Warhammer Online: After almost a year, does Mythic finally get it?

I’ll fully admit I might be too close to this to see it clearly, but with that said, I’ve noticed a pattern in Mythic’s approach to patching Warhammer Online, one that might be applicable to other MMOs as well.

The basic of this observation is this: At release, dev work was focused on expanding what WAR already did, seeking to attract more players overall. After 3-6 months, the dev focus changed from getting more players overall to bringing players back, especially those possibly interested in what WAR is offering rather than the general 1 month tourists. After 6+ months, dev focus again shifts from trying to get those not playing to keeping those currently subscribed.

Again, maybe it’s just me reading too much into patch notes or dev updates, and perhaps it’s just coincidence based on what has been patched so far and what is coming in the near future, but hear me out.

Consider the history of development with WAR. Shortly after release, Mythic adds in two previously cut classes, which while nice did little to address the issue at the time (chain queuing scenarios). Only after being burned for this from numerous negative reports (and no doubt exit polls by those who cancelled), Mythic slowly addresses the issue piece by piece, too slow to really change opinions (how many people still TODAY say WAR is nothing but a scenario grind?). Two more cut classes added and some live events later, subscription numbers are dropping while Mythic is still 50/50 focused on improving PvE and RvR. The major issue with RvR now, keep swapping, is again slowly addressed, and again only after numerous sources raise the issue. The PvE updates are made with little fanfare, as at no point was the PvE in WAR important to those who actually came for the games focus, RvR.

Mythic’s big gun, LotD, is now in full hype mode, with promises to bring back what Darkness Falls offered in DAoC. Of course the lack of a third side is nicely ignored, but the hype is thick enough to make many overlook this and still hope. LotD goes live, most players quickly figure out it failed in a number of ways (not the least of which is to fix ANYTHING wrong with the game before it), and we continue to march towards 200k or so subs. Players are left wondering how a game with such a solid core of mechanics could be so futile in it’s end game, especially coming from a company with years of experience working on DAoC.

Which brings us to the present, where the focus has (IMO) shifted from ‘add more stuff’ to ‘fix the crap’, with the crap being Tier 4 and the end game. If WAR had 750k subs right now, the hype train would no doubt be full steam ahead on adding the other two capital cities (remember those?), expanding the PvE dungeons available, and a bigger focus on ToK fluff and live events that give players stuff to do, rather than focus them on RvR. (So maybe for fans of RvR, WAR hitting 200k subs or whatever is a good thing…? Ok maybe not)

Assuming all of the above is correct, and not just coincidence, the real question then becomes: Is this a good thing? Obviously WAR being at 200-300k subs rather than 750k+ is not a good thing if you work at Mythic or own EA stock, but for those still playing WAR today, and for those who might return looking for good RvR, is this shift in dev attention a good move or just another attempt to put sprinkles on crap?

For me, it’s a great shift. I never cared too much for WAR’s PvE. I mean the PQs are fun and a good addition to the MMO formula, the dungeons are good enough, and honestly the questing is exactly what WoW-clone questing is, which is to say meh kill X, collect Y stuff we have been doing since before WoW became a pop icon. It’s not horrible, but not the reason I spend $15 a month or however many hours a week with a game. The reason I keep my WAR sub active is for the RvR, and for the last few months it’s not been because of Tier 4 RvR. WAR for me right now is a blast in tier 1 and 2 (my highest alt is about to hit T3, and it seems to follow T2 rather than T4 in terms of interest), and it’s the first game where I’ve actually ENJOYED playing multiple alts. But playing alts and the lower tiers will only last for so long, and eventually I would either move more of my focus back to T4, or quit if T4 was still broken. Now that Mythic seems to be 100% focused on T4 and the end game, rather than trying to create content for the sake of a Massively preview article (love you Massively), they might not draw as much attention for outsiders scanning patch notes, but you can bet all 200-300k players still playing are DYING to get a working end game.

Plus assuming Mythic DOES fix WAR’s end game (I have enough faith in them that they will), they will retain a higher percentage of their current players, and eventually positive word-of-mouth will grow their player base naturally. We are seeing it happen slowly with AoC (something I will give Funcom a world of credit for btw, especially considering how hard I panned that game at release), and of course we have seen it for the last five years with EVE’s unrivaled growth. And honestly, it’s not exactly a bad way to do things. Sure it would be nice to get 5m+ subs and keep them, but as only one pop icon has managed to accomplish this so far, and multiple titles have turned profits by keeping a loyal 200k-ish base (UO, EQ, AC, DAoC, LotRO) for multiple years, it’s not nearly as doom-and-gloom for WAR as some make it out to be. (Not to mention things would be a lot easier if a certain ex-employee had not run is mouth about opening more servers and other barometers for success in a market that had exactly ONE title match his parameters. Hard to imagine why that guy is gone…)

16 Responses to Warhammer Online: After almost a year, does Mythic finally get it?

  1. James says:

    I think this is my favorite post of yours in recent memory.

  2. evizaer says:

    Definitely the most substantive post you’ve made in a long time. Good stuff, and I don’t even have much interest in WAR.

    WAR’s focus has shifted from trying to be a big hit to trying to make a good game. I wish more games would have a similar approach.

  3. sid67 says:

    The first thing they should have done was “fix” Tier 4. That’s the reason I quit in December and it’s the reason I quit again when I “came back” to try it again in June.

    It is mind boggling how bad the game suddenly becomes once you get into Tier 4. I have tried to put my finger on exactly what sucks but it is not just one standout thing. The whole engineer/magus “pull” effect is lame, the meaninglessness of the oRvR is pathetic and the whole city siege concept is doomed to fail because either a) sides are too balanced to get that far or b) one side constantly gets owned. The other annoying scenario issue during the early levels in Tier 4 is that you are thrown into the same queues with Level 40s. Why not just give them their own scenarios?

    Having mostly played Order, I never really felt like the scenario chaining was a huge issue. There were always Destro to fight when we wanted to oRvR and when we got outnumbered, we could just queue for scenarios. I really enjoyed this as an alternative to the “questing” leveling because let’s face it – outside of Public Quests, WAR questing and PVE in general blows. The mob animations are stilted, the quests themselves are boring and tedious, the “instances”provide poor rewards relative to difficulty. If you compare the WAR quests to the Wrath quests, it’s painfully obvious that WAR hasn’t advanced much beyond the 2004 model used in vanilla WoW.

    Anyways, I will say I’m glad to read that they appear to be addressing Tier 4. After all, I wasn’t playing WAR for the PVE and that’s not why I quit. I quit because Tier 4 sucked balls and would glady subscribe (for the 3rd time) if they fixed it.

    • syncaine says:

      The ‘meaningless’ part I’m fine with, as very early on it was clear that WAR was just not about impact PvP, but rather jump-in jump-out enjoyment. If WAR was the only PvP MMO in the genre, that would be a problem, but when you have EVE and DF around, it’s a non-issue.

      The pull (and overall CC) impact has been limited greatly, and it feels more ‘correct’ now than before. It’s still usable to hinder an opponent, but you no longer feel disabled for 80% of combat, or die while disabled the entire time as often.

      I’ve yet to try out the latest patch in T4, but the animation improvement is greatly noticeable in RvR, and really goes a long way to get that ‘right’ feeling with combat. It also shows you if your target is out of range or LoS better now, since animations don’t seem to play out regardless as they did before. I don’t know exactly WHAT they did, but it just feels/looks much better due to the last patch.

      So yea, all good changes, but ultimately the next week or so will show whether T4 is now more worthwhile. I don’t think this patch is IT in terms of fixing T4, but I hope that it’s at least a solid step forward.

      • sid67 says:

        Honestly, I just don’t see myself re-subscribing again unless the ‘meaningless’ part is addressed.

        I’m not talking major impact pvp stuff, just some permanency to the oRvR objectives (and rewards) in a way that makes sense.

        It’s funny because there IS a bit of permanence in the form of the keep lockouts, but I just find that more frustrating. It’s hard to have a WAR when you can’t attack things because all the areas you want to attack are locked out.

        I really don’t have a solution here, just a complaint.

  4. Snafzg says:

    Any of you CoWers on Iron Rock? Do you have a guild established?

  5. Cliff says:

    Welcome to Iron Rock Syncaine! I have an order character on there and been cozy there for a while. It’s a good server.

    Good write up by the way. I have been in a few city sieges pre patch, and they were alright, but never didn’t really seem to work quite the way they were supposed to. I am pretty excited about the new changes.

    I also agree that the animation improvements are a big help. My machine never ran the game all that well, but it seems to be quite smooth since the patch.

  6. Remastered says:

    @Snafzg: The Mooooyahs could use your help. Our Order alt crew seems to have the upper hand in the few scenarios we’ve been in against our destro brethren on Iron Rock.

  7. Davide says:

    Yes, endgame is broken, yes its a good idea fixing it.

    But thats not all that is wrong with this game.

    Overpowered classes. Overpowered classes that have been overpowered since release. Gimped classes. Gimped classes that have been gimped since release.

    Massive lag.

    Broken spell/skill mechanics. Try explaining “Mythic Seconds” to someone that has never played the game.

    AOE madness with skills that were as effective (or nearly) against entire groups as single target spells were against one player.

    I put up with all of that, but what drove me away was the crowd control.

    I’ve never seen a game where you spent so little time actually being able to play your character. Stuns, disorients, roots, knockbacks that kept you out of control more than you were able to play.

    Then they make those abilities AOE at higher levels.

    Every patch made the game worse to play.

    They add a token system for aquiring gear and then require so many bloody tokens that you might actually be able to buy 1 piece of armour before outleveling the whole set.

    After a while you realize that the people designing the game had no clue about their own game what-so-ever and were just milking the subscription numbers for what they could get.

    All the power to them, I guess. But they will never see another dime from me, or my 20 friends that have all quit…

    • sid67 says:

      I never felt like a certain class was overpowered. Mainly because a single player wasn’t uber-powerful unless someone else was helping him to be that way. A Bright Wizard, for example, is no threat at all if he gets no help from the support classes.

      Give him heals + a tank guarding him and hell yeah, he’s going to SEEM overpowered but what your really seeing is the combined effect of multiple players working together. And that’s ALWAYS going to feel overpowered.

      That being said, I totally agree with you that “balance” issues related to crowd control, knockbacks and pull effects gets worse as you level. The knockback is OK, the roots are OK, the silences annoying but still OK, but that retarded “pull” effect is simply over-the-top.

  8. pitrelli says:

    I think once WAR improves and gets ‘fixed’ it will see a pretty dramatic rise in subscribers. I liked the idea of WAR at release but when I realised ‘WAR wasnt everywhere’ I didnt last long, in saying that it is a game I’ll be trying again once I see the improvements have been implemented

  9. Cliff says:

    I don’t know about everyone else, but the Knockbacks, roots, and even that nasty “pull” junk seem to have gone from demoralizing to occassionally annoying. That limited time immunity seems to have really made a big difference.

    As for overpowered or underpowered, I have to agree with Sid67. I tend to think that far more when classes are working together. Hell, my level 1 iron breaker in combination with my friends level 1 ruen priest were holy terrors. Many of the skills in WAR compliment each other very strongly, and that is one of the things I really like about the game.

  10. adwarfnamedduck says:

    A balanced and observant post I think, very well put and I hope that you are right as I find the same in WAR ( T! – T3 are more enjoyable) but I didn’t want to admit it :P

    Here’s to hoping they do fix it fast enough, because I believe it has potential.

    Also, love the optimism – very rare indeed!

    Excellent post.

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