In Which Square Enix Fucked FFXIV’s Solo Instancing In 2013 and Only Just Realized Yesterday

June 17, 2017

UPDATE: Square seems to have done… something in order to alleviate the choke point around the first questing instance, as everyone seems to have just been let in at once. There’s a rumor going around that a few NA servers crashed, alleviating the demand, but until any official word comes out I’m going to assume that they finally got some more instance servers from somewhere, for the sake of my own sanity.

Ah, it’s that time of video games again, and all over the world data centers are once more on fire as MMORPG devs refuse to anticipate that anyone would actually want to play their game.

It’s pretty much a given by now that an MMORPG expansion launch will be accompanied by frequent disconnects, server crashes, previously uncaught bugs and early quests that were obviously not designed to be attempted by several hundred people at once. I’ve been told that World of Warcraft: Legion‘s launch was actually an incredibly smooth ordeal, but I wouldn’t know as I finally playing WoW not long after Warlords of Draenor‘s launch made my server so unstable that I found the game literally unplayable for the first two weeks after launchNot every launch can be Legion, though.

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood entered it’s early-access period yesterday morning. That is, four days before the “official” launch where people who pre-ordered the expansion got to do the expansion content before… people who hadn’t bought the expansion yet? As you can still “pre-order” the expansion and instantly gain access to “early-access” let’s just drop the pretense and marketing BS and say yesterday was Stormblood’s official launch.

For an expansion launch the servers are surprisingly stable. There were some reports of the instance servers crashing early on, but that seems to have died down and the only time I’ve actually been kicked off of the game so far has been a client crash caused by DirectX. Ironically enough the biggest problem of the launch seems to be the measures that Square Enix took in order to stabilize the servers. Explained here, they decided to temporarily limit the number of the instances the game can spawn in order to prevent server crashes. Which would actually be a really good idea if whoever made this decision had consulted with the team designing the main story quests at all.

The first few quests of a new expansion are always the most congested ones, which is something I think MMO devs need to take into account more often. Sure players spread out over the questline later on as they progress at different rates. But for the first day or two, those first twenty or so quests are bogged. Some quests can be completely broken by the number of people trying to them (which I propose we start referring to as “Telescoping”, after the bugged telescope that stymied Horde players in Warlords). FFXIV apparently had something similar go on back when A Realm Reborn launched, when certain quest objects were only set to be interacterable by one player at a time (because ????) so players had to form literal queues in front of them. (I can only assume that this only worked out on the European datacenters.)

And for some incredibly bizarre reason Square decided that one of the first quests in the expansion’s questline involve a solo-instance. Which everyone is trying to get into at once. And which SE specifically configured the servers to not allow very many people to do at once.


But this wouldn’t be such a bid deal if solo questline instances worked like literally every other kind of instance in the game, but they don’t. When you try to enter any other kind of instanced content in FFXIV you enter a queue for it, even if you don’t need any matchmaking for it. So if you have a full party of 8 people trying to enter a raid or a solo player looking to enter Hall of the Novice you spend a second or two in a queue while the game finds an instance for you. In the incredibly rare case that there are no instances available, you wait a little longer until they’re is one. But as far as instances that are entered as part of quests, Square apparently never had the foresight to implement a queue for because (I guess) they never thought they would need to. I’ve certainly never failed to join a quest instance before last night.

But with the slew of (quite frankly bizarre) advertising campaigns that SE held for the expansion, the introduction of level and story skip potions that let new players skip right to the new expansion content and the fact that they made the conscious decision to limit the number of instances that the servers could host at a time, it’s a right mess. People tried to do the queue thing again, but after realizing that it wouldn’t work, everyone just seems to have formed a massive clusterfuck around the NPC that starts the instance. Clicking on him repeatedly to try to get into the battle. Sometimes for up to 11 hours straight.

Pictured: Holy fuck.

Late last night Square apparently reverted some of the changes they made to instance limits but it doesn’t seem to have helped much a massive crowd still remains around the choke point and only one person in my raid group reports having managed to get in so far. Square, probably already working 15 hour days and in full panic mode to figure out some way to alleviate this mess, has yet to provide any more information other than a very politely worded “please go do something else for a while and try again later”.

And the fucked thing is is that, not only is asking people to wait a while the most obvious solution available, it’s also likely the only viable one as of right now.

The optimal solution (and one sorely needed in general, if Square wants to keep designing questlines like this) would be to implement queues for quest instances as they could in every other kind of instance in the game. But making such changes to such a low level part of the game (in such a way that the rest of the game doesn’t completely blow up) would take a good chunk of man hours. This would probably be even harder for FFXIV that it would be on any other game because, after the game’s engine was hurriedly rewritten within the space of one year, I can only assume that FFXIV’s code base consists mostly of spaghetti and Nobuaki Komoto’s tears.

A large amount of time and money for Stormblood development supposedly went into alleviating some of the massive amount of technical debt the re-release accrued, but I’m not expecting any miracles when it comes to Square being able to quickly effectively rework old game systems.

Another solution would be to temporarily hotfix the quest for now to not require the instanced battle at all. Have the introductory cutscene fade to black and have “and then our hero killed all the baddies and it was really cool” appear on the screen, and then let players continue on. But Square Enix has repeatedly made it clear that they don’t like compromising with their story. Considering how the story in its current state is unplayable, I’d say it’s worth it. But I’m not Square Enix.

But honestly, there doesn’t currently seem to be a good, quick solution to the problem that SE has made for themselves. It took so, so many fuckups to get to this point. They designed a questline that required players to use a limited server resource at the exact point where everyone and their mum would be trying to do it at once. They didn’t foresee that one day so many people might be trying to do instanced solo battles at once that they would run out of resources, so they never bothered to implement a way for the game to handle a basic edge case gracefully. They released their new skip potions the same day as the expansion so every server had even more level 60 characters clamoring to start the new content.

And you know what else? There were definitely multiple people on Stormblood’s development team who saw this coming. There was definitely at least one person who saw the plans to restrict new instances and the fact that an early quest required instancing and tried to tell someone in charge that this absolutely was not going to work. But whoever they told presumedly told them the Japanese equivalent of “shut the fuck up” and then went to go spend more money putting Zenos yae Galvus on Carl’s Jr. cups.

And you know what? This level of fuckery isn’t even unusual in the world of expansion releases. The fact that the servers are even up and running makes Stormblood’s release one of the smoothest I’ve experienced, even if I can’t actually do anything on these apparently indestructible servers. I’m not sure why, but MMORPG developers honestly don’t seem to understand that people actually play their game. Despite that being kind of the whole point of the genre.

I’m honestly so deadened to MMO release day fuckery that I can only sit back and wonder if the people who took PTO on Friday to power to level 70 had ever experienced more than one other MMO release before.

And, Blizzard, you still owe me $7 for those two weeks in Warlords of Draenor.