Path of Exile is currently embroiled in a controversy sparked by the catastrophic launch of a new expansion and a backlash against preferential treatment given to streamers.
The popular action role-playing game last night launched the Ultimatum expansion. Here, players risk items for coveted rewards in increasingly difficult trials.
There is an element of competition here, with those reaching the highest maps first expected to dominate the in-game economy over the next few months. These players would also gain the lead in the fight for extremely valuable rewards given to those who finish on top of the ladder.
But Ultimatum suffered a disastrous launch that prevented people from playing. "This launch has been rough, to say the least," lead developer Chris Wilson said in a post on the Path of Exile subreddit.
According to Wilson, immediately upon the launch of the league, the queue began to run incredibly slowly - so slowly that it would take at least two hours to get everyone in the game. Why? There was a "human error" that meant an important "trickle migration" process was not run, causing the queue to be "unbearably" slow to empty.
Grinding Gear Games disabled migration entirely, which solved the queue speed issue by around the one hour mark, but at that point "the realm freaked out" and dumped most of the players out, then continued to do this roughly every 10 minutes or so for the rest of the day.
"This wasn't good. At all," Wilson said. "Aside from catastrophically ruining our launch day, it completely mystified us because we have been so careful with realm infrastructure changes."
This issue remains, although Grinding Gear Games is currently trying to work out the problem.
"We will continue to work on this issue until the servers are working perfectly," Wilson said. "We know the Path of Exile realm can handle this much load, it's just a matter of divining what subtle fuckery is causing the problem today."
Amid all this, Grinding Gear Games allowed streamers to bypass the slow queue, enraging the wider Path of Exile community.
Wilson offered an explanation for this, revealing the developer had paid some streamers to play Ultimatum for a couple of hours at launch, and if they had not been able to play due to server issues, "This was about as close as you could get to literally setting a big pile of money on fire."
"The backstory is that we have recently been doing some proper paid influencer marketing, and that involves arranging for big streamers to showcase Path of Exile to their audiences, for money (they have #ad in their titles)," Wilson explained.
"We had arranged to pay for two hours of streaming, and we ran right into a login queue that would take two hours to clear. This was about as close as you could get to literally setting a big pile of money on fire. So we made the hasty decision to allow those streamers to bypass the queue. Most streamers did not ask for this, and should not be held to blame for what happened. We also allowed some other streamers who weren't involved in the campaign to skip the queue too so that they weren't on the back foot."
Wilson admitted this move was a "mistake".
"The decision to allow any streamers to bypass the queue was clearly a mistake," he said.
"Instead of offering viewers something to watch while they waited, it offended all of our players who were eager to get into the game and weren't able to, while instead having to watch others enjoy that freedom. It's completely understandable that many players were unhappy about this. We tell people that Path of Exile league starts are a fair playing field for everyone, and we need to actually make sure that is the reality.
"We will not allow streamers to bypass the login queue in the future. We will instead make sure the queue works much better so that it's a fast process for everyone and is always a fair playing field. We will also plan future marketing campaigns with contingencies in mind to better handle this kind of situation in the future.
"It's completely understandable that many players are unhappy with how today has gone on several fronts. This post has no intention of trying to convince you to be happy with these outcomes. We simply want to provide you some insight about what happened, why it happened and what we're doing about it in the future. We're very unhappy with it too."
The Ultimatum expansion is set to launch for the console versions of Path of Exile on 21st April. Grinding Gear Games will be hoping it's sorted out all the server issues by then.