Launch Waves, Faction Balance, and Sever Queues! Oh, my!

Petter from Don’t Fear the Mutant is trying to review Aion, only problem is he can’t get in to play because of server’s being locked for population balance and queues.

I’ve been trying to get on and create a character myself, which I was finally able to do, but I didn’t play much because of rubber banding and other issues caused by the heavy server load.

So, how much of this should be chalked up to “Its just an MMO launch,” and how much should be considered a failure of planning on NCSoft’s part.

NCSoft has to have a general expectation on player levels based on beta testing and pre-order numbers.  They also have to be aware that there’s going to be an initial wave of players that always swamps MMOs at launch.  To make the best impression, surely they want to make sure there are enough servers to handle the load.  However, if they over invest in servers now, what happens in 30 days once that initial wave of players goes back to their old games or moves onto something else.  I’m sure NCSoft doesn’t want to deal with the same issues Mythic had both from a technical and PR perspective.

Beyond the queues and performance is the problem of population balance both by faction and by server.  This is a PvP game, so balance between the two sides is extremely important.  It is also important that the overall server population level is high enough that there are enough people to participate in PvP at all levels.

So what’s NCSoft to do?  They can either setup queues and use server and faction locks to manage the launch and deal with the resulting frustration of players, or they can ramp up capacity and then make adjustments again later depending on what happens at the 30-60-90 day marks.  Mythic tried scaling up Warhammer, but they had a hard time shrinking to adjust to population drops after the launch wave passed.  If I were running NCSoft, I wouldn’t like either option.  Like with the Kobayashi Maru there’s really no way to win.

I think the better idea would’ve been to avoid the whole issue by changing the game architecture to be something more like Guild Wars, Champions Online, and Eve Online.  A single world for all players with instancing of some type.   That eliminates any issues with population balancing (except having one side being too popular) and makes the hardware scaling transparent to players.  With this being a port of an existing MMO from east to west, I imagine that changing the server architecture wasn’t an option but I wonder what impact this will have on the game long-term.  Games can recover from poor launches, but its difficult at best to do, and NCSoft hasn’t shown itself to be very patient with it’s titles in the last year.

Update: Chris at Game by Night has some of the same questions.

2 Comments

  1. xXJayeDuBXxNo Gravatar says:

    I do like that NCSoft is locking character creation on servers to keep the balance, but I think you are right, they should have known the amount of people that will try to play is going to be huge.

  2. LongascNo Gravatar says:

    NCsoft West is scaring people away. Seriously. They are NOT doing it right. The game gets a lot of flak and people are unhappy.

    I share you thoughts about the one server model. Aion HAS instancing mechanics already, this is such a wasted opportunity!