If you're a Call of Duty fan then you're no doubt aware by now of the growing pains Beachhead Studios' Call of Duty Elite stat-tracker/social network is going through this week. It's unfortunate, but hardly a surprise given the ambitious scope of the new service. When you've got millions of people all trying to see how Modern Warfare 3 communicates with this other new toy at the same time on day one, the term "stress testing" takes on a whole new meaning.
Beachhead is working 'round-the-clock right now with Activision to hammer out the issues, VP of production Daniel Suarez told me in a phone interview earlier this week. "We're looking right now at bringing different parts of the service back up intermittently to kind of test out and see what the performance levels are like with some of the changes that we're making, but we're not there yet."
If you've been doggedly checking and re-checking Elite's web portal and console app, then you've likely already seen some improvements. The experience can hardly be described as "smooth" or even "complete" at this point, but we're seeing fewer error screens and more partial site loads. You can frequently get into the site now and look around at portions of content.
"It's literally going to be an iterative step-by-step process until we take care of all of the issues," Suarez said. "Little by little we're making progress, but right now from the fan's perspective, they can't get in, they're frustrated. I read the Twitter feeds. We're seeing the same things. We can't get online. We can't get through on the console app. So I know exactly what everybody's seeing, and we're seeing it too."
It's hard not to look at this situation with a little bit of cynicism. Call of Duty is more than just an established franchise; it's an annual blockbuster release that boasts a constantly growing audience, year-over-year. Why then didn't Activision and Beachhead plan for this influx and bulk up the technology accordingly?
Suarez chalks it up to the turnout being even bigger than "we could have planned for in terms of our infrastructure for Elite." The biggest issue on day one was on the registration side, with the influx of players literally crippling the system. The team focused its efforts on fixing that to start with, but it's not the only piece of Elite's puzzle.
At the most basic level, Call of Duty Elite breaks down between a registration system, the actual Elite service and then the various services, such as stat-tracking and community features, that feed into the whole. Making everything work in this case isn't as simple as a single fix, Suarez explained.
"I think on day one we got slammed with [registration troubles], but now we're actually able to process a large number of registrants," he said. "So now I think the analogy I would like to use is, it's almost like we're having the Super Bowl and we've gotten everyone into the parking lot. Now we just need to get them into the stadium and enjoy what's there."
The good news is that a fix for one is most likely a fix for all. There's no separate process for making the console app run right, or the web portal, or the promised-yet-still-unreleased mobile app. It's the core service feeding information into those different outlets that's having the problems.
"To our knowledge, nothing like this has been done that touches console, PC, web, mobile and a really popular game. They all sort of work with one another, with a really complicated backend infrastructure," Suarez explained. "It's not like we're prioritizing console vs. web right now. Right now it's literally getting the backend service up and running."
The same thinking applies to the mobile app. I've personally seen it up and running. It's not like it isn't finished, or close to finished. It's just that there's no information coming from Elite to feed into it. That's why you can't download it yet.
"We delayed the release of the mobile app until we resolve our stability issues with the service, because the last thing we want to do is add another device into the mix that results in a poor experience," Suarez told me. "Once we restore the stability to Elite we'll work on timing for the release of the iOS and Android apps."
For now, this is all a matter of finding and fixes the various bottlenecks that the service is experiencing. Based on what Suarez told me, there's not going to be a single moment in which a switch gets flipped and everything works perfectly; bringing Elite to a stable, functional place is going to be a gradual process. Your best bet is to keep checking the Elite status page. Suarez does want to make it clear, however, the Beachhead is well aware of the range of problems people are having.
"We know what the fans are talking about, we know what the fans are concerned about," he said. "Our priority number one is wanting to give them a great Elite experience, and we're on getting it back up and running... so they can get everything they were promised with Elite."