The future of WAR: does it have one? Tuesday, Nov 10 2009 

WAR

WAR: is its days numbered?

Other commentators have picked up on EA’s further cuts to its workforce. Hit hard, the team looking after Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. Nobody really knows how many Mythic employees went, but the there is a good chance they got hit hard. I feel for those peeps. Really, I do.

I have to say it saddens me, even though I no longer play the game. It had such potential. I wuved the PvP, especially in the early tiers when the game was full of players battling it out. I liked the artwork and the lore.

But the game had too many issues – class balance, imbalanced server populations, quality control issues, middling PvE content – that killed it. What does the future hold for WAR?

  • Closing the game down – a drastic move, and this would be a real shame. WAR was a $70m investment. I’d guess the player base is well under 100k subs by now. That may not be enough for corporate bean counters. It would be a huge embarrassment to EA to have to shut it down just over a year after launch, but if the game can’t break even or return a modest profit, then EA would have little choice but to shut it down.  
  • Life support – consolidate the remaining servers and keep the remaining population of players happy until it dies a slow, quiet death. That seems to be EA’s strategy.
  • Free-to-Play/RMT– follow Turbine and the DDO model? I’m not sure the games mechanics would allow F2P. Opening up Tier 1 as “free” is a good move, but what else could they do?

The problem inherent with WAR going F2P

F2P would mean opening up all the Tiers and allow players to purchase items, mounts and other items. But is that even feasible?

The problem is that WAR never really had a great deal of vanity items to speak off. There’s no Lil’KT or Mr. Chilly. And $10 for a mount in WAR? I can’t see the players purchasing them. Could they offer potions and scrolls perhaps? Maybe… though that might destroy what little remains of the player economy.

The endgame does not lend itself well to the F2P model. It depends on large numbers of players coordinating to lock down objectives and take the enemies city. F2P appeals to the casual market, and I don’t see them investing that much time and effort into a complex and demanding endgame.

The endgame offers very little else. There are precious few instances/dungeons of note to turn it into a gear/raiding game.

Most likely future of WAR… my “hunch”

Well, putting on my “Monday’s Expert” hat I predict a slow decline with WAR being closed down sometime in late 2010 or 2011. A simple press release will come out announcing when the servers will be turned off. With Cataclysm and so many other MMOs coming out, WAR will find it hard to survive.

A real shame, but WAR reached for greatness and fell short.

Monday’s Expert: why does Warcraft continue to succeed? Monday, Aug 24 2009 

Warcraft: one MMO to rule them all.

Strangely familiar logo?

Strangely familiar logo?

The general buzz about the next WoW expansion got me thinking. Why are so many of us still playing this game?

There is no debate about whether or not WoW is the most successful MMO in the market. Whether you believe it’s in decline, or the subscription numbers are fuzzy or you’re a Blizzard acolyte, there is no escaping the fact that Warcraft is the MMO to benchmark all others against. Personally I’m not too fused by those debates. The central question is “Is it a good game?”

The short answer is “Hell yes”.

On nearly every level it excels. While some other games may do an aspect of game play well – WAR’s PvP is terrific when there is sufficient players around – WoW offers everything from raiding, PvP, crafting and PvE. What it does it does very well. But what is it that attracts and keeps players in the world of WoW?

Something for everybody
Without doubt WoW offers the broadest experience to the broadest possible player base. You can level you character all the way to level cap (presently 80) without even speaking to another player. You can play for ten minutes of seven hours depending on the time you have, and still get something done. At the other end of the spectrum WoW offers a rich, challenging and fun endgame experience with heroic dungeons and raids. If you’re mercantile at heart you can speculate on the Auction House. Not only does WoW appeal to broad range of play styles, it also cuts across demographics and age groups.

WoW has transcended nerd culture – predominately white males aged 13-35 – to include players of all ages, backgrounds and sex. At least 30% of it’s player base is female. That in itself is testament to it’s accessibility and it’s broad appeal.

The famous Blizzard  polish
Ah yes, the famous “Blizzard polish”. Content or games are released “when they are ready”. Having worked in IT and seen project after project fail because artificial dead lines demand it, it’s refreshing to see a companies central ethos revolve around the quality of the finished product. Is it any wonder why people are still playing Star Craft, Warcraft III or even Diablo II years after there release?

Most games that are more than a few years old are played for nostalgia. People are still playing Blizzard games for fun. Think Defence of Towers or South Korea’s Star Craft obsession. WoW is over four years old and still the MMO to beat.

Guided starting experience
I still remember when I first logged into WoW, creating a character and entering the world. You could describe it as easy, but that implies the game is overly simplistic.  Actually, what WoW does is introduce you to the MMO world gently. WoW aint no EVE. The starter zone and the first few levels are designed to introduce you to your class, basic abilities and the games quest mechanics.

By level ten you know the basics of WoW. The Death Knight starting experience brought that to a whole new level: it combined both story telling with a prefect introduction to playing the new class. 

The world changes at the right pace
People often complain that the world is too static. And yet Azeroth has changed: the Burning Crusade gave us Outlands and two new races; the Zombie Invasion mixed things up while the Lich King gave us the zones of Northrend and the Death Knight class. Since then we’ve had Call of the Crusade, the construction and completion of the Argent Coliseum and several new dungeons and raid instances. Either through patches or expansions  the world does change. The new phasing technology being used by Blizzard now changes parts of the world for individual players.

The world if WoW is less than five years old and we have seen quite a bit of change as far the addition of content goes. The new expansion promises even further change. Some may claim that things don’t change fast enough, but in retrospect players have experienced a fair degree of change that keeps them engaged with the game. Actually the pace of change is about right, considering they have 11 million plus players to contend with. While those at the elite level may want change to be more rapid, for the vast majority of player the pace of change is about right.

Too much change would isolate or drive players away.

The game is suffused with a sense of humour and fun
WoW is like Toy Story in it’s use of humour. Adults get the sly pop-cultural references while kids like the quest lines involving poop.

Humour is often overlooked as one of the key strengths of Wow. But it’s the visual humour, pop-cultural references and slap stick nature of some of the quests make WoW fun to play. Haris Pilton, the diminutive, blonde Blood Elf  in Shattrath perfectly encapsulates this approach. 

Other examples include Achievement titles such as “Mama said knock you out”: this Naxx achievement references rapper LL Cool J’s song of the same title. Come on, that’s cool.  Frequently I’ll chuckle at the references sprinkled throughout the game. Blizzards games often contain a fair degree of humour. Warcraft II – the strategy game – players will no doubt remember clicking on peons and peasants over and over in order to hear them complain.

Easy to play, harder to master
The game allows even the most casual player to level up a character. You can be the infamous Huntard or Death Noob but enjoy yourself none-the-less. But if you want to raid or compete seriously in PvP then you really have to know your class and abilities.

My recent raiding experience clearly demonstrated this point to me. I’ve moved from a casual to raiding play style. And yet, to be an effective raider I had to understand the game on a whole new level. It actually took time, effort and hard work to improve my performance in raids.

It’s a big, big, big world
WoW lives up the title of “massively multiplayer”. The game world is enormous, spanning three continents and the world of Outlands. Zones vary from lush tropical jungles, to scorching desert, forested woodland and storm ravaged mountains. You enter WoW and you feel like you’ve entered an entirely new universe.

What about WoW’s shortcomings?

“Oi, you! Shameless Blizzard fan boi! What about the parts that blow!” I hear you say?

Just to balance this post, in case it may be thought I’m simply a rabid Blizzard “fan boi”, I do have some criticisms of the game.

PvP is meaningless
Battleground victories or defeats mean nothing, while the “battles” themselves are sprawling zerg fights between under geared noobs and overpowered twinks. Chat in most BG’s is abusive and harsh. You really have to toughen up when you enter a WoW battleground. Be prepared to be abused by players on your own team or be frustrated by the total incompetence of your team mates.

Crafting is simplistic
The crafting “game” offers no challenge. Simply collect X amount of materials. The only challenge stems from either farming materials in the world or having enough gold to purchase them off the Auction House.

Performance is not necessarily skills based
In PvP there is little chance a level 75 player, no matter how skilled, is going to defeat you average level 80 player in PvP. The same is true of PvE endgame content. While it is possible to raid Naxxramas in underpowered gear, it’s highly advisable that you gear up, get the right enchants and carefully select your talents.

If you don’t perform the other members of your raid team will let you know. Most likely they won’t even accept you into the raid. WoW is not a skills based game: success is more dependent applying cookie-cutter talents specs perfectly matched to the right gear.

That is not to say there are not skilled players out there: indeed there are some incredible raiders and PvP players out there. However it is impossible to perform at the highest levels without the right set of epic gear, gems and chants.

Monday’s Expert: alternative combat systems in Atlantica Sunday, Aug 16 2009 

Alternative combat models: do they exist?

Do you find combat in MMOs boring and repetitive? As players we are so used to the genre’s conventions we don’t even notice them.

Spells or attack abilities are mapped to certain keys. Call it the 1,2,3 spam.

Combat in most MMOs is based around your avatar selecting a single mob and buring them down with a combination of attacks – either melee or ranged. Developers understand this and will throw spell effects into the mix to enhance the experience.

The Death Grip of Warcraft’s Death Knight – i.e. pulling a target to the player from a distance with a cool purple beam – is a great example. It’s basically a taunt with some gee-wiz effects. The wide range of melee attacks a Death Knight weilds are variations on the same theme: hitting one object really hard with another. The rune system mixes it up a little as well. Instead of hitting 1,2,3 with a Death Knight you hit 1,2,3,4,5,6… in otherwords, more spells with shorter cool downs.

However there are some interesting examples of alternative combat models out there. One of them can be found in Atlantica Online.

Atlantica Online: turn based strategy

Atlantica Online (AO) is  a free-to-play (F2P), real-money-transaciton (RMT) MMO developed by Ndoors. Yes, it’s an Asian F2P RMT MMO. But it’s not that bad – in fact it’s pretty solid.

Doing it Anime style

Doing it Anime style

F2P and RMT games have moved from being the industries red-headed-step-child to being cited as the future of MMOs. The reivews are becoming far more positive these days, so being the metaverse tourist I am I’d thought I’d check some of them out.

I downloaded the client for Atalantica, registered, created a few characters and started playing. I was up and running within half an hour. I can see why this is such a growing segment of the market. Games like AO are free and very easy to get into.

RMT seems to be for vanity items, extra bag slots and consumables. The content itself – dungeons, zones, PvE and PvP content – is all freely accessible.

Atlantica Online: steampunk, alternative history setting.

If your haunted by images of Hello Kitty! then don’t panic, AO isn’t that bad.

But it clearly has an “Asian” aesthetic. The male avatars are rather androgynous and the female ones doe-eyed, busty and have short school girl skirts. Combat animations look and feel like Street Fighter. The graphics themselves are pretty solid, though the UI is a little clunky.

What I do enjoy about the game is the steam punk aesthetics: 19th Century alternative history meets robots, swords and sorcery. It makes a bit of a change from generic fantasy land. Virtual versions of Asian countires and cities are well represented – obviously. You can also visit cities such as Rome and New York. It’s history on drugs: unicorns and steamboats.

Something to really appreciate: there are no elves. Yes! That’s at least one MMO sterotype not in the game.

/fist pump

It should also be noted there is only one faction: human. Classes are based around the typle of weapon you weild: so you can be a Sword, Axe, Cannon, Bow and – wait for it – guitar. Yes, you can weild a deadly guitar. Awesome.

\m/

Rock on dude!

Hire your mercenaries and go to war!

What differs significantly is the combat and your ability to hire mercenaries. Yep, you can create your own personal army. For those of us who enjoy both MMOs and strategy games this is a nice blend.

Combat itself  is instanced and turn based. As you travel the world of Atlantica  you will encounter the usual variety of sprites, wildlife, monsters and demon-hell-spawn to kill. However AO differs from most MMOs in two key ways:

  • Mobs don’t seem to aggro. That’s right, I can walk right up to any mob and it won’t attack. As the player, you select when combat begins.
  • Single mobs will morph into a small army of the same creature in instanced combat.You don’t see your mercenaries until you enter combat either.
Arumy of Dear: prepare to die!

Army of Deer: prepare to die!

For me, this is what makes AO intriguing.

Combat is turn based, which may sound boring and static, but is actually far more challenging and interesting than simply walking up to a mob and spamming 1,2,3.

You select a target and set your troops to attack, cycling through each of their attack abilities during your phase of combat. Some spells attack multiple targets and act as a kind of AoE. Others stun, while others deal additional damage. Attack Points are needed to launch attacks, so sometimes one of your soldiers has to sit out a turn.

Enemy mobs have their own turns and their own deal special attacks. You can interupt these, as special abilities take more than one turn to be launched.

Die! Die! Die!

Die! Die! Die!

The combat animations are cinematic, the camera swooping and moving in accordance to the type of attack.

It’s a bit of a challenge to learn at first, but with practice you get used to cycling through your mercenaries and utilising their different attack styles to good effect. Some of your “mercs” are tanks, while others deal melee and ranged DPS.

You can hire and fire them at will with the Mercenary NPC. They also level, and you can upgrade armour and weapons. In fact, it reminds me of Diablo II, where you could hire mercenaries and equip them. If you felt comfortable with that mechanic, then managing AO’s mercenary units shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

I’d also note the transition between instanced combat and normal game mode is smooth.

For me its the combat mechanics that make AO interesting: your choices in combat are important. Do you concentrate all your fire on one mob, or stun one and DPS the others? When the mob starts to wind up their special attacks you must focus fire on them. Choices become much more critical – and involve more skill.

Tactics matter

Combat in AO is far more tactical, and requires a more thinking than your average player-vs-mob fight. Combat also takes longer, usually a few minutes to burn down an army of sprites, dears or demon things (unlike WoW where you can count the fights in seconds). It should be noted that different mobs have different abilities. Therefore fights will vary.

Indeed, every fight is like a mini-boss fight.

Verdict: interesting variation on a theme

I’ve only explored the first few zones of AO, but enought to say it’s an interesting concept.

I’ll play around with it for a few more weeks, though I don’t imagine my time in AO will be prolonged. Not because it’s a bad game – it’s actually surprising good for F2P – but because I’ve barely enough time for one MMO, let alone the three I’m dabbling with.

Final verdict?

Check it out, if only for the interesting combat mechanics.

Monday’s expert: what is there to like about WAR? Sunday, Aug 9 2009 

Despite it’s flaws, WAR is still a pretty solid MMO (end game being one of the most serious issues needing to be resolved). My previous post discussing the failings of WAR may have left the impression the game is a total failure. I wouldn’t say it is: there is still much to commend about WAR. It’s innovative features are impressive, and will no doubt find their way into many future MMOs.

If I had to sum up my opinion it would be this: WAR tried to be too innovative. It wanted to be both PvE and PvP king. The developers should have concentrated their efforts in making it either the best theme park MMO or the best PvP MMO.

I suspect commentators will look back and see WAR for what it is: a good MMO that just fell short of true greatness.

Very close in fact.

Top notch art work

However I still continue to play WAR. I’ll list my reasons for in further posts, however one of the reaons I still enjoy WAR is the art work:

Very, very cool.

Very, very cool.

One of my Destruction alts in that factions starter zone. Great atmosphere, great visuals. These guys are evil. And it sure as hell looks like it. The whole feel of WAR is that of a world in conflict:

Can you say "atmospheric"?

Can you say "atmospheric"?

Here’s Augusteena patrolling Troll Country. Bodies litter the ground everywhere, war camps are stuffed with men and supplies as if about to head off to battle. Mythic’s artists certainly nailed the look of Warhammer. The world looks as one think it should.

One of the reasons I toyed with cancelling WoW was it’s cartoonish, pastel themed art work. I understand it’s graphics engine is over four years old, and there is only so far you can push the graphics. Still, WoW’s art direction is brilliant.

But WAR’s art has the grittiness that WoW lacks, which is befetting a MMO that once claimed “War is everywhere”.

Monday’s Expert: did innovation kill Warhammer online? Monday, Aug 3 2009 

This would make a great MMO! Maybe?

This would make a great MMO! Maybe?

We all want to make a difference, to change the world in some small way.

Which is why the word “innovation” is used so frequently used in business and the arts. We need to “innovate” in order to beat the competition and mark a difference. Innovation will bring customers, revenue and recognition.But does the phrase “innovation can cause death” have merit? Often companies and organisations arrive at a compromise;

“Maybe we can do a little bit of innovation, but mostly do what we know works.”

I’m not an MMO developer – hence the name of this series “Monday’s Expert”. I can only comment after the fact, and from second-hand. Am qualified to do so? No. But I do have experience in working as a senior manager in large organisations, and have frequently managed large IT projects.

Well there’s you have my “IMHO” opener. Now, too business.

Can’t. Tun. Off. Brain.

I play MMOs to relax, and yes escape the humdrum of normal life. But even in game, when running a dungeon with a group or soloing content I can’t turn off the analytical part of my brain. Having played two AAA MMOs extensively (and dabbled in Dark Age of Camelot) I can’t but help compare and contrast both the my experience in both Warhammer (WAR) and World of Warcraft (WoW).

For years players, or more specifically bloggers and commentators have asked developers to be more “innovative”. No more WASD, DikuMUD, fantasy themed games please! Give us something new, fresh! Innovate! But what happens when innovation is attempted? Hence my review of Warhammer Online’s perceived failure.

The promise of innovation: WAR is everywhere?

Players, both current and ex (of which there are sadly too many) will fondly remember the promise of the WAR’s tagline “WAR is everywhere”. It was the promise of massive player versus player battles; the constant struggle for survival against a ruthless enemy. Desperate keep fights. City sieges waged between two massive armies – one representing a flawed good (Order) and the other malevolent evil (Destruction).

It promised to be a gritty, grim battle for survival. The constant flow of information from the developers Mythic was constant, uplifting and tantalising. I admit, I got pulled into the hype. So I bought the box and official game guide the day it was released. And gosh, I was excited.

My initial experiences were extremely positive. I enjoyed the classes I sampled, admired the artwork and got straight into the PvP (or “Realm versus Realm”) side of the game. Right from the get go I was enjoying some great PvP action. WAR was good. I was enjoying myself. And it seemed there many other players enjoying it too. The game had momentum. There was talk of WAR being a series competitor to WoW. In fact, for a few months I toyed with cancelling WoW all together.

I was running two characters simultaneously; a Witch Hunter named Julstinian and and a female Elf Shadow Warrior called Aigeline.

So many alts, so much fun... right?

So many alts, so much fun... right?

I’d never really played a lightly class melee DPS class before, and was keen to do something different. If I was going to try WAR, then I’d experience the game from a completely new perspective. I hung up my plate armour in order to be daring. I got both to 20 pretty quickly. I did lots of PvP, and lead quite a few keep fights.

But my sense of how much fun I was having started to change. Across the board things turned ugly. Players became disgruntled, a backlash developed. Things fell apart.

The question is; why did the collapse happen so fast?

Nerd rage, WoW tourists, server stability problems or player balance issues? All of this. But WAR could have survived all this, after all launching a MMO is no small thing. People expect problems. I’d suggest that most players expected things to be a bit bumpy at first. I sure did and had plenty of patience in reserve. I was prepared to forgive the game and developers a great deal. And yet, the initial game population of an estimated 800,000 has crashed to less than 300,000. A second round of server mergers has just been announced.

WTF happened?

Innovation: PQs, oRvR, ToK, SC’s and some other acronyms.

WAR has some notable features, which are now starting to appear in other MMOs in one form or another (especially in WoW). Some of these innovations include:

  • Tomb of Knowledge (ToK) – recording both your progress in the world of WAR, it also contains information on lore, NPCs and monsters while tracking the progress of your quests, number of mob and player kills. The ToK is stunning, in both conception and execution. I spent a great deal of time simply browsing the content, familiarising myself with the world.
  • Public Quests (PG) – brilliant in both conception and execution. Simply turn up to a public quest area and start killing stuff. Whether or not you where grouped with some one, you all achieved the same result. Each PQ followed a simular model: first stage you kill a bunch of non elite mobs; second stage you kill some elite mobs; third stage kill a boss. At the end of chest would drop with some nice rewards.
  • 100% drop rate – not really an innovation, but a nice touch. When the NPC asks you to collect ten rat tails, you go kill your ten rats and you get them straight away. A minor annoyance in MMOs simply waved away. Especially for those us burnt by Stranglethorn Vale in WoW.
  • Instant PvP – being able to port into instanced PvP battleground (called Scenario’s, or SC’s) in WAR was a great way to get a burst of PvP action. Especially if you only had 15-30 minutes spare and you wanted some fun, not a PvE grind. Simply hit a button to be transported to the SC for some great PvP action.
  • End game city siege – in my mind this sounded the most fascinating, and the part of the game with the most potential. Here was an end game that promised to be epic. Sacking your rivals city and fighting it out in the streets of their capital? Awesome!

And yet despite all this promise, WAR failed. Why? Here’s some thoughts as too why…

Failure one: not using technology to tell the story.

PvE in WAR is often referred to as an afterthought. In my opinion it stands up pretty well compared to WoW’s PvE game. Essentially it’s about killing ten rats and moving stuff from one NPC to another. I expect that. The text in both the Tome of Knowledge and that associated with the quest givers is actually superior to WoW’s. It conveys the gritty feeling of WAR, and helps give you a good sense of the lore. And yet I can’t help but feel WAR’s PvE fails. Why?

The overuse of public quests.

Unarguably the developers greatest innovation is the public quest, and yet by the “second tier” (between levels 10-20) you’re heartily sick of them. By that stage they have lost their magic, as you will find at least half a dozen scattered around the zone. At that point you simply roamed around farming PQ’s with groups. A true grind. Compare this to WoW’s human starter zone, where there is one elite mob you work towards killing: Hogger.

Still opening a "can of woop ass" on noobs to this day...

Still opening a "can of woop ass" on noobs to this day...

Everyone in WoW knows Hogger, the gnoll mini-boss. It’s normally the first hard quest, and it teaches newbie players the value of grouping (you need at least three players to kill him/her/it). Four years after the launch of WoW, Hogger jokes are still funny. He’s part of the lore and our shared gaming experience because he is unique. WARs PQ’s could have been used more sparingly, at best one-or-two per zone. More time should have been put into crafting a unique experience for each rather than the same three tiered approach of mob/elite/boss fight.

Imagine if each PQ experience had been perfectly crafted to tell a story. Wrath of the Lich King’s use of phasing technology is used to tell the story brilliantly. The Wrath Gate experience, whereby you watch the tragedy unfurl before you and that part of the game world is for ever changed for you, is simply magic. There isn’t a WoW player who was not blown away by that.

The technology is an aid, but is used sparingly and judiciously. PQ’s could have been the tool to do that for WAR. Instead they used them as PvE filler.

Failure two: Tome of Knowledge fails to tell other players your story

WoW achievement system is a anaemic compared to WAR’s ToK, and yet it is far more satisfying. Why? When you reach an achievement in WoW it is announced in both the general and your guild channel. More often than not you get a flood of “gratz”. Achievements are all about status. Downing a raid boss in heroic and having that broadcast to your guild mates is a nice touch. The ToK tells me everything I need to know, but does not share this information with other players.

In fact, it becomes nothing more than a Wiki experience. You browse with diminishing interest.

Still impressive to this day

Still impressive to this day

MMO players come to these worlds to interact with other players. Achievements and the like help signal prowess, but also signal shared experiences. Some WoW players complain about “achievement spam”, but honestly, most of us live for the recognition it gives us:

“Gratz”

Such simple recognition from your peers can make all the difference. Achievements are driving players like crazy in WoW.

Failure three; instant PvP

Again a good idea, but in my experience it killed the open world PvP experience. The only place where viable PvP action happened on my server was in scenarios (SC). Yes, they were fun, but SC fights are restricted to small scale battles.

The promise open world PvP was never delivered.

oRvR can be fun, if you can find the people...

oRvR can be fun, if you can find the people...

Which brings me to my next point: there was nothing like the  experience of two armies fighting it out in the open field.

Failure four: I’m a grunt, not a general!

Warhammer, as a table top game, is about marshalling the fight between two armies. It has an epic feel: regiments line up to charge, cannons roar, dragons swoop to attack. And yet, WAR online is about pushing your tiny, individual avatar around PvE content. Table top WAR is about being a general. WAR online is about being one of those expendable grunts. There is a disconnect between the two.

For me, this is WAR has really failed.

Sure, leading a Warband (twenty five man player group) could be described as a “command experience”, but really, Warbands where zerg’s far too hard to command with any finesse.

I lead quite a few, and found the whole thing frustrating in the end. And it took time to get a Warband up and running. Individual members would come and go, so it’s composition was always in flux. It wasn’t like herding cats. It was more like herding an army of angry lemmings with their suicidal tendencies in overdrive:

“Lets keep running against the wall of Destruction players and getting pwned!!!! Weeeeeeeeee!”

Running a 10 man Naxx with your WoW group can take a great deal of co-ordination and hard work. Organising twenty five random strangers to take multiple keeps across zones?

Oi vey!

Now imagine if WAR had allowed you to control a unit? Perhaps multiple units like a good strategy game. You could bring archers, foot soldiers, mounted troops or seige engineers. Heck, now that would have been *fun*.

Let players fight against other players for control of strategic points – keeps, resources or points like bridges, roads and towns. It could have been a strategy MMO. Letting players control units at the tactical level would have been fun. But I imagine this would be regarded as a niche product, and would not have given the developers and Sony Entertainment Online anything like WoW’s numbers.

Warhammer has such a rich, deep reservoir of lore to draw from. Turing it into a traditional single player MMO may have been where they may have made their first mistake. I wonder if anyone at Mythic or the owners of WAR’s original IP thought:

“Say, let’s give players the chance to battalian a unit of Chaos Knights!” No?

Failure five: complex meta-game that opened end game content.

In order to get to the city siege fight, your “side” had to capture and “lock” zone, keeps and battle objectives. It required a good understanding of the end game process. But for a casual player at level ten, months and months away from end game it was all meaningless. So what if Destruction controlled my zone? Could I still PvE? Yes. Could I still pop into a SC? Yes. Did it stop progression of my character, or dealt out any other penalties that impacted me? No. Did I care? Not really. In fact, seeing my zone flip to was depressing.

“Oh look, we’re losing. Again.”

Says Destruction:

“Wez are in your capital city pwning yr king”

For the casual player, who WAR desperately needed to capture, the meta-game that underpinned the end-game was far to complex and daunting. I don’t have a full day to spend locking zones to get into the end game.

This is why WoW raid-centric end game works for casuals such as myself. I know what I need to do in order to perform better in a raid. Sure, downing a boss does not change the game world. But so what?

Lets put it into context: I’ve got two hours on a Wednesday night and I want to have some fun. I’ll get on vent, raid with my guild and have some fun. Next week we go back to clean up Naxx. Each time we get better.

It’s about the entertainment experience.

Imagine if WoW raiding depended on one side capturing the whole of Northrend, holding it and so players could the get into Ulduar. Imagine if I had to spend hours taking control of Dragonblight in order to have a shot at entering Naxxramas.

Argh! By all that is holy, Blizzard please don’t copy this feature of WAR!

Note: yes, I know you have to capture the Wintergrasp zone in order to do the dungeons in that instance (Vault of Archavon, or VoA). But VoA is in addition to Naxxramas, Ulduar and the other normal and heroic instances.

For casual players such as myself, WAR’s endgame seemed far to daunting to enter. Blizzard is creating an end game experience that is becoming more open to casual players such as myself. Raiding in both Vanilla WoW and Burning Crusdae was outside the reach of most players.

Opening up the end game to millons of paying customers such as myself: not such a bad thing innit?

Failure six: allowing PvE servers as an option

The servers still thriving in WAR seems to be those offering open world PvP.

PvP is what attracted many new players, including myself. However I made the mistake of registering on a more safe, traditional PvE server with PvP “lakes” (restricted zones where PvP could happen). I’m sure many other players made the same mistake and found themselves confronted with a limited PvE experience and no true PvP going on.

Hence, the promise of “WAR is everywhere” was never delivered upon. It had less to due with balance issues, and more to do with diluting the promise of open world PvP.

Perhaps Mythic should have made the gamble and allowed only open world PvP servers. Sure those PvE minded players migrating from WoW might have had a rougher time. But really, I like many where looking for the challenge. WAR promised to take players such as myself in a new direction. Maybe not quite hadcore as a Darkfall, but at least more challenging than WoW.

And yet, players such as myself landed smack bang into a typical PvE game experience, imagining something different. We never got the challenge we wanted.

Of those 800,000 who initially registered, I imagine most were MMO veterens of some sort. Players like this new what we were getting ourselves into. And that was why so many felt underwhelmed:

“I thought this going to be harder!”

Most of us have done the PvE grind fest. For me, and many others WAR promised a different path.

Failure seven: innovation was restricted to PvE aspects of WAR

Here’s the crunch: the most innovate aspects of the game – PQ’s and ToK – facilitate the PvE side of the game.

If WAR was still going to follow the traditional route of a fantasy themed, third person point of view (PoV) MMO then the focus should have been on the PvE experience. If you going to go head-to-head with WoW, and yes Mythic and owners Sony wanted too, then your PvE has to be better than WoW.

Not as good, better.

PQ’s could have helped build story, not act as content filler. Imagine having only one PQ each zone, with even harder boss to kill. Like WoW’s dungeons they could have been a focal point for grouping, of getting random groups of strangers together. Bonds would have formed, guilds would regularly go out to tackle them.

Instead, you found the same-same- boring PQ’s scattered like leafs across the zones.

The ToK could have been used even more effectively to tell a grand narrative: down a boss, and a really special reward or chapter detailing your role could have been created.

There was such potential there to tell a story. PvE means it’s the developers responsibility. PvP is “user created” content. Perhaps you can’t really do both. Or if you going to do both, both your PvP and PvE experience has to be exceptional. However from a development perspective, it takes translates into time and money. Where to make the investment is a hard choice in any project.

Final verdict: did innovation kill WAR?

Did Warhammer innovate?

Yes. It sure did. On paper it’s sound great.

Did innovation kill Warhammer?

A qualified yes.

It takes millions – an estimated $70m in WAR’s case – to get a AAA MMO up and running. You need to pull in some big subscriber numbers to get your ROI. So appealing to the broadest spectrum of the MMO market sounded like a great idea.

Yet trying to have a broad based appeal and innovate is a tricky proposition.

IMHO the developers tried to do too much: WAR as chock full of innovation, but famously lacked the polish of WoW or other MMOs. This lack of polish hurt them badly. Server stability, client crashes and too many bugs damaged the games reputation.

At the same time in trying to capture the PvE and PvP crowd, Mythic diluted their efforts across the board. Perhaps they should have either gone for full PvE (WoW clone strategy) or niche, hardcore PvP (EVE, Darkfall).

Perhaps they did not innovate enough. Knowing what to leave out is just as innovative as putting new, unique features into a game. However with aspirations to be the second biggest kid on the block after WoW, while also innovating, Mythic dropped the ball.

Saying you’re going to be the next WoW sounds so much better than stating your going to be the next EVE. EVE is considered a niche MMO, and for investors and Mythic alike that simply wasn’t grand enough. However with 300,000 subscribers and a player base that have grown over the years, EVE is looking far more mainstream than WAR. Nor is it tainted with the stigma of failure WAR now has.

Indeed, I’d hazard a guess and say EVE has more active players than WAR currently does.