It was the top of the 15th inning. The Charleston Shoe Thieves were looking to finish off the Los Angeles Tacos. With the bases loaded, two-star batter Morrow Doyle stepped up to the plate to hit a rare grand sla —, all but ending the longest game in Blaseball history. Moments later, however, the Blaseball website crashed. When it came back online, the game had wiped the play from existence. But fans were far from disheartened. Instead, they joyously leaned into the absurdity of the bug, deciding the play had ripped a hole in the space-time continuum. It was dubbed the “Grand Unslam.”
Behind the scenes, the moment wasn’t so funny. The crash created a logistical nightmare for the game’s overworked, small team who were left scrambling for a fix.
“Not only did the site go down, but it jumped back in time,” explained narrative designer Stephen Bell. “When the game ended, both the Tacos and the Shoe Thieves had an extra game on their schedules.”
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platonic like just friends? pic.twitter.com/Dpc1AWJEtc
— BLASEBALL COMMISSIONER (@blaseballcomms) August 19, 2020
This was one of many technical hiccups that plagued Blaseball’s whirlwind launch. Developer The Game Band’s absurdist baseball simulator was conceived as a “social idle game” that could be developed remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The game’s skeleton crew contained no artists, animators, or virtually anyone outside of game designers and programmers. What The Game Band didn’t anticipate was that its modest browser game would become a viral sensation within a week. And it showed.
“There’s nobody at The Game Band that’s actually a web developer,” added creative director Sam Rosenthal. “We kind of knew when we launched the site that it was built on spaghetti strings. We were like, it’s going to take a long time to get popular anyways, so we’ll have a long time to fix all these issues. But it got popular so quickly that it started collapsing all the time.”
The more players that funneled into the website, the more the seams started showing. Even without the server crashes, the very architecture of Blaseball became a liability. That was abundantly clear at the start of the game’s third week, when The Game Band introduced a simple peanut-eating system. That may sound harmless (except to allergic virtual players who die during matches). Instead, it was nearly the downfall of the entire project.
? PEANUT FRAUD DETECTED ?
— BLASEBALL COMMISSIONER (@blaseballcomms) August 3, 2020
“We had kind of rushed the site out and knew that some of our API endpoints weren’t secure yet,” said Rosenthal. “Some of the players figured that out. They decided to give themselves positive infinity and negative infinity peanuts, which of course, the site was not equipped to handle in any way.”
“There was a moment of panic.which was not only ‘Oh no, our plans have been completely railroaded,’ but also ‘Is the site going to die?’” Bell added.
As the weeks went on, it became clear Blaseball was unsustainable. The team was working seven days a week. It impose a crunch-like workload on themselves (when asked how many hours a day they were working, Rosenthal paused to think before half-jokingly guessing “All of them?”). If Blaseball was going to survive long-term, it needed to come offline.
That was easier said than done. The game’s popularity was climbing. Rosenthal worried a temporary shutdown could cause the game to get lost in the cartoonishly awful 2020 news cycle. The game’s dedicated fanbase added an extra variable to the anxiety equation, too.
we missed you ?⚾️ pic.twitter.com/kMH9xXsQxU
— BLASEBALL COMMISSIONER (@blaseballcomms) August 24, 2020
“None of us wanted to shut the site down,” Bell recalled. “Not only because it was suddenly popular, but because the community around it was so vibrant and so positive. We felt this sudden real responsibility to do right by them and keep going.”
As week three came to a close, The Game Band announced that Blaseball would go on an “extended siesta” (a more festive way to say “indefinite hiatus”). Fans warmly welcomed the decision, taking the two week break as an opportunity to touch up the Blaseball fan wiki… and draw portraits of batters who are, canonically, birds.
Meanwhile, The Game Band did something it probably should have from the start: hired actual web developers.
“What we were hoping for is that we’d bring on a great web developer who would look at our code and say ‘Oh jeez, what are you doing?’ and that’s exactly what we got,” said Rosenthal. “She refactored the whole codebase in two weeks.”
With more hands aboard to tackle site instability, the team finally had time to properly plan the game without rushing out updates on the fly —a move that helped the team achieve its creative vision of turning Blaseball into gaming’s “serial television.”
Some clarification for new fans: This event is known as the Grand Unslam. The Unslam weakened the Bridge, which resulted in space-time tearing over LA when the Microphone lifted, giving us Los Angeli, Wyatt Masoning, and the Unlimited Tacos. I think
— BLASEBALL COMMISSIONER (@blaseballcomms) August 19, 2020
“It allowed us to design more features, to set some landmarks, to have ideas for where we can push this thing and actually lay the groundwork for it rather than scrambling to get it designed and implemented without any sort of testing,” Bell concluded.
It’s hard to believe this entire journey from modest release, to viral sensation, to emergency relaunch happened over the course of just five weeks. That’s a year’s worth of development arc crammed into one stressful month. Rosenthal isn’t confident that maintenance will solve every problem going forward, either. Yet he believes the team is better prepared to sustain the accidental live service game Blaseball morphed into. And in the event that another peanut fiasco annihilates the game, at least he knows the fans have their backs.
“The beautiful thing about Blaseball is that even if the game is not running online, it continues, because so much of the game is what the community is putting into it.”