Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
A great launch, but ...

The quality of consumer software at release is generally bad. If the industrial software used for applications like running nuclear power stations, life support systems in hospitals, or air traffic control had as many bugs and crashes as the average consumer software, we would be in serious trouble. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games on average have a *worse* quality level than other pieces of consumer software. Notaddicted has an interesting article on WAR release expectations by Isobelle, asking why our expectations are so low, and why are we willing to let game companies get away with bad launches. Quote Keen: "Opening day rocked. Complete server stability for Wolfenburg - no lag - few crashes. Yes, I CTD’d 4x yesterday and there were many in my guild who were crashing as well. Alt tabbing is a sure way to fubar your game. Obviously the issues still persist into launch. This was, baring any unforeseen issues when SE’s and normal retail join us, the smoothest launch I’ve participated in." Smoothest launch ever, "only" 4 crashes to desktop, and you can't use alt-tab (unless you run WAR in windowed mode). Talk about low expectations.

I totally agree that on a relative scale, compared to other MMORPG launches, WAR is having a great launch. On an absolute scale European WAR servers were down this morning for emergency maintenance, if you want to play destruction you'll be stuck in a waiting queue for half an hour after every disconnect, there is still a good number of bugs, and clunky way in which you have to accept the EULA and TOS twice on every launch of the client is driving me crazy. But for some reason everyone prefers the relative scale, where measured by things like server uptime WAR is even ahead of WoW at release for the moment. Without mentioning that if you phone company or electricity company would provide service like that, you'd be up in arms.

Gamers are far too willing to let game companies get away with anything. And me right among them, I was far too happy about playing the game without considering all the implications of the Spore DRM controversy, where I got fooled into thinking I was buying a game, when in fact I was only buying a limited license to install a game 3 times, with some strings attached in the form of rootkit software. Gamers only get angry at the point when something prevents them from playing, like the GOA accounts page problems. But once GOA put up a way to enter your code, everybody was happy, without remarking that the current system is still far from being a fully functional account site. What are we going to do in two days, enter our credit card details into a "temporary" form field on an unsecured, flash-based website, with no way to check your account details afterwards? Maybe GOA has a miracle patch up their sleeves and will bring up a fully functional account site Thursday. But if they don't, they'll be forgiven just as long as they allow everyone in via whatever temporary solution they'll come up with. People will even accept server queues for the more popular side, without complaining how that effectively limits their choice of what to play. And hey, if after release in regular operation the WAR servers would be down for half a day once every week, that'll be accepted as being the same as WoW.

Are we right in doing this? Should we say "it's just a game", and not expect a higher level of quality? Television is also "just entertainment", but we wouldn't let TV companies get away with the level of service that game companies provide. Will we "shut up and play" if the Wrath of the Lich King launch is buggy like hell in November? Why did we let Funcom get away with a horrible launch of Age of Conan? I guess it was because we were bored at the time and the parts of the game that worked were fun. But should we be satisfied with that? How can we expect the quality of games to improve if we are so obviously willing to pay up even for bugs?
Especially with the large ques at prime time, the CTD's are very annoying. I didn't experience them the last few days of beta, but I got them last night, each time after I died in a scenario :(.

This really needs to be fixed as it takes away the enjoyment of the game. Also the Target is not in reach error that some mobs still give is still there.

Overall I definately agree with you that expectations are too low. I am a software engineer myself and if I left some of these bugs in my programs, I'd be called into the director office...
.. we forgive it for the same reason that I'm sitting here nervously trolling websites while the patcher does its thing.

Few things are as grand as a brand new world to explore, so we forgive the occasional hiccup, but Age of Conan and the magical 'now you see me now you don't' disappearing NPC trick got old fast enough that I canceled my account and didn't even bother playing out the rest of the free month.

I had a horrific time in the WAR beta, and thought it was crap, but I'm still sitting here shaking the patcher window with my mouse in an attempt to make the bar fill faster... I want to be proven wrong, and have a new fun game to play, but I won't bother suffering through it if it's not up to snuff. I'll keep WoW on speed dial; just in case, I'm just looking for something new.
Besides voting with our $$, I don't know.

Buggy games have been part of the industry for a long, long time. (Remember the umpteen patches for MoM?) But we still buy a game despite bugs if the game is addictive enough.

On a personal note, I'm keeping away from buggy games for now. Will pick them up at a later date, once most of the problems have been patched. Thus, no WAR beta testing for me.
(it should be noted that I was out of the beta way before launch, and haven't seen a recent build, hence the excitement to see what's changed... otherwise what I just said there wouldn't make much sense)
Sorry, but the launch of Age of Conan wasnt 'horrible'. Infact launch was good, but not what came after it...
ahum, we let TV companies get away with crap. seriously, the amount of crap that is being watched ;)
But we still buy a game despite bugs if the game is addictive enough.

I'd go with this, plus game fandom, as the big reasons that people accept it. For lots of people, a game isn't so much seen as a tool to have fun with, as something they have to have, something they have emotional investment in, etc., making it less likely that people will not get a game based on some problems it has.

(Plus, after getting used to things being a certain way, it becomes part of the expectation for how things are supposed ot be.)
And, of course, with MMO's being the addictive games they are that get people emotionally invested (character development, social groups, etc.), it makes sense that they will be able to get away with the most bugs and other issues.

(Though also, if people go into a game expecting ot play for a long time, they are more likely to play with the assumption that bugs will get taken care of over the time that they play.)
My favorite line...

All MMO's need 6 months to work out the kinks


I can pop a game in my Xbox 360, get a Zero Day patch from LIVE, then commence to play all the way through with no 6 month "Hope it gets fixed" crud.

As well, what has changed from now compared to several years ago? Guild Wars was polished out of the box, CoH ran smoothly, WoW was more server based than client based in it's issues...
But, I also think WoW was the first game to show the cracks in the Client/Server armor.
It has gone downhill from there.

Could it have to do with this supposed "Easier to program our game when we use middleware" crap?

Most MMO's now use Speedtree, or other middleware programs to ease programming for specific in game items (Speedtree is pretty much self explanatory)
Maybe all along it is this junk which is causing the true issues.
Take your car, add parts from another car that is suppose to be compatible, and then tell me how good it runs.

Back to my Xbox comment...
Maybe this is why no REAL MMO has been produced for the 360.
They do not want to have to deal with these ongoing problems.
Talk about a mess.
Its a fact of life that we have different expectations for different types of services. I've written embedded code where any memory leak /at all/ was considered to be a red flag issue. (Compare that with just about every game ever written ....)

We don't NEED games to be have 4 9s uptime. We just need them to be fit for purpose. And it would be a waste of money and effort to seek to provide telco levels of service on an MMO. If only because telcos are legally bound to maintain that level of quality.

How much more would you be willing to spend for the type of service you are describing? It would cost a lot more. I'm happy with my fun and playable game. How long would you be willing to wait for the next game to be released? You could easily add an extra year of optimisation/bug fixing.

We could raise standards, but lets not ask for the moon when we really just wanted a streetlamp.

I do agree that the constant EULA and CoC forms are annoying though :)
It's stockholm syndrome. We are captivated by these skinner-box like contraptions and rationalize it to ourselves when the person experimenting on us fails. We need to think these positive thoughts to keep surviving or we might realize how much of our lives we are wasting.
Glad I didn't purchase WAR. That doesn't sound like fun at all.
Iso, I remember your Snorehammer Online review several months ago, it was fairly clever in parts. I think it says something about how the game has developed that you're here. (BTW, I share the same core perspecive: bad combat engine = bad game.)


For all the $$ spent on a triple-A mmo these days, the budgets are still pretty small compared to the scale of the operation involved in a rollout. No CTDs here to date on my brand spanking new PC, though game quality noticeably degrades after 4-5 hours without a reboot; I think it may be memory leaks catching up with people.
I work in the IT industry, and I've been espousing the need for solid QA and TQM for quite some time. In the IT business, we have something called "IT service management." There are several standards and approaches to achieving high quality IT service management, like ITIL, CMMi, and PM2.

The reason one can expect quality in IT service management but not in MMOs is because of what's at stake. An MMO charges $15 a month; an enterprise system that allows citizens to renew driver's licenses can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, to keep in constant operation.

The culture of acceptance of poor quality in MMOs is a function of the youth of the genre in general. Do you really think phone service 30 years ago was as high quality as it is now? Of course it wasn't. The telco service evolved from an operator-assisted system into the automated computer-controlled phenomenon we enjoy today.

And MMOs will evolve as well. As the software development community creates more ways to ensure quality, through agile development or Six Sigma or whatever, the games industry will adopt them as a way to improve and reduce expenses. You just have to be patient.
It's a 50 dollar software package.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I doubt nuclear power plant control software only costs $50. Maybe $250,000 or so.

Its a price/quality thing. Gamers want the game sooner, and cheaper, and wouldn't be willing to pay for the costs of getting the games and servers up to 100% pre-launch(which is awful hard to on the cheap). If someone released a $70 box, $20/month MMO that was just rock solid technically, it'd have to be one hell of a game to succeed.

Also, no console game is as complex a venture as a PC game, because they don't have to build the game for millions of different possible technological configurations. An xbox 360 is an xbox 360. A Dell gaming desktop is a different beast a month later.

Thirdly, they know we'll take it within measure.

Also, Funcom didn't really get away with their half-assery. The game is a ghost town these days.
1. I want to play the game so I'm willing to put up with some amount of bugs and frustration. (That's a general truth, regardless of release.)

2. I understand that there comes a point, particularly for new publishers with new games, that they simply have to start generating income. I am willing to put up with some bugs at release, knowing that they will be addressed soon (within the next 1-2 months, preferably sooner).

3. This is a MMO. It's inherently online and necessarily (at least in the current model) involves communication with a central server controlled by the publisher. There is no requirement that my Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360 be online and, thus, there is no guarantee that updates and patches will be available to all players. Issuing a patch for a MMO is inherent to the current game model, not to mention it's a viable vehicle for addressing numerous problems. I know that a patch will be forthcoming and that the company will fix the bugs. I have no such guarantee for the PS3 game I just bought.

4. Notwithstanding all of the above, my patience is limited. As a publisher, assuming I enjoy your game and want to play it, you have 1-2 months to make some real headway, preferably much faster. If I don't see bug fixes or real solutions to game-breaking problems, you will stop getting my money. It behooves the publisher to respond and fix bugs asap.

5. And you're right – I've been trained to accept bugs and count on their eventual eradication. As I said above, however, if it's a good game – one I enjoy playing – I'm more willing to give it latitude.
Honestly, I can't say if the game is buggy or not. I pre-ordered the gaem from Amazon here in the US, which is supposed to give me a head start, but I can't download the game from fileplanet.

I wait for an hour to get to the head of the download cue, and the download client crashes. If I make it past that step, then several hours later I learn the file I downloaded is corrupt and I can't open it. Of course, I have the option of paying fileplanet money, to download the game I already paid for, to bypass the cue...

From the sounds of things a number of people are having the same problem. I am pretty frustrated by the whole experience, and I am seriously considering returning the box unopened when the game gets here.
I have not had a single CTD, even when I alt-Tab, so at least for my part, it has been a spectacularly smooth ride. Of course, I also play Order so the Queue thing is a non-issue as well. In fact, the only bug I have run into is my trophy still won't work. I guess that gets to your point though. I gloss over that because that sort of things still goes wrong in WoW.

I used to rail at WoW (my first of this sort of game) because of the bugs I encountered, because I had never seen that level of issues in most of the single player games I played up until that point.

Like everyone else, I guess I learned to be happy when things work as well as they do...
I dont think its fair to compare a PC MMO launch to a console title. The scale that the game is played and the expectations from it are far different. The lvl of support and pay structures are also quite different. A person buys a console game, doesnt need to pay an additional fee to log in each month or even play against more than 64 players at a time.

PC gaming is a different atmosphere, they develop a game shooting for a overall acceptance that people will have the minimum specs or higher to play it. This takes into consideration the PC specs, the internet connection, the monthly subscription and also the time they will spend playing it.

For warhammer that might be something like 2.8ghz PC, 8800GT 256mb or better video, 1gb ram, 9 gb HDD, 256k internet or better, and $15/mth cost and most likely 6+hrs a day playing as the "average" customer. Now there are going to thousands of people with less than those specs, with outdated drivers, that wont spend even 1 hour to update their setup to save the company many hours of customer service trying to fix. ctd's are terrible for a game that is beyond Open Beta, but if they are CTD's because of some poorly specc'ed rig that has random driver vers 1.0007b in the wrong language What can do you to help cust like these? I would say the game has 6 months to "catch up" and solve these special case scenarios to tell whether they are as fully prepared as they say.

I'm mostly ready to sacrific puppies in the name of Satan to have my hands on a new MMO, let alone tolorate it's horrible gameplay.
Im getting excited just recently for Warhammer mostly because the praise for DaoC(warhammer made by the same makers), the chance to play with my friends on a fresh game, and most importantly all this on a game that seems worthwhile (good FB for OB'rs, gameplay looks alright, style looks top notch, pvp emphasis rly pushed ftw).

Good question and something to consider with your comments Tobold: This isn't exactly GOA/Mythic's first rodeo. I'd personally expect things to go more smoothly than it sounds like it is for people.

As I'm not playing WAR I can't comment first hand, but I will say that the minute Blizzard publishes another MMO, the smoothness of that launch will determine whether I re-up my account for the next few months. They very well better be spending a sizable amount of their billions in profit and week-in, week-out experience writing a damned good playbook for what to do next round.

Players should be a bit miffed with issues WAR is suffering because it's not the company's initial launch of an MMO. Almost all of the kinks should have been worked out through the betas. I will hold Blizzard to the same standard if their next MMO effort doesn't hold up to what they did with TBC and what I would expect with Wrath: Carrying the box home, installing and logging in to play.

I'm kind of surprised that there's not recompense to players that have issues in WAR or any other monthly-fee title. A couple of days/weeks play buys a lot of customer good will if they've had a problem and I think that Blizzard's current line of, "We appreciate your patience while we work on [x] problem." is really half-assing customer service.

We should expect more if there is unforeseen downtime or problems at launch, or otherwise imho.
tobold, this is completely unrelated, but i missed the open sunday thread and i guarantee i will not remember this throughout the week.

I've read a lot recently about the queue problem in WAR. I remember having long queues for a short period in WoW, and even once in LOTRO, but is it truly worse here due to the imbalance? If so, do you see any system of "Fast Pass" (Disneyland style, except you have to pay for this one) being implemented in the future to let players jump to the front of the queue? If time is money in MMO land, this certainly seems like a logical step for companies to do because i bet you players would fork over the cash if it meant they could remain on their heavy-populated server with their guild
Thanks tobold for Warhammer 'embedded' reporting. keep the reviews coming. your's and keen's are the 2 blogger i read daily for WHO information
It's a 50 dollar software package.

Wrong. It's a 75 million dollar software package, and that's just the 1.5 million copies they shipped for release, not counting future copies, nor monthly fees. Software for nuclear power stations sells a lot less copies.
I've read a lot recently about the queue problem in WAR. I remember having long queues for a short period in WoW, and even once in LOTRO, but is it truly worse here due to the imbalance? If so, do you see any system of "Fast Pass" (Disneyland style, except you have to pay for this one) being implemented in the future to let players jump to the front of the queue?

The queues are only on the destruction side. As they have been installed to balance realm populations, I don't think Mythic will ever offer an option to skip them.
To say im not impressed is an understatement, im sure the game is fine, it has many elements in it that seem to improve or expand on the wow model, the problem i have is I still have not finished downloading it yet. It turns out d2drive servers are being hammered, pardon the pun at the moment. I'm unused to downloading online but their site advertises no queues and immediate download is right up there in their web add.

The reality is very different, 3 hours queues to download a game you bought, you can speed this up if you subscribe to fileplanet, no queues apparently. What i should have done is wait till, the official launch day and bought the game in a shop drinking a coffee, looking forward to going home and installing and having fun. What i have done in stead is waited for 19 plus hours with a stable 20 mb connection to download a 8gig game that should have been done in 4 hours tops and re queues and 19 hours later and im still downloading.

The game looks like fun, shaman will be the class i play no question but the people providing and distributing it should be playing pirates of the burning sea, as they clearly wear domino masks and rob people of their hard earned cash, with lies and false promises or shocking or none existent customer services.
I think it's important to distinguish between game issues (which as far as I can tell have been minimal - acceptable quality for a single player game, which is impressive in an MMO), and distribution issues (which are nothing to do with Mythic/GOA, although GOA let you download the client with a well seeded torrent, which worked well for me. Given the issues with BT I'm not surprised Mythic have just said "If you're going to sell to preorder customers you have to sort out distribition").

The queues are annoying, but the game pretty much requires an equal number of order and destruction players per server to work. Certainly in Europe there are plenty of servers with plenty of space.

It's also worth remembering we're currently in a free headstart - it's a bit early to make complaints regarding server populations. I doubt mythic are even looking at it as an issue until the end of the weekend when things have settled down a bit and they have an idea of where they are relative to where they need to be int erms of servers.
I can't speak for anyone else but my experience has been nothing but good with release. I started on Sunday with all the other CE folks and have put in probably 20 hours of gameplay since then. Not once have I had a single CTD. I haven't even seen any server lag on Averheim
"I think it's important to distinguish between game issues (which as far as I can tell have been minimal - acceptable quality for a single player game, which is impressive in an MMO), and distribution issues..."

Up to a point maybe. If a brick and mortar retailer is out of stock, that may be shortsightedness on the part of the retailer. In this case EA directed me to a third party to download their game, and that is the only way I can download their game. This was a business decision made by EA and in my mind EA is responsible for the performance of that third party.

I have never had these issues with Blizzard. Certainly the download process has taken a long time with Blizzard, but it did not require creating an account with a third party, downloading a a bunch of ActiveX controls from a third party (what was hidden in there I wonder...), and did not ask me to pay for an upgraded account that will skip the cues. Most importantly, it has worked.

If EA chooses to do business in this fashion, and outsources some of their processes to reduce overhead, that is up to them. It does not mean I should overlook what I see as problems with their business model because the game might work in the event I ever get to play it.
I don't mind the queues. It's the lag thats killing this. Server lag on Badlands server has made healing with a Shaman unbearable.

I'll be checking back in 3 months.
In Australia at least there is a serious problem with the release - a number of people are having fairly serious problems getting their installations working. Luckily there is a fairly easy fix, but it's a fairly big screw-up.

More info on the problem and the fix at
Yeah, people will "shut up and play" Lich King no matter how badly it sucks.

Burning Crusade was terrible at release. Nothing was balanced properly, itemization was completely broken, and so on. It took six months before BC was even remotely fixed and in that time, Blizzard lost many accounts.

Unfortunately, in their effort to get some bounceback subs from WAR so that they don't go more than 30 days without getting sub money from those people (assuming you paid in early September and then cancelled, October is the only Blizzard billing cycle you will miss before turning it back on for LK)... they will rush LK out the door before it's ready. Limiting the interruptions of account cancellation to reactivations, along with the sales of the LK box product, will help Blizzard camouflage any damage Mythic actually does do to their sub numbers in their next quarterly report.

We're IN the beta and it's nowhere near ready. Nowhere near. I can't fathom it going gold in 6 weeks. It MIGHT be truly playable by March. Who knows how many people will pass it by because it is not ready, or try it and cancel in disgust as they did with BC.
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