Another launch, another parcel of launch issues, and – unsurprisingly – another wave of rage.
I’m talking of course about Diablo III, and the rather... dodgy nature of the game’s first 24 hours post-launch. We’ve already written about that, but it’s indicative of a larger attitude in gaming, this idea that a game should be perfect at launch, and that there’s no excuse for anything standing between the gamer who’s dropped a hundred bucks on a game and getting into that gaming experience.
However, as commenter Elvenwhore asked in the above article “Why are companies still getting it wrong? Or is the problem genuinely "not that bad" and it's just that there's disproportionate media coverage when an online launch does go wrong? And why is it pseudo-acceptable when it does go wrong?”
As I said to her at the time, answering that’s a whole article in itself. Thankfully, that’s my job! I may not get the answer right – I guess only you guys can judge that – but I’ll do my best to give it a shot.
Why are companies still getting it wrong?
Are they, though? I think a lot of us look back on some mystical and conveniently vague age of gaming where these things never happened. It wasn’t until games started to get truly massively multiplayer, and servers existed purely outside of a player’s control, that launch issues (connectivity, queues, patches, whatever) really started to become an issue.
The classic reference to draw upon here is World of Warcraft, now known for its rock solid service, but a game that was notoriously patchy at launch. It’s a good reference point, too, because it’s Blizzard that’s still managing to seemingly not be able to anticipate the demand for its own games that’s at the heart of the issue. So in that sense... why is Blizz still getting it wrong?
The main issue that comes to mind is that even with the an extensive beta phase, the best code-monkeys, and a server farm the size of a city-block, there’s still no accounting for just how many people are going to be there waiting to hit Enter at midnight (or 5pm, if you’re in Australia). It’s almost a problem you want to have, in fact – I can guarantee that some of the smartest minds in the industry looked at this problem, and really, seriously, thought they had it covered.
And they didn’t – and, honestly... I think we should give them a pass on that. Blizzard got things going pretty damn fast when you consider things. The ongoing maintenance is a bit problematic, I’ll admit, so close to launch, but this is an inherently multiplayer game we’re talking about. It’s practically an MMO.
However, that’s where I think the serious problem is. Sure, the way the game’s built means that this is the easiest Diablo ever in terms of getting a group of friends playing together, but I can’t help but think that, for most people, it’s still a single player experience, or a local co-op experience. Blizzard might call it an online game, but I can guarantee that the majority of players will not see it that way, and will feel shafted by not only the fact that suddenly even their single player experience is controlled by a server on another continent and in another timezone.
Don’t even get me started on the fact that someone playing alone now needs to worry about lag. That’s just ridiculous.
It’s this decision that makes server connectivity such an important issue, and in this case, I think it is a mistake that can actually be laid at Blizzard’s feet.
There’s one more point that needs addressing, though, and that’s much more complex. While connectivity in D3 has been a problem, and is for many games, there are many more issues to be had during this launch, and many others, that come down to the simple complexity of the modern computing environment. There is a greater variety of hardware and software configurations now than ever before, and more people using them than ever before, too. This is something that it’s much harder for a developer to compensate for, and while it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that someone ‘should have known about issue X!’ – and we’re as guilty of that as anyone – there really needs to be some expectation of perspective on our behalf as intelligent, mature gamers.
Or is the problem not that bad?
In all honesty... no, it’s not. For every gamer that lined up for their midnight copy and waited with baited breath for the game of the moment to go live, there’s many dozens more who’ll just get it when they can afford it, and who will probably never know the issue even existed. Gaming enthusiasts are a vocal minority, when you get down to it; the problem is, they’re also a highly connected, highly inter-connected lot, who know how to get heard and be visible.
At the end of the day, I’d suggest that if the worst thing that happens to you this week is that a game doesn’t work as you expect, I’d suggest life is in fact not going to end, and that you probably shouldn’t be contacting the nearest government authority to have your grievance heard.