Star Wars, The Force Awakens Premieres – A Look at the Digital Performance of Ticket Purchasing and Merchandising Sites Under the Force of Online Visits

Update: December 22nd, 2015

Star Wars Digital Performance – “Epilogue” Update

“When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master”

So as we wrap up the Star Wars weekend, all reports (spoiler free here) say that Star Wars, The Force Awakens was awesome and delivered in every way.  Speaking of delivery, let’s look back at Star Wars’ official movie website.  We had some concerns with some site changes leading into the premier week, but from what we can see the site performed very well with only a few hiccups.  Kudos to the team managing the site, job well done.

movie

“You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought”

Once the movie was released we expected to see some performance impact on related merchandise sites.  It’s hard predicting that a new character is going to be as popular as R2D2 or will turn out to be the next Jar Jar Binks, so we had expected increased traffic leading to worse performance.  But to be fair, while we are seeing some of the merchandise sites slowing down last night, it is hard to say if that is a result of increased traffic due to demand generated by the movie, or demand generated because Christmas is just days away.

merchandise

When examining sites for performance we look at the Average Total Page Load Time (based on W3C browser metrics) which gives us a good indication as to how fast these pages load for end users. And, we also look at the Average Request Time, which shows us how long it takes the server to respond to requests from the browser.  Remember that each of the sites above have tremendous numbers of servers on the back end that respond to requests from end users.  Below is an example (sample data) of how the various servers respond to requests regardless as to whether the request comes from a real user, a droid, a mobile app, etc.

transaction

Each tier on the server side can be responsible for slow responses and each tier is made up of code running as methods, through services, on processes and any of them can be a potential performance bottleneck.

“I find your lack of faith disturbing”

Using our droids (synthetic monitoring agents) is a great way to do competitive comparisons.  Understanding how you are performing in comparison to peers and competitors is how you learn to develop new best practices that your competition may have discovered, or to validate that your approach is better than theirs.

Star Wars, The Force Awakens grossed over $500 million dollars at the box office this weekend.  An incredible feat, Impressive, most Impressive.   There are many website options for movie-goers to purchase tickets from, and performance plays a key role on where consumers will purchase their tickets.  Here are some of the results comparing ticket top U.S. ticket sales sites Fandango, IMAX and Movietickets.com.

ticket_sites

“If there’s a bright centre to the universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from”

Let not forget activity outside of North America. We’ve already gone through the individual sites we are testing in previous updates, so let’s sum up the average performance by country.  The sites in EMEA are on par with the response times we saw for the North American properties, however Asia remains as an emerging marketing when it comes to internet performance.  We suspect this will change over time, but for now North America and EMEA are providing much faster responses than Asia.

countries

This has been a fun exercise, however the stakes around protecting this brand couldn’t be higher with half a billion dollars in sales at stake.  We purchased our tickets today, and used my mobile phone to do it, and we had options that if the ticket site was slow or not responsive we could go elsewhere to purchase a ticket.  Performance matters, not just on the front end (client side) but also on the backend (server side).  They both need to be in sync and optimized because end users have choices, and performance will influence their experience and their decisions on where to do business online.

Continue to check back in with our team at Dynatrace as we watch other special events in the future.

Update: December 18, 2015

It is Star Wars day, and while some people have already had a sneak peek, the rest of us now have a chance to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The team of performance Jedis here at Dynatrace continue to analyze the performance of tickets sites, merchandise, brand partners and other movie related sites. Our droids (synthetic monitoring agents) have been working tirelessly 24×7 watching for issues, making sure that these sites are holding up under “the force” of online demand for great customer experiences.

 Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

So what if a competitive Padawan Sith asked “why is performance essential?” during a massive movie event like this. “Won’t moviegoers still buy tickets?” If there was only one vendor who sold tickets then that might be a consideration, however moviegoers can purchase tickets from a variety of sources, so performance absolutely matters and is essential.

Let’s have a look at two different approaches to handling the crush of Start Wars traffic. Movietickets.com made a site change Wednesday around midnight increasing the content being delivered by over 2X, as a result response times increased.

SW1

Competitor site Fandango.com reduced the content to their site by more than half, but didn’t see any improvement in performance, but was still providing a faster response time than their competitor.

SW2

What was interesting in these results when we looked at the request time (time for the server to respond) around 8 am that morning, was a slight increase in the request time that translated into a significant increase in page load time. Issues like this make it clear why you need to be able to do a deep dive on the application side to uncover the root cause of issues. There is no time in an event like this to assemble the Jedi Council for a war room. Events like this need to be automatically discovered and the root cause identified. For server side events, droids (synthetic agents) only provide part of the solution, but like the heroes in Star Wars, Jedis (application monitoring) aren’t far behind.

[Our Competition:] “I can’t believe it.”

[Dynatrace:] “That is why you fail.”

Jedi Masters have tools like Lightsabers, while Storm Troopers have Blasters to help them in battle.  At Dynatrace, we have PurePath Technology. Below is a view of a PurePath (not related to the sites above) which shows that when issues occur, finding the transactions causing the issue is something that can be done quickly.

SW3

In addition to the PurePath view, Dynatrace knows that the quickest way to solve a problem is to use gap free data (meaning capturing PurePaths for 100% of the traffic to an application). The gap free PurePath’s are like a Lightsaber, they don’t miss (Have you ever seen a Jedi miss?). Whereas “selective capture” is more like a Blaster, where sometimes (if you are not a Storm Trooper) you get lucky.

 “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.”

OK, so let’s get back to some results. We’ve seen some of the analysis for the top U.S. based ticket sites above, but the galaxy is a big place so let’s look at some results from the EMEA sector. Moviegoers in the German system are definitely seeing hyperspace-like site performance compared to the sub-light speeds in Italian and Spanish systems.

UK

SW4

Germany

SW5

France

SW6

 Spain

SW7

Italy

SW8

Netherlands & Luxembourg

SW9

EMEA isn’t the only region we looked at, we also looked at ticket sites and some merchandise sites in Asia as well. We specifically looked at sites catering to the Chinese community.

SW10

What is most interesting is that the Chinese focused sites are also traveling at sub-light speeds. While some locations in China are relatively fast, others in the region are much slower.

SW11

“Stay on target.”

This has been a fun exercise, but there are some serious themes running underneath. Just like the Star Wars series, underneath the fun and excitement are some important issues. Protecting a brand, providing a quality customer experience and competing effectively are all things that companies are spending millions of dollars on, because hundreds of millions of dollars are stake. We looked at these sites using synthetic tools because it is simple and easy to do and provides real metrics that can answer questions and point to issues. There are other tools that compliment synthetics that can answer other questions, but all of these tools need to take into consideration that this is about the end-user experience. The Star Wars brand has been built on delivering an exceptional experience, and companies trying the profit from the Star Wars brand need to focus on their digital performance capabilities in order to succeed as well.

For anyone reading this, we invite you to get a better understanding of how your end users are experiencing your applications, try a free trial of Dynatrace or Ruxit.

May the Force be with you.

December 14, 2015

In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.

This week, the 8-year-old in me feels like it’s 1977 all over again (to be fair, this 8-year-old never saw it coming in 1977, and it hit me like a Bantha). If you know what I am talking about, you are excited too. This week, Star Wars Episode 7, The Force Awakens is being released in a galaxy pretty close to home. The team here at Dynatrace has been watching a number of online properties related to the release to see how a modern blockbuster impacts digital performance.

We are monitoring sites supporting the movie (i.e. The Force Awakens home page), ticket purchase sites, merchandise and brand partnership sites. Our monitoring this week is being done by synthetic agents (think helpful R2D2 like Astro-mechs) from across the galaxy.

Our Jedi performance masters have spotted some potential disturbances in the force already. December 9 at around 2pm EST, we observed a change in The Force Awakens home page which started to impact performance.

Star1

By having our droids look a little deeper we can see that a site change had occurred. We can see below that the object count, the number of connections and the number of third-parties had all increased with the update of the site.

Star2

In addition to to the increase above, below we see that the page weight (the amount of content that is requested every time the page is loaded) has quintupled in size going from ~500KB to over 2.5MB.

Star3

This type of change increases the overall complexity of the site, making it much riskier to operate under high load. We hope that the site can make its way through the asteroid field and outrun any Imperial Star Destroyers this week and not crash.

Never Tell Me the Odds.

The challenge with delivering a site to support hundreds of millions of visits is immense. The odds that something could fail at any given time for any one of those visitors might be higher than 3720 to 1. The reason for this is that aside from the complexity on the client side, (what we see in the charts above) is that there will be even more complexity on the server side.  The server side will be made up of all the applications that support the sites, along with all services, processes, hosts and data centers. Below is an example of what a modern application looks like from the server side. This view is from a next generation Dynatrace offering called Ruxit.

Star4

Each of these applications, services, processes, hosts and data centers are dependent on the other to function correctly to makes sure a single visit is successful. Dependencies are like The Force, where they surround applications and bind them together. The Ruxit Smart Scape above shows these dependencies. It’s timely that the site that this view represents looks something like the Death Star, and all it takes is a pesky rebel x-wing and an exhaust port dependency to bring it down.

Remember that all the sites we are monitoring have complexity similar to what we are seeing above. So before more Bothans are killed, let’s have a look at some of the sites and categories we are watching this week.

Here is a view of some U.S. based ticket sites for the past 21 days. Many credits have been spent as people pre-purchase their tickets for December 18.

Star5

In addition to ticket sales, here is a view from the U.S. of various Star Wars related merchandise sites. Everyone wants their plush Chewie or BB-8.

Star6

We can’t turn on the TV in the U.S. or Canada without seeing commercials for these brand partnership sites.

Star7

But the galaxy is not that big a place when web pages can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, so here is a look at ticket sales from various systems in the EMEA sector of the galaxy.

U.K.

Star8

France

Star9

 Germany

Star10

 Spain

Star11

 Italy

Star12

It’s going to be an exciting week for movie goers. When I was 8, my internet was the TV, newspaper, Starlog magazine, and rotary phones; – and we never even dreamed at that time what the future would look like. But in 1977 along came Star Wars and we were given a glimpse. 1977 told us there was going to be a transformation that would change the world. Today, we know that change as “the digital revolution.”  This transformation across industries and markets is far from over, including in the movie/entertainment industry. As a small green master once said: “much to learn, you still have.

Stay tuned this week for more coverage as we keep monitoring these sites.