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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.


You’re just telling us what we already know, Louse.

I’m not going to comment much on this story about the supposed EA employee identifying why WAR failed.   Whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter.  I’m sure most of the major themes are true to an extent but like most of these whistle blowers the details are probably iffy.  The absolute bottom line here is that it identifies an environment of hostile management and ignorance.  If you followed DAOC, or better yet Mythic, long enough this doesn’t sound surprising after seeing how WAR turned out.

I stated it long ago that the ultimate reason WAR failed was zero vision and ignorance as to how they succeeded with DAOC.  Try and write it off all you want, but no one in their right mind purposely avoids repeat success.  “They didn’t want to make DAOC 2.0!”  Bull.  They wanted very much to make DAOC 2.0.  Even with an entirely different pre-existing IP they brought in Keeps, RvR, talk of “realm ranks”, and pushed hard to capture the spirit of DAOC.  Bottom line, they were ignorant and their work environment didn’t help them any to identify what they were missing.

I’m starting to think that perhaps no one we even know by name is responsible for DAOC.  It was probably some guy in a cubicle who had a decent idea and pitched it to the people we now know infamously by name.  They took credit and thought, “How hard could it be to do it again?”.  I guess we know, right?  This boils down to two points in the end: 1) Those who deserve credit rarely get it and 2) Trying to copy success without understanding it is a recipe for failure.   #2 is a point I have beaten to death over the years.  Oh what the heck, let’s throw in 3) If you’re going to copy a game (like WoW or DAOC) then at least make it an actual copy.

This changes nothing for me, reading this real or fake commentary.  It’s just telling us what we already know.

P.S. I can’t get this picture out of my head. Louse? Is that you?


‘Re-Enlisted’ to WAR to find out what changed

Since a lot of my friends are giving Warhammer Online’s “come back and play for 14 days free” offer a try, I decided that I would as well.  Why would I want to try it again?

a) All I ever see from the fans of WAR are statements about how the game has changed so much.  I wanted to see for myself.

b) Mythic claims changes to the game and has proposed changes to RvR which are on the way.

c) It’s been two years.  They’ve had two years to improve the game.

After playing tonight in the lower brackets, it didn’t feel much different at all.  In fact, in two years it feels like they’ve taken away from the game more than they’ve added.  Am I wrong or did they take out several quests from the newbie zone and streamlined it?  Aside form 1 shotting everything on my Bright Wizard, I did maybe one quest with a followup from that first town when I remember at least 4-5.   I queued for a scenario too and it was exactly like it was two years ago: One side out-levels and out-heals the other and it’s a 400-20 victory.   I didn’t ‘feel’ 2 years of development.

Not very relevent to the gameplay itself, but I do want to note that that game looks like it has aged and not gracefully.  Anyone else notice that?

I didn’t see any different in the other tiers either.  I got into some T4 RvR and it felt exactly the same.   Perhaps I expected a miracle to have have happened in the two years.  Maybe there are some subtle differences that are more apparent and impactful to the player who is an actual subscriber and playing the game actively.  For someone who played at launch and a few months after, this feels like the exact same game.   Where are the two years of development hiding?

PS: Why can’t I move my Destruction characters to Badlands?  It’s not on the drop-down.


Not all MMO’s have to be McMMO’s

I’m reading this more and more about how certain mechanics in a MMO won’t work or how a certain type of game wouldn’t work today because it wouldn’t attract large number of players.  “That would be a niche game and just wouldn’t work”.

In yesterday’s entry smthin comments exactly how I feel.

“It is hilarious that people still think that making big $$ WoW clones is good business. This formula failed and failed and failed and.. 10000 fail. Last few years are filled with corpses of MMOs that thought they could copy Blizzard and make quick buck.

I also think there is a lot of ignorance about economics and investment in such projects. Audience you expect to attract with 5 mil investment is not same as with 80 mil.. Stupidity comes from people not gettign that you can make great cash from cheap projects and smaller audience. That is how original DAOC and EQ worked both were dirt cheap(especially DAOC that was purely ghetto) and made investors good return.”

Anyone want to contest that the past couple years have been full of developers trying to make mass-appeal non-niche MMO’s that are each failing?  Even the Asian market attempted to mimic a WoW feel and release in NA and failed.

I hate analogies, but I gotta do it.

There’s this amazing Mexican food chain where I live that is only present in the three surrounding cities.  It’s a restaurant that started locally and has decided to stay local.  Every day their lines are long and there isn’t a single resident in these cities that doesn’t know this awesome food.

They’ve been successful and started their own ‘finer’ dining experience.  However, they’ve still decided to keep it local and keep the quality high.

Then there’s the major fast food chains like McDonalds, Burger King, etc.  Their food isn’t terrible (although I don’t care for it) and millions of people eat it, it’s worldwide, it’s cheaper, etc.  However, there’s a big difference in quality.

No question about it, McDonalds makes more money and has more customers.  Does that mean this local place shouldn’t bother anymore?  Does that mean they shouldn’t have expanded or that they should stop opening new locations?

See what I’m getting at?  MMO’s don’t need a million subs to be a success.  MMO’s don’t need mechanics that will attract a million subs.   It’s no different from my analogy.  There can be the smaller businesses that do just fine with amazing quality and exactly what people want.  I’ve never eaten food anywhere that tastes like this local mexican food — their burritos are 100% unique.

So when someone tells me that I’m out of touch when I say that a company can bring back what worked in EQ and have a successful MMO today, I say it’s they who are out of touch.

You can make a MMO using the exact same model as EQ and it would be a success today if it was polished and finished.  Vanguard is proof of that.  Look at the following that game had before launch and the initial response it had.  It was only because the game was half finished and lacked polish that it failed.

Designing games to be the next big thing or designing them with the mindset that you want 10 million subs is destroying them.  It’s not helping the games or the industry to only allow McMMO’s the right to exist.

You do not make a 10 million subscriptions game.  You make a great game and 10 million people subscribe.  This is why EQ and DAOC did so well.

My next blog entry is going to look at what type of game we would have if EQ was modernized for today’s audience and lacked some of the harsher penalties.


What Dark Age of Camelot Means To Me

I watched this video (please watch at least the first three people) of Mythic employees talking about why Dark Age of Camelot was special to them or what the game meant to them and I wanted to weigh in as well.  I want to echo a lot of what Jason Abbott and Craig Turner said about the game.  I was a Dark Age of Camelot player back on the first day of release.  It’s one of those games that, in the grand scheme of things today, only a select few ever got to truly enjoy.  I am both proud and excited that I am one of those people because it has and will forever have an impact on how I view MMORPGs.

DAOC was the first game to show me what real PvP against another dynamic and living player could be like when it involved more than just fighting that actual player.  I had done PvP in EverQuest but it was more about the individual fight itself.  In DAOC it was about more.  It was about defending your realm against a threat you knew was growing somewhere you couldn’t see.  It created a sense of “Realm Pride” in me and others when we had to fight to maintain control of our lands against the enemies.  Losing our Keeps and especially our Relics was something we could not let happen.  Don’t ask me to try and explain what specific mechanics lead to this feeling.  I don’t know.  I don’t know how Mythic was able to accomplish creating this Realm Pride and if you ask them they don’t even know — they’re probably desperate to know right now, actually.  I think it’s more of a perfect combination of many things that are unique to DAOC.  The game would have to be remade to replicate it.

I have many fond memories of PvP.  Similar to Jason Abbot’s experience, there were many times when I would be out in Yggdrasil Forest hunting something and suddenly I would catch a glimpse of a little creature in the corner of my eye cloaked in shadows sneaking tree to tree.  My heart would start thumping loudly in my chest.  Maybe it was just a mob or my imagination playing tricks on me, but to play it safe I would casually start strolling towards the border keep and safety of the guards.  Then it would happen.  An arrow would strike me and my character would scream out.  “Oh god!!” I would scream and start sprinting for my life towards the gates screaming like a girl.   Most times I would die.  Other times I would survive.  All the time we would form up with whoever was in the area and hunt the bastage down whether it meant spending ten minutes or an entire afternoon.  That enemy must die.

Dem Hibbies... Dey be wrong!

Another memory is of a keep defense.  I can’t remember if it was a relic keep or if it was just one of our strategically placed keeps that we knew would spell disaster if it were lost.  We knew the enemy was coming.  They had taken several other keeps that day and their numbers measured in the hundreds.  The shouts rang out across chat channels for the call to arms and defense.  Everyone able dropped what they were doing and mobilized.  The PvE zones went silent.  The safe lands of our home city were like a ghost town as we piled through the gates and made our way as one — a united realm — to make our stand.  Hundreds of us moved into position securing various land marks like mile gates that acted as choke points.   We lined our archers and casters up on the walls of the keep.  We had several flanking groups in position ready to strike at opportune moments.  Everyone was in position and a silence fell over the frontier.

We were waiting perhaps thirty minutes.  It wasn’t a matter of if they would attack but when.  Suddenly the screams rang out “THEY’RE HERE! TO THE WALLS! OH GOD THEY’RE HERE! THE MILEGATES HAVE FALLEN”  and the drums started beating… those weren’t drums… that was my heart and my legs beating and the adrenaline flowing.  A member of our realm we respected for their leadership asked for our quick attention.  We gave it.  He gave us a motivational speech that I have long since forgotten but I know we were all riled up.  The walls would hold.  The keep would stand and the glory of Midgard would forever be remembered this day.   Then they came…

Like a sea of red in the distance we saw the shining armor of the Albion army pouring over the hills, coming through the trees, literally surrounding us.  Our flanking groups had been flanked and they fell back into the keep.   Our archers and casters began their barrage.  One after another arrow and spell were fired.  Our archers began to fall and we were horrified to see that Albion stealth class infiltrators had climbed the walls and stuck their poisonous knives into them.  As quickly as they stealthed in they stealthed out and we now knew the enemy was not only breaking down our door but among us on the inside taking us out one by one.

Maybe two hours had passed and I was losing hope fast.   Then the weirdest thing happened.  The infiltrators stopped attacking us in the keep.  The Albion ranged assault stopped.  I peaked over the wall and to my horror I saw that another massive army had gathered on the hill in the distance.  Reinforcements for the Albs?   How many of these cockroaches could their be?!  No, not reinforcements for them.  For us?!  Could it be the night crew was getting on?  No… oh no..  Their face paint vivid and their unmistakable lopsided lumpy heads meant only one thing:  Hibernia!  Dem Hibbies thinking they were mighty rushed the Albion army. This was it!  Our chance to strike!   “FOR ODIN! CHARGE!”   “CHARGE!”  We jumped off our walls, poured out the keep door, and engaged in a three way glorious battle that resulted in several more hours of back and forth fighting over several keeps.

Playing DAOC for as long as I did, I have dozens of memories like this for each realm.  Dark Age of Camelot is where I adopted the name ‘Keen’ (from a Hibernia race called Lurikeens).  This is where I learned that PvE and PvP can coexist in harmony and how that harmony can be destroyed.  Dark Age of Camelot showed me the possibilities of a MMORPG, that they can mean so much more than what developers strive for today.

These memories are what Dark Age of Camelot means to me.


Jeff Hickman is bursting with optimism in WAR’s Executive Producer’s Letter

What is the cause for celebration?

What is the cause for celebration?

You can find and read the entirety of the letter on the Herald.  I’ll assume you’ve read it and just jump right in to what I have to say.

“The Winds of Change are upon us, but the ship and crew remain the same.” – Jeff Hickman

Uhh, no.  Why even say that?  I don’t get it.

Overall, it’s very much the standard producer’s letter.  Jeff Hickman tells the players what we want to hear but also throws in some educational tidbits on how they’ll change city sieges (for better or worse remains unseen) and how RvR in general will improve even if it means removing fortresses.  AoE is more than out of control in WAR and I fear that a few changes won’t be enough.  The situation is out of control for all AoE classes and it has really trivialized almost every combat mechanic in the game.  Crowd control itself is not really an issue in WAR, but how it operates within the limits of “annoying” and “functional” is nothing short of borked.  The immunity timers being consolidated will help.

I participated in giving feedback during Mythic’s reaching out initiative and I focused mostly on the realm war being flawed.  I really do feel that the entire way in which zones flip and push the war in one direction is too arcade, shallow, and detached from the soul of RvR.  Fortresses are absolutely part of this terrible system and only serve as the biggest and most obvious example of ‘why’.  Get rid of them and the system will improve.  Take it further though and look at why the fortresses should be removed, other than performance issues.  We’re pushing zones in one direction trying to “flip them” to earn invisible points to “dominate” a zone all in order to push open the gates of a city.  That sounds really cool and it sold well on paper pre-launch but there is a reason why WAR’s retention rate is low in T4.  Fix all the little issues that make people bitch and moan on the forums first.  Fix CC, AoE, etc., then turn a serious eye to the bigger picture.

Optimism is great, but I want to see results.  You say “We’re still working out the specifics…” but it’s those specifics we want.  Bring results, Jeff, and you’ll get the community’s attention.  We really do want to share in your optimism and see what you see.

P.S. What is this in-game celebration buff (pictured right) all about?  Hopefully it’s not what I think.

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