Psst, over here! Just in case, you know, you’re taking a break from the game– I’m here to distract you from work, er, chat about Guild Wars 2! Or specifically, headstart. The game’s off to an interesting start so far. I say ‘interesting’ because– let’s face it– not everyone has been pleased with their headstart experience. Despite ArenaNet managing to pull up the servers exactly when they said they probably would, it seems the servers had a hard time keeping up with the player load, and produced quite a large number of issues and game lockups.
Over the course of the weekend, players have experienced issues with logging in, staying logged in, account validation, guilds/guild membership disappearing, the trading post, the Black Lion Trading Company, HoM deliveries, WvWvW, and more. At the same time, not everyone experienced every issue, and in fact, quite a few players experienced a weekend of worry-free gaming. Some players were able to put in about seven hours of stable playtime before problems arose, and for the most part, those same players were able to log in a couple hours later. Not bad, right? Perhaps. But let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
And yes, I’m going to talk about the launch of headstart as the game’s “launch” for this article. In all practicality– that’s what it is to a large portion of long-time fans and avid gamers.
I’ve been through quite a few MMO launches now, and I have admittedly become a little jaded in my semi-old age. Take that how you will, but also know that my overall experience with GW2′s headstart has been positive. I’ve experienced some minor guild issues and a bit of area lag, but nothing over the top. I do, however, keep a close eye on the community and industry as a whole (hence my babbling!). I also hold ArenaNet to fairly high standards. Why? Because GW2 has been in production for quite a long time, they’ve had a while to watch other MMO launches, and it seems that the company has taken some extra-long steps to ensure the stability of their product.
Yep– I’m talking about the stress tests. On the surface, it would seem like those frequent (and random) tests would have boosted the stability of the game’s launch by leaps and bounds. Yet after this weekend’s headstart launch, a whole new slew of issues popped up. Frequent stress tests were a good idea in theory, but they were unfortunately limited to pre-purchasers of the game and players who were able to log in at those random times.
The player loads during the stress tests simply weren’t close enough to what was actually experienced during headstart. If the team had given more notice on the later stress tests, allowed all testers to return, and ran the tests for more than four hours at a time, they might have had larger numbers, and thus better data to work with.
While ArenaNet has been very good about keeping in touch with the playerbase on Twitter, Facebook, and on their official support page, one thing they’re not offering at the moment is forum communications. The company was very selective about when they allowed players to post on their forums throughout the public beta process, which was actually quite unfortunate for players who enjoy giving feedback and taking part in a game’s community in that fashion. And now we don’t even have official forums post-headstart launch.
I imagine this was done to shuffle more staff members toward Customer Service roles in other mediums, but I still disagree with the decision. Official forums are important to maintain a sense of community with players. Sure, forums will get inevitably swamped around a game’s release and will have to be moderated properly, but it’s kind of… expected at this point. Players love getting to know members of the staff community team, and forums also give developers an easy way to quickly get feedback. I hope the forums are made public sooner rather than later.
The forum issue is, of course, pretty minor. As are many of the issues players are facing in-game. For the most part, the major issues, such as not being able to log in at all, seem to have been resolved for most players. That’s a good sign– a very good sign. There may be some level progression issues that ArenaNet will need to look into, since there were accounts yesterday of players hitting level 80 using not-quite-natural methods, but unfortunately all the beta testing in the world won’t always uncover issues like these.
All that said, I don’t think Guild Wars 2′s headstart launch was terrible. I do think it also wasn’t entirely smooth, however. It was kind of middle-ranged in my opinion, worse than the launches of SWTOR, RIFT, and The Secret World, but definitely better than Age of Conan’s and World of Warcraft’s. Can ArenaNet make up for the somewhat-shaky headstart launch with a better “official” launch, improved customer service, quick bug fixes, and a stable– and fun– game for years to come? You bet.