The Guinea Pigs of WAR

Dark Crag and Iron Rock. Historic testing sites of live server patching. It’s always a good sign when one of these two fine communities gets shafted with a few hours of downtime, combined with a likely following of extra special bugs, BUT hopefully getting the target bugs fixed in the first place. Now, granted, these players didn’t exactly sign up for this sort of service and abuse, but it’s good for the rest of us. What I find the most curious is that we don’t have a Live PublicTestServer.

Yes, we do have a PTS before patches and it does get some pretty good populations for focused testing and feedback. Regardless of what Mythic decides to do with the feedback and bug reports, it doesn’t seem to affect these patches before they hit Live servers, let alone all the chaos they cause on Live servers to begin with. Admittedly the PTS is different from Live servers. From what I understand the PTS is a pretty clean and sterile environment that the Devs work in to do all their coding OR it’s the sterile environment they base most of their coding on, and it all gets assembled at the same time. Not real clear there, but it’ll do.

The issue is how patch cycles work. Generally, by the time one patch goes live, there’s already another patch being worked on in a future cycle. This means code is being built upon a patch a full cycle before it’s released. Example, since that confuses me a little. Devs work on patch 1.2, it gets approved for release and begins testing, Devs begin work on 1.2.1 using the 1.2 base, 1.2 finishes PTS and is launched with subsequent hotfixes, (here’s the tricky part) amid hotfixes released to 1.2 Devs must adjust 1.2.1 to comply with said hotfixes at the same schedule as prepping 1.2.1 and getting it approved. Things are missed, 1.2.1 is approved and pushed to PTS, old bugs live again. Devs begin work on 1.3 using the 1.2.1 base as 1.2.1 is PTS’d and launched… hotfixes…rinse wash repeat.

Most of this is standard procedure, but why do old bugs live and die with hotfixes and official patching over and over again? Here we need to classify different Dev’s for what they work on. Thusly, in my mind, we have the Build Devs and Hotfix Devs. I can imagine the mentality between the two already.

Build Devs need to have absolute solid stability in whatever they’re working at the time, they’re on a deadline so sometimes corners need to be cut, and shortcuts taken. If their code is bad, or doesn’t work, under sever scrutiny, it gets rejected, and they just wasted the past 2 months doing nothing of consequence. I see these guys getting buried in Hotfix code that they have to scrape through to find out if anything is going to affect their particular code.

Enter Hotfix Devs. These guys are the rock stars of the coding cubicles. They can whip out code like no ones business, and constantly have new fixes to apply. Unfortunately, they have to work with the Live servers and their field of vision thusly becomes very small. Affecting too much at one time can cause people to report bugs currently being worked on. Regardless, these guys tear through code, and spit out results constantly.

For every Hotfix hastily torn asunder to appease the fans, imagine one little thing breaking that’s entirely unrelated. Fixes made in the past become unraveled to fix a bug in the present. The narrow scope of vision allows Hotfix coders only so much rope as they’re focused on their precious Tracker, and little else. Oh sure, there’s likely to be SOME things they have to check for, but in the reality of working against a clock, and seething hoard of pissed off players holding your paycheck against the wall, some things get slid back the the Build Devs.

Viciously nasty circle of life ain’t it?

This is mostly speculation on my part, though I’ve worked in situations similar to this that ultimately fell apart because of it. It’s said that most development happens in this manner, and all is good. Well maybe, but in your case Mythic, it’s just not good enough. Make a Live PTS, send your Build Devs AND Hotfix Devs there. Hell, you wouldn’t even need to distinguish between the two. Give players a reason to be there, even if it’s just to tear ass through the end game with sweet decked out toons insta-leveled to 40 with templated gear. It’s only going to hold their attention for so long, but the simple act of calling it a Test Server will keep the vast public off of it as they go along playing as intended.

Back to the point. It’s not really fair to treat Dark Crag and Iron Rock as your test dummies. God knows you guys have enough extra servers sitting around. Copy over a live gold version to one of them, throw on some character creation templates, and start converting Devs over to it sooner than later. It’s FINE. We can handle going without some new content for a while, at least we can hope you guys will work out the silly amount of “anniversary” bugs that got released with 1.3.1

-most of this article was derived from speculation on the few tidbits of facts that i’ve absorbed over the past months about how the development process works. I may be wrong, but this is the best representation I can give, and I feel that it’s pretty damn close to accurate.-

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5 thoughts on “The Guinea Pigs of WAR

  1. Agree in general. But you are never going to have enough people on a test server, even a "live test server", unless you have enough incentive.Possible incentive:1. Creation of character of both sides2. Allow transfer of character ANYTIME to said server3. Permanant XP/Renown bonus4. Server wipe in cycles5. Bug killer reward scheme – earn points by reporting bugs, joining test events, reporting problems, prizes include mount, title, items, gold, redeemable/mailed for all characters of a player.6. (very unlikely) Reduced/Free subscription for Live Test server.Frankly the problem won't be solved if every bug reported go zombie or get ignored. The most important thing is to rebuild the shattered confidence after all these patches, and Mythic need to send a extremely strong signal that they are serious about bug fixing – no, currently it is nowhere near enough.They need to:1. have a weekly bug report, detailing bugs and issues. They must show they are willing to admit specifc mistakes.2. progress report on each career on rotation. If there are works undergoing for a career, give some idea what it is. If there are no current work due to resources or other reasons, state those and also state your plan for the future. This includes bug fixes.3. If there are bugs and issues that require more player input, or issues that are having difficulty in getting fixed, post those in the forums, let players help. For 20 people jabbing at the devs for unable to fix it on their own, there might just be 1 person that have the key in solving the issue. As an old idiom of my country goes, "a wise man may have a thousand success and fails in one, a fool might have thousand failures and still correct on one."WAR will have an extremely difficult time in surviving in the coming months, in my opinion the only way to turn it around is to be brutally honest, and really get things fixed. You are not going to attract anyone with the overwhelming negativity surrounding your product if you still have more than 5 bugs that didn't get squashed for a whole year (counting beta). Any new attraction activity like live events and "one year anniversary event" will only cement people's decision to remain unsubscribed, because time after time they come back and see the problems not get fixed.

  2. I'd take weekly character wipes, and a leveling mob for T1-T2-T3-T4-RR50-RR60-RR70-RR80 and merchants with free set gear. This would keep people coming back, and trying out different content in the event it was made free, but with no real progression. Disable scenarios unless testing needs to be done. Put contested zones on 1 hour timers to flip regardless of VP's to guarantee each city gets pushed regularly and free players have no influence in the campaign aside from taking part in it. It'd be kinda crazy, but it would let everyone get a taste of the game and be random/static enough to let them pony up some cash. Have all players auto-join a permanent noob guild, and in the event it fills then noob guild#2 starts up, etc, etc.Lots of things COULD be done, I just don't think they feel it's necessary, which may be a mistake for them.

  3. First off I had to sit there for a few minutes, and look at the picture to figure out what the heck was it. Iron Rock is my server of choice, well not really choice but after 8 million transfers thats where I ended up. It aggravating sometimes to be the guinea pigs, but not as bad as the boredom of T4. But to be honest their moving in the right direction, and my renew finger is itching to fire up the old Chosen, and kill some raggedy dwarves.

  4. I do try to find some of the more interesting pictures on the internetz to post. :DAion is going to be a tough one. It looks really nice, and some of the US dev videos I've watched look really interesting. I'm not really sure at this point just HOW it's going to fail, but games like that simply don't last long. Americanize it up as best you can, but in the end it's the same kRPG that's failed time after time on the western shores.On another note, I let a guildie talk me into playing DAoC last night. Man I forgot how slow paced that game is…

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