Avoiding the ‘cap trap’ that Helldivers 2 fell into

Nobody wants to stop people playing their game. So what can you do to avoid needing to cap your concurrent players?

At the start of February, Arrowhead Game Studios released Helldivers 2. It’s a fantastic game that’s had great reviews from critics and players alike. But that popularity has been a double-edged sword. Only a few weeks after they launched, they needed to cap their servers to 450,000 concurrent players (they’ve now increased this cap to 800,000).

“Earlier tonight, we had server-related issues with a concurrent player spike,” Arrowhead said on their Discord. “While we’ve been able to mitigate some of the causes, we are still struggling to keep up with the scaling that is needed to accommodate all our Helldivers.”

Stopping people from playing your game is clearly not ideal, especially so near to launch. It can jam the breaks on a runaway success, possibly stalling your growth.

So what causes the problem? And what could Arrowhead have done to avoid it?

It’s rarely capacity alone, but infrastructure and cost

When there’s a problem at launch – like a surge of players – and people start experiencing problems, it’s usually not because the studio has simply “run out of servers.”

It’s about how to scale. It’s the cost of those extra cloud servers becoming ridiculous, the matchmaker being unable to create sessions quickly enough, or how to roll out a bug fix to the whole world at once.

This is why it’s so important to prepare for success. What will happen if you get that huge surge of players? Yes, you’ll need more servers. But you’re also going to find more bugs, need to roll out more changes, and all your third-party tools need to be able to scale, too.

Make sure your whole infrastructure can scale

Avoiding the ‘cap trap’ is about looking at all your providers and making sure they can all scale. Look for solutions that don’t have a limitation on the number of players it can handle at once and make sure it can scale.

One of the most important steps is to really stress-test your systems. What happens when you throw hundreds of thousands of players at your infrastructure at once? What breaks? What costs too much? What causes long queue times?

That’s why our orchestrator fires up more sessions when you need them, but also makes sure they’re in the right locations, makes it easy to upload and distribute a new version of your game, and plugs into any matchmaker or tool that you want. It means that you can choose the solutions that work best for your game.

Avoid the cap trap

So if you’re developing a game and want to avoid the cap trap, we’re on hand to give advice and recommendations on the best way to set up your infrastructure. Just get in touch, or book a call.