At the beginning of October, EA announced their partnership with XWIS. This partnership basically meant that online support of various Command & Conquer titles was transferred into the hands of the community. XWIS offers everything that the outdated Westwood Online (WOL) server doesn't - rankings, enabled chat, cheat reporting, ladders, reasonable speeds and so forth. Needless to say, the implications of this transfer are massive - as I will discuss.
Thousands of people still played Red Alert 2 and Yuri's Revenge on WOL before the official transfer - a smaller number played on the XWIS server (this smaller number generally consisted of the better players who were aware of the server's existence). However, there is little doubt that the game was in a great state of decline. The ladder was full of cheats, who could essentially get away with anything. Thankfully, XWIS is changing this.
Many people have returned to Red Alert 2 with the recent server transfer. Whereas finding a game on XWIS prior to this was often a chore in itself (there simply were not enough players), one can now find a quick match game almost instantly or select from a number of games through the lobby. Obviously, the number of players is nowhere near the total seen back in the game's heyday. Given the fact that the game is now over five years old, that's only natural. Nevertheless, this month has seen over 22,500 players use the ladder - with over 180,000 games played (these figures are for solely for Red Alert 2).
Why are all these people playing the game? Surely they've exhausted it to death by now? Not quite. Red Alert 2 remains a great game - and the standard of play on XWIS is very high, particularly in the upper echelons of the ladder. People are still using the old tactics - the tank rush, the early engineer, the drone in the war miner: but it remains fun. I would go as far as to say that the standard of play on Red Alert 2 is better than it ever has been; being successful on the ladder now requires an intimate understanding of the various quick match maps as well as mastering all of the old tactics. Personally, I've played over 100 games this month - and found it hard work. With a record of 68/40 (648 points), it's plain to see that the standard is very good. Playing like I have done back in the past would have seen me with a far greater ranking I am sure - but the server is just packed with quality players. One of these players is Tomi (playing under slk) - who has finished as winner of both of Red Alert 2 and Yuri's Revenge ladders numerous times. I decided to ask him a few questions pertinent to the article.
Could you please tell our readers how long you've being playing Red Alert 2 and what sort of rankings you've achieved?
Well, I played RA2 when I was a 'newb' and had a lot of fun. That was like 5 years ago. Then, half a year later, I went to YR and achieved rank #1 several times. I then started to play on the XWIS server and managed to get several rank #1´s in both RA2 and YR. Basically, I've been playing RA2 seriously RA2 for about 3 years - YR a bit longer, around 4 years.
How do you find the standard of play on XWIS? Do you think it is improving? Are players getting better - or is it just the same?
I think now since WOL and XWIS are together it is improving hardcore. Great job S-T and EA team. Many people have returned to the game because of this and that's what makes RA2/YR very interesting and fun again.
Do you think that the game is still evolving in terms of people creating new strategies? Or is every game just a matter of who uses all the old tactics best?
Nope. There are always different people with new build orders / tactics and its always fun to play quick match, fun games or whatever.
How exactly did you become so skilled at RA2 and YR? Just lots of practice, or was there more to it? What qualities do you need to be a top player? Well, I've been quick matching a long time. That's the part I like most about RA2-YR. I've played lots of games; never refusing to play someone. I've just played the game and always found out new build orders and strategies. Copying a player or refusing to play someone that is better than you will get you nowhere.
How do you see the game progressing now it has online support again? Do you think even more people will come back?
Like I mentioned, many people have already come back. I'm pretty sure there will be even more people that will come back. The RA2 Ladder looks very good for the first month I must say. I think RA2 won't die for a long time now.
Tomi has reached 1337 points this month (at time of writing) - which is quite a feat; so he obviously knows what he is talking about. I think his answers help display just why people still want to play the older Command & Conquer titles.
Stike-Team, the XWIS Community Portal.
October, on the whole, seems to have been a great success for the XWIS community. However, over the past weekend, things took a turn for the worse. A spate of downtime (due to hacking attacks and poor host response) suggests that perhaps some administrative procedures behind the server could be improved. Little information has been released in terms of how far EA are supporting XWIS; is it really a partnership? Or are they just offloading some of their workload? Whether or not the XWIS servers are capable of handling many thousands of players over a long period remains to be seen. Furthermore, and this is my major gripe, there appears to be a fundamental lack of communication between the people behind XWIS and the rest of the community. The server was down for two days - yet nobody knew when it would be back up again. Strike Team (the forums for the XWIS community) acts as the only real information portal for the server - but when that server went down, that portal also went down. Hopefully, lessons will be learnt (namely - don't put all your eggs in one basket).
As for specific improvements, I'm sure there would be no harm in XWIS appointing a 'Community Manager' (much like EA and Westwood have done in the past) to communicate with the fansites. This would be of benefit to both XWIS and the community at large - helping to spread news and information about latest events or changes. Furthermore, as this past weekend has displayed, more thought needs to be given to the administration of the server. As the official server for Red Alert 2 (and all the other games), fans are relying on XWIS. It's certainly not their fault that they were hacked, but measures should already have been in place if such an event were to happen. The fact that it happened several times when EA and Westwood were in charge of the server might have been a clue. Contigency planning is needed - the XWIS administrators need to be proactive; and not reactive. It is a fundamental rule of running any successful operation. I should say, though, that I believe XWIS will continue to go from strength to strength - there is of course a learning curve with almost everything. Lets not let one bad weekend cast a negative light on what has been a great month for the community.
The XWIS server is certainly helping to regenerate Red Alert 2 and Yuri's Revenge - whether it will have the same effect on games such as Renegade and Tiberian Sun (who have much smaller respective communities) remains to be seen. I've found my month playing on the ladder a lot of fun - battling old friends and foes is still just as exciting as it was over five years ago when I first logged onto WOL.