June 27, 2003 2:29 PM PDT
May the Force be with Sony servers
Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) is learning a little Yoda-style wisdom Friday, after a crowded and glitch-filled opening day for its new online game based on "Star Wars."
After years of development and testing, SOE and game developer LucasArts on Thursday released "Star Wars Galaxies," a multiplayer online game based on the movie. Highly anticipated by "Star Wars" buffs, the game is seen by industry analysts as one of the most significant opportunities yet for subscription-based online games to reach a broader audience.
But getting started hasn't been easy for would-be Jedis. Many subscribers--who pay $50 for the software and a monthly fee of $12 to $15 for access to the online content--were unable to register the morning of the release due to problems with the game's registration servers. Some would-be players reported trying four or five hours to complete the sign-up process necessary to play the game, wading through a series of error screens and "try again" pages.
SOE largely had the registration problems fixed by midday, allowing players to sign up just in time to discover that most of the servers that host the actual game were inaccessible due to "database issues," according the game's main Web site. The upshot was that most players couldn't access the online portion of the game through Thursday night.
John Softcheck, a writer from New Bedford, Mass., spent an hour that night fine-tuning his character in the game, "only to find that by the time I was finished, the game servers had crashed again," he said in an e-mail exchange. "It was disappointing to lose all that work, but I decided to call it a night and try again."
R. Butler, a network administrator from Bremerton, Wash., said he was frustrated by lack of information from Sony on when the game would be fully functioning. "I can understand they may not have an exact time, but it's rather frustrating since some of us have been waiting several years for the game, paid for overnight shipping so we could get in on 'opening day,' and we can't really do anything."
Sony Online Entertainment spokesman Chris Kramer said the hitches in service were due to overwhelming traffic from eager players. "Nobody's ever had this kind of first-day volume in a game like this," he said.
Kramer said most of the issues had been resolved by Friday morning, by which time the game servers were hosting more than 17,000 simultaneous players. "There are still some rough spots, but the performance is getting better and better," he said.
"Galaxies" isn't the first high-profile online game to experience opening-night jitters. Subscriber numbers for "Anarchy Online" and "World War II Online" were hammered by early reliability and performance issues, and the release of nearly every online game is accompanied by huge downloads to patch flaws discovered at the last minute.
Softcheck said fans will give "Galaxies" some leeway, but the game needs to be up to 100 percent performance soon. "The 'Star Wars' name and dedicated fan base will provide them some slack, but 'Star Wars' fanatics have high expectations and don't take disappointment well," he said. "If the (developers) can't make some magic soon, all the promises, apologies and excuses in the world won't be worth a heap of Bantha fodder."