Blizzard has had their hands full dealing with, if you can believe it, too much success with regards to their excellent World of Warcraft MMORPG. They’ve broken both sales and number of simultaneous player records since the November launch and those of us addicted to the game have felt the side effects of all his record breaking in the from of lag.
The realm we play on, for example, has been having lag issues for awhile now and it’s not uncommon for the game to come close to being unplayable in the later hours of the evening when the server load is at its highest. On some servers it’s gotten so bad that Blizzard is actually crediting player’s accounts with free days to make up for the degraded service and it prompted the guys at Penny Arcade to do something they’ve never done before and yank the 2004 Game of the Year award they had bestowed to WoW. Given that PA is practically a mecca for hardcore gamers this event probably carries a lot more weight with the folks at Blizzard than you might think. So when the guys at PA sent off a terse email with some direct questions on what the hell is going on with WoW the folks at Blizzard sent back a reply that was just as upfront and no-nonsense.
1. You say that you sold six hundred thousand units. Is the game not capable of supporting this many users?
The short answer is “The game is capable of supporting this many players,” but it would probably be helpful to provide some background information. Based on our market analysis, we made some initial calculations about the size of the massively multiplayer online games market in the United States. We then accounted for new customers to the genre based on our previous games. Looking over this data, we did believe that there was the potential for an extremely sizable interest in a Blizzard MMOG. According to our research, other successful MMOGs in the U.S. had achieved roughly 300,000 subscribers after 12 months of operation. What ended up happening with World of Warcraft is that we achieved double these numbers in approximately the first six weeks of launch. We absolutely can support the number of copies we put on shelves, but we believed it would take us longer to get to this number in terms of players purchasing the game and logging on.
We had not anticipated this amount of growth in such a short time; however, we did have a backup plan that was deployed rapidly. In the first week of launch, we more than doubled our number of game servers and server infrastructure to accommodate the demand. The fact that we had planned to grow the service over the first 12 months of operation was evident, as we had server hardware waiting to be deployed. We just anticipated that this server roll-out would be gradual. Copies of the game were being purchased at a much faster rate than anticipated, so we had to abandon our slower-paced plan and go into rapid deployment to accommodate these additional customers. This meant we also had to advance our timetable for additional server purchases.
With such a rapid growth of the network, we started to see several bottlenecks in the infrastructure that exposed themselves very quickly when the expanded hardware immediately took on massive load. These bottlenecks were solvable, but they required additional upgrades to the backend systems to accommodate the load—which, again, we hadn’t planned to see, even with the extreme estimates, until later in the year. Regardless, server stability has remained our number-one priority, and so we acquired and deployed even more equipment as part of the process of addressing these issues. All of this new hardware also required additional software and operating system upgrades on the backend. The problems that some players on the 20 or so most populated servers (out of the current total of 88 servers) have been experiencing are related to some of the upgrades not functioning as desired. We are working diligently with our vendors and internal technical staff to get as quick of a resolution to the problems as possible, and we believe there should be noticeable improvements soon. When our community team commented that people are working 24/7, they weren’t exaggerating.
This is why I’ll likely always be a big fan of Blizzard’s games. The company busts its collective ass to put out the best possible product they can and even with the lag issues WoW is still the best MMORPG I’ve ever played. Just about every first launch of an MMORPG has unanticipated issues simply due to the size of the undertaking and Blizzard isn’t immune to that fact. They’ve certainly got the talent and the motivation to work things out before too long and as such I’ll continue to be patient with them. The Q&A goes on for another seven questions and is worth reading if you’re a fan who’s been frustrated by the growing pains WoW is going through.