Massively Overthinking: Abysmal MMO launch experiences


Elite Dangerous’ Odyssey launch has been a stark reminder to me that not all launches and launch experiences are the same. To hear some gamers tell it, Odyssey is an abysmal failure, rushed to release, bugged to the heavens, and completely unplayable. But… I’ve been watching my husband and guildies play, and while they’ve run into some nasty bugs (ask me how many times my poor husband ranked up to chief petty officer, the pettiest of officers!), they’re still playing. A lot. The problems don’t seem to have dampened their fun all that much.

MMO launches are often a hot mess, but whether you experience that yourself is another story. If you play on a lowpop WoW Classic server, for example, you weren’t going to run into the queues and lag and overcrowding present on the top three the last couple of weeks. The launch was totally different for you.

So for this week’s Massively Overthinking, I want to talk about abysmal MMO launch experiences. I’m posing two questions to our writers and readers: What was the most abysmal MMO launch (or content launch) you’ve ever experienced, and what was the worst one that somehow didn’t affect you that much even if you played?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Asheron’s Call 2 was, without a doubt, the worst MMO launch I ever experienced. Ever played a group-heavy MMO that didn’t have a working chat or friend’s list? I had used the phone once and Roger Wilco (think pre-Discord/Ventrilo for you newer MMO fans) a few times, but I’d never needed it. Not only did it make grouping tough, but obviously RP as well. Guilds almost seemed useless, as the only chat that really seemed to function from my recollection was local chat, which again, isn’t super useful if everyone around you has to use it to talk to their groups. If it hadn’t been for voice chat or my love of the series, I’m not sure how I would have lasted. Heck, I know people whose first experience was AC2 and they stuck with the genre, but we didn’t have so many options back then.

World of Warcraft was quite similar, except while the social features worked, the game itself was sooo buggy. Queues were super long, lots of talent trees were just plain bad, you’d bug out just trying to loot bodies, log out, log back in and fall through the world… I think I mostly stuck with it because I was an MMO vet by then and my skill set helped friends who were just getting into it. Also, being a bear was awesome, even if my DPS and aggro building skills were unable to compete with most DPS.

Andy McAdams: Maybe not an MMO launch exactly, but I remember trying to play in the World of Warcraft Blood Elf starter zone during headstart and it was close to unplayable. Less than a frame per second, quest mobs dying instantly. It was so incredibly frustrating. But that’s really the worst I’ve personally experienced. The other games I played at launch, like RIFT, likely had rocky starts, but it wasn’t particularly memorable. I’ve heard horror stories about Anarchy Online’s launch whispered in dark corners over tankards of ale, but it was before I started playing the game. I don’t remember if I played ArcheAge at the Western launch, but I remember the entire experience with that game and all the hacking/griefing made it completely unplayable – but that’s probably more of a “this is just a poorly run game as a whole” as opposed to “this is just a poorly managed launch.”

I dunno, I just have many ‘member berries on bad launches. I know they happened; I’ve just dodged most of the bullets.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): This Overthinking is really hard to answer if you make it a point not to play right at launch!

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): The original Phantasy Star Online 2 launch on the Windows store was a mess and just proved everyone right: that the Windows store sucks and Microsoft should just stick to designing operating systems. Sure, I managed to work through all the issues and get PSO2 installed and working on multiple machines. But none of that changes the fact that the launch was really dumb. Imagine installing files FROM THE PRIMARY STORE, only for your OS to uninstall them in an inaccessible drive. Someone really messed up there!

From the sounds of it, there don’t seem to be any issues with New Genesis aside from packed servers, but I’m making a beeline for Steam anyway.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Honestly, I can recall MMO launches that went smoothly far more readily than abysmal ones merely because nearly every MMO’s launch is awful. After having experienced that so often, I pretty much try to go with the flow, meaning all those bad launches have kind of congealed in my memory.

As for bad launches that went cleanly personally, I have to admit that Elite Dangerous: Odyssey has been less awful compared to others; I haven’t run into the number of problems others have, whatever is apparently wrong with planet generation isn’t fussing me, and while I certainly have my complaints about the expansion overall, I really am not as roiling mad as others.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): I think the worst content launch bug that I can think of that didn’t affect me personally was the 6/6/06 Falador Massacre in RuneScape. RuneScape had recently launched its player housing system, and if you got to a relatively high Construction level, there was a lever you could place in your house that let you turn on PvP mode in your home instance. It was just for fun, and if you died in the house, you just respawned outside the entry portal with all your items intact. Apparently it was poorly tested because the first person to max out their construction skill threw a big house party (which happened to take place on 6/6/06), and someone there discovered that, if you were teleported out of the house using certain methods while PvP mode was on, it “stuck,” and you could just PK anyone anywhere, they couldn’t fight back, and worst of all, they would drop their items on death (as normally happens when you die out in the world in RuneScape). So a bunch of people exploited that to kill a ton of players in the main cities and steal their valuables.

As I said, it didn’t affect me, but I was playing at the time, and when I heard about it, it made me a little nervous to take anything valuable out of my bank for a few weeks in case someone figured out similar exploits. The moral of the story: Test your code very thoroughly, especially when it might pertain to full loot PvP!

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): If you were there for Anarchy Online’s infamous launch in 2001, then I don’t think anything since could top that quite thorough disaster. You simply couldn’t play, couldn’t get your account set up, and couldn’t experience the game past 1 frame per 10 seconds. I remember sitting there dumbfounded thinking, “THIS is the type of game all my friends were raving about with EverQuest? What’s the point?”

World of Warcraft’s was pretty bad in November 2004 as well. Realms were down for days at a time, and I vividly recall that looting bug that’d hold your character in the crouched position for minutes afterward. Just so many bugs and so many people trying to squeeze onto servers that couldn’t accommodate them. But we were all so enthralled in the game that it went a long way to keeping our patience, and so I never came close to the point of a ragequit. Just stuck it out and had a good time even so.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): It’s been so long since I took part in a true launch. I remember Guild Wars 2’s launch going pretty well. Of course I think I spent the first two hours in the character creator.

On the other hand, I have taken part in plenty of content launches. I don’t remember if it was GW2 or Warhammer Online, but I remember needing to complete one of the first quests that would open up a majority the expansion’s content getting bugged. I needed to get some item from the NPC but she just stopped giving out the item. It put a dead stop on my gaming for the evening but it was fixed by the next day.

I guess that was my worst experience – it’s the only one I can think of!

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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