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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.

PvP rewards without a cost for failure

Let’s start the new year off with a discussion about PvP.  I was thinking about why PvP — more specifically RvR/WvW — hasn’t succeeded or ultimately been a lot of fun for me in the past few years.  We had a brainstorming session on our Ventrilo server, and I think we nailed it.

PvP has too many rewards in all the wrong ways, and there is never any consequence or punishment for failure.

Take Guild Wars 2 where taking a keep grants a huge sum of points.  What happens when that keep is lost?  Nothing that matches the bonus for taking it.  What happens when you retake that keep?  You get another huge sum of points.  Why defend?  Why would anyone when there is more to gain from losing it and taking it again. Players will always seek the path of least resistance where they gain the most reward.  Then there’s the fact that death means nothing.  Die and you can be back at the keep in 4 minutes tops.  You probably miss out on next to nothing.

Here’s why taking and holding keeps in DAoC mattered: Losing them sucked!  The frontiers were a great place to exp.  When the enemy owned the keep near my favorite spot, guards would patrol and often kill me.  More players were also likely to be in the area.  Losing that keep also meant losing a bonus to experience; Leveling in DAoC wasn’t easy.  Losing a keep also meant losing relics with bonuses we wanted.  All of that might have been enough, but there’s another reason losing the keep sucked: Darkness Falls.  Whoever owns the most keeps has access to a dungeon with the best loot exp’ing locations.

Here’s a way to start fixing WvW/RvR and that type of PvP:

  • Remove immediate rewards for taking keeps.  No point gains, no experience.
  • Implement more indirect rewards like a dungeon for having the most keeps and meaningful/sought after rewards for being on the winning side.
  • Create ways to indirectly punish players for losing them. For example: Guard spawns I mentioned or not having access to an extremely desirable location.  Losing ground also means you probably won’t be killing as many players, so you probably won’t be on the winning side gaining points for killing other players.
  • Make keeps/holdings more difficult to siege.

The lack of risk and indirect loss for failing in PvP is game breaking for me.  If you’re not happy with the PvP in a game you’re playing, see if the rewards outweigh the penalties.  Chances are you’re not actually PvPing at all — you’re just gaming the system.

MMOs are not given room to grow anymore. Launch perfect or die!

When World of Warcraft launched in November 2004 is was new, it was shiny, but it really wasn’t as polished or infallible as people think of it today.  Aside from WoW’s launch issues, which mostly stemmed from Blizzard not anticipating the demand, WoW had issues that crop up in most contemporary MMOs.

WoW was evolving constantly back then, and surprisingly continues to evolve regularly even today.  There were itemization issues, stat issues, and content issues.  End-game wasn’t clearly defined.  PvP was anything but defined.  It was clear that Blizzard was learning like the rest of us how their future would unfold. I was there for all of it.

I remember playing and having discussions in general chat with the other players about raids.  All we knew at the time was that there was a raid.  Looking back at the 40-man raids of WoW’s launch and all they entailed, then looking at the raid finder experience of today, it’s truly mind blowing how WoW has evolved.  If you played the entire time, you’re even more aware of how many changes the raiding system has gone through and different systems/mechanics/features/implementations the content has seen over the years.

Then there’s the PvP system, which started out … actually it didn’t.  There wasn’t a “PvP system”.   There weren’t battlegrounds, rewards, titles, or gear.  It was just the ability to kill other players in zones like Hillsbrad.  Evolving just like raids, PvP has gone through countless changes over the years.

What am I getting at by giving you this history lesson? [Read more…]

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.