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Demand Overload

"Our servers are experiencing issues. Please come back later."

When the latest update to an online something-or-other is released, sometimes so many people crowd in to view it that the website crashes. That, ladies and gentlemen, is an example of a Demand Overload: an update or issue so awesome it's directly responsible for crashing the host website.

This trope also applies to other forms of media; for example, a product selling out so quickly it can't be kept on the shelves. The technical term for when demand hugely overwhelms supply is backordered.

A Demand Overload can happen due to a number of reasons. It may be due to popularity caused by positive word-of-mouth or a good marketing campaign. But, especially in the age of social media, another common way to cause one is when a famous personality gives a Colbert Bump to a site that cannot handle the sudden and large increase in traffic the new publicity brings with it. A popular website like Reddit posting a link to a smaller, relatively unknown site can also cause a similar effect, known as the Slashdot effect. With physical items, the problem can come from scalpers who buy up the product to resell at a markup, in addition to the regular demand from customers who actually want the product.

Contrast Acclaimed Flop. Depending on how you look at it, can be a subtrope of Gone Horribly Right.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Crashed due to popularity 

Anime and Manga... on the internet

Live Action TV... on the internet
  • While most promotions had problems when Internet pay per view became the hot new thing, few had as many as Ring of Honor in 2012, where several pay per views froze, lost audio synch, slowed down or crashed because too many people were viewing them at once. After prompting Sinclair for more money (so they could settle the issue), Sinclair decided to shoot a show just prove it could now handle the traffic, unfortunately they gave away this show for free, which led to an even larger number of viewers and another crash.
  • This happened to STV (the Scottish version of ITV, the United Kingdom's main commercial television network) when it failed to anticipate the demand for the livestream of a debate about the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence after ITV itself decided not to show it outside Scotland itself. The servers couldn't cope with the demand from English, Welsh and Northern Irish viewers who understandably wished to see a debate that could help decide whether Scotland leaves the United Kingdom. STV were heavily criticised for failing to anticipate the demand and criticism intensified after it was learned that both the BBC (the United Kingdom's public service broadcaster) and Sky (the United Kingdom's largest satellite/cable broadcaster) had offered to simulcast the debate so everyone else in the UK could see it only to be turned down by STV who wished to retain exclusive broadcast rights. Some wags suggested the failure of STV to manage the situation well was an harbinger of how Scotland would fare if it left the United Kingdom.
  • Inverted with the unsubscribe feature of the WWE Network which stopped working after the 2015 Royal Rumble because too many people were trying to unsubscribe from the network because the pay per view, or at least the event naming match, angered people so much.
  • EVOLVE's website crashed when it announced Sami Zayn was returning to the promotion in October, with hype dying away when people learned he wasn't working in any capacity, he was just sitting in the audience. In fact, WWE only let him attend on the promise he would not show up on camera during the event.
  • After Luke Cage went live on Netflix, there was so much demand for the series that the site crashed, Netflix responded with a few humorous, Luke Cage related tweets while they worked to get their servers back up and running.

Video Games
  • Diablo III’s disastrous launch was a particularly infamous example of this, because even people who just wanted to play the single player campaign could not play because of the required internet connection. The most common login error, Error 37, even became a trending topic on Twitter.
  • Browser game Flight Rising launched expecting a small userbase, and was immediately flooded with thousands of new users upon the site being opened to the public. This proved to be far too much for the servers to bear, and the site would frequently crash during any high-traffic period following the site opening, particularly after content updates. It's for this reason that registration was closed soon after launch, with registration only opening a few times per year.
  • Katawa Shoujo's download server went down within seconds of release. Fortunately, the developers thought ahead and prepared torrent files.
  • The 2013 SimCity is best known for its server crash at release that prevented the game from being played. Although in this case it was because of poor server design. It's gone down in history as a massive failure of a publisher to anticipate user needs, rather than an unexpected rush on established bandwidth service. Like Diablo III, a constant connection to the server was a requirement, even in single-player. The backlash was exacerbated by the traditionally single-player only game moving to an always-online format.
  • When crowdsourcing opened for Star Citizen in October 2012, the custom-built website collapsed under the server load, costing Chris Roberts' project the early momentum. After they got the site working again a couple days later, they added a Kickstarter to make up for lost time.
  • Fanmade tributes to Super Smash Bros. are particularly prone to this, as the servers are usually managed out of pocket and are not built to handle a large amount of demand.
    • The Project M 3.0 update release kept suffering server crashes due to not only impatient fans, but large amounts of passionately casual Super Smash Bros. Brawl players attempting to purposely DDoS the release. Said server crashes interrupted and cancelled the upload multiple times. The initial download eventually had to be mirrored to file hosting site Mediafire so it could have a chance to be released at all until the initial hype relaxed enough to get the site stabilized.
    • Super Smash Flash 2 has suffered from this on numerous occasions on every major demo release stretching back to at least v0.7. The fact that it's prone to Schedule Slip anyway doesn't help.
  • The launch of World of Warcraft’s fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor, was plagued by unstable servers, latency issues and massive login queues. There were several causes for this, but the primary one was the huge numbers of people trying to log in at the same time and bottlenecking in the same zone. In the words of a Community Manager:
    We obviously expected an increase in logins, and prepared for well above what we were expecting. The actual amount is far above even that.
  • Xbox Live tends to experience horrific server load, and some years outright outages that last for days, around Christmas time, as millions of people find new consoles under their trees and connect them to the online service for the first time all at once.
  • Final Fantasy XIV when it was relaunched in 2.0 had suffered massive congestion from everyone trying to log in to play the game. The problem persisted for weeks and it got so bad that Square-Enix disabled the ability to buy a digital copy of the game and had to optimize the servers to handle the huge loads of players. Square apologized and gave everyone one free week of game time. While they managed to make the launch of the Heavensward expansion relatively painless, the launch of Stormblood nearly mirrored the chaotic shenanigans of 2.0's launch where players either lagged/disconnected or couldn't progress in the main story because a solo battle related to it couldn't be started due to the instanced servers being overwhelmed.
  • Pokémon Go was so stupendously high-demand that millions of players found themselves facing a server overload error message way more than they would actually play the game for the first day or two, even though the game was only available in select territories at launch (see the quote at the top of this page). The same happened when Niantic had the brilliant idea to release the game in 26 countries at once.
  • Arcaea ended up being an unexpected hit at launch, causing the servers to undergo maintenance and thus preventing players from creating accounts or purchasing additional songs until the issue was fixed.
  • When Splatoon 2 was released on the Nintendo Switch's eshop, it became temporarily unavailable due to so many people trying to download it at once.
  • This has happened to Fate/Grand Order a few times due to the timed nature of events and rerollers and account sellers trying to get the new Servants as quickly as possible, with the most infamous occurrence being the Halloween 2015 event as the timed battles for event currency, everyone trying to log on to play the event as fast as possible combined with the heavily hyped Tamamo gacha crashed the game within an hour. To prevent this, DelightWorks has been cracking down on rerollers and account sellers and post-the Fate/Zero crossover, the game's managed to avoid these problems, though during particularly popular or intense events the game can sometimes have intermittent connection issues as the now-gargantuan userbase DDoSes the servers and their ISP by fiat; Summer 2017 was a good example of this. This currently only applies to the Japanese version as the Chinese, Taiwanese, and American versions have all displayed a lot more stability.

Web Comics
  • The creators of Girl Genius did it to themselves, and it takes a bit of explaining. Basically, it started off as a print comic. When the Foglios turned it into a webcomic, they had two different archives updating at the same time: the "101 archive" where they digitized the original print run, and the "advanced class archive", where they continued the story where the print run left off. In July 2007, the 101 archive caught up with the beginning of the advanced class archive. The volume of readers archive binging the advanced archive was enough to crash the comic's server.
  • Homestuck has "brought down the house" on several occasions, particularly with its Flash updates.
    • [S] Cascade, the finale of Act 5, is the definite record-holder so far. It was hosted on Newgrounds of all websites— and the traffic crashed the site about three minutes after! Someone proceeded to put the flash on Livestream so people could view it, but that site crashed as well! Tumblr crashed soon after with all the people posting it.
    • There was plenty of concern among fans that [S] Collide and [S] Act 7, the series Grand Finale, would do this to an even greater extent. Hussie averted any problems by hosting the "flash animations" on YouTube, which is far more capable of handling that kind of load.
  • The Order of the Stick used to slow to a halt whenever a new comic was posted, though this was mostly because of all the people hitting the forums.
  • The first page of Jeph Jacques' new comic killed the servers for his original comic, Questionable Content, and the new one.
  • The last page of Pascalle Lepas' webcomic Zap! killed the servers for it.

Web Original/Sites
  • The Brewing Network had a huge influx of downloads the last time Lunch Meet was uploaded, disrupting download of the shows that make money, to the amazement of Justin. the BN in general has download limits, with Justin pointing out that the daily limit is greater than 24 hours of content so people hitting 'download all' should calm down.
  • This happened when Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog came out.
  • This has happened a lot in the past to Dragon Cave during new releases and/or holidays.
  • Apple iTunes servers crashed on Christmas and Boxing Day the year the iTunes gift cards were introduced due to so many getting them as gifts and trying to use them immediately. People were calling their ISPs trying to figure out why they couldn't get to this one site in particular, thinking it was their internet service.
  • When Mark started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on his Mark Watches site, the onslaught of Buffy fans broke the server multiple times before Mark had to get a new one to accommodate for them.
  • Netflix is the largest single user of bandwidth in the world, to the point where much of the Net Neutrality debate is concerned with attempts by ISPs to throttle it and/or force it to pay them directly for the bandwidth its users take up.
  • The Simpsonize Me website that was launched concurrently with The Simpsons Movie saw so much traffic during its early life on the internet that it frequently saw downtime. The fact that the site also utilized high-quality animated graphics didn't help either.
  • Mozilla's servers went down due to the volume of people downloading Firefox 3 when it came out.
  • This happened when German gaming blog gameone.de did a walkthrough of Deadly Premonition. After approximately 10 parts had been uploaded, the walkthrough became so popular that every new uploaded part made the site unresponsive for hours.
  • TV Tropes nearly ran into this during The Google Incident.
  • In 2005, the Ministry of Defence's sever was crashed by too many soldiers sharing a spoof of Peter Kay's version of "Is This the Way to Amarill?" filmed in Iraq.
  • Pick a Steam seasonal game sale. Any of them. It will most likely begin with a server overload.
    • This is probably why they don't free weekends as often. When a game in high demand gets picked, anyone who buys the game will have to wait on Monday to play it because the authentication servers get backed up.
  • The San Diego Comic-Con website had been overloaded with visitors hoping to snatch up passes to the big event in recent years, resulting in a waiting room approach in 2012. When many people complained it was still difficult to log on in time due to overwhelming demand, they switched to a slightly different approach: a pre-waiting room leading to one based completely on lottery in hopes of leveling the field. While the latter pleased people who lucked out and got in (it helped to network with people willing to register 2 other friends), people who were able to manage the old system but got shafted by the new one were nonplussed.
  • The release of the final step of There she is!! crashed SamBakZa's website.
  • Releases of new episodes of RWBY nearly always caused a significant server overload, to the point where entire Rooster Teeth website was unavailable for 20-30 minutes after the release. Before the premiere of the first episode of Volume Four, RT invested in new servers, supposedly 4 times more powerful than the previous ones... and the fans managed to crash them anyway when the episode landed.
  • In a cominbation of this and "physical copy went out of stock," the Massdrop group buy for the Sennheiser HD 6XX headphones, a custom and Massdrop-exclusive version of the Sennheiser HD 650 selling for about a third of the 650's MSRP which had been met with immense hype after the page for the group buy went up about a week prior by Massdrop, was so popular that it caused the website to hang hard when the ordering period started, and even when the site stabilized many users could not buy the headphones before the 5,000-unit limit hit because the site could not process their payments. Those who were among the first to try to pay but were denied the transaction later got a second chance through email, but only for a limited time.note 

Western Animation
  • When new episodes of Steven Universe for the fourth Steven Bomb was announced, the site that revealed it was immediately overloaded by fans and it's servers crashed. One of the show's writers Ian Jones made a postleading to a different article so others can view the news.

    Crashed due to a Colbert Bump / the Slashdot effect 
  • Anything Notch tweets. Seriously, that man is a walking DDOS waiting to happen.
  • On some parts of Twitter it's called #neilwebfail, because it'll happen to any site Neil Gaiman says you should look at. Stephen Fry can have the same effect.
    • Indeed, Stephen Fry said in an interview that he warns people when they ask him to push their website, as most such sites are unable to handle the traffic his mentioning would bring.
  • Back in the fall of 2010, before Minecraft was as massively popular as it is now, Penny Arcade made a two-part strip about Gabe playing the game, and linked to the game's website in the news post. Thousands of readers proceeded to bombard the site. Even after traffic died down a bit, the authorization servers were completely nuked, so Notch declared it a free weekend just to avoid processing so many logins.
    • This isn't the first time Penny Arcade has caused this, either. The site's slang for it is "wanging the server".
  • During the 2014 Oscars, Ellen DeGeneres took a picture with several other celebs and posted it on Twitter, while urging viewers to make it the most retweeted photo of all time. Sure enough, the pic was retweeted over 3 million times and within half an hour Twitter crashed.
  • At one point The Cynical Brit tweeted his Star Trek Online build from the STO Academy fansite. The website crashed under the load shortly afterward.
  • Multiple entrepreneurs who have appeared on Dragon's Den/Shark Tank have mentioned that demand for their product spiked after getting exposure on the show. A few unprepared or unlucky ones have had their website crash on them thanks to this.

    Physical copy ran out of stock 
  • Toy example: When The BBC began re-running Thunderbirds in 1992, after it had been off the air for several years, stores quickly sold out of Tracy Island toys. As a compromise, Blue Peter came up with a build-it-yourself version.
  • Woodstock was provisioned for less than 50,000, but they sold 100,000 tickets. Then 400,000 more people showed up. The promoters begged the locals to make sandwiches so the concertgoers wouldn't starve and the U.S. National Guard airlifted food in.
  • The type of toy popularity as seen in Jingle All the Way is based on toys like Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo becoming the hot toy in demand. Toy companies seek reactions like this.
  • After the game Tsuro was featured on Tabletop, demand was so high that the publisher exhausted all stock reserves.
    • The crowning example of the Tabletop Effect has to be the insane Cthulhu-meets-Scrabble game Unspeakable Words, which vanished entirely from every single retailer within a week of the episode's airing, except for ONE scalper on Amazon trying to charge $200+ for a $30 game. Thankfully a Kickstarter for a new deluxe edition should soon be remedying the issue... just short of two years after the episode hit.
  • When Mobile Suit Gundam Wing first aired in the US on Cartoon Network, Bandai's supply of model kits for the show got exhausted.
  • Nintendo has dealt with this more than once. They've gained a reputation as being notoriously conservative when it comes to sales estimates, so they'll end up underproducing initially and then ramp up production once they know for sure that the demand is there.
    • NES-era cart shortages were frequent, particularly for hot new games, since a limited amount of copies could be pressed monthly. There were actual news reports of parents driving out of state just to get copies of Super Mario Bros. 2 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
    • The Wii was constantly sold out from launch until late 2008, and then had a temporary shortage again when New Super Mario Bros. Wii came out.
    • And then again with the amiibo figures in 2014 and 2015. Big-name characters like Mario and Link were planned to always be available, but more obscure ones are given limited production runs and quickly run out. Scalpers were a major problem, and the whole thing was exacerbated by a port strike that held up shipments for some time, cutting into the supply even more. Demand finally stabilized about a year after launch, though a few characters remained rare for some time.
      • Crossing over into the "computer crash" category, the preorders for the April 2015 wave of figures brought down GameStop. Not just the website, but the entire system, including the cash registers.
      • 2017 saw a resurgence when The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released, sending demand for Zelda amiibo through the roof - not just new ones released for the game, but ones that had been available for months or even years already.
    • The NES Classic Edition was released in November 2016 and sold out worldwide. The products sold out in mere seconds on websites like Amazon and Gamestop.
    • Now once again with the Nintendo Switch, even though there are few shortages, many retailers ran out of stock several times and is reported that Amazon Japan ran out of pre-orders in just 15 minutes.
  • Although sales for Frozen toys were initially at or below expectations, the word of mouth that gave it box office legs not seen in years also soon caused massive merchandise shortages, which didn't fully meet demand until over a year later. Official Cosplay Gear for Breakout Character Elsa were going for massive markups on the resale market.
  • Many kids got IOUs instead of Star Wars toys in the 1970s, because back then, movie toys were given small runs, and the company in question got completely overwhelmed.
  • The original edition of Dungeons & Dragons had a first run of 1,000 copies. It sold out within weeks.
  • Magic: The Gathering suffered from supply shortages with every base set up to and including Revised as well as with the first four expansions.
  • This article notes that Disney Infinity had this problem with its first installment, as numerous figures were extremely difficult to find in stores. (Such as strong and/or popular characters like Violet Parr, Jack Skellington, and Apprentice Mickey.) This lead to the company releasing a much higher number of figures for the second installment. Unfortunately, this backfired as they wound up making too many for people to buy, leading to a massive inventory write-up that ultimately played a factor into the series's cancellation.
  • Legend has it that Space Invaders was so popular when it came out that it caused, or threatened to cause, a shortage of 100-yen coins.
  • When Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors was released in Japan, it was a commercial failure, only selling about 40,000 copies. When the game was translated into English, similar sales figures were anticipated. Due to an unexpected case of Germans Love David Hasselhoff, retailers regularly ran out of stock and had to actively request additional copies.
  • This happened to Yo Kai Watch toys in Japan. For an entire year, fans had to queue in line to get a chance to purchase the medals and watches.
  • The first PriPara DVD sold out nationwide when it was released in Japan.

    In-Universe Examples 
Comic Books
  • When Spider-Man publicly revealed his secret identity, the Internet broke down because too many people were trying to do a name search on "Peter Parker" simultaneously.

Fan Fiction
  • From An Entry with a Bang: Five minutes after the pirates' departure, the video of their jump was on YouTube. Less than an hour later, YouTube crashed due to the sheer number of users trying to access this one video on the website.

Film
  • The Social Network establishes that the early incarnation of Facebook was a basic "Attractiveness Rating" web site piggybacking on Harvard servers, which was so unexpectedly popular it crashed the servers.
  • Toy Story 2 mentions that, when the Buzz Lightyear action figures originally came out, "short-sighted retailers" underestimated just how big the demand would be, and the initial run completely sold out in a few days. By the present, stores like Al's Toy Barn have caught up with demand by devoting an entire aisle to Buzz Lightyear.
  • Jingle All the Way is all about parents trying to get the hot new sold-out toy of the year. As noted above, it's based on the demand that existed for some real toys.

Live-Action Television
  • The Big Bang Theory: Penny starts a small business making hair barrettes called "Penny Blossoms." The guys set up a website for her and an order comes in for 1,000, rush overnight delivery. The guys help her out making them all night. Then after they're done they find that the original order has been doubled.
  • In the penultimate episode (technically the Grand Finale) of Drake & Josh, Drake's song was set to be put into a Super Bowl commercial but due to a contract mistake was horribly altered electronically. Josh managed to switch the tapes that were going to be mixed into the commercial, and they were set to be sued for the illegal action. But the CEO said the original song was a massive hit, breaking their servers, and ended up firing the producer who tried to manipulate a hit song.

Urban Legends
  • A persistent Urban Legend holds that every year, America's plumbing systems suffer catastrophic damage due to everyone flushing within the short break afforded by commercials during the Super Bowl.

Webcomics

Western Animation

  • A Phineas and Ferb episode features a demand overload over an embarrassing videotape of Doofenshmirtz getting his face stuck in a toilet.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DemandOverload