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Dev Journal: The Ops Guy Speaks

Aether has been asking me to write a devlog and introduce myself for the last two weeks. To help protect his sanity (and mine) I’ve finally succumbed to the pressure and taken some time out of my busy schedule to write a little bit about myself.

I recently joined FLS as the Director of Live Operations, affectionately known as ‘The Ops Guy’ or sometimes ‘Hey You’. My job is to build out a team that will build and maintain the technical infrastructure that our game runs on. I have a broad background in technology, and building out large scale infrastructures is what I really love to do.

As one can imagine, this is a fairly important piece of the puzzle that is ‘Launching The Game’. This was made rather clear with Rev’s first words to me on my first day here at FLS, something along the lines of “Thank GOD you’re finally here!” The welcome from others here has been equally warm, and I’m very excited to be here working on this game. Working here at FLS is really a dream come true, as I’ve been obsessed with pirates ever since playing ‘Pirates!’ on my Commodore 64 many years ago.

My first two priorities are really preparatory in nature. First, I need to identify the needs for a team and begin to find the right people to fill in the gaps. Second, I need to begin to determine what the actual infrastructure needs to look like and how big it needs to be. For the technically inclined among you, that means doing a scalable network design, designing the guts of a game server cluster, creating server specifications and selecting a vendor for those servers, sizing and purchasing the appropriate kind of backend storage. Most important of all is figuring out where to put everything and how to get enough electricity there to power it all- not exactly a trivial task.

Luckily, none of this is new to me, as I’ve done it many times before! Over the next weeks and months, as time allows, I’ll post new Devlogs that give all of you an inside look at what really happens when it’s time to take a game from development and turn it into a real live service running 24/7/365. Though today, I’ll start from the top. It’s pretty hard to do anything without a plan, something that holds true in Operations as well. I can’t buy servers if I don’t know how many I need, I can’t sign a contract for collocation space if I don’t know how much electricity we’ll use or how much space we’ll need.

There’s also this pesky ‘Bandwidth’ that needs to be planned for, not to mention the fact that the network design had better be able to scale up with the needs of Pirates of the Burning Sea. All this and for some strange reason, Rusty would like to know how much it is all going to cost. I don’t know why, but he insists!

So I start off with every ops manager’s best friend, Microsoft Excel. I must say that Excel is a wonderful tool; it allows me to build complex models to distill lots of different bits of information into a few very important numbers. My current working model has about fifteen different worksheets all working together to tell me two important bits of information: How much it costs to deploy and how much it costs to manage on a monthly basis.

Along the way, this handy dandy spreadsheet also tells me other important details, like how much power I need to buy, how much floor space is required, and other important, if not public, details. I can say that it is all built around the number of subscribers, so we can play with different scenarios and see how the numbers pan out. The other thing this spreadsheet helps me track is good old fashioned competition. As is expected with a deployment of this size (we’re talking about hundreds of servers!) the fine people at various server manufacturers are falling over themselves to win our business. Using the spreadsheet, I can enter in pricing information for each bid and find out exactly how it changes my two bottom line numbers, which helps when it comes down to selecting a vendor. All in all, it’s a powerful tool and I’d be lost without it.

Have I actually accomplished anything so far? I think so! I’ve hired a top notch systems engineer to help manage the server infrastructure we’ll be building out. I’ve nailed down most of the infrastructure that we need to buy, and should be finalizing the last pieces over the next week or so. I’m deep in negotiations with collocation providers, and hope to have that completed soon as well. Overall, we’ve made tremendous progress in preparing for the coming release date.

There is so much more to discuss, but time is ticking and we’ve got a game to launch and I think I hear Rusty calling my name. So that’s enough for now, hopefully I’ll be back soon with another look into the strange and mysterious world that is the life of ‘The Ops Guy’.

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