The bored WoW player wave comes and goes, leaving empty servers behind

October 31, 2008

With WAR’s recent server transfers, the natural first reaction would be that since so many players are jumping ship, WAR is dying and needs to consolidate. It’s generally the statement we make whenever we hear an MMO is merging servers, and generally this has been true, yet I’m not entirely sure it applies in the post-WoW MMO world.

The fact is, for a large majority of current MMO gamers, WoW is their first MMO, and hence every game after will be compared to it. We all do this with whatever MMO we played first (UO for me), thinking back to the first character we created and the fun we had. We always hope that whatever MMO we pick next, we will get that same experience, and it’s an impossible hope. You will never be a total MMO noob after your first game, and since part of the initial MMO magic is that once-and-gone noob feeling itself, you will continually slip down the path towards jaded MMO gamer. Welcome to the impossible and unreasonable expectations club.

The major problem in the post-WoW MMO world is that any new MMO that comes along grabs the attention of bored WoW players. This rather large group jumps into a new MMO on day one with the hope that they will get something new, yet at the same time expecting it to play EXACTLY like WoW. They take issue if the bind keys are different, if the mini-map is in the wrong spot, if the combat/leveling is slower/faster, etc. For far too many of these people, they don’t actually want anything but WoW, they just want more of it.

And so any new MMO is flooded with these players, who soon realize the new MMO is in fact not WoW, and rather than adapt to the new environment, try to force WoW-like gameplay into it. Once that’s no longer an option, it’s time to quit and return to familiar grounds. Now this process has always happened in MMO land, but the difference today is rather than a few thousand UO players leaving EQ1, you have a few hundred thousand jumping back to WoW. This means any new MMO has to launch with a far greater number of servers than it can really support, if only to host the first-month players until the its-not-WoW feeling sets in. It happened to PotBS, TR, AoC, and now WAR. (It should have been done in LoTRO, but Turbine has instead left a few near-dead servers online, as overall population is less of an issue in a totally PvE game) It will also happen to future releases as well, leaving players with the hit-or-miss game of picking the right server.

The good news for fans of non-WoW MMOs is that despite the initial player exodus, a core develops and life goes on. The developers fix and patch, the games improve, and fans that actually came to the new MMO for what it offers, rather than in the vain hopes of finding WoW2, get to play the game they want with like-minded players.

*Of course, marketing at times will interfere, and actually assume it can recreate WoW, setting unreasonable expectations. In turn this might cost the company too much when magically all 11 million players don’t show up, and the servers are forced to close. An MMO can be a success with 100k players, it just has to be planned for that 100k, and not 11 million.

More Witching fun, this time in Tier 3.

October 31, 2008

Night two of Warhammer’s event started off disappointingly, as tier 2 was completely empty, and no amount of goading would get Order to come out and play. I would mention how being on a low pop server sucks, but that is being fixed today thanks to the server transfers.

Checking in with the guild, it seemed that tier 3 had some action going, and since we were all rank 20 or 21, we technically could fly over and participate. I saw technically because I was worried we would simply be fodder due to our lower ranks (tier 3 caps out at rank 31) Luckily, my fears soon subsided, and we all found ourselves more than capable thanks to the bolster mechanic, which buffed our stats up to rank 28.

The battle in tier 3 waged back and forth, as the Order players would fall back among their warcamp guards (who one shot you if you catch agro), wait for a few uninformed Destruction players to die from the guards, and then charged our remaining group. Destruction outnumbered the Order players, but only slightly, so we still had some good battles. The PQ was up, and from 1 to 100 both sides remained within a few kills of each other, the lead changing hands many times. At around 90/85 Destro, we regrouped and planned a final, decisive push to finish the last 10 kills and secure the PQ. Luckily for us, Order was game, and both groups meet on neutral ground. After an impressive fight with losses on both sides, we got our 10th kill and completed phase one of the PQ. A quick regroup later, we found the giant demon patrolling the RvR zone, took him down, and finished the PQ. I was lucky enough to finish first and received a gold bag, from which I pulled the Bloodletter mask. Score.

So after the slow start, we ended up with quite an eventful RvR experience, earning a good bit of xp and renown, plus some nice item upgrades thanks to the corpse drops. Now it appears our time on Thorgrim is coming to a close, and we will soon be residents of the Monolith server. With my main gripe about WAR being addressed (low pop server), I’m looking forward to the new server and the RvR it will bring.

The Witching Night battle report.

October 30, 2008

It’s amazing what a little motivation can do.

Yesterday was the first day of Warhammer Online’s current event, The Witching Night, and so far it looks to be a hit. It’s not perfect, but it’s a huge step in the right direction to get WAR away from a scenario grind and more about… well war.

I logged in at around 7pm EST to Thorgrim (mid/low pop), and flew over to Troll Country with my Rank 21 Disciple of Khaine. Checking in with CoW, most of the guild was in tier 3, and I got a quick status report from people saying the event was happening and they had some RvR action going. Good sign.

When I arrived at the tier 2 warcamp, I saw 8-10 Order players camping the entrance to the RvR area, and after gathering 3 other players, we charged them, killed a Bright Wizard (got to love squishies), and all died. Regrouping back at the camp, we noticed that the battlefield objective closest to us, and on the other side of the main entrance, was Order controlled. We figured we can try to take that and hopefully draw some Order players to us, rather than charge back and continue to give up a 4/1 kill ratio. The reason we figured this would give us a better chance than heading out into the open field was due to the objective being located in a crypt, with the tight hallways and stairs limiting movement, allowing our tanks to block the hall and even out the fight a bit. Sadly after we took the objective, no Order players showed up, so all that strategery for nothing!

As we took the objective and waited for it to cap, our warband had grown from 4 players to around 10, so we headed out into the open field to even things up with that Order group that got us before. Being the good reliable fools that they were, we found them still sitting near our camps entrance, and charged them again. This time, with the numbers a bit more even, we crushed them decisively. During the fight I noticed some serious tactical mistakes on their part. As we were hammering on their healers and other soft targets, I noticed more than half of them targeting the tanks we had sent in first. With good healing standing back, our tanks shrugged off the incoming damage, and the even fight soon turned into a rout.

After the battle, I noticed the RvR PQ had popped up, with the score 18/12 (out of the 100 kills needed) in favor of Order. Guess that little group had been picking people off for a bit, and this was the first real gathering of Destruction players. We got into a few more big battles, but for some reason as time went on, our warband grew in size (at one point it was a full 24 people), while the Order group got smaller. With the PQ at 50/100 or so for us, and all the objectives captured, we decided to take a break from RvR (Order was just hiding in their warcamp) and head up to knock out the Troll Lord PQ in chap 8 Chaos.

As we got into the woods, we noticed ghosts popping in and out. After finally killing one, we noticed we were getting influence and credit towards the world event, allowing us to continue progress even though Order had given up the fight. We took down the Troll Lord (one tough bastard, even for a warband), killed a bunch of ghosts, and returned to the RvR area. Order had put together another warband, and managed to capture back an objective. Sadly their group was still smaller than ours (damn population balance), and we quickly rolled them again.

This did however end up giving us enough kills to finish the first part of the new PQ. The second and final stage spawns a giant skeleton, Lord status, in the RvR area. At Rank 18 however, he did not prove too much of a challenge for our almost full warband, and went down quickly, dropping a chest with a gold, purple, and multiple green bags. The PQ reset, but did not come back for close to 2 hours or so. We ended the night after a few more skirmishes with some Order players, but sadly they never gathered enough to give us a real fight. Come on out and player you little bastards!

That wrapped up the first night, and overall it was a great time. An impressive number of Destruction players showed up, came and went, and everyone was just enjoying the RvR action, even if we never got a bigger group of Order to show up. Hopefully going forward, more players hear about the event and head over to check it out.

Lastly I want to mention one major issue, because like I said, although the event overall is great, it’s not perfect. Limiting the PQ to just the Troll Country RvR zone is awful. As soon as you cross over into Ostland (the zone below Troll Country) you stop getting credit for the PQ, and as the line between Ostland and Troll Country is invisible, it makes it very frustrating when you are trying to advance the PQ. In addition to that issue, the areas around a Keep and objectives also do not count towards the PQ, further frustrating players. The PQ should just cover the entire RvR lake, and I hope this is hot fixed shortly, as it really does limit the PQ unnecessarily. The two hour or so cooldown on the PQ is also a strange decision. I understand you don’t want players maxing out on influence too quickly, but I think a shorter cooldown is needed, or at least add a visible timer for when the PQ will be available.

Issues aside, The Witching Night has taken a much needed step for Warhammer and given players more reason to head out into the RvR areas and mix it up. This is the correct path for the game, and I fully expect Mythic to continue down it. Back to the battlefield tonight!

17 is the new 13.

October 29, 2008

I can’t wait for November, and I don’t mean the 13th. On November 17th (right around the time you run out of unique WotLK content) Mythic is bringing us Heavy Metal, Warhammer Online’s next live event.

It’s a bit crazy to think about another live event on the day one starts, but the details of Heavy Metal sound even crazier. The event’s major focus is the return of two tank classes, the Knight of the Blazing Sun and the Black Guard, and Mythic has come up with a rather unique way to give dedicated fans an early chance to play them. Each day the Tome of Knowledge will contain a new task, and only be completing each task will players earn the one week early start for the new class. I think that’s a rather novel way to reward dedicated players, and certainly can’t hurt to draw them away from WoW and into WAR.

The other major piece of the event is a limited time only scenario, one that can be accessed from all tiers. This will be the first time that different tiers will be able to experience the same scenario, which could lead to some interesting comparisons on strategy between each tier. The scenario will not count towards the war effort, but will grant increased renown.

It’s clear Mythic is really ramping up the news and updated for Warhammer as WotLK draws near, and as much as I love taking shots (in good fun mind you) at WoW, this really proves that the MMO genre NEEDS some serious competition. WoW had its edgy zombie event, and now Mythic is really going out of there way to reintroduce classes in WAR. Hopefully WAR and WoW continue to try and one-up each other, and fans can continue to reap the benefits.

The Witching Night, a hopefully positive addition to RvR.

October 29, 2008

Today marks the start of Mythic’s first event in Warhammer Online, titled The Witching Night. As with most MMO seasonal events, it adds a bit of themed content and likely some cute-but-ultimately-useless gear. It will be interesting to see how well Mythic executes the event, and how Warhammer fans embrace it.

But added fluff aside, today is also a very important day for another reason, as it marks the first time Mythic is attempting to lure people into RvR areas with actual content, rather than just increasing the rewards for what already exists. The event adds one PQ to each tier, with the twist that the PQ is located in an RvR area, a first for WAR. It will be interesting to see how players react to this content. Will they travel only to complete the PQ once, and then jump back into the scenario grind? Will groups formed for the new PQ travel to other areas, completing PvE PQs, Keeps, Objectives? Will the general traffic increase in the RvR areas spark battles between Order and Destruction that rage far beyond the new PQ? And how will realm balance factor into all this? Will Destruction simple dominate the new PQ, driving out Order players and ultimately returning the RvR area to a dormant, dead zone?

To me, this themed event is Mythic’s first attempt to re-focus WAR on what it should be all about, open world RvR. If it’s a success, my guess is we will see some permanent content added to the RvR lakes shortly after, and I’m all for anything that gets the masses out of the scenario grind and out into the field of combat.

Remove 2/3rd of the content in WAR, and we might actually have a game.

October 27, 2008

Warhammer Online has just too much content. I think back to pre-release, and the announcement that Mythic had cut 4 cities, and the player outcry of “oh now we will just be repeating the same city all the time, boring”. Funny how truly off that sentiment was.

For those who played closed beta, and now play the release version of WAR, you know how different the two play. Beta played far close to the ‘vision’ (small v) of Warhammer Online than what we see on most servers today, with the majority of players stuck in scenario loops striving for some magical end-game (hint, it’s basically the same game at Rank 10 as it is at 40), leaving most of the Open RvR and PQs empty, and the overall world feeling far less populated than it really is. In beta players played to experience the best content, release is a treadmill to rank 40.

Now part of that different between beta and release is due to the type of players generally found in beta, who tend to be bigger MMO fans and ‘get’ the genre a bit more. Thanks to WoW, the ultra-casuals far outnumber the hardcore, or even the relative casual fan, and the majority of players now don’t read message boards, follow patch notes, or understand an MMO past what is directly in front of them. At best they might pick up on a flavor of the month through guild chat. As a result, we get the ‘sheep’ mentality in major MMOs today, were the crowd follows whatever path is set for them and is perceived as the easiest and most accessible. (welfare epics in WoW, scenarios in WAR)

And while I’m right there on cursing the ultra-casual for ruining ‘my’ MMO experience, the truth is they do more good than harm. The sheep fund the big budgets of current AAA MMOs, giving us higher production values, more visibility, and overall higher quality games. Until the next new shiny comes along, and MMOs go out of fashion, they are here to stay, so it’s up to the developers to herd the sheep and manage them better than WAR currently has. Mythic made the mistake of thinking fun gameplay would be picked over mindless grind, and as a result we have the current scenario issue. You can’t nerf scenarios directly, because then you risk upsetting the sheep, and instead of altering their style of play, they might just pick up and leave. Instead you have to guide them better, and the less content you have, the easier it is to guide them.

If WAR had just two tiers, instead of four, and only one racial pairing, instead of three, it would be a much better game. Give tier one the same three scenarios it has now, and give tier two a choice of six. Tier one has Keeps, but the smaller variety, and tier two has the bigger Keeps, along with the whole end-game setup. Guide players along a pre-set path, with PQs along the way (increase the number of PQs per chapter, but extend the length of each chapter as well), and make the switch over from tier one to tier two more ‘dramatic’. In essence, tier one is clearly the ‘build up’ tier, and as soon as you are in tier two, you have arrived at the end-game.

This limits the spread of players, while still keeping the overall number down to avoid 300v300 battles at the end. (cool in theory, impossible in practice, see EVE Online fleet combat) And while you have less choices on where to level, how many PQs you can do, and how many zones you can see, considering most players only see one scenario per tier, this won’t really hurt. It should actually INCREASE the amount of content, as more PQs and open RvR should be usable and available to players.

In the end, you can blame the sheep all we want, but unless you are willing to play a niche MMO (which are great in some ways, no knock on those), the sheep are here to stay, and it’s up to the developers to herd them correctly, putting their ultra-casual noses right under the content you want them in. The sheep are lead to ‘greener’ pastures, and the bigger MMO fans get to play the game we envisioned all along.

And in case you feel this post is directed at you, the fact that you are reading an MMO blog disqualifies you from the ultra-casual ranks. Sorry.

How to cure the scenario plague in Warhammer Online.

October 24, 2008

Out of all the possible post-launch issues, I wonder if “the players are in the wrong place” was ever considered. On the one hand, a player choice, rather than a technical issue, would indicate that you avoided the usual MMO launch troubles. (servers being down, key game features not working due to bugs, bad engine performance) On the other hand, when you have customers leaving (or in this case, not subscribing) because of this social issue, it’s clearly a problem.

I am of course talking about Warhammer Online, and the current ‘scenario plague’ infecting so many of its players. Over-simplified, scenarios are too popular, and in turn they suck away too many players to their instanced content, leaving the actual game world barren. In a game so heavily reliant on other players, this is clearly a major problem.

It’s debatable whether WAR should have scenarios in the first place, and made all the more real with the consideration of a ‘no scenarios’ server option. Would removing scenarios (not from WAR entirely, just from those select servers) fix more than it breaks? Would gaining ranks be effected too heavily? And would open world RvR increase enough to justify their removal? Is the main issue that scenario’s give too much experience currently, or is the problem a bit deeper?

I’m not sure even Mythic has the answers to those questions, but clearly something needs to happen to re-balance WAR, and turn it into the game most players thought they were getting. When people are quitting because they don’t get enough of what they really enjoyed (world RvR), it’s almost a nice problem to have. Almost. On the one hand, if by tweaking some settings, you can get a good balance between scenarios and open world RvR, you figure those people will return. It’s not like they quit because you pulled a bait and switch, going from a solo leveling game to forced raiding (WoW), or a story driven game to a typical quest grind (AoC). But people quitting is people quitting, and in this case, they have a legitimate point. WAR was billed as an RvR-focused game, not as a selection of scenarios to wait for.

For some, myself included, the ‘scenario plague’ is somewhat of a non-issue. I don’t find them boring, I’ve generally been able to find groups for PQs and world RvR, and I don’t feel like I’m ranking up too slow because I’m not sitting in a warcamp in a queue. Do I think the RvR lakes could be a bit more populated? Of course, but I don’t seem to be playing in that same barren world that some players are reporting.

I always assumed scenarios should server the purpose of a quick, fill-in-the-gap break from whatever you are focused on (PQs, RvR, questing), and not be the main go-to activity for advancement. They should have the lowest time/reward ratio, due to how instantly accessible they are. How can a PQ or RvR lake compete with a scenario in terms of time/reward, when you are comparing something that must be found, travelled to, and done in a pre-made group, to something that is instant and solo-friendly? In their 15 minute time frame, a scenario should be worth no more than a single 15 minute quest, perhaps even a bit less than that due to the fact a quest is generally a one time task, while scenarios are repeatable. Open world RvR, especially around objectives and Keeps, should be worth enough to offset the occasion time you don’t find any action. If it takes me 30 minutes to get into RvR combat, and that combat lasts for an hour, the xp gain should be more than two hours worth of scenarios, give or take.

I do think scenarios are over-emphasized in WAR. Whether the majority of the blame should be placed on the players for trying to make WAR play like WoW, or whether the current game rules herd people into scenarios, the fact is WAR needs and will receive some tweaks. How quickly Mythic deploys those changes, and to what effect, will determine how many players stick around, and how many of those that quit due to lack of RvR will return. So far Mythic has a good track record of addressing issues quickly and effectively, but this will likely be Warhammer’s biggest challenge. Hopefully they are up for it, and deliver.


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