19 Nov 2012

On the Shores of Lag

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.

By far the most damaging part of the event was the mass combat, starting with the Karka Invasion on Friday. Even with overflow technology limiting the number of players in each area, Guild Wars 2 struggled to cope with the sheer weight of gamers zerging giant crabs. The server-side lag and unresponsive combat was just a prelude for the grand finale on Sunday.

The Karka invasion was due to close in a “multi-hour” event, starting at 8PM GMT. So far, so good. An escort mission started, where players rushed to help a Lionguard Demolitions expert plant a series of explosives in a giant-crab hatchery.

This is where the event descended from frustration into farce, as strained systems struggled to deliver player-versus-crab combat on a massive scale. First, there were the invisible mobs that couldn’t be targeted, but that you knew other players were attacking.

Can you see what it is yet? Nope, me neither.

Once the crabs appeared, so did all their attacks. Which included large amounts of incredibly lethal area effect damage. Leaving you to wonder why your ankles are dissolving in a puddle of crustacean stomach acid.


The massive periods of lag – 30 seconds to a minute of frozen combat at times – meant that dodging out of the way was a fleeting dream. If you’re lucky, the downed state would be there to greet you.

Rally! For the love of cogs, rally!

If you’re not so lucky, you and your band of heroes would be defeated by the oversized urchins Again.

I see dead people

And again.

Sleeping competitions. Serious business

And again.

Are you a bit crabby, or just shellfish?

Once you managed to blow up the hatchery, a second event started. Escorting an ancient Karka crab proved too much for some people, who decided to call it quits. It also proved too much for some servers, who began offloading players by handing out disconnects. This was the last straw for the login server, who went out to lunch.

Garçon? I would like ze lobster, s’il vous plait.

There are lessons here, some of which come from the school of bleeding obvious, and some of which came from Warcraft’s Ahn’Quiraj event some six-plus years ago.

  • If you know that servers are going to be stressed, go easy on the AoE damage. Give mobs tons of health, but don’t pile multiple deaths and repair bills  onto an already frantic playerbase.
  • Don’t run a major refer-a-friend weekend at the same time as a major event, especially when you haven’t tested the crap out of it. And that includes “what happens when a ton of players all rush the same zone event”
  • Make sure you dish out rewards for everyone taking part, even if the server they’re playing on goes out for lunch.
  • If you’re not going to reward players with XP and loot for killing veteran crabs, make sure to give them something in return for punching buttons and staring at a server-induced slideshow for 2 hours.

There are arguments that you get what you pay for, and Guild Wars 2 costs nothing beyond the original game. But there is a cost: time, effort and in-game resources. In an era where there’s a huge amount of choice in online gaming, unreasonable costs are likely to see players choose something else.

UPDATE: Arenanet have swiftly moved to assure players that those taking part would be rewarded, and they’re working on a way to get those sent out. But despite their desire to surprise players with new events, calls for a public test server are only likely to grow.

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