Launch Day Woes

playful-sprites-errorPart of my plan for today consisted of opening a bunch of packs for Hearthstone’s latest expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods. Since they announced it more than a month ago, I’ve been looking at card reveals for a stupendously long period of time. Finally, they’re going to remove some of the most powerful cards in the game (at least in Standard), replacing them with something fresh and exciting!

Only, it’s Launch Day, which seems to be the worst day to ever play a Blizzard game. I’m sure many of you had the exact same experience with most other online-enabled or focused games: the servers basically blow up with the number of people trying to log into the game, and the tech support guys and gals can’t even keep up. This happened to me in nearly every World of WarCraft expansion, every Hearthstone expansion I’ve been privy to experience (well, mostly The Grand Tournament, not so much the Adventures), and any game without a single-player component to its name.

Part of this comes down to setting a specific release date and time (after maintenance, in Blizzard’s case). This practice seems like the absolute WORST way to release such a product, and there’s a few reason why. First, anyone and everyone will want to log in at the exact same time – it’s the same idea as an online flash sale, only there’s millions of people who want to use your servers simultaneously. Second, people who don’t like your product may just want to mess with it anyway. I remember Warlords of Draenor’s launch, which went terribly due to an incredible denial-of-service attack against Blizzard on release day. Not surprisingly, the servers lagged pretty hard; add all the people jamming into the server space, and everything collapsed for the first day.

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I’m not sure if server queues are better!

Of course, you can’t really win with a staggered release, either. People on the Internet communicate very, very fast, and they’ll figure out things are officially “launched”. While it might not destroy the server like the set release time does, it’s still a pretty heavy load, far more than it can handle. Then, you get people who feel like they’ve been tricked, and say something nasty I’m sure. Such a release that just suddenly occurs is a no-win situation too, because the company really does need to communicate when the launch will actually happen.

Most people would say “I can’t believe Blizzard can’t keep the server up on launch day”, and complain about it. The comments sections across the world are full of people who really, really want to play the game. That, for Blizzard, is a good thing – broken servers are, bizarrely enough, an indicator of demand. A multi-billion dollar company can’t even keep them up, despite obviously having top-of-the-line IT staff necessary to keep the operation together. One should also remember that we now have smartphone and tablet users thrown into the mix, which could mean an incredibly dense load of people. The hype is real!

But, of course, we could all just complain about how they can’t actually keep things together. Remember that this only happens for one day, every day that they launch something. Blizzard is not really losing money here; they are creating demand, a frothing desire to buy or crack open a bunch of digital, imaginary card packs for people to play with. The servers are as they are for normal operations, and that’s the most reasonable way to provide content while keep operating expenses low on the Hearthstone side. This card game is Blizzard’s new cash cow, and it probably costs next to nothing to make, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the servers explode for new content.

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Pictured: my image of “exploding server”.

So, really, nothing particularly bad happens on Blizzard’s side here; in fact, it’s to the point where people expect crazy stuff to happen on launch day (it usually does). I guess I should have expected different, but hey – that’s the marketing machine for you. I find it pretty insane that I had any expectation I would somehow log into the game and get my cards; last time, I just waited half a day instead. Should they work just fine? Of course they should! We should expect to actually play something on the day of release. But, the reality is that this happens with almost every online game launch. A smooth launch to anything is the exception, not the rule, and it’s a combination of high demand and low operating costs meeting together on a day of disaster. That said, other people will manage to log on, I’m sure, and those tend to be the streamers who exist for marketing purposes – see, I told you it’s a marketing stunt!

But hey, I’m still excited. I know these things happen, and it’s not really the end of the world or anything. Sometimes, you just have to be patient. In a society where we often can get anything we want at the touch of a button (well, virtual stuff at least), waiting for things could feel like an eternity. But, there’s plenty of other things to do; good things come to those who wait, as the old colloquialism goes. Getting angry at other people because they can’t fill your immediate need to play digital card games is a bit over the top, no matter how much of an injustice it feels like.

[a]Rest in the Lord and wait [b]patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.

God asks us to be patient a lot of the time, and it’s simply not comfortable. But, it is necessary, and something we often must do in order to achieve pretty much anything – that goes for both work and relationships. I guess it’s a bit flippant to compare it to a video game launch, but it’s a ubiquitous part of such product releases nowadays! We just need a little patience…

EDIT: And, of course, after I write this, the entire thing goes right back up and I get to recording the video of the pack opening. Oh well!

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.