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…)