Server Woes and Launch Nightmares: A Developer's Tale | GAME3A

Server Woes and Launch Nightmares: A Developer's Tale

Helldivers 2: The Bumpy Road to GloryHelldivers 2, my current favorite game, has encountered its fair share of obstacles, leaving me longing to play i...

Gina Vivinetto Feb 20, 2024
Server Woes and Launch Nightmares: A Developer's Tale

Helldivers 2: The Bumpy Road to Glory

Helldivers 2, my current favorite game, has encountered its fair share of obstacles, leaving me longing to play it more often. The game's Steam user review average has taken a hit due to numerous server problems, a common issue for game launches. As a seasoned gamer, I've endured the excruciating waiting times of MMORPG expansions, such as the chaotic launch of Final Fantasy 14's Endwalker. I can already predict that Dawntrail will follow a similar path.

The plight of players facing server problems can be frustrating, with varying degrees of understanding. Some impatient individuals have been urging the Helldivers 2 team to simply "buy more servers" or employ a similar solution. This demand reached its peak when Arrowhead's CEO and creative director, Johan Pilestedt, responded sarcastically to a fan's suggestion that he should "stop tweeting and fix" the game.

Pilestedt wittily retorted, "Yes! Good idea, I will sit behind the engineers and ask them 'are we there yet?'" He further added, "Or... I could let the engineers work independently, towards our common goal without me as the CEO pestering them at every moment." His response was akin to seasoned war veterans exchanging stories in a smoky bar.

Following Pilestedt's exasperation, other developers chimed in with their own tales of brutal game launches. Christina Pollock, a writer and game developer who worked on Dauntless, a Monster Hunter-esque game, shared her experience. She revealed that the launch of Dauntless in 2019 was the most challenging of her career. Despite meticulous planning and load-testing, the game faltered when it reached just 10,000 concurrent users, far below the anticipated 260,000. It took three grueling weeks of 15-hour workdays, seven days a week, to stabilize the game.

Pollock described the nightmare scenario of unevenly weighted player databases, an issue that proved nearly impossible to fix once it had already caused problems. She painted a vivid picture of a war room with constant calls to giants like Google, PlayStation, Xbox, and Epic Games. Every aspect of the infrastructure faced issues, despite performing admirably during load testing. The studio spent a fortune on cloud services, running bots, scripts, and swarms. The lesson learned was that even with meticulous preparation, success could remain elusive.

Dauntless' load balancing system across player databases became so imbalanced that one minute of live time took more than a minute to back up. To make matters worse, backups fell further and further behind, leading the team to disable them and rely solely on read replicas. The situation became a ticking time bomb, with live services collapsing while disaster loomed.

Pollock depicted the resulting chaos as balancing "the Sword of Damocles with the fires of Rome." Her detailed account resonated with numerous game designers, including Johan Pilestedt himself, who expressed his gratitude for her thread.

Developers from various backgrounds joined in, affirming Pollock's assessment that server issues can transform into labyrinthine, complex hellscapes. Chris Marlow, principal gameplay engineer of Sea of Thieves, emphasized the challenges of live service games, where cracks only reveal themselves when hundreds of thousands of real players flood the servers. The goal is to patch the issues swiftly and efficiently.

Fran├žois Hardy, senior community manager at Keen Games, humorously remarked that the success of other games' launches alleviated pressure on their team at Enshrouded. Evan Berman, senior community manager at Tencent Games, added his own horror stories from Rend, Archeage, Hawken, Tera, and Hellgate: London.

The thread continued with contributions from Scott W. Bradford, lead narrative designer on Skate, Joseph Burgos, a 3D weapons artist working on Valorant, and Jeremy Laumon, a principal tech programmer at Guerilla (Horizon, Killzone). Each developer had their own tales of trials and tribulations to share around the proverbial campfire.

While it is undeniable that Helldivers 2 is currently facing challenges from a consumer perspective, once players manage to join the game, it remains incredibly fun. However, this situation is not unique or unexpected for a game that unexpectedly gains immense popularity. I can only imagine the panic and frenzy unfolding at Arrowhead Games HQ as they navigate these turbulent waters, a position I don't envy.

In conclusion, the stories shared by developers paint a vivid picture of the tumultuous journey from game creation to launch day. It is a reminder that even with meticulous planning and preparations, unforeseen obstacles can arise. Let us extend kindness and understanding to Arrowhead Games as they battle through the unimaginable. Let's not make their hell even hotter.