Concerning Blizzard and Diablo 3’s Disappointing Launch

Well it’s finally here. May 15th, 2012. Launch day for Diablo 3.

and….fail. Cannot connect to the game. One of several error screens. This is true for most people across the twittersphere and multitude of Skype and IRC channels I’m in.

Here’s what I want to know: How can a company with Blizzard’s resources, Diablo 3’s time, and Activision’s budgets flop a launch day this bad? I mean, they’ve had a beta test for over six months now. I’ve got a hypothesis. It’s in their IT Management’s “business” philosophy. Let’s break it down.

Typical IT management mindset is we should minimize cost by making the most out of the least amount of resources as possible. Too many unused resources and thats a waste, too few and you’re over utilized. This serves most IT budgets quite well. But you’re the IT manager at Blizzard trying to plan resource allocation for launch day. You’ve already benchmarked through the beta how much resources each user’s connection consumes (hopefully). Now you need to estimate how many people are going to try to connect at launch. So you look at historical data – Diablo II, WoW, Starcraft II, etc. and from there estimate a number. Then plan for that. There’s your IT Capacity Planning for a Diablo 3 launch.

I think it was done poorly, and here’s why.

Put that formula aside. Say you sold 1 million pre-release copies. History shows games like Diablo 3 make their money over time – the hardcore fans upfront, then popularity from those watching the hardcore fan generates post revenue buzz. (aka I play D3 for six months then introduce it to an unknowing friend). And now with the Auction House and other new features, I’m sure there will be additional revenue generated post launch. The point is, you don’t sell most of your licenses in a pre-release. But those pre-release licenses are your most important players (monetarily). Those are the most likely to purchase other things – expansion packs, DLC, etc. Making these customers happy should be your bottom line. Without them, you do not have the religious following for Diablo.

This is why capacity planning for a launch like Diablo 3 should have had much more importance put on it than it appears Blizzard did. Where is your cloud computing technology Blizzard? Capacity planning is not just in throwing more servers at it. You must build your server architectures to scale quickly and efficiently. Zynga’s Hybrid Cloud does this.

Here are some steps you can take to make sure your company doesn’t repeat something like this (and your fans aren’t blogging about you instead of using your product):

  • Build a platform that can automatically scale with demand
  • Write good horizontal scaling support into your application code
  • Make sure your IT department has the data center space (public / private cloud?) ready to meet the demand of the growth.

This is a great example of where a combination of good engineering and smart management can easily tackle a large and complex problem.

Thoughts or comments? Follow me on Twitter.

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