I had to break this Aion discussion down into two parts simply because there’s so much to talk about. So, I figured I’d give you the bad news first. The good news – that this game is actually really, really good once you make it through the queues and get in to play – will come later in the week. In fact, today’s post is more of a rant than anything, so bear with me while I bitch and moan at one of the best MMO developers in the business today.
Alright, here’s the deal. Aion had 400,000 pre-orders (not sure if this was just in North America or what). NCSoft wouldn’t stop talking about this last week…it was all over the place – on news sites, on their Twitter feeds, on their own sites, everywhere. So, logic would dictate that they be prepared with the server strength and bandwidth, as well as in-game mechanics (channels, or instances) to support at least the majority of that number. Unfortunately, NCSoft’s “Foresight Department” failed on Sunday and Monday during the pre-launch head-start event.
Here’s how it went for me – as soon as the servers opened, I logged on and was perfectly fine for about 10 minutes. I was then disconnected and had to restart the client to reconnect (a lame idea in the first place, NCSoft). This took less than five minutes (probably closer to 2-3 minutes). When I logged back on, I continually got an error saying that too many people were on the server. After clicking the server for 10-15 minutes or so, and continually getting this error, I finally got put in a queue of just over 2000 people. Despite NCSoft Community Manager Ayase tweeting several times that if you were disconnected you could bypass the queue within a reasonable amount of time, I experienced the exact opposite on three separate occasions.
So, let me get this straight. NCSoft’s oddly firm stance is that server stability is more important than letting the majority of their pre-order customers get in to actually play during the head-start for which they likely pre-ordered. To be fair, server stability is very important. However, their servers should have been able to handle this. The game is designed with “instances” in each zone, so the starting zone, for example, has 10 instances, or channels, that you can switch to at will. It’s a copy of the same content, just with different people, to spread the population out a bit. Instead of having just 10 instances, why not 20, or 30? Sure, this requires more hardware on the back end, but isn’t that a small price to pay for making your customers happy?
Launches make or break MMOs, for the most part (yes, yes, there are exceptions). I would think game developers would want to err on the side of caution when launching new titles (or old titles in new regions). If they would do this, they could make their customers happy and have a smooth launch. First impressions, people, first impressions. If someone pre-orders to make their characters early or play the game early, you darn well better let them do what they want, or that first impression is going to go right down the crapper. Putting in some extra cash early on will pay dividends farther down the road. I’m really surprised MMO developers haven’t learned this yet and continue to have similar issues at launch.
Speaking of pre-launch issues…an equally annoying, yet not as major, blunder was almost instantaneously locking servers and races during the pre-select character creation, which started last Friday. Again, NCSoft has an oddly strict stance on balancing the overall server population, as well as each race on individual servers. This left legion (guild) members without the ability to join us and get the names they wanted, like they were promised, for pre-ordering. Here’s my take: Again, let your pre-order and Collector’s Edition customers make characters when they want, where they want. Worry about balancing after the game actually launches. They helped add to that 400,000 number you’ve been bragging about for a week, give them some credit and stop being such a bully.
Let’s just all cross our fingers that the official North American launch goes much smoother today (servers opened to the general public at 12:00 PDT/3:00 EST), but if the popularity of the betas and the pre-launch events are any indication, I wouldn’t take the day off work.
All that being said, once I finally got into the game on Sunday (after waiting an hour in front of the computer, then another two hours away from home for dinner to get through the queue), it was loads of fun, as expected. Frame rate was smooth, lag was minimal and crowds weren’t too bad. It is just unfortunate that the great game play came on the back side of a horrible experience getting into the actual game to play in the first place.
Launch issues, as annoying as they are and as much as NCSoft could have probably planned things better, are only temporary. In a week or two things will smooth out, there will be no queues and you’ll be able to play in a trouble-free environment. Later this week I’ll talk more in-depth about what a great game this actually is, and why you should give it a try.