Review: Pottermore needs more… servers

The interactive Harry Potter website Pottermore, announced in June, has finished enrolling its last beta testers.

I somehow lucked out on hitting the site when one of the Magical Quill qualifying rounds opened. This method involved having the hopeful answer a trivia question and then head to another webpage to find the magical quill. Click on it in time and you’re in!

I finally got my welcome letter Friday night and headed on over as soon as I could. At first, I was unimpressed. The extra content and story summary was interesting, but what was there to do? Then, after reading comments, I realized that I was missing a TON of content because the site uses a lot of Flash. (Oh, Apple. Get over it with the Flash issue, already!)

So off I go to my PC. WAY more fun! There are things to click on and collect. There are tasks to undertake. And the extras written by J.K. Rowling were way easier to find. (Macolytes, you can get to them in the early chapters without doing anything.) I figured I’d get back to it in earnest on Sunday.

And that’s when the servers hit max capacity. Through many repeat attempts very early this morning (U.S. East Coast), I finally managed to work my way through each chapter so I could get my school supplies, get my wand and (hooray!) get sorted. (Go Ravenclaw!) Being satisfied with landing there, for now, I thought I’d capture my thoughts on the experience to this point.

The Bads

  • Server Capacity – The site has been at maximum capacity for days. More often than not, you get the “come back soon” page. Or if you do get on, you’ll inevitably start to hang, at some point, and not go any further. Granted, I don’t know a thing about how to bring up a server farm, but wouldn’t you want all of them up during your beta test so you can ease them up to full stress? Are they already up and this is as well as it’s going? Either way, they’re only at a million users. What’s going to happen when the whole, wide Harry Potter world tries to get in next month? (Plus, it’s Sony. Don’t they already know how to manage larger server capacity?)
  • Silence – This might be due to the server issues, but there is no sound. It’s kinda creepy, really. You’d think there’d at least be some music when you log on. Sound effects when you find things would also be fun.
  • Navigation – It took me longer than it should to figure out how to get around. Plus, for things like the shops, why do I have to click on each individual thing, go to another pop-up to buy it and then go back again? If you could click on the individual item to get more content, it might be worth it. But not if it does nothing else.

The Good

  • Extra content from J.K. Rowling – The extra content Jo Rowling provides for each chapter is fascinating. This woman thought of everything! The one I’ve enjoyed the most, so far, is the story of McGonnagal. Didn’t she have an interesting childhood!
  • The Artwork – As one would hope, the artwork is really cute. It seems like a nice mix between the US style and the UK style. If you’re in Flash, it comes in and out of focus. Really nice.
  • Wanding and Sorting – It’s very clever how they select your wand and sort you into your house. You get to answer questions, but in a more interesting way than your average LiveJournal quiz. Before you get sorted, Jo Rowling herself reminds you to choose carefully.

If they can get the server issues calmed down, this site will be a fun diversion and an interesting way to explore the books more deeply. (Although I’d love to see all of this in an annotated version of the printed books!) No matter how good the servers are, there is no way any reasonable person can expect they’ll survive the grand opening when it launches. But everyday operation really needs to come up to make this less frustrating and more fun.

12 Replies to “Review: Pottermore needs more… servers”

  1. Wait till you get to potions & spells, even more frustration in interface bugginess. I highly recommend watching some of the videos on youtube that folks have put up demonstrating how to do spells, because the written instructions don’t make sense until you see it actually done.

  2. Most beta tests are testing 3 things:

    1. User interest/experience.
    This one is mainly to generate buzz. People enjoy the experience and may make a few suggestions but the main focus is to sneak preview to a select few to build anticipation for launch.

    2. Site functionality.
    Most of this has likely been tested in-house, but the beta allows it to be tested in ways it wasn’t intended to be used and thus the testing scenario may not have included those tests.

    3. Application/Server load.
    This testing will start to profile general user experience, site usage profiles, and resource utilization. It’s easy to deploy more servers to a farm, add memory/CPU/IO to existing servers right up until launch time.

    As I’m not involved I don’t know what the feedback mechanism is, but having been on both sides of a beta test (at work + WoW Cataclysm Beta) I’m sure there is a specified feedback mechanism. Unless there has been a communication such as “we know about x, please do not report on this” I would recommend reporting on every occurrence of bugs or slow-downs. Unfortunately the majority of beta testers are focused on getting the content ahead of time, and do not take them time to report bugs and issues. This results in bugs existing upon launch that should have been resolved ahead of time.

    Enjoy the beta. I really enjoyed participating in the World of WarCraft: Cataclysm Beta, and have put in (but haven’t yet been selected) for the SWTOR Beta.

  3. Thanks for the technical clarity, Jeff.

    Actually, I have yet to figure out how one goes about providing feedback in the beta. You can leave comments on each page, but there’s no place for general comments.

    And yes, I get that it’s a beta, but it’s a little scary that they’re so close to launch and are this much of a mess with capacity. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that this last round of enrollees was a very large chunk of people.

    Overall, it’s a fun site. It will eventually be awesome.

  4. You cannot leave Beta Feedback…how convenient. You can rate the page, and if it gets bad reviews the Pottermore team will look into issues on that page but there is no option anywhere (other than page comments) to submit bugs you find to the development team.

  5. The server capacity issue is disturbing at this point. I just got access yesterday, and I’m still in chapter 4 because of server capacity. You’d think that six weeks into the beta that they’d have that taken care of.

  6. I FINALLY got my welcome email last night, and went straight to the site…only to not be able to log in at all, I now assume due to the server issues. I’m excercising great amounts of self-control and staying FAR, FAR away until after my Italian exam tomorrow. :)

  7. Despite the fact that I supposedly got a name & signed up during the Magical Quill period, I have yet to receive an email recognizing that fact.

    Someone suggested just trying to login and see if it worked — which would be a great idea if one could actually get a login page. They definitely need more servers.

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