What a mess. This could and should have been avoided. Bungie has a crack community team, active message boards and the resources of Microsoft's Xbox Live team at their disposal. So why are people flaming them and threatening class action lawsuits and self-inflicted violence ("I'll give it one more hour.... Then I'm going to hang myself").
It's not like they didn't know people would be interested in this. They sold millions of copies of Crackdown on the promise of entry into the Halo 3 Beta. Now Crackdown is a good game to be sure, but the majority did buy it or hang onto it for Halo 3. And many people scheduled holidays or ditched school for this event.
One can only assume Bungie tested everything internally weeks or at least days ago to make sure the beta download process on Crackdown worked. So, what went wrong? Even if there are technical issues that couldn't have been anticipated, there are some things that should have been handled better:
- Synchronize your watches. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the start time of the beta. Xbox.com and Bungie.net and various other quasi-official sites list start times in different time zones. Someone should have coordinated this information to list the official time zone (whatever that might be - GMT, PDT, whatever), plus the adjusted time(s) for the locale being messaged. This information was posted weeks ago, so there's been plenty of opportunity to hunt for mixed or confusing messages and get them fixed. Now people are cluttering the forums with findings of "new start times" that are actually time-shifted messages for different countries.
- What’s the start time, Kenneth? Apart from the out-of-phase messaging (pretty common for Redmond-ites), there never was any advance warning about how the beta would roll out. Posting an official schedule in advance and informing the various news outlets might have quashed this. (Gaming news sites and even gamer TV shows like a recent Halo 3-preview heavy Attack of the Show on G4 have been reporting the midnight start as gospel.) Just list when the Friends and Family beta starts, then the people who won entry, then the random drawing winners, then the Crackdown players. Give approximate times and a disclaimer that they are all subject to change.
- Status, please. At midnight (PDT), many Crackdown players logged in expecting to start downloading the code before they went to bed. They went on the Web to find rumors that the Crackdown launch had actually been scheduled for 5 a.m. Then, a few hours later, they woke up expecting to start the download before work or school. Denied. At least by then, there was an official message stating that Bungie was aware of the problem and fixing it - well, on the Web anyway. Then silence for several more hours.
A better solution would have been to configure the Download Halo 3 Beta button's message to display updated information. The game appears to poll an online server before displaying this button, so it should be possible to edit the related status bar text - if not on the fly, certainly over the course of the several hour delay. It would have been an obvious place to build a communication mechanism, but no one thought this through in advance.
Another place to communicate status is Bungie.net and Major Nelson's blog (the latter actually went down from all of the traffic from status-starved fans!). But all of these crucial community folks were at a Halo 3 event in New York (or traveling back from it), thus unable to stay plugged in and communicating to the fan base during this crucial window. Someone should have been left behind to post status updates (at least hourly), even if there was no helpful news. Just the message "no news yet, everyone is pulling their hair out here trying to get things going, please hang in there" would have made a big difference.
- First, start communicating status. Immediately. And every step of the way from now on.
- Extend the beta by a day or so. It's not like June 6 is a particularly meaningful cut-off date. And surprise us with something cool that we weren't expecting. We love presents!
- And promise to never, ever leave the community you've so careful cultivated hanging for so long during a highly anticipated event. In the planning phase, really think through all decisions from the customer's perspective: "How would I feel if I was sitting in front of my console on Beta launch day expecting a big night out and you never showed - with not even a text message explaining what happened?"
p.s. - While you're waiting, you might as well check out the Halo 3 video from Red vs. Blue. The opening is pretty prophetic considering how things have played out. Makes you wonder if anyone from the community team watched it...