes applied with fresh, unexpected changes that may not have been properly tested. This is probably one of the most glaring examples of this criticism come to life. While I stand by my opinion that the studio has improved the game a lot and deserves a look apart from the initial launch negativity, this is a longstanding issue that really needs to be addressed.
An MMO is a very large beast, and anyone with a passing knowledge of software knows and should understand that code can do funny things sometimes. Code can break for the oddest of reasons that aren’t even always immediately visible. The devs at ZeniMax undoubtedly have experience with all of this, but tweaking the timetable, letting all of the changes come up on the test server, and being extra careful about not putting in unexpected, last-minute changes (save them for the next update, unless it’s a hotfix) should be things the studio starts to seriously consider. A little more testing won’t hurt and while, unfortunately, sometimes putting it all out there on test might lead to some spoilers, the majority of players will benefit. Keep on with the improvements and listening to the community, ZeniMax, but consider this request too.