The new game mode pits a team of up to 6 people against waves of robots based off the 9 classes, and from what little I’ve managed to play of it so far it seems like a really fun new match. Having 6 players works well, it’s enough that you can play around with lots of different tactics and configurations, and small enough that you really feel like a team; more so that in the usual team matches. The 6 player limit is also the new modes major downfall.
For the past couple of day people have been trying desperately to get into matches and have had most of their efforts met with failure. My friend Pete has a TF2 server which he updated for us to play the new game mode in. He tweeted at me as soon as the server was running the new maps and by the time I’d joined it was already full. Trying to join using the new team queuing system puts you in a list behind a few hundred to a thousand other people who are all waiting for a space to open up somewhere and gives you a depressing countdown till you’re likely to be in a match. Last night it barely dipped below 70 minutes. The best way in seems to be to just keep refreshing the server list and frantically clicking on any MvM games with less than 6 people, but this doesn’t lend itself to playing with people you know as the odds of you both making it into the same match without the using the team queuing system are slim.
As annoying as the situation is I don’t think I really blame Valve. They’re in the position where hundreds of thousand of people want to play their game. As soon as an update is announced we fanboys sit tirelessly at our computers slowly wearing out our F5 keys for the three days or so an update is spread over. Then after we’ve unintentionally performed numerous denial-of-service attacks on Valve’s website and YouTube feed we do the same thing on their servers once the update goes live. I don’t know the extent that Valve goes to to stress test their servers, but I have to assume they try and make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen. The problem is that when you’re dealing with the sheer amount of numbers that TF2 pulls in, coupled with the “me first” attitude most of us take, I guess it’s hard to keep things running smoothly.
I think this update has hit people particularly hard because of the numbers the new game mode involves. The average number of people in the matches I join is between 20 and 30, and for the sake of this argument I’m going to assume that on average there are 25 people in a server at any one time. The average peak number of players is around 100,000 and so if you assume that there were just enough server for everyone before the update you get around 4000 servers. This seems like a good estimate as it’s roughly what the server list will show me on a good day when Steam is playing nicely with the internet. If you now assume that almost everyone wants to play the new game mode as soon as it’s available, and that the number of servers running the new game mode is not going to be more that 4000 then you have a situation where 76% of gamers can’t join games.
Introducing a 6 player game mode into a community built around 20+ player game modes was always going to bottleneck to begin with. A solution may have been to create another 12,000 servers before the update went live, but I get the feeling that would have caused more problems that it would have solved. As I said I don’t think there is much more Valve could have done to deal with this stampede, all I can do is hope that the MvM mania will quickly die down so I can enjoy some good old fashioned robot killing with my friends.