Let’s talk about the launch issues of Grand Theft Auto: Online, and why it's mostly unavoidable
There’s no need to mince words: Grand Theft Auto: Online is an MMO. When you go out exploring in the online world of Los Santos, it’s a massively online world inhabited by other players. It’s only fair, then, that we examine its launch compared to other popular games in the MMO genre.
Anyone who plays MMOs on day one shouldn’t be surprised by the troubles the game had. Final Fantasy XIV, Diablo III, and others all had to contend with hundreds of thousands of players logging in at once as they overloaded servers. GTA: Online, however, had to contend with millions. That’s right. Millions.
A total of 15 million people owned a copy of Grand Theft Auto V when the online service launched. If all of those players were to attempt to gain access to Grand Theft Auto: Online, it would be the biggest MMO on the market. For comparison’s sake, World of Warcraft topped out at around 12 million before beginning its subscription downfall, and that was a steady progression to the top. This is millions and millions of players on day one. Of course there will be problems.
Could Rockstar have prevented this situation from occurring? Not entirely, but here’s one thing they could have done: eliminated the entire tutorial. We know how to drive and navigate the world of Los Santos. We’ve been playing the story. Why are we wasting our time learning how to play the game again? For those of you that watched our stream last week, people were able to connect after completing the tutorial. By that logic, the removal of the tutorial itself could have gotten rid of a large number of issues.
This doesn’t solve the loss of character saves, however, something that’s tied up with connection issues to the Rockstar cloud. So how do we solve this? By buying more servers? Absolutely not, because once the initial wave of players has died down, you'll have a lot of extra servers on your hands that you aren’t using. Truth be told, the entire scenario is a no-win situation: don’t buy enough servers, and you'll have to work overtime to fix issues. Buy too many servers and you'll have excess hardware and wasted funds.
Perhaps Rockstar should have seen this coming, you might say. While that’s an ideal situation, there’s a problem with that: Grand Theft Auto V is a record selling game in terms of revenue. It brought in over $1 billion in three days. Not even Square Enix’s super-optimistic expectations team could have imagined that. To say that you’re expecting record setting demand and sales is, in my opinion, unrealistic.
Take this example: the summer of 2012 saw both The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises released in theaters. Both movies were expecting to bring in a boat load of revenue. Both were eagerly anticipated releases from well-respected directors. But no one could have expected The Avengers’ revenue to top The Dark Knight Rises by $175 million.
It’s impossible to plan these types of launches out. CEOs that are in bed by 10 PM are out of touch with gamers who have no problem playing a game at 12:01 AM on release day. Expectations can never be truly gauged. Maybe one day developers and publishers can be better prepared for the launch of an online game. Still, perhaps there’s something else at play, here. Perhaps there’s something else in the way…