Titanfall Beta Exposes Weakness in Microsoft’s Cloud of Servers

Squash those bugs

titanfall-connection-issues

If you were lucky enough to score a Titanfall beta code on Valentine’s Day you probably encountered server connection issues for a good part of the day on Friday February 14th. For nearly seven hours the beta was inaccessible to a large population of gamers on both the PC and Xbox One platforms.

The reason for this outage is simple, Microsoft’s servers encountered a bug due to the enthusiastic rush of players trying to attach to the Titanfall beta en masse. The overloaded network and server farm just couldn’t keep up with the demand due to the bug, which left many eager gamers with nothing to do but watch men’s figure skating.

First and foremost, this is a beta, a free beta in fact, so by no means should any of us be calling for people’s heads or jobs. These types of issues are what betas are for, so they can be snuffed out before a video game’s official launch to a much larger audience. Hopefully now that Microsoft has seen that the infrastructure it had in place for the Titanfall beta was buggy, the proper amount of resources and configurations should be available for the official launch on March 11, 2014. In a way the server failures on February 14th were a good thing, even though you probably had your gaming plans crushed in the process.

What is troubling though is the fact that the supposed Microsoft cloud of dedicated servers for the Xbox One obviously failed to do what they’re supposed to do. At approximately 5:15 pm est on 2/14 the first report of Titanfall beta connection issues surfaced on the official EA support forum.

“Some of our Beta servers are currently offline and our team is working with Microsoft to resolve. Stay tuned for updates.”

At that time 1,375 users reported connection issues, but 96,425 users viewed the post, so there’s a great possibility that many users didn’t take the time to sign up for the forum and officially report their connection issues.

The next update came in around 8:04 pm est, and it was from Microsoft:

“Are you registered for the Titanfall beta and experiencing issues getting connected to a server or making a match? We are aware some beta participants are having difficulties getting in the game. We’re doing some work on our end and encourage participants to try back later.”

Another update was posted by EA around 9:44 pm est essentially stating that the root cause is a MS server issue:

“Update: Microsoft is working as fast as they can to get servers back online. We expect servers to be back up this evening.”

At 11:07 pm est EA posted another update hinting that its support team is working hand in hand to get the required servers allotted:

“Update: Our team is working to ramp up servers for both Xbox One and PC. While many users will still have server connection issues we’re working to get connectivity back to normal ASAP. We will continue to post updates until the service is back to 100%.”

At 12:23 am est on February 15th, EA finally posted the update gamers wanted to see, the servers started coming back online:

“The Titanfall servers are now ramping up and coming back online. We appreciate your patience and look forward to hearing your feedback.”

It’s plain to see that it took about seven hours to iron out the Titanfall beta issues, but based on the promises Microsoft made about the Xbox One and its powerful cloud (scroll to the bottom of that link), this issue should have never existed. During a media event at E3 it was explained to us that the Xbox One’s cloud support should essentially limit server connection issues thanks to the scalability of the hundreds of thousands of servers dedicated to the Xbox One.

This cloud was built to be robust and adaptable to change and spikes in service requests, but that’s seemingly not the case. Respawn/EA could have a hand in this issue as well, because based on an article by Jon Shiring, a Respawn engineer, it seems as if developers have the option to rent more servers from Microsoft if needed, but he also hints that developers shouldn’t have to estimate server needs as precisely anymore either.

How is this different from other dedicated servers?

With the Xbox Live Cloud, we don’t have to worry about estimating how many servers we’ll need on launch day. We don’t have to find ISPs all over the globe and rent servers from each one. We don’t have to maintain the servers or copy new builds to every server. That lets us focus on things that make our game more fun. And best yet, Microsoft has datacenters all over the world, so everyone playing our game should have a consistent, low latency connection to their local datacenter.

Most importantly to us, Microsoft priced it so that it’s far more affordable than other hosting options – their goal here is to get more awesome games, not to nickel-and-dime developers. So because of this, dedicated servers are much more of a realistic option for developers who don’t want to make compromises on their player experience, and it opens up a lot more things that we can do in an online game.

Considering that the population of Titanfall beta users is quite small compared to an officially launched game, one must wonder how powerful Microsoft’s cloud truly is. If you bought into Microsoft’s cloud pitch, then you too were probably wondering why a seven hour outage occurred for a large population of users in a beta. In theory, at least based on how the cloud was presented, the cloud servers should have been tapped into on the fly once demand started to exceed the abilities of the servers that were dedicated to the Titanfall beta. Unfortunately for many gamers, this didn’t seem to be the case thanks to the reported bug.

When the Titanfall beta officially ends, it will still have been a success despite the long outage due to server connection issues. Ultimately, betas exist to work out any lingering bugs or required resources before a game’s official launch, so while it stunk to be Titanfall-less for a good part of the day on February 14th, at least EA and Microsoft now know that more resources need to be in place for the official launch. Let’s just hope that someone at Microsoft remembers to wake its cloud of servers up before March 11th, so gamers aren’t left staring at the screen below.


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