There are two big topics circulating on the blogosphere at the moment: WoW’s role in ‘ruining’ MMOs (i.e. making them less about grouping and more solo-play) and the Archeage launch queues.
World of Warcraft and solo-play
I think WoW benefitted the genre more than it has cost it. I’m not playing the game anymore but I had many great hours of entertainment out of the it over the years. Blizzard have been known as a maker of ‘polished games’. I think that’s on balance true of WoW too, there have been plenty of issues with the game but it remains a more polished MMORPG than most. The combat has top-notch responsiveness for instance, I’ve played Rift, EQ2 or LOTRO or other similar tab-target combat MMOs and have noticed that the combat system and animations aren’t quite as synchronised or polished as those in WoW even today. Action MMOs tend to get the combat sync and animations right but then they are often deficient in other areas (e.g. Tera’s bland storytelling) – WoW took all the major elements and gave them a quality makeover.
Now it’s very probable that WoW further popularised solo leveling as an almost default behaviour in MMOs (I deliberately say ‘further popularised here’, see Bhagpuss’ post on pre-WoW soloing). Strangely it’s not something I’ve ever done in that game, I was always in static leveling groups with friends – that may be simply a reflection on the number of friends that were playing it, grouping up to level was always easy to organise back then.
I’ve done plenty of solo leveling in other MMOs since though and for sure if the game doesn’t support that playstyle I won’t be playing it for long.
Archeage launch queues
So Archeage appears to have had a bit of a runaway success. That’s good to hear for Trion (the NA/Europe publisher), although I gather it must be pretty stressful for them at present as they resist the persistent calls to open more servers just to relieve the queues. Open world sandbox gameplay, trading and PVP will be pretty impossible if the servers end up empty when the next wave of gaming expansions and updates hits later this year.
Given the popularity of megaservers, a system that allows all the players to be playing on one virtual server with zones splitting into phased versions to keep the game engine from overloading, it seems strange that Archeage wasn’t developed with something more adaptable than the very old model of descrete servers. Maybe there’s no other solution possible for the style of open world housing in the game, but in 2014 it seems a bit odd to be seeing the same issues that affected SWTOR’s launch or other initially super-popular titles. Will there be cries for server merges in Archeage in 3-9 months time?
Note: XL Games in Korea develops Archeage, Trion just publish it in the west so Trion are responsible for the number of servers brought online but they aren’t responsible for the server architecture or game design.
Servers and queues
I’ve read that World of Warcraft echoed these same problems when it first launched in 2004. I never experienced any significant downtime or queue problems when playing over the six or so years I was in-game. Certainly there was server maintenance on occasion and Moonglade was very quiet at least in the leveling zones for the last few years until they started soft-merging servers as ‘connected realms‘.
Perhaps this explains one reason for WoWs success over the years. Blizzard built a very strong engineering team to manage their server infrastructure and to plan and deploy capacity as needed. As the game grew in population they managed, better than most MMO developers, to keep up with demand and avoid long-term queue problems. This has the simple consequence that WoW is the game you are most likely to be able to play at a given moment, it’s always there if you have a current subscription. It’s all very well having free to play MMOs installed to play, but there’s less surety that they’ll be up and stable at the moment you want to play them. LOTRO for instance suffered terribly with lag when they introduced the mounted combat in the Riders of Rohan expansion. I experienced this myself, yet when I logged into WoW the very same evening the latter game ran smooth as silk. Getting the server infrastructure right for an MMO is so important, I think the developers of more recent MMOs do not necessarily take enough time and money to polish that very crucial aspect of our gaming experience.