When Sim City initially launched, EA and Maxis believed it would have its server issues under control for launches in other territories, but that didn't quite work out as planned. We spoke to Lucy Bradshaw, the General Manager at Maxis to find out precisely what went wrong, and to ask why Australia's Oceanic server was among the first to be patched.
According to Bradshaw, initially the expectation was that Maxis could get servers stabilised before Sim City launched internationally, but there were a few unexpected issues.
"We started to experience problems in the early hours of the morning on March 5 when we launched in North America," she said. "Our servers were being overloaded and our players were having difficulties getting into the game. At that moment we gathered our server team to triage the situation and our primary goal was to figure out how to get the rest of our fans into the game."
The initial priority, as you'd expect, was simple: increase server capacity, free up space, all customers to play the game they'd purchased.
"We deployed additional servers to address load but we also found that our servers were behaving differently under load than our experience in closed betas and load testing. We had to address the underlying issues, update server elements and work through the deployment of new servers. Once we had those underway and moving into the ecosystem we needed to go back to the original servers to update them so that they would benefit from all of the enhancements we did."
These additional unforeseen issues delayed Maxis' attempt to get things stabilised before the International launch date.
When Sim City initially launched in Australia, Maxis and EA were still in the midst of attempting to fix the game's server issues. At that point, the team was in the thick up server upgrades. We noticed that Oceanic server 1 was one of the first to be upgraded. Why? Pure coincidence.
"[P]art of our solution was to add higher capacity servers to allow players to get more into the game and play," explains Lucy. "Then, the next step was to upgrade the original servers and it just happened that we picked Oceanic 1 to be first."
It's been a difficult learning process for the folks at Maxis, but Lucy Bradshaw believes that valuable lessons were learned. The team thought they were fully prepared for the onslaught, but they were wrong.
"We learned a valuable lesson with this launch: that no matter how prepared we thought we were, we weren’t prepared enough," she says. "We thought we had all of the data we needed, but that didn’t help us anticipate the behavior of our servers during the first days of launch. We need to do more real-world testing and more thorough load testing, better telemetry mining, and more importantly, build up a larger infrastructure, so that this does not happen again."
But regardless, Maxis stands by its initial vision for the game, despite all the problems.
"When people can get into the game they’re telling us about how much fun they’re having, and how much they enjoy this new approach to SimCity," says Lucy. "The problem is that not everyone can get in, and that is our deepest issue.
"Adversity brings out the best in Maxis and it’s all hands on deck over here. It’s not just the server teams who are working around the clock, it’s the gameplay teams culling through pages of feedback and reading message boards for comments; it’s our design team thinking about how to improve some of the concepts in the game. The team spirit is high because we are close to bringing the game up to full stability and we’re excited to get everyone into the game."