260/366 – Patching Day Circus

parade-clown-carThe development cycle of a persistent game has a variety of days that I would affectionately call “circus” days, and by that I mean days in which anything and everything can happen and during which an audience consisting of regular players can be submitted to ¬†wild occurrences due to things in the game. The milestones that match up with these days are pretty obvious for the most part – pre-beta invites, beta launch, open beta, launch, and big information reveals. And then, of course, there’s patch day.

Patch day is, of all the days I mentioned, perhaps the one which has the highest likelihood of a clown fiesta on a consistent basis. No matter how much or how long development teams may leave a patch on a testing realm or server to bake and get tweaked, on patch day, especially when it’s a patching day containing a huge major update or content release, has a tendency to have chaos that threatens to overturn a game’s relative normal behavior. The reason for this is fairly easy to guess at – so many things have the potential to go wrong, from server and infrastructure stability, to game-breaking bugs and exploits, to players exposing a problem or an issue with what’s released that wasn’t caught during testing, to the simple fact that everyone is going to be playing which means everyone is going to have an opinion to post – moreso if that opinion is shared and that it is related to something that is egregiously wrong with the update.

For this reason, I tend to pump the brakes a little bit on patch day. Do I actually play on the new content? Absolutely, and most of the time I don’t want to be left behind with my friends playing it all excited on day 1 as well. But I try to limit my exposure, mostly because of the potential for so many things to go wrong and the potential fallout it can cause, whether that is a server maintenance window that’s unexpected, rollbacks, or hotfixes to get rid of issues. I basically save myself the headache, mostly because of the fact that anything that does go wrong or that does have a workaround will have someone else who’s gone through the pain on the player side to tell me how to get through it – or the developers will fix something. Either way, I avoid the mess, and oftentimes end up just picking up my internet bucket of popcorn and chomping away reading the patch day thread and impressions.

The logical thought would be that developers would try to eliminate the patch day circus from their development cycle, but at this time, I just don’t see it happening – or at the very least, I see it being minimized and not completely removed. There’s always the chance that something that hits live is something that just wasn’t able to be simulated in test, and there’s no greater or more accurate test of a patch that’s working than it being in the wild. That doesn’t mean that QA and test server feedback shouldn’t factor, but I think realistically speaking. you may always have a way to get into a circus of a day on patching day. All the more reason to try to roll with the punches as a player and let it get sorted out, because as nice as it is to watch the circus, it’s probably not so great having to be a part of it.

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