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Scaling up for an MMOG for release or an expansion launch is probably one of the scariest things about massively multiplayer game development. No matter how much testing and QA devs do, it's all theory until the game goes live. We'll look at one of our favorite moments in the short history of MMORPG scale-up snafus (including this weekend's EVE Online issues) and what devs could do to fix the growing inadequacy of traditional testing in . Loading... Up and Down.
are today's top 5 Pulse results:
- Lord of the Rings Online (UP 7)
- Warhammer Online (UP 2)
II (down 2)
of Conan (down 1)
2: Sentinel's Fate (expansion)
- href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/81479"> LotRO:
Oath of the
Rangers (content update)
Legends (iMMOG - release date) size="-1"> href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/1004">
of Heroes - Issue 17: Dark Mirror
of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer size="-1">
2010 - href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/eve">EVE
Online: Tyrannis (expansion)
2010 - href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/2422">Craft
of Gods (release)
- size="-1">June 9, 2010 - Mortal Online (release)
2010 - href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/998">APB
(US - July 2 in EU)
style="font-weight: bold;">Q2 2010
2010 - href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/2079">Final
Fantasy XIV size="-1">
style="font-weight: bold;">6/15 -
6/17 - href="http://www.e3expo.com/">E3
style="font-weight: bold;">6/25 -
6/27 - href="http://www.lfgexpo.com/">Looking
style="font-weight: bold;">7/22 -
7/25 - href="http://www.comic-con.org/">Comic-Con
style="font-weight: bold;">8/5 -
8/8 - href="http://events.station.sony.com/fanfaire/">SOE
Fan Faire 2010
style="font-weight: bold;">9/3 -
9/6 - href="http://www.dragoncon.org/">DragonCon
style="font-weight: bold;">10/22 -
10/23 - href="http://us.blizzard.com/blizzcon/?rhtml=y">BlizzCon
style="font-weight: bold;"> 3/24
3/26 (2011)- href="http://fanfest.eveonline.com/">CCP
Four years ago at right about this time of month, I was on my way to LA for E3 2006 and stopped by the now-defunct Tulga Games (who operated Horizons at the time) on my way there. One of the developers took me to task for an article I wrote a month or two earlier. In that editorial, I cited long server queues over too long a period of time in World of Warcraft at the time and stated that, when it dragged on for months as it did, it simply amounted to poor customer service. Blizzard, I asserted, shouldn't take money for their product or expansion if they can't deliver the experience. It wasn't anythign like my best work, but it was heartfelt. So when a dev told me he thought the article was rather unfair - that Blizzard was dealing with massive populations like the subscription MMO community has never seen, that they were in uncharted waters and deserved our patience, the passionate delivery (if not so much the content) of the criticism stuck with me.
Like some kind of cyclical 4-year haunting or Hegelian dialectic, concerns and problems over delivering an MMO gaming experience at scale dominated the news over the weekend. EVE Online: Tyrannis, the expansion that marks CCPs first step towards bringing planetary control to EVE Online players, was delayed until May 26th over the weekend. Senior Producer Torfi Frans Olafssen broke down the reasons for the delay into simple language that anyone can understand:
In our regression testing, we have identified scalability issues with the Planetary Interaction feature, which led to code refactoring that then needed further testing before being launched to Tranquility.
The problem is a common one for MMOGs and expansions - what works on a small scale doesn't always work when painted in broad strokes over a massive population. EVE is an incredibly complex game with a very diverse playerbase and much higher concurrency than just about any MMOG originating in the west, owing to its single-shard approach. Thus EVE's fixes, patches, and updates tend to create some short-term havoc, such as the vanishing items issue that CCP is busy fixing at the moment.
CCP and other MMOG developers face the same problem that economists face - you can't create a simulation layer vast or complex enough in a laboratory to fit the bill. Beta and/or stress testing used to be the solution, but even the most glib of developers acknowledges that open beta is much more about marketing and building (or destroying) hype than testing and improving the game. Plus, few games outside of the top-tier, IP-driven games can attract a large testing community, much less a strong one. The upshot is that we typically spend months or years after launch giving a game the kind of testing it needs, and maybe by the time the first expansion launches, we have a complete game. No wonder the subscription MMORPG is losing ground.
What's the solution? Not that there's any single pat solution that's going to fix the destructive mess that is today's beta test, but Loading... has always been a fan of games that discard the fire-and-forget console games model - the massive ad and review push followed by total silence that typifies single-player and most multiplayer games. Retail is always going to have its druthers, and that's fine. I'm not even sure that making major expansions free (e.g. EVE Online: Tyrannis) is the best thing for a game - North American gamers seem to associate quality with cost.
But maybe that kind of retail or retail-esque push should come after the game is ready. There will always be a development gap between the time at which you're sure you have an awesome and playable game concept and the time at which it's ready - in that middle time, why not make the game available to folks who believe in the game enough to pre-order it at full price? Maybe offer temporary discounts or freebies to guilds and communities you know will yield good testers. It's the model Stardock used for Sins of a Solar Empire and is using for Elemental: War of Magic to great effect.
What else can devs do to address these failures to launch and beta period that stretch on long past launch? Share your thoughts in the Loading... forum!
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StarCraft II: Terran Infantry In-Depth Stats and
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WoW Machinima: The Craft of War - Blind
Something new is brewing here at Ten Ton Hammer. As a testament to the
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the Ten Ton Hammer team
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our EVE Online Game Page.