Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Queues, oh my!

So the queues are up again.

For my home server Stormrage EU, this means a 15 minute waiting time to come online. I can’t remember last time this happened. We used to have some pretty bad instability issues a year ago, and this resulted in a major exodus from the server, bringing down the population to middle size. But now we have a queue and I can only imagine how bad it must be at the more popular servers, those that were labelled “full” even before the launch of Cataclysm.

Of course the queues were to be expected, and I believe that most players can understand and accept that there is a certain waiting time during the peak period that follows the release of an expansion. However, the queues that are reported on the official forums now are more than long. They’re extreme. We’re not talking about 15 minutes, but rather 4 hours. The question is what Blizzard can or should do about it.

Bashiok's posting
Blue poster Bashiok has made an effort to try to moderate some of the threads of wrath and hatred, doing exactly what companies should do in situations like this. He shows that Blizzard is listening and that they’re aware of the situation, he expresses his compassion and concern and he points out what they’ve done to address the situation so far and the possible solutions for the future. But obviously this isn’t enough for the infuriated players. Finally Bashiok gives in and says that he’ll stop responding, since “people are just consistently quoting things out of context or just not reading my replies at all before posting.”

The thing with the queues is that there isn’t any quick fix to it, at least not anyone that is good.

To quote Bashiok:
“How do we handle the thousands upon thousands of people, per realm, that have come back from weeks, maybe years of not playing to play today on their old realm? Delete their accounts? Forcibly move their characters to low-pop realms while they weren't looking?”
As an emergency measure, Blizzard has decided to raise the cap of how many players that can be online at the same time on a certain realm. This seems to have helped a little, but it hasn’t wiped the queues as far as I understand it. And is it really a good solution? It will no doubt affect the player experience, with increased piling on the questgivers and worse competition for popular quest mobs. Not to speak of the risk for lag. In the end it’s a question about the balance between quantity and quality, and I hope that they won’t go too far in this direction, just to get rid of the queues. And the complaints will still be there, only that they address the density on the server rather than the waiting time. I’m not sure if it’s that much of a gain.

One thing I think that Blizzard should and could do is to give out better information about the queue situation on different realms. On the Battle-net website with the list over the realms, there’s a column called “queue”, but the only information they put there is “yes”, which I assume means that there is a queue. What it they could make live updates on exactly how many players are in queue for each realm and how long the estimated waiting time is?

Such an overview could help players to play their gaming better. Even if the queue is an annoyance, at least it won’t have to come as a shock. If you know about the queue in advance, you can join it and go and plan for other things to do while waiting. Also: if players see how bad the queues on their home realm are, they might consider spending that night on an alt on another realm, just to see the new content.

It could also possibly inspire players to consider switching to a less populated realm. Don’t be too sure about it though! The psychology of queues never ceases to fascinate me. Even if we grumble about queues, and you never hear about anyone enjoying them, we’re at the same time weirdly attracted to them, light a night fly to the torch light.

Queues as marketing
For how crazy it sounds, a proper queue can be one of the cheapest and most forceful marketing activities you can come up with. There is some strange logic that tells us that something that is so popular that there is a queue for it, must be so good that it’s worth queuing for. If there’s a queue, we’re quick to join it, because who knows how quickly it will grow?

I’ve seen examples of it in real life, as people join queues that they don’t even know where they’re leading, for instance in theme parks. Rule number one is to secure your spot in the line. Once you’ve done this, you have plenty of time to start worrying about what the line is about.

If you apply this to WoW I’m afraid that the more popular a realm is, the more attractive is it to the players. “Oh, so Argent Dawn in EU is apparently a hot spot. There must be something fantastic about this realm. What do they have that we don’t have? I’d better queue up and check it out for myself. It must be worth it or there wouldn’t be so popular”. And equally a low population realm can easily be overlooked. It gives the same creepy feeling as looking into the window of an open restaurant that is empty on customers. “Ouch. No people! There must be a reason. The food is either bad or expensive. I’d better go somewhere else.”

I guess much of the queue issues will sort out themselves in a not too far distant future, when the powerlevellers have done their thing and the holiday season arrives, when players will either go afk for real life issues or spread out their gaming over the day, since they’re off from work and school. I think Blizzard does right not to mindlessly open new realms in an act of desperation to counter the queues. If a realm is crowded now it doesn’t mean that it will be the same in a couple of months, and players on "empty" realms tend to be even more misarable than they ones that are stuck in queues. Blizzard must plan further ahead than the nearest week.

But even if they don’t act, they must keep communicating. So big kudos to Bashiok, for at least trying.


Jesse said...

If players could transfer servers instantly and freely that would solve the queue problem. All of Cryptic's games have this, and it is a big plus for finding people to play with. Although with Warcraft's name system this would probably require a significant amount of development time, but with the Real ID system they at least have a system in place to compensate for some of the same name problems.

Heavy Artillery said...

On my home server, US-Moon Guard, I waited 45 minutes to get from 886 in the queue until I could log on last night. Just providing this for some comparison. Thanks for your blog, love reading it.

Ozolin of Moon Guard

Anonymous said...

The thing is, I'm sure the reason for putting a real-life price on server transfer is the same reason for putting a price on Dust of Disappearance or respecs or having a newly tamed pet only go up to five levels under your level. It is a balance between convenience and permanence: they allow you to switch your talents, your glyphs, your pet and your server if you want to, but they don't want you to be able to do so too freely because then you won't care about your choices too much, so they put a price on switching these to give some permanence to them.

Daergel said...

When I logged in at the Shattering, I was about 760 in the queue, and had to wait a good half hour to get on.

When I installed Cata yesterday and tried to log on, I started at number 2036.

I studied for an hour, collected my son from scouts and went back, eventually getting on well after 9pm

Yes, I am one of those Argent Dawn (EU) players who has had Alliance players there before SAN!

My strategy is to log on as soon as I get home in the hope that I can get on without too much of a wait when I am ready (after eating and putting children to bed, etc)

Jen said...

I'm very happy I'm (apparently) on a low population realm. I always thought we're close to full, but I didn't have any problems logging in for 4.0.3a or now.

This reminds me of Aion, which had huge, horrible queues at launch (2h+). I was able to play a little since I was home during the day. My boyfriend came back from work to look at the 1500 people in front of him. We never did play again after the first month... Luckily for WoW, it's not a new game, so people are already sure they want to play. Aion's queues lost them a lot of players who just wanted to see what the fuss was about, but couldn't get in.

Shintar said...

I was actually surprised that Earthen Ring EU didn't have a queue. We've been listed as having a medium-sized population for a while now, but I thought that more ER players would come back with the Cataclysm.

The only thing that bugs me about the queues right now is that there seems to be some sort of bug where if you try to log onto a realm with a queue and then try to switch to another one, it won't let you unless you log out completely and back in again. Been doing that a lot as of late...

jeffo said...

Interesting the differences in queue times from server to server. I'm on US-Whisperwind, which has a pretty high population, and have yet to encounter a queue. I also haven't seen any guildies logging in and saying 'Gah, I was in the queue for 20 minutes!' or anything to that effect. My wife got stuck in one that lasted less than five minutes.

I expected to run into queues over Thanksgiving weekend, what with the newly-Shattered world and kids off/home from school for the long weekend, but it never happened. Go figure.

Carra said...

After relogging minutes after the launch I had to wait 50 mins before I could log in.

Besides that? Some minor queues on stormrage (2 mins). It all depends when you log int. At 19:30 there weren't long queues. Relogging at 23:00 even gave instant access.

And yes, people could just migrate to other servers. But you know all those people on your own server. And they won't all migrate with you.

Jesse said...

My point is that permanence for server choice causes queueing problems. It also restricts the social aspect of an MMO. Since if you make new friends who play and they aren't on the same server it costs either money to transfer or time to reroll. Looking at all the low population servers that could be merged and the ebb and flow of their subscriber numbers, this permanence costs Blizzard more money in the long run as well. Overall I conclude that while some decisions should have permanence, server choice should not be one of them.

Jesse said...

P.s. I don't think class choice should be permanent either, but that's another topic. :P

spinksville said...

Funny thing is, Blizzard have enabled free transfers on some of the busier servers, like AD EU. But people are just using them to transfer some alts off server to make room for new goblins.

Gevlon said...

I picked Agamaggan EU exactly to avoid these queues. And I think it is creepy to go somewhere where others queue. I never do that.

Tesh said...

Huh. Jesse said all of what I'd say, even the postscript. Fascinating.

Guild Wars and Wizard 101 are another couple of games with instant server hopping (though W101 has a one minute cooldown), and EVE goes about it a different way with a single shared world.

Jesse said...

@Tesh It appears that we share similar opinions on several topics. Your view on the NPC's Warcraft has added that are fighting each other is markedly less jaded than my own, but you probably don't feel the nostalgia I have for Tabula Rasa's control points. They are so close to implementing something similar it hurts. I look forward to reading more from you on your blog. I'd share my own but it's an outdated mess with a withering case of neglect.

Holly said...

I've yet to have a queue, though I log in at abnormal times. While I agree free server transfers would be nifty I'm not surprised Blizzard is only giving them when they absolutely have to, or that they charge from them. I bet they're making an even bigger fortune from server transfers during this.

As far as realm merging, I'm not sure why this is something Blizzard has never done, especially when one side dominates the other and they could balance it out more, but yes, that's another topic entirely.

With most realms having a decent population I don't think you can really argue lack of free server transfers takes the 'mmo' out of 'mmo.' Though you could say phasing and instancing do that, I'd argue those two things do it far worse than server transfers. Though along those lines I'd argue that region lock and not being able to transfer accounts/characters from US to EU is silly.

But anyway this was a post on queues. I think that while a system in place to show server queues is decent in theory, I'm sure that's a decently involved backend to something that will most likely resolve itself in but a few days, and that's where cost vs. need will come in.

I do believe fully that Blizzard could easily afford to maintain servers that could handle the load of every player in world of warcraft being on one realm, yet to do so would really really hit their budget I feel.

While the servers may be overloaded today, to design backend or even your servers based on what is essentially a rare 'maximum load' time that lasts probably less then 5% a year on average (a completely made up figure strictly for the purposes of example.) so maintaning something that beastly would just be cost inneffecient.

Though some emergency back-up servers and robots would be nice.


Ngita said...

Many prefer a busy server over a quiet one, their are a lot of advantages. It took a year for me to abandon my first server. Even the first years xmas queue where I logged in, saw 2411, went for a swim at the beach. came back, shower, went out for a coffee and finally came back to see i was sub positon 20 in the queue after 2 hours 15 minutes was not enough. But the combination of spending 3 times in the same hour long queue after a year on server was finally enough. Speaking of which my queue is about to reach zero - only ten minutes.

Larísa said...

@Jesse & Tesh: I’m glad you two have found each other over there by the barside. Here’s another pint for you to enjoy, don’t let me disturb!

About instant server transfers… hm…. It surely should and could be less pricy but at the same time: I’m not sure what impact that kind of social engineering would have on the game. Imagine if people could jump around as they liked from server to server… Could it mean more ninjaing since you could easily jump away? Or possibly less since others could follow you? Just as an example. I think you’d have to think over it a lot. It would have impact, that’s for sure.

@Heavy Artillery: 45 minutes is rather long, but hopefully it will get better soon. Thanks for the kind words!

: Yeah, I think so too. If makes you think closer about your choices and there is a certain pleasure in that.

@Dargel: Oh dear. That sounds painful. Well, I for sure won’t add to the AD queues as it is. My alt overthere won’t be played for a while.

@Jen: That’s true. For a new player it must be a painful and a bit shocking experience. Hopefully they’ll roll on one of the recommended realms though rather than on a full one.

@Shintar: Oh I hate that bug too! I thought it was only me that experienced it, but obviously not. I figure I should report it somewhere. You always take for granted that someone else does this for you.

@Jeffo: You’ve been lucky then. It definitely varies. The complaints from the affected forums sound desperate, the situation must be really bad over there.

@Carra: Yep. The biggest problem isn’t your guild. It’s those ex-guildies who you keep on your friendslist. All those connections that will be lost, even if everyone in your guild decides to migrate. It’s certainly not an easy decision.

: I don’t think people jump as quickly at free transfers as you might hope. If you’re established at AD and enjoy the RP community there it would take a LOT to move away from it.

@Gevlon: “And I think it is creepy to go somewhere where others queue. I never do that.”. Why am I not surprised? :)

@Holly: Oh, I HATE the barrier between US and EU. It drives me nuts. If there’s one wish I could have for Blizzard it is to remove that.

@Ngita: Three hours? That’s so crazy. And you know what would be most painful? Imagine if you have a temporary glitch in your internet connection and the line goes down for a fraction of a second. And you’re back to the end position of the queue… *Shivers*

Tesh said...

I never played TR. More the pity me, I suppose. I'm all for more dynamic content, though, even if it means NPCs play a heavy role. They do the "immersion" thing better anyway by playing their superficial stage parts far more effectively than the best Role Player.

The instant server swap does have social effects, certainly, as well as economic effects, but my experience in GW and W101 suggest to me that the increased mobility makes grouping easier (no more "I rolled on the wrong server" angst) and reduces queue traffic by letting traffic flow organically to where there's computing power for it.

Yes, as always, with more people, there are more jerks, but somehow, cliques always form and like minded players find ways to each other. Making that easier seems to me to be a Good Thing, even if the jerks are also freer.

Bronte said...

Reminds me of vanilla WoW, specifically launch date. I remember rolling a Tauren Hunter on Bloodhoof. Then the game crashed because of the sheer volume of players online. When I tried to log back in, I had to wait some 20 odd minutes in line.

And you're right, during the wait I wasn't thinking "this sucks". i was thinking: "This much be awesome if so many people are trying to get in! Can't wait!"