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Reflecting on WAR

WAR bears bears bearsThe time has finally come — Warhammer Online Age of Reckoning is shutting down in December.  Sometimes I forget the infamously botched MMO is still around, and other times I am reminded of the horrific mistakes I made during the anticipatory hyping period prior to its launch.  I made a mistake.  I was sucked in by horrible marketing because I was desperate for a good MMO and blinded by my hope and belief that DAoC could actually be repeated by the same studio.  I still believe I am the self-proclaimed biggest WAR Fanboy of all time.  I made today’s crazies look sane.

We don’t need to rehash the awfulness that is WAR.  Promises were broken: Bears bears bears.  Promises were kept: WAR has Five Years of Content (I’m laughing out loud right now at the irony).  Carrie Gouskos (who was the Tomb of Knowledge person when I interviewed her back in 2008), now Producer, says she doesn’t think WAR’s critics would ever call it boring. No… no, it was pretty dang boring.  Honestly, the WvW RvR was horribly boring.  The PvE was dull.  Then world was uninspired despite being set in one of the best-known fantasy IPs ever.  It wasn’t good.

5yearsofwarCarrie is right about one thing, though.  WAR absolutely introduced features which are now considered industry standards.  I still remember sitting down with Mark Jacobs for an interview during E3 2008.  We sat in a little side room of EA’s big E3 booth.  Mark, Graev, and I sat at this circular table and Mark let me bombard him with questions.  Besides Mark’s shirt (which I believe was a black polo) only one thing has stuck with me… Mark said, “Public Quests will be something game developers blatantly rip off for years to come.  It won’t even be subtle.  That’s what developers do – we steal each others ideas.”  (Slightly paraphrased).  Sure enough, five years later developers are still blatantly ripping the idea.  I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.

Seriously, let’s think about what we can learn from all of this.  If some good can come from WAR, I hope it’s developers everywhere learning that it’s not enough to think you have a ton of great ideas, a history of success, and a fanbase.  If you put it all together and your game just isn’t fun — you failed.   Personally, I learned how not to market a product — a lesson which has stuck with me now into my marketing career.

So long WAR.  Please take the last five years with you.

DAOC’s 10th Birthday

I have to chime in on this one.  Scott Jennings has posted Matt Firor’s recollections from DAOC’s launch day.  It was ten years ago.  Crazy how time flies while at the same time making no sense… it’s crazy to think at 2001 was ten years ago when it feels like yesterday.  Read Matt’s story.  It’s fascinating.  Mythic has a truly remarkable history that so many of you do not know well enough.

I remember walking into the office one morning towards the end of October. By that time it was obvious we had a smash hit on our hands. Our marketing/sales consultant, Eugene Evans (now the GM of the studio) had a whiteboard near his desk (right by the front door) where he jotted down sales numbers. By October 27 or so, it showed that we were not only the #1 selling PC game for October, but also the #1 selling PC product for that month. Since this was the first boxed retail product Mythic had, I asked him if this success was normal. Eugene, and old industry veteran, looked at me like I was insane and replied, “No, this isn’t typical.”

DAOC was and most likely will be forever one of the greatest accomplishments in MMORPG PvP.   While DAOC invented and captured lightning in a bottle when it came to PvP, it was also one of the few games to masterfully blend PvE and PvP together with incentive and reward (until ToA).  Furthermore, DAOC had one of the greatest communities of any game where you could be playing in a realm of a thousand people and feel like you knew them all — it was magic in every sense of the word.

There aren’t words to adequately describe my desire for another game like it.  I would give my time freely to see it done.   It’s sad that games are releasing today with problems that DAOC solved.  That says a lot about the DAOC team and about those teams making games today.

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Mark Jacobs’ Return (Sound the trumpets!)

I should have commented on this way sooner — busy, remember?

Mark Jacobs, the guy very much responsible for a great deal of Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online has resurfaced in the gaming industry. Once again at the reigns of his own company (City State Entertainment), it looks like the ever-personable fellow has, in my opinion, a new outlook on gaming this time around. Just look at the picture of the City State Entertainment team and, once again my opinion, it looks like MJ (or someone he’s surrounded himself with) is hoping to lighten the mood of dark clouds surrounding a rather unfortunate reputation.

The City State Entertainment Team 2011

I actually really like Mark Jacobs. I won’t pretend he’s not arrogant at times and a little volatile with the communities, but he knows a lot and has done great things for the MMO industry.  I do not believe for a second that he is solely responsible for Warhammer Online’s failure, or even mostly responsible, as many would have you think.  Some of the people he worked with are real screwballs.  My only real beef with the guy is selling out to EA.  I would have preferred WAR never release and the entire debacle been avoided.

This time around it doesn’t look like we’ll see a return to grace — that is, Dark Age of Camelot.  We’re more likely to see mobile games.  I have my own opinion about mobile games.   In fact, Graev and I have a philosophy about them.   I have a feeling Mark is testing the waters, seeing how to be relevant in a changing market, but will return to what he knows and has done best.  Let my prediction be ‘set in mud’.

Whatever happens, I’m following City State Entertainment.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all if something bigger comes from this rebirth.

Update: Mark Jacobs has commented on his departure from EA.  I’m glad my view of what happened is reaffirmed.  Mark won’t say it as bluntly as I will, but WAR is EA’s doing.  Mark’s responsibility for WAR ends and his fault begins/is found in the deal to sell Mythic.

Warhammer Wrath of Heroes

I’ve given up trying to keep track of what to call them these days.  It’s not Mythic Entertainment, EA Mythic, or EA Bioware-Mythic.. I guess it’s just “Bioware” now that handles the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning brand.  Whoever they are, they announced Warhammer Wrath of Heroes at Gamescom.   It’s part of EA’s Play4Free push.  An exciting idea.  A new Warhammer game?  No, it’s not.  Despite the “3 teams” thing that is being pushed, it’s the exact same game.  Just watch the video and it’s plain to see that everything about Wrath of Heroes is just WAR Scenarios re-boxed under a different name.  It’s like saying “play WAR’s scenarios for free and let us find a way to add microtransactions”.

What would have been neat is a Thidranki (DAOC zone, small, coined the term “battleground” and was always open rather than being instanced) style zone.  My DAOC veteran readers will know what I’m talking about.  What we have here is, in my opinion, a waste of rehashed resources.  I don’t mean to come off insensitive, but it does seem like there are people left over from WAR with nothing to do, so they’ve been tasked with this little project instead of being re-tasked to new teams or let go.

If someone can make sense of this, by all means clue me in.  What about this game isn’t just WAR 6v6v6 scenarios?

Update: Some more details I’m collecting make it sound like an attempt at being DOTA.  I still can’t shake the re-purposed WAR, though.  Had this been -any- other game but WAR I would probably think it’s a great idea.  Perhaps just the horrific stigma attached to all things WAR is tainting any opinion I have about this, but I won’t deny the validity of such stigmas or my reason for feeling them.  I still think that this should have been an idea built from the ground up without all the recycling.

- Abilities on cooldowns, instant cast
- No armor, just skins.
- Tactics (LoL’s Rune System)

Ultima Online 2 rumors

I don’t know what to make of these rumors floating around about an Ultima Online 2.   All of the news entries about the rumors all start with a build-up about how Ultima Online was one of the first MMORPG’s and then say a sequel might be underway … and then they remind the reader that EA owns it all. That just about squashes it for me.  Realistically, EA will never, ever, see the light of reason and create a game that pays tribute to the original — ever.  I’m not being cynical here, I’m being real.  All of the nerdgasms and excited are for naught and the proof is in the track record of EA putting out games and sequels.  I would love a UO2, but I don’t want an EA McMMO that merely tries to capitalize on the namesake of UO while exhibiting none of the traits from the original.

As for Paul Barnett’s alleged participation, I’m also completely indifferent.  I like the guy as a person.  I got to hang out with him a little bit at E3 2008.  He’s smart, knows a good deal about video games, but unfortunately, in my opinion, falls victim to the reputation of the company.  All of the bitterness over WAR often gets thrown in Paul’s very public face.  Is he responsible for the hype or was he just doing his job?  The answer could be yes to both questions.  I don’t really know.  If he were on the alleged project then I would still be indifferent.  Paul’s a creative guy and a marketing guy, whether his job description says so or not.  I do not see how blaming one man, especially one in his position, for WAR is possible.  Personally, I have a very long list of who was responsible and Paul is near the bottom.

UO2 would be awesome, but if it happens it won’t be anything like the original.  EA would have to radically alter their modus operandi.  I do not see the epitome of corporate gaming woes being the one to turn things around.