MMO patching

Warhammer Online has been patched a great deal since launch, above and beyond the typical patching of a new MMO, with everything from small ‘hot fixes’ to major content patches like 1.1a. It’s rare that a week goes by without some changes, and something is always coming down the pipe. It’s exciting stuff usually, and gives players the chance to really watch an MMO establish itself and find its groove.

Each patch is also a two steps forward, one step back type of deal, or two back one forward if things go awry. Sometimes the step back is minor randomness like the travel mounts flying off axis, and sometimes its serious stuff like a massive increase in CTDs. Sometimes the fix does not actually fix anything, like ghost mounts, which have been ‘fixed’ in each of the last few patches. For all the great balance changes 1.06 brought, it also introduced a slew of new class bugs or oddities, stuff most players don’t know about unless they read the forums. It’s unlikely a regular player is going to notice his +5% crit chance tactic is not working if he equips it while mounted, right?

On the other side of the coin you have Blizzard and their patching schedule. Almost all of their patches actually fix what they claim to fix, and rarely introduce game-breaking side effects. That said, those patches are at best once a month, and players can be left waiting 8 months or more for a content patch to add a new instance or set of quests. Deadlines, when given, are more often then not pushed back, be it server downtime or content additions. “When it’s done” is the company line, and it’s used liberally.

Putting my obvious Bliz-hate aside (or trying to anyway), it makes me wonder which style of updating works best for players. I would imagine more active players, those that not only play but also read forums and dev posts, don’t mind the Mythic approach as much as the more casual player. As long as you keep up with the bugs, and Mythic addresses them shortly after they creep up, they are not that terribly bothersome. (CTD and other game-break stuff aside of course). My mount flying like it has a broken wing really changes nothing for me in RvR, and as long as I’m still dealing the same damage, I’m not going to spend a long time worrying about the fact that my Black Guard is holding is sword in the wrong hand, no matter how stupid it looks.

On the other hand, if I’m Joe Casual, and I only have a very limited amount of time each week to log on and play, running into something like a broken PQ or zone crash might be a deal breaker for me, especially if it happens repeatedly. That said, Joe Casual is unlikely to notice the tactics bug, so while the hardcore will be spamming the forums with “slap in the face” posts, Joe Casual will be happily questing/RvRing away, likely unaware that his dps has decreased by 1-2% due to a bug.

With the Blizzard approach, it comes down to your current status in WoW. If you happen to be a class affected by some serious-for-you bug, it can be a very frustrating experience waiting months for a fix. If you have run out of content, be it PvP, raiding, or even questing, waiting 6+ months for Blizzard to add more can also be frustrating, or just make the decision to unsubscribe easier. That said, if your class ‘works’, and you have enough content to last you, Blizzards approach works very well for you. You know that even if a hotfix is released, it’s very unlikely to break something that was working for you, and your gameplay remains unaffected. Your mount won’t start flying with a stutter, or your character won’t suddenly hold their sword and shield in the same hand, or get stuck laying down constantly.

Part of all this is from the fact that WoW is 4+ years old, while WAR has 2+ months of live release under it’s belt, but part is also (imo) just a difference in philosophy. Blizzard double and triple checks each change at the expense of deadlines and timeliness, while Mythic pushes out content and changes in rapid succession, and then later goes back to fine tune everything, with minor bugs not being cause to delay an update.

In a perfect world, we would get rapid content patches that work flawlessly, but that’s just never going to be the case, especially in MMO land. Putting the actual differences in the games aside, which approach works best for you, and why?

28 Responses to MMO patching

  1. Hudson says:

    I think I do prefer the extensive testing of WoW and the large gap between their patch releases.

    Not being a Blizz fanboy, I just like the way they run their shop.

  2. Neil says:

    This is a very important time for Mythic, they need to be aggressive in their steps to move the game forward. I would love for them to be bug free patches. But can Mythic really afford to be seen to be responding slowly? No. There are new players coming along and old players minds to be changed (if that is at all possible).

    It’s what the websites will be reporting, 1.06, 1.1a, 1.2. Bang bang bang. Event, event, event. The last thing you want is game to drop off the gaming news radar.

    Once things are rounded off abit more, then Mythic can let their teams lookup and smell the roses and look towards the future. I think if I was a member of the Warhammer team, I would want to be aggressive now and get the subscriptions to the level necessary to support a big development team.

    There are 2 forks infront of us warhammer players – 1) AoC 2) WoW . I don’t want the game to take 1. I don’t expect no.2 in numbers, but definitely no. 2 for the longterm future it can offer.

  3. unwise says:

    Blizzard have the luxury of time. They know they aren’t going to lose a noticeable amount of subscribers due to a few bugs here and there, so they’ve no reason not to take their time and do things properly.

    Mythic on the other hand are trying frantically to fix the holes before the subscriber bleed becomes terminal, and they can’t afford to triple check things. The general perception is that WAR is a buggy game, not fatally so, but certainly worse than WoW, and therefore the patches have to come thick and fast to demonstrate that something is being done about the problem.

    Imagine if Mythic had kept WAR in development for another 6 months and launched it in Q2 of next year. All 24 careers, 6 capital cities, a stable client and a polished game. The WoW multitude would be at the level cap, having played a bit of end-game, and would be starting to get itchy feet…

    Say what you like about Blizzard, but the ‘when it’s done’ attitude is a shining beacon of developmental wisdom that EA/Mythic would have done well to learn. We can only hope EA will have learned the lesson for SWTOR.

  4. Neil says:

    The thing that Blizzard had was a big bank balance. This is before WoW was even around. All of their titles were AAA and had generated alot of revenue. So they were cash rich, they also could say to Vivendi (Their parent company at the time). We know exactly what we are doing, try and relax your corporate sphincters.

    Mythic releasing in September can’t have been anything other than pressure to release, imagine what these extra 3 months would have done to the overall project.

    I think Blizzard had the development of WotLK well under control and basically had it ready to unleash when they needed to. It was their silver bullet.

    They delivered the 3.02 patch at a perfect time and followed it with WotLK at a time when first free month subscriptions were running out. Discontent with warhammer would have been rising and WoW offered players a safe haven to them to return to, where quality and comfort was guaranteed.

    Personally I couldn’t have timed the WotLK package release to impact a new competitor better. Dark conspiracy yes. But something I have mulled over often.

  5. Mordiceius says:

    Neil, not only did they have the big budget, but they had the trust of the consumer base. Even before WoW was around, people trusted Blizzard. They saw the products Blizzard put out and knew that even though it may take a while, they would get the highest quality. Very few companies have the complete trust with the consumer (see Valve as another great company). People are willing to wait for the major patches just as they’re willing to wait for Diablo 3 or Starcraft 2 because they know that the product will be polished beyond belief. It is just the type of relationship Blizzard has always had the the consumers.

    On a complete tangent, syncaine, I’d be interested in hearing your views on the future of WAR. Not just the next couple patches, but your theorycraft on where you think the game will be in one year, two years, four years and what direction you think the inevitable expansions will take the game.

  6. Chris F says:

    My one beef with Blizzard patching, is that they don’t need to take so much time. They can do just as good of a job with their great patches (which they are!) but still release them faster. Hire more programmers.

    They are cash rich, and use the “when it’s done” tagline so people support their slow patches – and it works. Meanwhile, they need to have a big return on investment so keep the workforce limited to avoid “unnecessary” expenses.

    I just see it as a little bit of a cop-out. How many on-release bugs made it through to BC before being fixed? None of them were gamebreaking (although some felt class-breaking) so it wasn’t a huge deal. But a smaller – extra – team of programmers to polish those things up would have been great.

    Again, I respect them for their position, and they do a fantastic job on their patches – I just wish they would invest a little more back into their game with additional resources from our sub dollars to get them through a bit faster.

  7. syncaine says:

    I totally understand the Blizzard approach to all other games (I own all of them), but it’s a bit different for an MMO. An MMO you need to keep updating (that’s why we pay the $15, right?), and WoW is by far the slowest updating MMO out. WoW has a huge churn rate, and I just wonder if at some point, the slow pace will overcome the initial quality. I really feel that WoW has been living off the quality of vanilla WoW for a long time, and TBC and WotLK did not move the game forward in major ways. Hard to tell though, without sub numbers for US/EU, and WoW launching in new regions to inflate the 11 million total subs number.

    As for WAR, I think they are heading in the right direction (DAoC 2.0 rather than some scenario-based game, as originally planned), and the pace of progress is encouraging. The first major goal is to get the campaign working, where city sieges actually happen and impact the two sides. Once this is possible and frequent, a major hook will be in and will keep WAR players happy. T4 right now is fun, but it needs that “you are doing this for a reason” to keep everyone going long term.

    After that (or around the same time, who knows) the whole custom keeps and guild pride thing should happen, where along with the major campaign, guilds fight it out over upgraded keeps (with destructible walls and all that jazz).

    Those two major goals, along with generally fixing all the little stupid stuff, will get WAR where it should be. That won’t get it 11 million subs, but hopefully it will get it closer to 1mil US/EU. I don’t doubt WAR will remain #2 in the market, I just hope they get closer to WoW to actually offer some competition (we all saw Bliz and Mythic scramble when WAR released, and that was good for the MMO market)

    I don’t think WAR has an expansion in the works for a bit. Too much work to be done on what they have right now. When the expansion does come, I really have no idea what they will do. A 3rd side would be amazing, but so hard to pull off. Raising the rank cap would be a disaster. Perhaps some alternate land for the two sides to fight over, like a 3rd ‘capital’ that can be captured (think a super keep, with special vendors and PvE content).

    A Darkness Falls-type RvR dungeon is in the works as well, which should add another nice layer to RvR. Not sure about the time frame on that, but I don’t think 1.2 is out of the question.

  8. Snafzg says:

    Like it or not, Mythic is now stuck in this pattern and it will continue for the foreseeable future. Given the lack of polish and bad game design they launched WAR with, they’ve been forced into reactive mode. I’m quite sure they’d rather be in proactive mode but it’s impossible given the current situation.

  9. Barix says:

    I think there’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison here. It might be more meaningful to compare against WoW back when it was at version 1.1, 1.2 etc. Per wowwiki 1.1 came out on 11/7/04, then the first patch came 10 days later, another one 19 days after that (with a holiday in between). Then the 1.2 content patch (Maraudon!) came 12 days after that, followed by another patch 3 days later. Then things stabilized for a couple of months, but then there were 3 patches in one week followed by 1.3 (Dire Maul) just 13 days after that.

    My point is Blizzard sure looks like it went through stages quite similar to what WAR is going through now during its early days. I wouldn’t be so quick to claim this as some kind of major cultural or philosophical difference between Blizz and Mythic.

  10. Mikejl says:

    Barix nailed it with “….apples and oranges comparison here. It might be more meaningful to compare against WoW back when it was at version 1.1, 1.2 etc…..”

    I even find it an exciting time in WAR right now as its new like WoW was in 1.x days after its launch. Now ..WoW is like a 2004 Volvo of MMOS right now.. where WAR is the like a new model 2008 sports car.

  11. syncaine says:

    See that would work, until we compare WoW to EQ2, or DAoC, or LoTRO. WoW is WAY behind all those games in terms of patching and added content.

    Not all MMOs update as slow as WoW has, actually most updated much much faster (EQ1 has what, 12 expansions? UO has 8 or so?) I don’t doubt that WAR will continue to see changes, fixes, and additions added in a similar pace to DAoC, if not faster (bigger team now), and I highly doubt Blizzard is going to start cranking out monthly content like LoTRO.

    The age of the MMO is a factor, but not the only factor. It goes beyond that, and is indeed an apples to apples deal.

  12. Hiryu02 says:

    I disagree with the statement that WAR was released in an unpolished state. People don’t seem to remember that WoW was near-unplayable for many months after initial release.

    Bad game design? That too is not a quantifiable statement, merely an opinion.

    I do prefer Mythic’s patching schedule, as it makes me feel that attention is being paid and that issues are being addressed in a consistent manner. What i do dislike, is that they do not always confirm that certain bugs may exist. But in comparison the the Blizz method of “say almost nothing, most of the time”, the extent of Mythic’s communication with the player base is great.

  13. Snafzg says:

    @Hiryu – The fact that they’re scrambling to make big game changing patches like 1.1 “quantifies” that their original design intentions didn’t quite work out as they’d hoped. Patches like 1.06 and the three to four hotfix patches we have received weekly since launch prove that in fact this game did not release in a very polished state.

    Those statements stand on their own and you don’t need to compare them to WoW to glean anything from them. WoW may have had issues shortly after launch just as WAR has, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing; it just means people have low standards when it comes to MMOs.

  14. syncaine says:

    Are they low standards, or realistic standards? Since UO, including WoW, no MMO has been without some rather serious faults at launch. What’s all that “madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results”? If you play an MMO at launch, expect issues. Just goes with the territory (as does all the really cool stuff that happens around the launch of an MMO, that for me, makes all the bugs worthwhile)

    That said, part of why WAR is seeing more drastic changes than other MMOs is because late in development (beta) the game moved away from being scenario based to something closer to DAoC. That’s a HUGE change, and simply put, is not yet finished. You think Mythic really wanted to have static, two door keeps as the primary RvR focus? After all they did in DAoC…

    Now you can fault them for bad design with the scenario plan (even though people love scenarios, and on their own, they are light years ahead of WoW’s BGs), but you have to give them credit for listening to the beta community and making such a drastic change to the game. At launch, the game was playable, and I don’t think they made a mistake or should have waited. They have a lot to fix, but I’m not alone in being very happy with the few months I’ve played so far.

  15. BoredJon says:

    I don’t think it’s so much a case of it being two philosophically different approaches as much as it’s a case of two different approaches because of the current states of the game.

    WoW is an established game. The game had bugs upon release and much like any MMO patch, their early ones fixed some items and broke some items. However over the course of four years they’ve managed to fix most of the basic bugs and now they have a fairly good handle on their game and system. Any additional content additions and tweaks are invariably going to be similar to items they’ve done in the past, so they can draw on earlier work to make sure there’s fewer bugs and issue. Thus, when they release a patch the game is still going to continue to be relatively smooth with less new bugs popping up.

    WAR is a newly released game. So, much of the basic bugs are still present and when they patch something it’s invariably going to bring a couple of new bugs to the table. Additionally, they’re introducing new systems and revamping certain aspects of the game due to unpredicted player actions in live. This is all pretty normal and as time goes on and newer patches are implemented, the bugs are going to start disappearing and fewer ones will be introduced in subsequent patches. Additionally, I expect Mythic to switch to a schedule similar to WoW once the game gets pretty established and much of the the “new release” bugs and issues are addressed.

    That said, I’ve been pretty impressed with the speed at which Mythic has addressed many of the in-game issues. Additionally, just three months after release patches 1.0.6 and 1.1 have gone a long way toward improving general gameplay and the game really does appear to be finding itself and heading in the right direction.

  16. Snafzg says:

    One day an MMO will launch extremely polished and relatively bug free. I’m sure we’ll never get to the point where everything is flawless because it can’t be when you throw a few hundred thousand players at it with different systems and such, but it will be pretty darn close.

    And then we will look back on this time as the dark times. Seriously. People will laugh at how pathetic it used to be. It make take a decade, but change is slow when your general audience is pretty apathetic.

    The biggest reason we aren’t getting there yet is because there is a lackadaisical attitude that bugs are somehow acceptable in MMOs. If you went out and bought any non-MMO game for $50 would you accept months and months of CTDs? Texture blurs? Unresponsive comands? Broken systems (e.g., keep contribution)? Probably not.

    They definitely listen and respond in a timely manner which is much appreciated. That’s about the only props I’ll give Mythic. Their community interaction is top notch. Everything else is just average from original concept to execution.

    My grip is loosening on this game. January 20th will be here soon and I don’t think I’ll be resubbing. I’m not paying to play an MMO beta – and that’s what WAR has been in since release. Some people are that addicted, but not I.

  17. syncaine says:

    Software is software, so maybe at some point, an MMO will launch with good enough code to work (LoTRO was close). But the players are not code, and you can’t always predict that. Some of the drastic changes to WAR have nothing to do with code or design. Even a long and extensive beta could not have predicted some of the player-driven issues.

    But until that magical MMO launch day, all MMOs should be considered ‘beta’ status at launch. And I don’t just mean beta in a negative way. It’s fun (for me) to see a game grow and change so rapidly, to see players adapt to the systems and push them, to see the devs guide players towards certain goals, and away from others. That side-game alone is worth my $15, let alone the fun I’m having actually playing. It’s not for everyone (clearly), but like any MMO launch, for some it’s going to be the highlight of the entire experience.

  18. BoredJon says:

    New MMOs are always going to be buggy at launch. Bugs and game issues are inevitable, as not only are MMOs amazingly complex in and of themselves but they’re also being played on a wide, wide, wide variety of hardware combinations.

  19. Mikejl says:

    Snag? Bud.. “bug free.” .. you did not just post that
    I hope you don’t work in any ind of software development.

    Because their is no such thing. From my companies web site(www.sciencedirect.com) up too NASA (Mars lander software bug = crash). That state of software does not exist.

  20. Snafzg says:

    “extremely polished and relatively bug free”

    I realize there will always be bugs, but ones that didn’t break the game would be swell. Also, an accumulation of hundreds of little nagging (non-game-breaking) bugs would be swell too.

  21. Mikejl says:

    Ehh .. no sense arguing over little stuff. I agree with Snafzg that MMO companies should push for quality in the release game. It does set a tone for lots of folks who are “on the fence” to buy.

  22. Hiryu02 says:

    No offense Snaf, but if the game is ruined for you by the problems you perceive, then by all means unsub. I’ll miss your blog, but don’t make it the game’s fault. I’m in a guild formed 2 and a half years ago for the express purpose of playing WAR. We know what we were getting into. It sounds like the game isn’t what you expect. It’s certainly everything I wanted it to be. Sure, there are bugs, but I have yet to encounter a gamebreaking bug. On one of my toons, his most powerful dot ability just begged and does NO damage. I’m still playing him, just respecced into another tree to test the feel. I’m confident Mythic will fix it soon.

    The bug that annoys me the most is not keep contributions, nor CTDs, (which I rarely get) or even texture blurs or my main’s biggest damage ability not working. What annoys me is that my new BG does not make sound effects, vocal or otherwise, when in combat with a s/b. It’s pretty immersion-breaking for me. But otherwise that’s about it. I guess either you have faith in Mythic and enjoy the game for what is is, or you don’t.

  23. Zubon says:

    Has WAR patched in a z-axis yet, or do AE attacks still hit everything up to the clouds and down to the core of the earth?

  24. Swift Voyager says:

    I’ll weigh in on this. Eve has always had one of the most agressive update schedules, perhaps THE most agressive. It’s the only MMO I’m aware of that introduced a whole new graphics engine (they’re working on sound now too). They release a major expansion at least once a year and sometimes twice in a year. 2009 may see three major updates to Eve, if they are able to meet their goals.

    Updates to eve are also free with your subscription.

    Eve is the only MMO that has continually grown its US and EU subscriber numbers over the years.

    The updates are never perfect, but hardly ever introduce a game-breaking failure. The most recent update has caused my client to freeze up unpredictably and I’ve had a few CDT’s as well. I’ve never had this much trouble with Eve before, and it’s frustrating. I wasn’t happy last night when my 1.5 billion ISK mission ship nearly died because of a sudden client freeze that lasted nearly a minute followed by another that lasted even longer.

    So, combat is kinda off-limits for me now in Eve. I’d be stupid to risk it right now. However, because of all the things they’ve added to the game, there’s plenty of stuff do do besides combat. Heck, after playing Eve for nearly 2 years (with a short break in the middle), there are still game elements I haven’t gotten around to using.

    Due to the vast number of updates, if there’s a part that doesn’t work, you can always do something else. I don’t think there’s any fear that people will start to leave Eve because of some CTD’s. In fact, some people may think of this as a perfect time to launch a major millitary campaign. Who knows.

    I see WAR as being in much the same situation as Eve in more than one way. WAR has gotten past the initial surge of MMO tourists that you get right after launch. The people playing now are likely to be long-term MMO subscribers. If one leaves WAR, another is likely to join to replace them, and they are likely to return after patches.

    I think the frequent patches and updates are good for the players. It’s an ever-present carrott dangling in front, that makes you want to subscribe and see what’s next. Frequent downtimes on patch days can also help make sure you see your family once in a while. :)

  25. syncaine says:

    That’s a good connection between the growing sub rate and the patches, because I really think that’s what allows EVE to be unique. CCP just throws out so much stuff, into a game already crammed with it, that it really is impossible to see everything the game has to offer. It has it’s issues, but clearly lack of content is not one of them.

    It will be interesting to see if WAR goes down a similar path, throwing in changes and content at such a fast rate, that even if its not perfect, gives players something to do at all times. I love that style, and I’m not one to get too mad about bugs, so I for one hope they do continue to patch as fast as they have been.

  26. Swift Voyager says:

    The trick to making it work to increase subscribers is really on the PR side of things. Not only do you need to add content and improvements; you also need to let potential subscribers know that there’s something new to see.

    CCP has a neat tactic in that area. They name all the major updates. So, rather than releasing Eve Version 4.0, they release Eve Quantum Rise, or Eve Revelations, and they change the login splash screen, introduction music, and default color scheme for the UI. Even before you log into the new version, you know it’s different.

    Another important thing they do right, is horizontal expansion rather than vertical. Let me repeat that because it’s important: Not so much horizontal expansion in ADDITION to vertical, but horrizontal in STEAD of vertical. That way, if I really enjoy the content I’m currently playing with, I don’t have to abandon it when the new content comes. The old content remains viable because the new content didn’t make it obsolete. A good example of doing it wrong by vertical expansion is when all the players move to the new area, leaving the old area looking like a ghost town.

  27. PTD says:

    “People don’t seem to remember that WoW was near-unplayable for many months after initial release. ”

    BS. I played WoW from the early beta period, and WoW at launch was far, far from “unplayable.” The major problems with WoW were related to its unexpectedly immense popularity. WoW haters love to suggest that WoW was a nightmare at release, but that is far from the truth.

    And Syncaine, have you played WOTLK? I can understand you not liking WoW, and that’s just fine. One of the reasons I read your blog is to follow the progress of WAR, as I’m a DAoC player from way back. But WOTLK is, in my mind, the best expansion I’ve seen in an MMO, and I’ve been playing MMOs since UO. Dense, varied quests. Beautiful zones. Wonderful instances that don’t require a 3 hour commitment. A strong, popular, complex new class. My only point is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. :)

    As far as the original point, I will take fewer and solid, polished patches over quick, buggy ones. I find it interesting that at its core a lot of this post is about the bugginess of MMOs. Blizzard’s approach to patching their game is to avoid that exact problem.

  28. PTD says:

    Oh, and I looked back to see you were burned out on it before it even released. ;)

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