This weekend was jammed solid with choice for MMO gamers. SWTOR had just ushered in the mission chain to gain HK-51 as a companion droid. Trion launched RIFT: Storm Legion earlier this week. Planetside 2 wrapped up its open beta, while City of Steam started theirs. If you’re into online gaming, you were literally spoiled for choice this weekend.
And, of course, Guild Wars 2 started their much-vaunted Lost Shores Event, combining three days of nautical adventure with an open invitation to everyone with a friend already in the game.
It’s also been a weekend of bugs, as if some technophobic Midas has been creeping around server farms globally, disrupting code and torturing servers. No game has been completely error-free, but some have suffered more than others. And when games suffer, the gamers suffer with them.
Take Guild Wars 2 for example. Ignoring the small concern that the team eschew the notion of using public test servers, the Lost Shores event started with a small handful of bugs. Nothing major or crippling, unless you take into account the 24 hour limit to complete this initial phase. Arenanet subsequently relented on this, retaining some of the fixed quests into the second day.
When was the last time you saw an MMO launch that went off without a hitch? From login issues preventing access, to major functions being disabled, it seems that almost every modern MMO has a rocky start in life. Even complex online games have been exposed to similar problems, from days of inaccessibility to weeks of poor performance.
But why does it happen? Why do experienced companies who are used to building and maintaining these types of systems continually run into these kinds of problems? Why are they, in many cases, unable to thoroughly test these kinds of systems. And what can be done to make sure that gamers still have a good experience, even if some features are unavailable?
I’m going to try to tackle a handful of these issues, explaining what companies can do, but why they also don’t help cater for every example. And while I have experience of designing massively multi-user systems myself, the usage patterns relating to MMO gaming are somewhat different to an online shop or customer service portal. Don’t start lambasting developers for what I write here, ‘kay?
If you’ve been tracking the tech news over the past 48 hours, you’ll have seen a new name crop up with increasing regularity: Ouya. Currently in a prototype, the design studio behind the project are raising funds via Kickstarter to bring the concept to living rooms worldwide. Gamers have been overwhelmingly positive in their response – with roughly $3.5 million already pledged in the first 48 hours alone, the console looks almost certain to become a reality.
So what exactly are people buying?
This is not a games console in the traditional sense. Ouya seeks to change the relationship between developer, platform owner and consumer. Instead of having expensive development kits and closely guarded marketplace access, the team behind Ouya are keen to make it as easy as possible for developers to get on to their platform, using pricing and payment models that are right for them. By building their own console, rather than relying on someone else’s platform, the team behind Ouya can control each point in the process.
I’m a strange breed of MMO player. Even though I love raiding, questing and the occasional spot of PVP, I have been known to dabble in the mysterious arts of roleplaying. It’s a habbit – creating a character in a fictional universe who’s more than just an extension of myself. They become their own thing, take on their own life. I guess it makes me more attached to them as characters.
As a result, I tend to do this for all my new characters, even if I don’t end up roleplaying with them. So when I created a new Bounty Hunter in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I gave him a backstory. Who he is, where he came from, who he knows. That kind of thing. It’s your typical trashy pulp sci-fi, but I thought I’d share it, if only to raise a laugh.