Monday, August 26, 2013

Final Flames: Dismantling the rants against 'A Realm Reborn'

Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn opened its doors to pre-purchasers last weekend to a myriad of server woes. Predictably, the internet is on fire with a rage factor exponential to the amount of downtime. Today I aim to address some of the common rants popping up against Square and preach a bit of calmness.

Square doesn't want to pay for servers

Most of the problems over the weekend were related to load balancing and server capacity. From the moment that the early access switch was flipped, the servers were taxed to maximum load. Furthering these issues was a design mechanic where players are frequently shuffled from a large world server to a smaller instance server. In the end, issues with swapping players between these servers while trying to operate at peak capacity lead to numerous people unable to log in or access specific content. While this problem will solve itself after a few weeks when, inevitably, some people will stop playing the game, the obvious short-term solution is to implement additional servers to help handle the load. That said, I think that the majority of people raging that Square is "too cheap" to buy/lease additional servers are missing some critical points. First, at the time that issues were happening, it was too late to implement new servers as an immediate fix (these things take time to set up after all!). Second, determining how much server capacity is needed beforehand takes a lot of guesswork; and although pre-order totals can help make this guess some people wait until the last second to purchase thus adding an element of surprise in final numbers. Finally, suggesting that erring on the side of caution and having an abundance of server capacity sounds good until you actually crunch the numbers. Beyond hardware costs itself comes salaries for additional technicians plus a whole slew of overhead. Leasing hardware on the short term costs a fortune and paying long-term rentals for unused hardware is wasted money. In either case, paying for additional servers would come out of development money and could potentially lead to a lower quality game. The trade-off is having servers that can handle the entire world but a game that sports Atari 2600 graphic or having a nicer game but potentially a few hiccups at the onset.

Square doesn't care

This is probably the weakest rant I have heard. Square absolutely cares and wants its game to be a success if for no other reason than bigger profits. On top of this, I am pretty sure that the dedicated team of developers aren't sitting back thinking about their next project; people generally want to know if they have done a good job and want to fix mistakes when they are discovered. Sure, maybe some disgruntled employee working the support line is thinking "fuck this" right now but to suggest that, as a whole, Square is disinterested in what happens is extremely flippant.

Square should have known about this before launch

I think that it is unfair to assume that Square has a hidden stash of magic crystal balls that they don't share with the rest of the world. It is totally fair to assume that Square could have predicted the servers would be maxed at launch but to claim that they would also know the repercussions of this is crazy. The bottom line, no one can predict how servers will handle load balancing and data migration when they are at capacity. Hardware is subject to variation in what it can do (some components may fault due to manufacturing variance) and testing software in true load conditions basically amounts to opening it up to the world. Tied to this, suggesting that any bug within the game code should have been caught beforehand is implying that beta-testers and developers are infallible (pro tip: they aren't). In short, until the servers are actually filled, knowing how they will react when at capacity is a rough estimate at best.

I want my money back

A lot of people have been shouting this. While I am hesitant to deny consumers the right to demand a refund, those doing so based on two days worth of server woes before the game has actually officially launched are jumping the gun a bit too quick here. If a few weeks go by and the servers aren't stable, then I think a reasonable case can be made that Square has failed in its commitment to consumers. At very least, I think that people need to wait until the game is officially launched before doing anything. You don't walk out of a movie because the trailers were blurry, especially if management comes down and assures you that the problem will be fixed for the feature attraction. Unfortunately, demanding a refund seems to be the instant reaction with the logic of punishing Square. For me, I reason that early access comes 'as is' with no obligation on Square's part at all. As such, early access is a free perk to those who pre-ordered, screaming for a refund because the free perk sucks is illogical unless that perk has caused you real strife (pro tip 2: it hasn't).

All told, I think that people should just calm down a bit. MMOs are notorious for rocky starts, and while this doesn't lessen the sting any, in a few weeks I suspect that everything will be moving smoothly. The game itself is running quite well with few bugs or broken mechanics. I haven't seen any reports of broken quest-lines or game failures unrelated to the servers. If it turns out that Square has dramatically underestimated the amount of servers it needs and things aren't running optimally by the end of the first month, by all means cast that fire spell, until then keep the wand holstered.