Diablo 3 server issues and why all your most anticipated online games suck at launch
By: Jeff Rivera
Currently there's a bit of an uproar going on about the Diablo III server errors. On launch day, Blizzard was getting so hammered with traffic that they had to institute queues to get online and eventually needed to pull the plug on Battle.net for some maintenance. As expected, gamers that shelled out $60 (or $100 if you're sucker like me who picked up the Collector's Edition) weren't all that happy about the downtime, especially after waiting eagerly for 12 years for a sequel to hit.
But this isn't a unique situation. Most every highly anticipated online game has issues when it first launches. Recently we've seen DICE and EA struggle to make Battlefield work well in its first week. Blizzard had hiccups with StarCraft II. Many Xbox 360 and PS3 games have problems on launch day until the traffic spikes even out.
So what's the deal? Our computers and consoles are more powerful than ever and Internet connection speeds are always getting faster, right? Shouldn't that equate to a smoother experience? Well, not exactly. When a company is developing a game, they have to anticipate what sort of server load the game will create. Beta testing gives an idea of things, but it's not always easy to calculate how things will work when they get scaled up dramatically.
Every developer and publisher knows that the first week after release is going to be the heaviest time for traffic, and they have two options. First, they can buy up enough servers to be able to handle the load. Everybody gets online, and the hiccups are just minor ones. The second option is to try to put out the inevitable fires and withstand the early rush of traffic, knowing that things will level off while they hope that they don't sour too many customers. They basically ride out the storm while server load evens out to expected levels and within their originally planned scope.
The first option is best for early adopters, obviously. The problem is, it's not financially feasible for a developer. Why buy up a bunch of extra servers only to see them become unnecessary less than a month after the game's launch? The first option is practically an impossibility when you consider the early demand for AAA titles. It's economically prohibitive, and it would only drive development cost through the roof. It's also wasteful.
So option two is what every developer settles on. They know that there will be a few days of bumpy performance, and they do their best to mitigate it, but in the end, it's the reality that we all have to accept when millions of people worldwide attempt to communicate with a developer's servers at one time. It's a tough pill to swallow, just after having paid the money out.
To us, the gamers, it feels like walking into a restaurant, ordering food, and then them handing you a to go box and pushing you out the door while locking it behind you, simply because they're busy. You feel left out, and you wonder whether or not it was the right decision to spend the money in the first place.
I wish there was a better solution to these things, but there really isn't one at this point that works for both the developer and the consumer. The whole reason we pay $10 more per game this generation is due to rising development costs (mixed with a pinch of greed, of course), and anything that would push costs higher would only come back to harm the consumer's wallet that much more.
My suggestion is to just continue to expect these issues. Buy a game a few days or weeks after launch and let the kinks get ironed out. I'd tell you to expect more from developers, but I can't see things changing until some new technology comes about to rectify the situation. As the gaming industry continues to expand, this problem will only be more prominent.
I guess it's better than the days when the industry was smaller and we had less AAA games available or matchmaking used to take a lot longer than it does now. I'll gladly put up with a few days or bumpy online play to know that everything else down the line with that game will be smooth and easy. And it's a good thing I prefer it this way, because really, I have no other choice in the matter.