World of Warcraft is Still Unstable? Enough is Enough!

February 28th, 2006 by Jen in Game Reviews, General Gaming News

OK since the first step to confronting an addiction is admitting you have a problem, I’ll finally admit it: I am addicted to World of Warcraft. I have been a gamer my entire life, but never has a game sucked me in and captivated my interest so intensely and for so long. World of Warcraft was released in late November 2004, and was installed on my PC by Thanksgiving Day. And there has been no turning back since. It is precisely because I have poured so many hours in this game – leveling up my characters, tackling all the quests, braving new elite instances, and honing my professions – that I am so disappointed in Blizzard Entertainment’s complete failure to maintain a stable environment for its players.

When World of Warcraft was initially released, the game became an overnight success. Blizzard was ill-prepared for such a rapid influx of gamers, and as a result, gamers experience frequent server crashes and problems with severe lax. The servers hosting the game were simply overtaxed. In an attempt to combat these problems, more servers were added for the WOW community and hardware upgrades occurred to bring the servers up to speed. Blizzard also instituted weekly server downtimes to allow for necessary server maintenance. And yet, well over a year after the game’s initial release, gamers are still plagued with regular system crashes, long server queue lines, and lag problems that are often so severe as to make the game completely unplayable.

This week taxed my patience with Blizzard Entertainment and World of Warcraft beyond any point of reason. It was bad enough that the Firetree server crashed right as my 5-man party prepared to deliver the final blow to a high-level instance boss. After hours of battling our way through countless mobs and mini-bosses, we were finally ready to take on the ultimate boss himself. We had him down to about 20% life, yet right as we prepared the final onslaught to finish him off, my game locked up. The next thing I know, I get a “Disconnected from Server” message on my screen. WHAT?! Could the timing have been any worse? When I attempted to log back on, I suddenly found myself waiting in a long queue of other gamers. It seems, you see, that due to the crash everyone had been booted from the server, causing a massive bottleneck as we all attempted to log back into the game. By the time, I was able to log in, my entire party was dead – the boss obviously didn’t realize that we had been disconnected and had continued to pummel our characters in our absence. We just had no drive left in us to fight our way through the instance again for a second attempt.

Equally frustrating has logging into a number of servers recently, only to find I am number five hundred and something in a long queue of people waiting to log into the same server. Who has the patience to sit for 30+ minutes to log into a game? I have missed guild runs, meetings with online friends, and countless other events due to being stuck in queue. And the problem seems to be getting worse with time, not better, even though Blizzard is well aware of this issue. A few months ago, I could log into my main character on the Lightning’s Blade server and get in within a few minutes. Now I am lucky if the queue line is under 200 people with a wait time of 10 or more minutes.

The last straw was this week’s brand new Ahn’Qiraj world event on one of the servers. I have been anxiously waiting to see the new Ahn’Qiraj gate open for several weeks now, but have not yet been able to catch it on any of my servers. This week, on Monday, would finally be my opportunity – or so I thought. As it turns out, the event, or what I saw of it, was amazing and looked like great fun. But my server just couldn’t support the sheer number of people rushing into the area to witness and participate in the opening of the gate. As the gate was unlocked, huge numbers of enemy monsters spawn around the gate and in other regions throughout the WOW continents. This greatly taxes the server, as do the massive number of spectators milling about, causing the server to crash again and again. It didn’t seem to matter that it was the middle of the night when the event started – it might has well been in the middle of prime playing time. I finally gave up after 30 minutes, having seen flashes of greatness – mostly in a static form due to terrible problems with game lag.

So what will it take to resolve these problems with World of Warcraft? Well, for starters, Blizzard needs to take a much more proactive stance towards regulating server populations and improving server stability. Restricting new character creation on high-population servers has stemmed the influx of new characters, but has done little to manage those servers that are already overtaxed. Similarly, player queue lines also attempt to regulate the number of players on a server at any given time, but again, this measure does little to resolve a problem already well under way – it just prevents it from getting worse.

What Blizzard needs to do to put measures into place to control server stress before it becomes an issue and causes problems for gamers. As it is now, I am frequently forced to log into the game at least a half an hour before I had planned on playing, since I need to allow for long queue lines. My guilds often feel pressured to coordinate raids and large instance runs with other large guilds so that we do not collectively overtax the server and make the experience miserable for everyone. And I am left to pray that fellow party members do not get disconnected in the middle of an instance run during prime playing hours – otherwise, the party is left to either wait for upwards of 20 minutes for the missing gamer to make it back through the queue to log into the game, or find an alternate member to take his or her place in the instance.

Blizzard claims that the World of Warcraft community had grown to over 5 million gamers, and each of these gamers plays $15 a month for online access to the game. This means that Blizzard grosses a cool $75 million a month for the game, or the equivalent of nearly a billion dollars a year. And that doesn’t count the money brought in by the initial purchase of the game software (I paid $49.99 in November 2004, but the price has since dropped). Is it too much to ask the developer to spend just some of this money to fixing the persistent problems playing gamers? Personally, as much as I love seeing new content added to the game, I’d enjoy my online experience much more if I could get through a playing session with no technical issues.

What do you think Blizzard? Is it worth my longtime loyalty, and others, to improve our gaming experience? Or will you keep focusing on churning out new content in the hopes that all of us WOW addicts grin and bear it just a little bit longer?

The ball’s in your court.

5 Comments on “World of Warcraft is Still Unstable? Enough is Enough!”

THat guy Says:

March 3rd, 2006 at 5:33 pm

LoL thats such a load of crap. The reason your getting lag is because your on a full server, it also helps if your computer can run the game midways on the settings. If you have a problem with “server lag” and disconections then you should try a new server with pop. on low or medium. To be honest ive been disconnected only a few times since i first started play, late 2004, and all in all ive never had the problem of being disatified with the games performance. Also the teams that work at Blizz. do put alot of work into the software and game enviroment, correcting a problem in a game this large and expanse wont be an over night thing.

John Says:

March 4th, 2006 at 1:55 pm

I can see each of your points and I think the problem is somewhere in the middle.

I have been playing for about a year now. In the early days of my gaming in WoW I never had lag issues, or wait times to log in.

Now, I occassionally have a wait to log in, have been disconnected a few times due to server crashes, and do suffer lag out in the world on occassion (though this only seems to happen when I am participating in a large raid).

It does appear that there is a huge revenue stream flowing into Blizzard, but remember, there are huge costs as well. The servers, connections to the web, staff, etc all cost money. I imagine with 6 million users, Blizzard has a pretty sizable profit margin, but I would be surprised it it was higher then 30%.

The issue I have with blizzard and the handling of things is that they do not seem to take the technical issues into account when the come up with new content.

Take the war effort for example. Regardless of what server you are on, where are you the most likely to suffer lag issues? Capital cities. So where does Blizzard decide to put all the collectors for the war effort?

There was no reason for his. Actually, it might have been more interesting if they scattered those collectors across the world. If nothing else, it would have avoiding massively increasing the lag issues in Capital cities.

Also, the largest reason for the lag in capital cities is the auction houses. More players are in the cities because they are buying and selling on the auction house, then for any other reason. It seems to me, that if they would expand auction house access to locations other then the cities, they would spread these people out and reduce this localized lag problem significantly.

This IMHO would also add flavor to he game. People would find small towns that they liked for one reason or another and would use these towns as their “home” because they would not need to be in the capital for auction house access.

There are things blizzard can do to address the current issues on the servers. But the biggest thing they can do is start planning new content with an eye on avoiding adding to the various high load areas.

Alan Says:

March 5th, 2006 at 6:20 am

I wholeheartedly agree with your article. I have characters on multiple servers (with different population loads) and the effects are the same everywhere. It all depends on “when” you try to log in. Unlike some gamers I have real world responsibilities and can’t play at any time of day I want. For the past 2-3 months the lag has been horrible and when the queues started I gave up since it was 1+ hours of waiting in order to log in anywhere. This means I can’t play a game I’m paying for (game cost + monthly fee). Blizzard needs to get their act together and until they do I won’t pay. My account runs out in a couple of days and I’m not renewing….

Blizzard makes a lot of money and since it is a “business” they won’t change until they lose money. I’m doing my part to send a message so now they are down my $180/year. I’ll gladly come back if I can actually play but until then they won’t just “get” my money.

Sean Says:

March 5th, 2006 at 10:58 am

A little off topic, but I find it amusing that the comments on capital cities having the most lag and small towns being smoother running mirror the real world so well.

You can either live in a big city with lots of people and congestion (lag), or a small rural town with fewer people but a more easy going attitude (no lag!)

John makes some very good points as to how a few very simple changes would affect the load balancing and make the game much smoother running.

Jason Says:

March 19th, 2006 at 6:17 pm

I have been playing World of Warcraft for sometime now and early last september got rid of it for three months. I got it back for christmas and in preparation i decided to re-format my computer. The drivers wouldn’t install proporly so i took it into a shop. I never had lag issues before but now it is HORRIBLE. The lag will only happen in certain areas and its not even like normal lag. My screen will freaze for about 10-15 seconds then will come back. I can’t move at all in this time and if i am running when it happens i will appear where i should have been if it didn’t lag. all of my Video setting are turned down low i have 512MB of ram and a NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 video card i don’t know what the problem can be. if anyone has any ideas on what is causeing this please let me know

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