The riskiest dev choice...

How about "The riskiest thing you've done as a dev"? I have a great entry for that. and I suppose it was my choice to build the feature afterall.

I was working on an instance of a small MMO at a game company I worked for. The MMO boasted multiple servers, each of them a vastly different take on the base game. We could use, extend, or outright replace anything we wanted to, leading to everything from Zelda to pokemon to an RP haven to a top-down futuristic counterstrike. The server in this particular instance was a fantasy RPG, and I was building it a new leveling and experience system with most of the trimmings. (Talents, feats/perks, etc. were in a future update.)

A bit of background, first: the game's dev setup did not have the now-standard dev/staging/prod servers; everything ran on prod, devs worked on prod, players connected and played on prod, etc. Worse yet, there was no backup system implemented -- or not really. The CTO was really the only person with sufficient access. The techy CEO did as well, but he rarely dealt with anything technical except server hardware, occasionally. And usually just to troll/punish us devs (as in "Oops ! I pulled the cat5 ! ;)"). Neither of them were the most reliable of people, either. The CTO would occasionally remote in and make backups of each server -- we assumed whenever he happened to think of it -- and would also occasionally do it when asked, but it could take him a week, sometimes even up to a month to get around to it. So the backups were only really useful for retreiving lost code and assets, not so much for player data.

The lack of reliable backups and the lack of proper testing grounds (among the plethora of other issues at the company) made for an absolutely terrible dev setup, but that's just how it was, and that's what we dealt with. We were game devs, afterall. Terrible or not, we got to make games! What more could you ask for!? It was amazing and terrible and wonderful and the worst thing ever, all at the same time. (and no, I'm not sharing the company name, but it isn't EA or Nexon, surprisingly 😅)

Anyway, back to the story! My new leveling system also needed to migrate players' existing data, so... you can see where this is going.

I did as much testing and inspection of my code as I could, copied it from a personal dev script to the server's xp system, ... and debated if I really wanted to click [Apply]. Every time I considered it, I went back to check another part or do yet more testing. I ended up taking like 40 minutes to finally click it.

And when I did... that was the scariest button press of my life. And the scariest three seconds' wait afterwards. That one click could have ruined every single player's account, permanently lost us players ...

After applying it, I immediately checked my character to see if she was broken, checked the account data for corruption or botched flags, checked for broken interactions with the other systems....

Everything ended up working out perfectly, and the players loved all of the new features. They had no idea what went into building them, and certainly had no idea of what went into applying them, or what could have gone wrong -- which is probably a good thing.

Looking back, that entire environment was so fragile, it's a wonder things didn't go horribly wrong all the time. Really, they almost never did. Apocalypses did happen, but were exceedingly rare, and were ususally fixed quickly. I guess we were all super careful simply because everything was so fragile? or the decent devs were, at least. We never trusted the lessers with access 😅 at least on the main servers where it mattered. Some of the smaller servers... well, we never really cared about those.

But I'm honestly more surprised to realize I've never had nightmares of that button click. It was certainly terrifying enough.

But yay! Complete system overhaul and migration of stored and realtime player data! on prod! With no issues! And lots of happy players! Woooooo!

Thinking back on it makes me happy 😊

  • 5
    The first years I to worked a lot like that.

    We did have real verified backups every night and code was also backed up.

    But it was classic asp and all editing was done directly to the server as we know nothing about how to deploy.

    I never had to do something quite as scary as I knew we could repeat almost anything. But there where time you had ice water running down the back when deploying(saving) a change ;)

    And no, not everything was better in the old days :P
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