Warhammer DID NOT reach 800k subs

There’s a lot of confusion on the forums (and Gamespot) about EA fiscal report and Warhammer subscription numbers.

Specifically the part that gets quoted the most:

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, an MMO from EA’s Mythic Entertainment studio, sold 1.2 million copies in the quarter – with over 800 thousand current players.

The confusion is about two aspects. The first is whether 800k are real active, uncanceled accounts, or just registered accounts. The second is whether the number is as of 30 October, the day the report was compiled, or 30 September, the end of the second quarter that is subject of the report.

The first aspect is rather obvious if you just read the title of the PDF:

As you can see, it clearly states “Registered Users” and not active subscriptions.

The second can be inferred by looking at the other two press releases.

September 26

in the first week since launch over 500,000 new players have registered

October 10

today announced that 750,000 players have registered

Now, if the Fiscal report was limited to the 30 September then we would have a time paradox since Warhammer had 500k registered accounts as of 26 September, then 800k as of 30 September and finally 750k as of 10 October.

Obviously the 800k is to be put later than the last press release and probably closer to the day the fiscal report was compiled, so the end of October.

But there’s also another point to consider: gold sellers.

Let’s subtract from the 800k all those fake accounts that gold sellers made. 13k are just those that Mythic caught and banned. I expect the total number to be much, much higher.

If the CD-key system was cracked then they can create unlimited accounts, and so the number of active accounts is not in any way indicative of the success of the game.

Moral of the story: we need to wait for active subscriptions to see how successful the game is (my guess is that they are south of 500k and that they’ll have a very hard time passing that number, with WotLK release in a couple of weeks).

And now, an unsurprising turn of events

For the first time since… my early Ultima Online days I’m not subscribed to any MMOs, nor I plan to buy WotLK when it launches.

I guess I can’t be surprised things went this way, but I have once again the regret. I had already decided long ago that I wasn’t going to play Warhammer, no matter how good or bad it was. Now I regret having undone that promise I made to myself. I regret having decided this summer to try the beta and then get lured in. I don’t regret having spent the money. It’s not about the money, it’s about time and passion. I wish I could go back undo things, and stay far, far away from the game.

Mythic decided that they want to copy Blizzard on every aspect, including very slow patch cycles every three or six months. Class balance will see a similar pattern, so no matter if classes are unbalanced or the game’s broken, they’ll only act when the time comes. It seems that learning from past experiences simply means ignoring problems till the slow patch cycle comes. A matter of form and not substance.

They continue this dick-measuring with WoW, assuming that Warhammer launched in the same state and that what is appropriate for WoW will be appropriate even for their game.

Mark Jacobs vanished from the forums. If you wonder why, a possible reason is that he had one big meeting with EA overlords these last days of October. He also has in his hands the “real” subscription numbers for the first time.

Warhammer, after one month, has already entered the same maintenance mode that DAoC has seen in these last few years. It feels pretty hopeless. The big patch planned for December adds more content on a broken structure. It’s not a matter of just rewards, but also of direction.

The real question is why they did nothing to address these problems long ago. Every single one of the structural problems that cripple the game now were largely predictable (and known from similar games who presented the same issues). When absolutely nothing is being done throughout the whole development cycle, then it’s rather pointless to hope Mythic will do something in the next few months.

They do not understand game design, especially the RvR.

1- DAoC first phase – Each of the three realms had a number of RvR zones. Players just mostly used one: Emain.
2- DAoC new frontiers – Mythic redesigns all the frontier zones without reducing their number. It’s once again a wasteland where players’ activity only focuses on a small spot and still is too dispersive.
3- DAoC Agramon – Mythic add ANOTHER zone to the already oversized RvR space. A central island to reproduce the gameplay that was found in the old Emain.
4- DAoC Labyrinth expansion – Mythic adds another huge RvR area to the game.
5- Warhammer – Lesson learned? Nope. They add RvR areas to all tiers and maps. All content and space wasted.

They do not learn even the most obvious lessons. They do not even understand that PvP needs convergence and focal points. This can only be solved in two ways. Either you reduce the space so that players converge to one point, or you implement some form of rotation system (like Planetside or WoW’s BG weekends) where you swap the “background” while all players still fight together in the same space.

From F13:

As it stands, it’s like fighting a 12 front war with 200 people and that’s a goddamn joke.

There’s no back-pedaling here. Mythic’s been stumbling around with the design from the beginning. Simple example. We discussed the lack of incentives to do zone RvR and to capture and hold BOs back in April and I’m sure others that were in the Beta earlier than us brought it up as well. What did they do to try and fix that problem in the 5 months before launch? Diddly squat. They just don’t get it.

Now the more they are scared of losing those players they have, the least willingly to address the problems. I expect a long list of ineffectual band-aids as it happened with DAoC.

I confirm everything I wrote, though. Mythic did a very good work with that “beta preview” in late August and September. Twice they wiped the characters and only showed the public the very best of their game: levels 1 to 10, with zones vibrant of activity. But since I have some experience with these games, I gave warnings that the basic design had holes and the “fun” was too dependent on a optimal balance that would be rare to find in the real game and at all times, once players started to spread out in the tiers and zones. Where I was wrong was in thinking these issues would become glaring after the initial months, when instead they became glaring in a matter of weeks.

It’s what makes a game full of potential but with a bad execution and design flaws that undermine that potential. So I waited to see in what direction Mythic decided to move. Initially they seemed reactive and willingly to engage in a discussion. Now instead it appears that they have already closed the doors and entered the “hands off” phase.

I was on the brink of leaving for two weeks. I have waited to have a better idea of where Mythic was heading but kept getting deluded. The last patch notes (1.0.4) just confirmed that it’s not the same direction I think would lead to a better game, so I canceled. The RvR system is a mess, completely undocumented. The few times they reveal pieces of it, like in the last Grab Bag, or these patch notes we see more about how fucked it is and how out of touch Mythic is with their own game.

Sadly, because I really believe there’s a lot of potential and so many things I love in the game. From the art direction to some of the quests it shows how a lot of passion and love was poured into the game. But it’s all fucked due to poor game design and structure. A pity.

Maybe EA granted Mythic a lot of money to push out a quality product, with polish and good production value. Apparently, though, a lot of money doesn’t grant good game design.

Remember the 2004 omen I recently re-linked? Well, it’s now renewed. Mark Jacobs likes to engage in a discussion when his audience loves, admires and praises him endlessly. That feels good and he loves it. But when the times come to deal with critics beside the praises, with flying tomatoes and whistles instead of just applause and boasts, then it doesn’t feel anymore as good. He closes the door and goes away.

It’s too easy to be there on the stage under the spotlight only when things go well.

When things start to go wrong? Oh, he’ll let “the team” deal with that.

However, honestly, good luck to Mythic anyway. I’m sure you’ll do nicely even without me ;)

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A quite original turn of events

Instead of Mark Jacobs turning his back to F13, as in my 2006 omen, it’s F13 turning its back to Mark Jacobs. (P.S. Proper thread here or, well, any forum of your choice)

Or so it appears to be?

EDIT1: The reason of the outrage seems to be the latest Grab Bag (that I completely missed, note to Mythic: show more than three news on that Herald page), where they explain/reveal what appears to be a PvE cockblock to RvR content.

Players on various forums are already taking this as the sign of what are Mythic’s real priorities. Confirming my doubts about not “reading” their own game correctly, being on the wrong path and announcing new content while the core of the game is broken and unaddressed.

At the same time I’ve read players in Tier 4 reporting that the factions are avoiding each other in order to farm Keep Lords and have a chance at very rare drops. If Mythic executes their plan of rewarding more and more the objectives and not the fight, this problem will worsen considerably and we are looking at a future patch that will break the game even more than how it is now. That’s the next step.

On the other side Mythic is going to offer next week sever transfer from low populated servers to medium populated ones. One wonders: what is going to happen to those low populated servers that will see even less activity? Are unaware players who decide to start there be welcomed by a warning pop-up? Or will the servers be left there, agonizing, like relics testifying Mythic’s wrong expectations and plans?

For how much Mark Jacobs surely hopes things stabilize and calm down for the game, they are instead in a flow now more than ever. I see this as a very good thing for the game. Mythic isn’t allowed to downplay what is going on. Either something changes *radically* in the perception and attitude, or they’ll have to face the consequences.

The fact that Warhammer is here to stay in the longer term as a relevant competitor will be determined NOW. And has to be renewed every day, till the game wades out this impasse.

(I wonder, am I the cynic or the hopeless optimist?)

EDIT2: There’s also this nice gem. But then it’s stuff I already knew.

EDIT3: About the previous link I want to specify what is the “stuff I already knew” so that it’s not misunderstood.

From my point of view all that is written there is unconfirmed, but plausible. There’s nothing surprising, nor anything that I consider so important.

GOLD FARMERS – This is the part that was somewhat already known. You are a FOOL if you thought gold farmers were spending $50 for a copy of the game just so they could spam some links and get banned. I don’t have the time to go find the link on the Vault, but I remember Mark Jacobs himself voicing the suspect that these spammers were generating CD-Keys, so basically having unlimited access to new accounts and without risking anything.

IP BANNING – Oh, I’m sure they can ban an IP if they want. Problem that it’s not this simple. If the spammers are using public and dynamic IPs then you can’t block them without blocking the whole provider. So it’s not as easy as it appears to be. Mythic has no way to identify a particular someone since a valid credit card is not required to make an account. And if they make the credit card required then they’ll surely upset a larger group of players. Pretty much as accepting the EULA every time is annoying for all of us.

So for as much I believe that Mark’s crusade against gold spammers was “felt”, it likely had no effect in practice and was just propaganda. This should be no surprise.

MYTHIC FIRING PEOPLE OR MAKING NEW GAME – Well, here there’s nothing that can be taken as sure truth, but it was known that Mythic borrowed a number of devs directly from EA whenever they needed them. It’s likely that with the game’s launch these guys returned to EA. It’s possible that they are reducing their CSR if they overestimated their subs count (likely, even if that post came BEFORE Mythic could see their subs numbers). It’s also very plausible that a number of devs are being moved between projects. Despite Mark Jacobs himself said that all the team was currently focused on the live game and “not yet” working on a expansion, some other guy in the team (I think the producer) confirmed that they had already a small team that was playing with concepts to use in a expansion. A new game? Sure. Mark never denied that he still wants to do “romans in space”. I seriously doubt that they’re doing anything concrete right now, but they said more than once that Warhammer wasn’t going to be their last game. Mark Jacobs himself again, expressed more than once the desire to move off Warhammer shortly after launch. It doesn’t mean that the team will be affected, but it is likely that after the launch the resources poured on the game will be only proportional to what the game can afford, cutting the costs as much as possible. If you are a cynic you could interpret this as the only way you can run a commercial company.

It’s a fact that they want (and expect) the game to stabilize and live on its own. Jeff Hickman said their target is to make one patch every three to six months. That’s what they expect the game will need, and it can surely be done (and it is the case of pretty much every MMO outside Eve-Online and WoW) with a smaller team compared to the one that worked in the game till now.

CLIENT STUTTERING – I didn’t test in the last week, but none of the patches did anything to remove or reduce the stuttering. Or at least nothing I could perceive. This isn’t anything new from Mythic since they are using a licensed engine and the engineering side of the job has NEVER been something where they excelled. They do content, systems, but the hard engine is not done by them and has always been shit. There’s not much you can done here beside allocating more resources. Clearly most of the work goes in other parts of the game where they feel more competent. It’s easier to say “we are always working to improve performance” even if no progress is concretely being made.

BOTTING AND SCENARIOS – He was a CSR and what he says seems plausible. All those problems are, imho, almost irrelevant. If they are relevant they are also easily fixed. Customer Support won’t make or break a game, when it comes into play it means things already aren’t working smoothly. Those issues are for the great majority of players IRRELEVANT, so I don’t give them any weight. Maybe CSRs don’t have great tools to do their job, but making better tools for them isn’t a priority. There’s no urgency and, in case, those tools will be improved.

So, again, that post is plausible for the most part, and a bit of a stretch in some other. I pasted it just to hear “another” perspective, but, true or not, it’s not so noteworthy. If not in that typical MMO drama that fuels the pages of blogs and message boards.

We luv drama.

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The Warhammer “grind”

For two days I debated with myself whether to write this or not, as I want to cut down considerably the number of posts about games and Warhammer especially.

Since no one is giving this aspect the relevance it deserves, I’ll do it here. This is a quote from Mark Jacobs recent outburst on F13:

Here’s one damn thing I would change, I would make this game have 70 levels and keep dinging all the way, all the time. I do think that some of the problem is the fact that people think 40 < 60 when it comes to levels and that the grinding seems worse because you have only 40 levels to go to max out.

Imho, that’s one huge misunderstanding of the way game design works.

What’s wrong is in the line that follows:

I’ve played a ton of MMOs and, at least according to the spreadsheet the time to solo most toons is faster here (on paper, I know) than EQ, DAoC, WoW when they launched.

See, it’s rather evident if you read the many posts Mark wrote on this, that they tweaked and balanced Warhammer’s leveling curve not basing it ON THEIR GAME. But on the other popular MMOs out there.

Mark says that Warhammer should be well paced and not-a-grind because it’s faster to level there than in other games. So, the players cannot realistically complain the leveling is slow, IT CAN’T BE. And it can’t be because he has spreadsheets in his hands that state this with mathematical certainty.

What is wrong in that reasoning is that “grind” is not a finite, absolute, portable concept. The feeling of “grind” is relative to the content. A game can feel grindy if it has 100 levels the same way it has 10. It’s not an abstract number, it’s not about an ideal time span between level to level. It’s simply about the novelty of the experience.

Blizzard, for the nearly full year the open beta went on, tweaked continuously the leveling curve. But they adjusted it accordingly to the content in the game. It’s the amount of fun content you have in the game that DICTATES the leveling curve. NOT a spreadsheet that compares leveling speeds of all other games.

You are looking cross-eyed at things that don’t matter. Your game matters. Stop looking at WoW.

It’s rather obvious to me that Mythic’s devs overestimated their content. Especially the novelty of it. If I’m dead bored of Morkain Temple after I’ve done it 50 times I won’t feel ANY BETTER if you put 80 levels in the game instead of 40, and so make me run Mourakin Temple for 20 levels instead of 10.

Players are just monkeys, you can’t fool them with these sophisticate shufflings and deceits. Whether 40 or 80 levels: IT’S THE SAME GODDAMN GAME.

Does this reminds you of something? Yes, it reminds me of D&D Online. Same level of “insight”. They were scared that 10 levels in the game weren’t enough.

This is what happens when a genre becomes so self-referential and unable to see outside the box that all the rules have no real foundation and the game consequently falls apart.

Why Warhammer feels like a grind, or boring for many, many players who are expressing this one way or another (including Tobold, Krones or Cuppy just no name a few)?

Because it’s relying on Scenarios as the dominant aspect of the game. Often on just one scenario for each tier. You are relying on the most repetitive and boring system (the Scenarios) as the main drive through the levels. No surprise that the players are bored.

I’ll repeat that the same happened in DAoC with the task dungeons: best rewards (leveling speed) coming from the worst of the game. Its most redundant, repetitive aspect. Under these conditions you can’t be surprised that the players are bored. You already shrunk the content down to almost nothing. And in particular to just one scenarios for each tier, hence the most repetitive activity there’s in the game.

Scenarios/BGs are awfully boring even in WoW, do not doubt. But at least WoW offers a whole lot more beside them. While Warhammer is becoming a game shrunk to one aspect, and even the least interesting.

It’s not a matter of “Ding!”, “Grats!”. It’s a matter of what you put between them.

There are just two ways here. Either you believe “us” and think the game has a lot of potential that needs to come out. Or you just accept that the game has nothing to offer beside scenarios, and so you just watch the game going on on whatever path it has taken.

From my point of view the game is showing its worst, and players are forming a strong idea about it that will be very hard to dismantle later.

Taking out that potential isn’t simple at all and needs a lot of work. It’s not just about encouraging ORVR as much as Scenarios because ORVR has its own issues (and fighting in a keep is unfun because of the cramped and unlit space, and path rubberbanding of the guards). At the very least it requires the team to be heading in the right direction, and that’s my main doubt.

They do not “read” their game correctly, and so their solutions risk to be inadequate, late, or totally missing the point.

Bauchelain and Korbal Broach – The Collected Stories – Steven Erikson

This book collects at a (relatively) accessible price the three novellas that PS Publishing published separately. I didn’t know what to expect, how much they were connected to the bigger series, how relevant. If a significant effort with its own purpose or just a diversion intended for the most passionate readers who won’t miss even the minor works. Well, I don’t even know where to start with the praises because this isn’t simply a “worthy” read compared to the rest of the books, but may be as well the finest writing Erikson ever achieved. And by a good margin.

The most impressive achievement is how the writing style changes and adapts to the different form. It is the same Erikson, with the multitude of characters and crazy ideas and inventions at every page, but at the same time it feels as if the constraints to the short form fueled the already wild creativity. The stories and characters seem explode out of the pages, unrestrained. The more they are squeezed tight, the more they come alive and claiming their space. Single sentences that read like poetry and filled with meaning on multiple levels.

Not only Erikson is at ease with the short form, he excels, shines in it. He understands it fully and carves out all the potential there is. It’s not the wild creativity, the crazy characters, the usual convergences that accelerate to a mad rush toward the end. It’s not in the content itself (that has always been seen as THE strong point), it’s in the execution. Here Erikson shows sheer talent. It oozes out of the page. From the first page. From a writer who’s used to publish once a year books with more than a thousand of pages you expect a writing style that is merely functional. Something quick and cheap that gets the job done. Well, here the real protagonist is the writing itself. It’s Erikson at his very best (or worst for some detractors), talking right at the reader in this meta-narrative game:

“But what do we know? We’re no brush-stroked arched brow over cold, avid eye, oh no. We’re just the listeners, wading through some ponce’s psychological trauma as the idiot stares into a mirror all love/hate all masturbatory up’n’down and it’s us who when the time comes -comes, hah- who are meant to gasp and twist pelvic in linguistic ecstasy.”

He’s “loose” and highly pretentious. Condensed, focused awesome. Everything that makes the readers love or hate him with a passion.

I used to say that from my point of view he is among “traditional” fantasy writers the one with the most “literary” intent. For these novellas this intent is shown prominently, but not limited to this show-off I’m celebrating. There are a number of memorable characters, plot twists and plenty of humor. Even if the writing has the predominant role, it doesn’t overshadow or gets in the way of the fun of the more traditional elements. “Over the top”, excessive and raving indeed. But still a masterful execution from every point of view.

It was a pleasure. Not just about what is written, but how it is written. I developed a familiarity with it, absorbed some of it as if it were mine. I really couldn’t ask more.

Blood Follows

The novels are put in the book in the chronological order of the plot, but the second was actually written and published last. This is interesting to consider because it proves again Erikson’s growth as a writer. There’s a steady, definite improvement between the three novellas in the order they were written, so with the second representing the real peak.

With the first one Erikson seems to take confidence with the new format. He shows sparks of genius but it’s still the beginning of a journey. He sets the foundation, starts to present the characters and develop the style (along some recurring habits and quibbles of the characters) that he will fully exploit later. Here he shows an economy of writing compared to the other novels, starts to play with the words to look for an intended effect, using them more for what they evocate than their explicit meaning. Showing a contagious love for the language that shares the similar beauty and lure of poetry.

There are a few memorable scenes, like the very first encounter between Bauchelain and Emancipor Reese and a myriad of details are presented that will only make sense later, following a similar trend of the main series. The first novel is also the one more connected to the Malazan world. The relatively familiar setting isn’t a weight. There are a number of interesting informations and perspectives, but they are used as “flavor”, not as key points.

The tone is far from the realistic one used in the main series. There is still a bleak and dark atmosphere but no restraints for the humorous and excessive side of things. Characters are caricatures, exaggerated in their traits, clever and naive at the same time. In some ways he reminded me more of Abercrombie here, with scenes intended both to to give personality to the characters and to be fun in their own way. Circumscribed situations with their own (often comic) purpose, while also driving the plot.

Maybe it’s the reason why I thought the end was not completely satisfying. With so much focus on the “performance” itself, what was being performed didn’t have the best denouement possible. This worried me since also for book 1 and 2 in the main series I was partially deluded by the ending. Maybe I really had a problem with the way Erikson ended his stories. The reasons of the disappointment were due mainly to the fact that some plot threads and characters seemed to pass by without a definite aim. Or better, the novella was so rich that it built a number of expectations that lead nowhere by the end of it. There were characters and plot threads that ultimately revealed to be dead ends, or still not used fully or significant enough for the potential I saw in them. As if I saw more in what was hinted than what revealed to be the real intent.

Still, the journey was fun and I developed a lasting sympathy and fondness for the characters that is only comparable, again, to what I felt for Abercrombie’s characters.

The Lees of Laughter’s End

It represents the high peak and the one case where I can say: there are no flaws.

100 pages of condensed AWESOME. Everything and then more happens, including the assault of a god. The ending is a mad dash in typical “convergence” style, only this time the convergence all starts and ends in the limited space of a ship. You’ll be amazed at how many stories tangle there, without even an ounce of the confusion that sometimes can be found in the main series. It’s all sleek, cleverly assembled. It’s a celebration of all things Erikson.

This time all the expectations built along the way were fully realized and even surpassed. The ending is great and fitting, without leaving that feel of incompleteness. In those 100 pages he sets up the scene and wraps it up perfectly.

He even conjures an external narrator in the form of a child and her old mother, who live completely alone in the crows’ nest of the ship and observe from far away everything below. They become at times the narrators of the story, some kind of abstract, symbolic figures, playing with different tones and registers, only to have their own patterns broken in some incredible way. Nothing is safe, not even an omniscient narrator.

This sent chills down my spine and one case where Erikson surpasses Gene Wolfe at his own game. It happens in a few pages and yet is extremely powerful and not at all vague. It plays with your expectations and breaks them, turn them on their head. Whatever you take a granted, breaks apart. And then again and again.

The Healthy Dead

Erikson meets Pratchett. This novella reads like satire, with plenty of wit and paradoxical situations.

It is the least “Malazan” of the three and also the one more “over the top”. It even uses some fantastic elements that do not seem to fit or belong perfectly to the world. Its explicit intent is also more driven and specific. It isn’t “loose” like the others, it doesn’t follow its own pattern and consistence. To understand it you need to draw parallels with our “modernity”. It’s fantasy fiction but working only in direct contact with what we live every day, which is what the satire is supposed to do with its metaphorical value. This purpose is already manifest in the disclaimer in the first page (and in those quotes I extrapolated):

Warning to lifestyle fascist everywhere. Don’t read this or you’ll go blind.

The novella brings to the front a different style. How to convey the most disparate thoughts through a story made as a vehicle. The plot and characters, including our protagonists, aren’t here the ultimate destination, they are means to an end.

It also marks a structural difference compared to the more usual worldbuilding. The majority of fantasy writers shape a world around the story, so that the world is functional to the story, or the intent behind it. Erikson instead shapes his world as a frame that can contain all possible stories. It’s a “world” in the true sense because it’s not one-directional.

The world is the frame, the characters are his “voices” and the stories his meaning.

But even if in this case he has a definite purpose and thesis he wants to prove, despite the whole novella pivots around “expedients”, it’s still a gorgeous, utterly fun read. The usual trio feels almost out of place at the beginning, as if those Malazan characters finished into a different, impossible world. But that’s also what fuels it all and makes those characters even more appropriate. Both Bauchelain and Emancipor become perfect vehicles for the message as if they were created and meant just for it. And, more, they came out even richer.

If you expect these novellas to integrate the main series and say something vital you’ll be disappointed. If you expect them to be throwaway little-efforts, forgettable digressions, you are also absolutely, terribly wrong. This book swiped away all the reservations and doubts I had of Erikson as a writer. He may show up and lows throughout the whole main series, but I am now sure he has an indubitable talent. As James Barclay put it in the introduction to the second novella:

The Lees of Laughter’s End is a splendidly outrageous offering. It is utterly fearless and compelling. Most of all, it is hugely entertaining. Erikson in this mood is a joy to read.

The big problem I have now is that while reading the novellas I couldn’t wait to move onto Memories of Ice, considered Erikson’s masterpiece. Now that I’m 200 pages into Memories of Ice I feel… nostalgic. I’m developing a serious case of withdrawal from the novellas and the 1100 pages of this new book aren’t helping much. I’m addicted to those novellas, to the wit, the superb writing style, the memorable characters. So every time I sit down to read the new book I actually take in my hands the novellas and read some random pages. It’s like being in deeply love with someone of whom you’ve left just a photo.

The Healthy Dead quotes

A few fantastic quotes from “The Healthy Dead”, the last of Erikson’s novellas. Next is the review of all three.

‘Ah, Mister Reese, I gather you still do not understand the threat this king poses to such creatures as you and I.’
‘Well, frankly, no, I don’t, Master. As you say.’
‘I must perforce make the linkage plain, of sufficient simplicity to permit your uneducated mind to grasp all manners of significance. Desire for goodness, Mister Reese, leads to earnestness. Earnestness in turn leads to sanctimonious selfrighteousness, which breeds intolerance, upon which harsh judgment quickly follows, yielding dire punishment, inflicting general terror and paranoia, eventually culminating in revolt, leading to chaos, then dissolution, and thus, the end of civilisation.’ He slowly turned, looked down upon Emancipor. ‘And we are creatures dependent upon civilisation. It is the only environment in which we can thrive.’
Emancipor frowned. ‘The desire for goodness leads to the end of civilisation?’
‘Precisely, Mister Reese.’
‘But if the principal aim is to achieve good living and health among the populace, what is the harm in that?’
Bauchelain sighed. ‘Very well, I shall try again. Good living and health, as you say, yielding well being. But well being is a contextual notion, a relative notion. Perceived benefits are measured by way of contrast. In any case, the result is smugness, and from that an overwhelming desire to deliver conformity among those perceived as less pure, less fortunate–the unenlightened, if you will. But conformity leads to ennui, and then indifference. From indifference, Mister Reese, dissolution follows as a natural course, and with it, once again, the end of civilisation.’
‘All right all right, Master, we are faced with the noble task of confounding the end of civilisation.’
‘Well said, Mister Reese. I admit I find the ethical aspects of our mission surprisingly… refreshing.’

The man’s voice came closer. ‘Situation? Situations are frowned upon, Storkul Purge. Even a low-ranking Well Knight such as you must know this.’
‘I endeavour to promulgate conformity at every turn, Oh Purest of the Paladins.’
‘And well you should, lest by your actions you prove singular or, Lady forgive us, unique. You do not deem yourself unique, do you, Storkul Purge?’
Her voice was suddenly small. ‘Of course not. The purity of my innate mediocrity is absolute, Purest. Of that I can assure you.’

Emancipor winced, overwhelmed by a flood of guilt. ‘Can there be no second chance, Paladin?’
‘Ah, you are a saint indeed, to voice such sentiment. The answer is no, there cannot. The very notion of fallibility was invented to absolve mortals of responsibility. We can be perfect, and you can see true perfection walking here at your side.’
‘You have achieved perfection?’
‘I have. I am. And to dispute that truth is to reveal your own imperfection.’

‘It would seem,’ Bauchelain said as he led the others through the gateway, ‘that much of the present fabric of comportment has frayed in your city, King Necrotus, nay, torn asunder, and none of it through my doing. I am pleased to discover said evidence of my own cherished beliefs.’
‘What?’ Storkul Purge demanded drunkenly, ‘are you talking ’bout?’
‘Why to transform the metaphor, that piety is but the thinnest patina, fashioned sufficiently opaque to disguise the true nature of our kin, yet brittle thin nonetheless.’

The subsequent explosion was heard and felt by every citizen of Quaint, and those crews out in the bay, throwing four-finned fish from their nets, looked up in time to see the skyward pitching fireball and at least three oxen cart-wheeling above the city, before the monument of Singe dropped from sight and flames lit the dust clouds a gaudy orange.

A glance at the future

Let’s assume for a moment that the discussion at F13 was useful and that Mark Jacobs is really determined to make Open RvR a substantial part of the game to the point that a majority of players move from Scenarios to the open world as their overall preference.

The second this happens players will start to heavily complain on two fronts:
1- The clients lags too much and zerg battles are unfun.
2- Factions unbalance makes battles pointless and frustrating in certain cases.

This is a kind of overall trend: as you fix a problem, there’s another that takes its place next on the chain. You made some progress, but still far from having solved the whole situation.

The consequences of those problems are kind of obvious:
1- Work on the client should never stop because it’s still far from having an optimal performance.
2- Faction unbalances need to be eased through a number of solutions, but in any case there should be incentives so that the underdog faction is still encouraged to participate even in the most critical situation.

For example counting the number of players in a RvR Lake for each faction and scaling appropriately the rewards.

Asymmetric objectives and rewards that adapt to the real possibilities of one realm against the other.

Just noticed. Doing it this way is NOT GOOD.

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If we believe in the Utopia…

I’m currently banned from F13 as well but don’t feel any outrage since the intent was to “maximize” the effect of Mark Jacobs short attention span. With Shild incessantly trying to engrave in Mark Jacobs mind how the bonuses for Open RvR and faster leveling CAN’T be enough.

In that whole thread I wasn’t able to reply but they voiced my own thoughts, gripes and hopes for the game rather well. So I’m happy the descussion took place even if I wasn’t allowed to contribute.

There is one poster to whom I look with some affection. He has the candor and hope that I had long time ago, and explains things rather well:

I think the thing I’m looking for, which I’ve written about, is a lead developer for a MMOG who recognizes the peculiar character of their job in relationship to the customer base. I don’t think there is an easily comparable service industry. You’re the public representative of a team of people who combine the roles of political rulers, gods, authors, customer service, and seller of goods in relationship to their players/customers/citizens. I don’t really think any developer has understood how that melange of roles and responsibilities ought to impact how and when they talk about their gameworld. Raph probably gets closest to understanding what this means and crafting a public voice to go with it.

Blizzard solves this problem largely by hiding the decision-making layer of their live management away entirely, and leaving it almost entirely to an intermediary layer of customer service representatives to speak on behalf of the gameworld sovereigns to the playerbase. I don’t think that’s the right way to go, but they stick to it with some consistency and it functions fairly well as a result. If you think in terms of political sovereignty, it’s rather like a mysterious kind of royalty who appears only in glimpses in public, with decisions being shrouded behind layers of pomp and circumstance in the royal court. They do ok with this approach largely because they deliver a very polished, reliable product.

I don’t think you have that luxury if you want to hold steady at 500k subs, not the least because Blizzard also is pretty damn smart about undercutting competition in all sorts of ways, including public jabs designed to put competitors off their feed. But the public voice you’ve built up over the years isn’t a consistent alternative that will create loyalty in players through rough patches in the development of a game. I think a couple of other people have used this analogy, but I hear too much Smedley in some of what you say–too much promotion, too much all-is-well, too much Oval Office press secretary.

I think a consistent alternative to Blizzard’s remote, chilly inaccessibility is to take people inside the structure of your decision-making, to create a transparent kind of affect, to go for sustained honesty. I don’t think a single MMOG has helped its retention rates by saying, “All is basically well! We hear your concerns, and believe me, we take them seriously! Great things are coming, and great things have already come!” It just doesn’t work with your audience. They’ve usually played a lot of these things, they’re often pretty savvy about design issues.

This isn’t just about saying, “Players are right! I am sorry! We suck!”, either. Taking people inside the process of decision-making is about laying out the issues clearly, and not ceding to players your judgment about the right way to go on some of the tougher issues. On the RvR lakes, for example, you could say, “Ok, here’s what we’re thinking. We can tweak this and that in the short-term and see what works better. Our *design goal* is XYZ for those lakes. But we can’t do some of the things you’re suggesting, either because they are impossible given our resource limitations or our code base, or because we think they’re honestly not good ideas.” Etc. Really, almost no one has taken this approach, in part because they don’t want to demoralize their own team by appearing to criticize them in public. Or, if I can be brutal, because at least some MMOG designers don’t understand the problems and issues in MMOGs half as well as some of their most experienced players. I think you understand well enough, so why not work your way towards transparency, inclusion, straight-talking honesty?

What have you got to lose? The current approach to communication is really not going to get you over the problems I see you having *very soon*. I know I’m fairly close to unsubbing myself now that I feel I’ve seen most of the interesting issues that Warhammer poses for the MMOG form and its future. I generally find that in terms of whether I’m having fun or not in a MMOG, I’m right about where the consensus judgment falls–when I’ve unsubbed, I’m usually in the middle of a wave of unsubbing.

Indeed. If only I didn’t learn that what makes sense doesn’t usually get realized. Life would be too easy.

One impression I get is as if Mark Jacobs is the only one making the game. As if it’s him and then just slaves that execute what he wants done. He’s the president, comments the game design and even looks around the boards to find out bugs and then instructs the team so they get fixed.

As if no game can exist outside of him. As if nothing works if he’s not there poking at the cogs.

What happened to the rest of the team? It’s as if they don’t exist and Mark Jacobs did everything on his own. As if nothing in the game can happen without Mark’s seal of approval.

No one in the team has any opinions? No one of them plays the game, is aware of bugs, has plans on how to improve things? Is it a team of zombies? BRAAAAINS?

On the Vault, in the occasion of that ridiculously underestimated bonus to conquering keeps in ORVR, I wrote:

If it’s true that you are “working on it” in a substantial way, then TALK WITH THE PLAYERS. Don’t just push these ridiculous fixes that fix nothing at all and just (legitimately) sour the players. Giving 2000 xp for taking a keep isn’t an “improvement”, it’s a joke. If you are REALLY doing something more radical that needs coding then YOU HAVE to talk to the players, explain what you are doing and opening a discussion so that players can actually see where you are going and even anticipate the shortcomings (since it seems you alone can’t figure them out).

Bring those goddamned designers out. Make them explain what they are doing and why. Make them explain what they AREN’T doing, and why.

It is entirely a matter of being in touch with the game and then communicating honestly with the players.

No one asks the impossible, but it’s crucial that we agree on some basic points. Shild insisted in every way possible: there ain’t no risk of “enough”. You can’t overshoot.

What is needed is only the commitment and a more direct dialogue with the community. Not for a few hours or a couple of weeks. But in the longer term. What happened in that F13 thread should become the NORM.

Mark Jacobs is doing this alone now. As if he has the burden of the whole game on his shoulders. My esteem for him goes up when he shows he cares and seems interested in a serious, not superficial confrontation. The problem is that this dialogue shouldn’t stop here but should be instead intensified and improved in the longer term.

It should involve members of the team outside Mark Jacobs himself. This needs to be a significant part of the process in the everyday life of the project and not a sporadic, rare event happening just because Mark Jacobs decided to grant us some of his precious time.

And, to conclude, from the same F13 poster an insightful commentary on the reasons why PvE in Warhammer sucks.

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A friendly reminder

The things I post on this blog are supposed to stay in the blog.

Whoever posts links to here or pasting excerpts is doing it without my consensus or approvation.

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