A lot has happened since the last Battleplan: Ahn'Qiraj and the war effort, new dungeon armor sets, paladin and priest talent reviews, weather effects, linked auction houses, and much more. During that time, we've also been diligently working on The Burning Crusade, developing a lot of the content that players are looking forward to, including new zones, quests, monsters, the Alliance race, jewelcrafting, and flying mounts. Well be revealing more information on upcoming game content at E3, so keep an eye out for all of the media coverage from the show in the weeks ahead. I want to dedicate the rest of this Battleplan to continuing the discussion weve been having with players about the steps were taking to address the service-related issues that those on our most populated realms have been experiencing. This will include an overview of the upgrades well be making leading up to the release of the expansion.
Dispersing the Population
The World of Warcraft networking, database, and programming teams have been working just as hard as everyone else to improve and expand our services. Since January 1, 2006, weve opened 22 new realms in North America. Weve also offered a number of different realm-transfer options in order to help balance our populations. This in turn has helped improve performance and reduce queues on some of our most heavily populated realms.
We recently brought a new World of Warcraft site online in North America -- the 5th one in this region. This not only allowed us to open new realms -- each site can hold approximately 40 -- it also allowed us to migrate existing realms over to the new, top-of-the-line hardware we used to build the site. As with previous migrations, this relieved pressure on our shared-database backend infrastructure, resulting in noticeable improvements in loot, auction house, mail, and instance lag and general realm stability for the players who were moved to the new realms as well those who remained at the original site.
Beyond this 5th World of Warcraft site, we are preparing to bring up a 6th site before the end of May, and we have plans to build additional sites in order to handle any increase in population we experience after the release of The Burning Crusade. All of our future sites will be built using the latest hardware and will give us the capacity to support new players and perform additional migrations and character transfers as needed.
The new zones added to the game in The Burning Crusade will increase Azeroths current land mass by 25 percent. To insure that Azeroth continues to feel vibrant and populated, we will be increasing the player caps on all our realms by the same percentage. The new hardware installed on our 5th and 6th sites will be able to handle this increase in concurrency with some adjustments, but the hardware on our mature sites cannot. Therefore, over the next few months we will also be retrofitting our mature sites with the same top-of-the-line hardware deployed at our new sites. Players wont need the expansion to notice the performance boost this new hardware will bring to these sites.
Upcoming Character-Transfer Service
On top of our efforts to evenly disperse our player population through coordinated realm transfers and migrations, weve begun testing our paid character-transfer feature. Scheduled to go live this summer, this feature will allow players to move their characters, within certain restrictions, to a realm of their choosing. This means that players will now be able to join their friends on other realms without the need to wait for a pre-set mass realm transfer. In addition, this will also contribute to a balancing of the player load from realm to realm, which again is a specific way for us to reduce realm queues and lag. We know that many players are eager for this service to be implemented, so well share further details as soon as more information becomes available.
Individual Realm Performance
World of Warcraft currently has 156 realms in North America, and were definitely not happy with the performance that some of these realms have experienced. If any overarching good has come from the extensive troubleshooting weve done for our realms over the past few months, its that it has enabled us to identify numerous bottlenecks that weve then worked toward eliminating through both software optimizations and upgrades to the realm hardware. We feel its unacceptable when even one player cant enter the game, gets unexpectedly disconnected at a key moment, or experiences any other interruptions while playing, and we will continue to spend time, money, and manpower to address any such issues that arises
To help prevent small-scale issues from becoming large-scale ones, we bring down our realms for scheduled maintenance each week and run diagnostic programs that help us find and fix potential issues. We also run many applications during this maintenance period that allow us to gather, organize, and back up data from the previous week. When performing these maintenance procedures, we occasionally uncover critical game issues that cause the realms to stay down for an extended amount of time. In such cases, we work as quickly as we can to address the issues and bring the realms back online while providing regular updates on our progress. Our ultimate goal is to cut down on the frequency of these maintenance periods.
We also use this period of scheduled downtime to apply patches. After we worked out some shortcomings with our patching process early last year, patch days have been running relatively smoothly. On certain occasions, though, a patch might still cause unforeseen errors, such as was the case with the 10.1 patch a few weeks ago. The mixed experience caused by that patch was completely unacceptable to every one of us. Based on that particular incident, we decided that moving forward, we will be publicly testing small, bug-fix patches on our test realms prior to deploying them to live realms. Recently, we tested patch 10.2 on our test realms, and we were able to catch some potentially serious bugs as a result.
Authentication, WorldofWarcraft.com, and the Forums
The steady increase in players has severely impacted our authentication (login) service and website and forum hardware. The hardware that handles the login requests to both the game and the forums was designed to handle a large number of players, but the recent increase in players has exposed some limitations to our system. As soon as it became clear that we were outgrowing the existing platform, we began designing and testing a more robust and scalable authentication system. We are now in the process of installing the new system, and we expect to go live with it in North America by the end of May. This will help alleviate the issues players have occasionally had when trying to log in to the official forums and our billing system, as well as the login delays that theyve experienced during the authenticating, handshaking, or connecting steps.
Our community website and forums are also receiving improvements to their hardware and the applications that run those systems. As part of this process, our web programmers have identified the applications that are causing the website and forums to go down during periods of high traffic, and they are currently working on resolving those issues with a series of code improvements. These improvements, combined with hardware upgrades, will allow our community team to provide more consistent updates during periods of extended downtime. Were also planning on unveiling new forums next month that will allow us to make additional communication improvements.
Resolving World of Warcrafts current performance issues and upgrading our current hardware in preparation for The Burning Crusade is Blizzards #1 priority. Were all World of Warcraft players too, and we know how frustrating it is when you experience loot lag, get disconnected fighting a boss, or miss the beginning of your 8:00 PM AQ raid because you cant log in. Weve been working around the clock to respond to the issues as they arise, and we will continue to do so for the life of the game. We will also remain focused on taking proactive steps moving toward the release of the expansion so we can avoid similar issues in the future.
World of Warcraft Development Team