Warhammer Online goes away, with a last fart

They couldn’t let it go without a final stinker, could they? Nope.

Here’s some bad rhetoric for you:

In some cases, HUGE chunks of the WAR team simply set up shop in a new project – old comrades in a new home.

That hasn’t happened by accident. We didn’t miraculously recruit a team of people who were already the Best There Is At What They Do. The WAR project helped MAKE them that. It gave people an opportunity to learn and struggle and grow. Oddly enough, I suspect that – had WAR been a run-away success – a lot of those people WOULDN’T have become the industry leaders they are today. It’s hard to toughen up and get stronger in a comfortable environment. It’s even harder to grow if you never leave the nest.

If Warhammer Online was to be a smashing success, wouldn’t those same devs become industry leaders automatically? Isn’t that exactly what they actually planned on and EXPECTED?

Warhammer Online had a mediocre technical realization and really bad game design. It seems that the only positive qualities they can find is about appropriating the work of the *people* themselves? “Those qualities, they aren’t YOURS. They belong to Warhammer Online, because without working on it and its awful situation you wouldn’t have become good”.

Not exactly encouraging considering the dreadful state of the MMO industry. It’s the only game genre that collapsed on itself and made zero progress in these last few years.

I will also say that Warhammer Online not only simply failed, but deserved to. Countless pages could analyze the reasons and this blog has ideas for the game that could have been useful to improve it substantially, but I’ll mention at least three big problems that played an important role in Warhammer failure and all three should have been EVIDENT already when the very first design doc was written:

1- Public Quests not scaling with the number of players involved in them. Everyone should have known that a mechanic that pivots all around a variable you not only do not control (number of players), but that you know varies wildly, absolutely needs a system that automatically load balances the quest. This system just can’t work if you don’t design it properly.

2- All PvP emphasis focused on shallow, insubstantial, volatile instanced PvP mini-games. Leaving the open PvP areas empty and with no incentives. Warhammer Online never played on its strengths. It actively worked AGAINST them.

3- Levelling curve in mid-to-latter part being completely unbalanced and disproportionate to the actual amount of content available.

Add to this the choice to go with a really bad engine that especially works poorly while handling many characters on screen, which was maybe fine for DAoC but so not good if you really do target WoW numbers… and you can see why Warhammer Online’s failure wasn’t surprising at all.

We were proud of and confident in the game we launched.


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How things go

Via Twitter.

Mythic Entertainment, responsible for Warhammer Online, just laid off 80 people, about 40% of its employees.


Don’t know anything about numbers, but literally everyone I know who was still at Mythic outside of upper management is looking for work this morning.

Blame the economy, but not just.

Follow-up on Warhammer Online

I was thinking: go on and make the PvE game harder in the initial levels like you said, now that the game is losing players and that the servers are almost completely empty. Especially the low level zones, I’d guess.

On Q23 I was reading this comment, likely from someone who played recently:

On the PQs, I think it’s still a brilliant concept. No, you can’t make it THAT challenging – these aren’t coordinated groups. But it does foster some grouping and player interaction. I still think those are the best part of WAR. The challenge is that they’re abandoned now. I’m not sure how you overcome that…but on release I LOVED the PQs.

The kind of problem we pointed out at release. Public quests are a broken design concept if you don’t implement a scaling/adapting dynamic.

But then go on and put the nails on the coffin, it is surely better than the slow agony.

Warhammer failed and is sinking not because of technical competency, lack of resources or lack of support from EA. It failed because of very bad game design all around.

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Warhammer failed because PvE was too easy and too soloable

On Q23 today I noticed a necro thread about Warhammer (you know, that game we used to talk about a year ago). I went looking why it was resurrected and the reason is that all Mythic’s services went offline. Including all Warhammer and DAoC servers.

It’s quite a big fuckup (since I think it’s been already a few hours, if not the whole day), so I went checking the forum to see if there was the kind of rage I’d expect. Not so much. It’s quite calm. Maybe because there are only an handful of players left, and even those who are left aren’t particularly caring either.

While looking at this I noticed a link to a gamasutra article that boasted this title: GDC Austin: Mythic’s Hickman Shares Warhammer Online’s Biggest Mistakes

I’m curious, let’s see these biggest mistakes (the three major ones are reported). Let’s see if, one year later and one Jacobs less, they got some clue.

Here’s their three biggest mistakes they think they made on Warhammer:

1- The PvE game is too easy in the initial levels.
2- Since the game is too easy and too soloable, people don’t socialize.
3- Farming gold and grinding is not important. But it brings together the community.

The article is also filled with brilliance and awesome insight, like:

“The era of boxed products is ending.”
“Digital distribution is absolutely profitable”
“if your game is flawed and you have to make massive rebuilds, that’s risky.”

If you don’t believe me, here the actual quotes about those three major mistakes:

1- “Warhammer, in PVE, in the beginning, is too easy.”
2- “You can do so many things solo, that friendship, at least in the beginning levels, is not necessary, and it’s super dangerous for your games.”
3- “what it caused us to do was build a game where economy is not important enough. Economy brings people together.”

It’s also quite funny because when they asked him if these issues were the same reported by players during beta he said, obviously not:
“I’m not sure how many of our players would say it’s too easy; it’s not something they think about. There are a lot of things they point at and say are the problems, but [actually] it’s that.”

Players wouldn’t say that PvE being too easy is the game’s major flaw (maybe because players aren’t as clueless as himself), but it’s that. No really. It’s that.

Now after my crusade against Mark Jacobs you’d expect that I find the current Mythic at least slightly improved (since he left, if you remember). I’m not. Mythic with Jacobs had at least some drive. Mythic without Jacobs seems just as clueless, and even lost all drive.

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How the story ends

I don’t write about mmorpg anymore if it’s not about leftovers. I guess I’ll comment this.

Seen on Rock-Paper-Shotgun:

EA will merge Mythic and Bioware to create a new MMO and RPG division. The new division will apparently be headed by BioWare boss Ray Muzyka, while BioWare’s other co-founder, Greg Zeschuk, will become Group Creative Officer. Mark Jacobs, the outspoken boss at Mythic, will apparently be leaving the company

It didn’t end too well, did it?

Nope, for anyone. I guess you would expect me to be all happy about this since I wrote so much negative stuff about Mythic and especially about Mark Jacobs along the years. Nope, I’m not. Justice is done? Nope.

Justice is when things are understood and people collaborate to work toward something better. Justice is to see things realize their potential and draw the best from the people who made them. There’s little justice in seeing something fail, even if there are good motivations behind the failure. Or whatever, even if you still won’t call this failure.

And there’s also no justice when you’re proven right, and yet you can’t put it to any use.

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Minor quibble on Mythic 55 pages of patch notes

Beside the fact they really tried hard to lengthen the patch notes at the expense of readability, this following passage goes beyond what is reasonable:

* To earn a Domination Point from a Keep, it must be claimed by a Guild and then held for 2 hours. If you lose control of a Battlefield Objective or Keep at any time, you lose the Domination Point.

* Multiple Domination Points cannot be gained from a single source (for example, it isn’t possible to get 6 Domination Points by capturing Martyr’s Square 6 times).

Why that second point? Why to clarify what was already implicit and so making it more confused?

If to gain control on a zone you need to hold all six contested points, and if you lose one you lose the point associated to it, then it is obvious that you won’t get anything by capturing one more than once.

1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 = 1

Not 6.

You simply need to conquer and hold all the contested objectives, and hold each for a set amount of time before it counts. That’s all. There was no need to use “points” in this system and apply specific rules. Overcomplicated design and contrived explanation.

EDIT: Another less minor quibble I saw pointed out on the forums:

* Playing with Fire: This ability will now hit for the correct amount of damage.

Well, since you were at writing 55 pages of notes at least you could have made them informative.

I’m glad the ability now hits for what you think is “correct” damage, but maybe knowing how much would be too useful? Or know if the damage was lowered or increased?

They were too worried to make these patch notes look positive, more than make them look informative. Less complaints if the notes don’t explain the merit of balance changes. Things were “fixed”! Now it is all “correct”! 55 pages! Don’t worry anymore.

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What’s up with EA? EDIT: Warhammer 300k

This is not about Warhammer, but since it was mentioned in early December on the forums I’ve been keeping an eye to the financial charts.

It was mentioned in December (and on a bunch of business sites) because the chart had a new dip, but if you look at how it was going along the year you can notice that the crisis started in September (yeah, Warhammer again, but it’s likely a coincidence and more a problem of world crisis).

Today I think is the day of their earnings conference. I have really no idea on how to read these charts as I know little to nothing about economy, but the chart today reached a new low and is under 15 (whatever 15 means).

STOCK PERFORMANCE: Shares of the Redwood City, Calif.-based company tumbled nearly 57 percent during the quarter to finish at $16.04. In Monday morning trading, the stock hit a new year low of $14.78.

I guess the next few hours will be important? Maybe investors are waiting to see what happens with the conference.

About Warhammer:

EA’s earnings call is in a few weeks and after that, there will be a lot more clarity about our numbers.

First reports already in:

Warhammer® Online: Age of Reckoning®, an MMO from EA’s Mythic Entertainment studio, ended the quarter with over 300K paying subscribers in North America and Europe.

This means 300k as December 31 2008.

Indeed. And flawless victory.

EDIT: Mark Jacobs only comment at this time:

Because not everything that I hoped to talk about was in the earnings call (they had other things to talk about obviously), I’m waiting on guidance from corporate to see if I can add a few additional bit of information that weren’t contained in the call before I write a longer post than this.

Apparently he’s pissed because EA didn’t spin the numbers enough to make them look better.

EDIT2: Comments from EA:

And while we expect to benefit in the future from increased sales from these franchises, generally games with a two on them sell better and do sell with a lower R&D budget.

drive our content direct-to-consumer. This is a strategic initiative that is very important for the long term. In FY09, we made $150 million online investment with limited associated revenue. In FY10, all significant online spending, except for the LucasArts BioWare Star Wars MMO, will be generating positive income. These investments are working. We expect over $500 million in direct-to-digital revenue in fiscal year ’10.

And also for fiscal ’10, we are going to get a full year of Warhammer subscription revenue. We talked about the fact that we are already at 300,000 subs. That is a very ratable and more predictable business, and so that is new for FY10 compared to fiscal ‘09.

Too scared to talk, you cowards, all of you

Last on the list, official forums.

Once again I think another step in the wrong direction. Why? Ive always been for official forums. First to receive support and not talk to each player individually (as, usually, when problems exist they are experienced by many), second to quickly gather up to date infos that don’t fit on a web page (servers going down, problems to connect etc..). Then obviously to get feedback from developers and discuss meaningfully the game.

I’ve explained the way I’d moderate it. Not tolerating spam and trolling. Not looking for manners or good disposition, but rewarding arguments, motivations.

There are two aspects that make obvious what Mythic’s forums will really be.
1- Account levels that will allow Mythic to pick their favorite posters/friends/supporters and rail them as champions of the community
2- Developer feedback is a privilege, not a right

There all that is wrong. In order to discuss things and read what developers think, you have to be a privileged person who’s passed Mythic’s rite of initiation.

Mythic’s dev feedback is too precious to be shared among customers. It is of a so high complexity and depth that enlightened players with access to it will have to sign yet another NDA that will forbid them to divulge the Sacred Words.

I hope you’ll do nicely, with your fist of sand.


I still also remain convinced that having official forums are not a guarantee of success for an MMO.

…Do you know where he may have possibly heard that official forums guarantee success for a MMO? In his head, you say?

I laughed (but look at the screenshot down that thread if you think nothing could surprise you anymore). Developing a forum grind is some form of misunderstood genius.

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Headbanging to walls

Every time I spend some time looking at what’s happening with Warhammer I find more and more proofs of game design incompetence.

Beside the latest, blatant, “People who really want to do Open RvR, though, were falling behind PvE and scenario players in terms of gear” and Mark Jacobs’ “avoiding other factions in a RvR/PvP game are always tough to solve even if you could only level through RvR/Pvp since many players/groups tend to always want to have an edge on the other group”, now we have this upcoming change to BOs and keeps that mirrors exactly what I was saying: they do not get it, and so keep making things WORSE.

Since players loved to swap BOs and keeps quickly to get points, you know what will happen next patch?

That you’ll have to SIT in a BO for half an hour, and a keep for TWO HOURS in order to get the points/loot. Awesome. I’m sure players will love this.

The REAL problem here is that they are handing points for PvE (NPC guards) objectives. Players learn this and learn that if points come from killing NPCs then fighting real players is just an hindrance. So they go killing NPCs and avoid fighting each other since this maximizes the reward.

Instead of fixing this system and link the ORVR rewards to RVR activity (as is reasonable to do if they had a clue) they double all the timers in the game, so that it’s not possible anymore to swap quickly the objectives. But, since the rewards STILL come from PvE, the only effect is that now you’ll sit idle waiting for a timer to run to zero and the bag of loot to open to you.

If you are a kind of player who enjoys this kind of gameplay then I’m glad for you.

This game isn’t flawed in production value or because Mythic isn’t working hard enough. This game is flawed because they don’t get the basics of game design, and four months down the road they still haven’t understood problems that the majority of players noticed all along.

You can work as hard you can, but if the direction is all wrong nothing good will ever come out of it. That’s Mythic’s path.

And to demonstrate that I base my critics on concrete motivations and not bias, I’ll also say that making ORvR authoritative over Scenarios is a step in the right direction (meaning that if you control a zone in ORvR you’ll control the zone in the campaign as well, no matter the results in the Scenarios).

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