Mega Patches And Slow Downloads

Making a game that requires an Internet connection will always mean that both it, and the players, are dependent on the speed and robustness of their connection. Usually, after the initial installation, not a lot of bandwidth is required as the file transfer during play tends to be pretty small and manageable. That is, until, that dreaded patch appears…

I’ve never had much of an issue with patching my MMORPGs before… until I started playing World of Warcraft. Even though the game isn’t as technically, hmm, pretty? as some newer MMOs, WoW’s patches are still plenty large and 3.3 is no exception. In fact, it’s a downright whopper, weighing in at 1.1GB in total.

The ironic thing is that Blizzard have got more money than God to spend on server architectures and yet their patch downloads are consistently some of the slowest I’ve ever experienced and their patches some of the largest (or maybe it’s just that I never noticed with other games before). I appreciate the fact that they release the content early to be downloaded in the background as you play but downloading 1.1GB of data at 5kbps is like trying to make a dent in a steel wall with a toothpick. A bent toothpick.

I can understand the theory behind utilising the whole peer-to-peer transfer mechanic in order to try and reduce the load on their servers but unfortunately most ISPs throttle P2P traffic now (and mine’s one of them). I’d much rather just download the patch file itself but that won’t be available on either the patcher or mirror sites until the official release. And, even then, I find the final download speeds to be pretty darn slow.

Suffice to say, I’m not really looking forward to patch day (apparently targeted for December 8th). The only saving grace is that I can usually copy the patch files from my main PC to my laptop and thus don’t have to download it twice… all kinda funny when you end up with a portable data drive just filled with patch files so you never have to download them again.

Blizzard aren’t alone in their download-slowness though and I had much a similar problem with Aion and it’s “trickle” download. Yep, we live in the 21st century, high-speed Internet connections, and 5GB downloads at 7kbps. Awesome.

Of course, some MMORPG companies seem to have everything calmly under control. CCP spring to mind here and, although I’ve yet to download Dominion, I’ve always had excellent download speeds with them, so much so that I didn’t even bother to transfer the installation files over to my laptop, I just re-downloaded the entire game.

So let’s name and shame. Who are the worst offenders for slow downloads and giant patches? And who are the best? My votes are for Blizzard and CCP respectively.

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  1. Tesh says:

    I really do wonder from time to time how much “feature creep” is going on under the hood. A 1.1GB footprint for the 3.3 patch is a significant chunk of data… and for what, exactly? (Especially if you don’t raid…)

    If I were a conspiracy nut, I’d suggest that being able to run on a toaster, yet requiring an ever-expanding proportion of said toaster’s hard drive space, is one more element to a nefarious MMO dev’s plan to monopolize your time and resources.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah it’s odd isn’t it. I never understand why these patches were so big for WoW. It’s not like the game using massively high quality textures like, say, Age of Conan. I’d love to know what actually constitutes the 1.1GB of patch 3.3. It’s not adding that much content is it?

  2. Nelson says:

    Blizzard’s implementation of the P2P downloader is really screwy; they improved the BitTorrent client somewhat in 3.0, but it’s still bad. It also seems crazy to me to do it. Amazon S3’s retail pricing for bandwidth is, maximum, $0.17 / gigabyte. So that’s $0.20 a patch. You make about $40 per user for each patch (3 months), so we’re talking about bandwidth costs being 0.5% of revenue. And pricing is much cheaper if you buy bandwidth rather than go via Amazon. So why doesn’t Blizzard just host a download already?

    • Gordon says:

      Dunno. I thought they used to allow people to download the patches from their website? I did a search but couldn’t find anything. Also you can’t download the files from a mirror until the release date has passed :(

  3. Dickie says:

    OMG, sorry SOE, but I’ve had nothing but trouble whenever I’ve tried to download and/or patch EQ2. It’s one of the biggest reasons I don’t play the game. The downloaded is slow, it stops and pauses multiple times, and each time it does it requires me to hit “resume” to continue so I can’t even leave it running over night!

    Other than that, Fallen Earth has had it’s share of download issues the past couple months too. And AOC had some attrocious issues when it launched (although now it seems much better). Ive always found LOTRO to patch and download well though.

  4. ixobelle says:

    i hear your pain, but I remember when they first made the switch from “direct DL from” to torrent style patching.

    There was a huge blue post that basically broke down the bandwidth required to send a 100MB patch out to 5 million (at the time?) subscribers, and it was a really well written post.

    We can boo hoo that blizz has pockets lined with gold, and can afford to pay the BW costs, but why bother when there’s another way to deliver the goods? If anything, I applaud their having the nerve to shift the load to their (unusually robust) userbase. If it were “bob’s MMO” with a userbase of 7, it would suck, but wow is wow, and yeah…



  5. ixobelle says:

    then again, i’m in California, so patches DL fast… but even when I lived in Japan it wasn’t bad.

    (sorry for double)

  6. Hirvox says:

    If your ISP blocks or hinders a protocol that is designed for large pieces of content with spiky and massive demand, then they are either incompetent or malicious. You condone and endorse this behavior by continuing to pay for it. If a vendor provides a substandard product or service, don’t buy it. Put your money where your mouth is.

    • Gordon says:

      P2P throttling is very common in the UK unfortunately and almost every ISP does it. I don’t think we have the network in place to support the number of people on broadband now which is why they have to use traffic shaping to try and maintain consistent speeds.

  7. Carson63000 says:

    “1.1GB of data at 5kbps is like trying to make a dent in a steel wall with a toothpick”

    It should only take 3 days by my napkin maths, and the background downloader is active for weeks before patch day.

    “So let’s name and shame. Who are the worst offenders for slow downloads and giant patches?”

    Should probably start by naming and shaming your ISP, they seem to be the offender in this situation.

  8. Tizio says:

    If you are downloading at only 5k per second, probably you have enabled a setting that throttle download speed.

    Blizzard’s downloader does throttle pre-download patches as they aren’t really needed urgently so download is slowed down to prevent capping your bandwidth.

    I’ve downloaded first 500Mb at a speed of about 250k per second, and the other 400Mb at about 200K per second. That while my ISP was even reporting problems of bandwidth in my area.

    So I don’t think that patches are really so slow….

  9. Who’s good for patches? Ignoring Meridian 59 (although our patches generally were smooth), I have to go with Turbine and LotRO. Mirkwood just launched, and the patch was reasonable and the servers were fairly stable. Compared to WoW where patch day was pretty much a guaranteed day off from the game, because trying to do anything required dealing with massive crowds and server crashes/resets.

    But, just like customer service, it’s obvious that while people will complain they obviously don’t hate crappy patch days enough to avoid the game (myself included here).

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, I pretty much write off patch days and release days now. I used to stay up late and try logging on these days and get annoyed when servers were still down or patches were taking ages. Now I don’t bother and just wait a day or two.

  10. [...] 3.3 hit the European World of Warcraft servers today (I take back what I said about the slow downloads… turns out I’d actually downloaded 713mb already in the background and the rest came [...]

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