Friday, August 18, 2006

WoW's Server Stability and Zuljin Protest

Its no secret that World of Warcraft has had a history of horrible server maintenance. Most of this history is undeserved and comes from the unexpected success of the game which caused Blizzard to scramble to scale up their server architecture. However, its been a couple years since the release of WoW and one would think that new server hardware would be in place to deal with the large player populations. For the most part it is but there are still a few servers whose playability suffers during the dreaded "peak hours". During these hours from 7pm-11pm some realms suffer from server lag, long queue times, and crashes. Its frustrating to those who work during the day and can often only play on weeknights.

A small group of players from the Zuljin server seemed to have been fed up with the behavior and decide to draw attention to the problem. By coincidence and the similarity of nerd behavior players from Zuljin found out they would be attending the GenCon convention at the same time. In a moment of corny brilliance they decide to picket the Blizzard Booth at the convention. Complete with hand made signs and slogans the group managed to stick around long enough for a couple of bloggers to get photos. I initially thought the story was small but recent comments on blogs have made me realize there is a misconception about the rare "bad servers" Blizzard has for WoW.

While most people thought the protest was funny a few thought the players were just whiny. A few well known bloggers such as Heartless Gamer express the opinion that servers can't just magically be fixed. While I admit that most of the servers only have momentary lapses in performance there are a few that are routinely "bad" and could be fixed almost right away with higher end hardware. Blizzard already alleviated some of the problems with the character transfer feature and by charging 25$ a transfer made a decent profit in the process. But even with a more distributed player population a few still have too many players on them to operate correctly.

Recent forum posts by community managers point to a large scale server upgrade in the new few months in preparation for the Burning Crusade expansion. The upgrades will most likely fix the current heavy population servers but one has to wonder why it took so long. The truth of the matter is that Blizzard is a company and they balance customer satisfaction with profits. While nowhere near as bad as Sony Online Entertainment they still want to make as much money as possible while keeping their customers happy. Thus you can see how they couldn't justified large scale upgrades until right before the Burning Crusade. No one knows exactly how many accounts will be reactivated for the expansion but the numbers will most likely be huge, especially if digital distribution is used.

Other Links to Blogs on the protest
Broken Toys
WoW Insider

Remember one of the reasons EQ2 failed to beat WoW was server problems
Early Tobold Article