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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at r1ft.com. The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

Warhammer: A 65% Approval Rating?

Posted by Daedren Friday October 24 2008 at 10:08AM
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I’m partial to throwing out the famous words of Mark Twain even before we start: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” My limited premonition has allowed me to see the future comments on this: “Oh, look at this guy now - what the hell is he, a MMO market analyst? Who the hell is this guy? DIE YOU FRENCH BASTARD!” All valid points. I don’t claim that this is official or by any means accurate. It’s just my take, in my limited research, on how Warhammer is doing so far. The hype for the game has died down, and the bigger/better/newer upcomings of things like Wrath of the Undead Treadmill and Bioware’s Better-not-suck Star Wars MMO have been busy stealing the show.

First, I’ll start with my usual disclaimer: the following information expressed is my opinion. It is based upon non-standard and quite frankly rather piecemeal, shoddy and otherwise unreliable statistics that are only a very small fraction of the applicable targeted audience. The statistics for my conclusions are based on forum polls at Warhammer Alliance and the VN Boards, reader responses to my articles on r1ft.com, Massively and MMORPG.com - or, to put it more eloquently - the worse place on the internets to find objective information.

I’ve been a bit torn (yes, torn) over how to feel about Warhammer Online. One part of me wants it to fail miserably and be cast down with the other scrubs like Vanguard, Tabula Rasa and Age of Conan. Why? Because of it’s lack of creativity and ingenuity. (and yes, I know that this is just plain unhealthy thinking) Another part of me, though - the more mature and rational part - wants Warhammer to succeed. It’s a PVP oriented game, after all, and failure could spell doom for future companies/investors looking to pour their time and money into PVP focused games. I consider myself a nice guy, anyway, and it’s just hard to wish doom and gloom on anyone, even the uncreative jackasses that spew crap into the MMO industry.

One thing that surprised me in my “Inevitable “Meh” of Warhammer Online” piece was the agreement I got. I had expected the vehement fanboys to arrive in mass and collectively lynch me for not having the same opinion as them. Some did, but a good portion of other readers felt the similar to how I did, or at least could sympathize with my views. So, I took a few minutes and did an amateur research on what people from around the Warhammer community thought of their game after one month of playing. What I determined was that:

About 65% of people are happy enough with the game to pay for another month.

Roughly 25% of the people are not going to pay for another month.

And the remaining 10% are on the fence, undecided what they will do.

With these statistics, it’s good to keep in mind a few things:

  • They are taken from Warhammer fansites, forums, or MMO news sites
  • People that have stopped playing the game would be less likely to respond
  • The game could also be so awesome that the players don’t have the time nor inclination to look at forums.

(Source articles/forum polls are here: Warhammer Alliance Poll 1, Poll 2, VN Boards Poll 1, Poll 2, r1ft 1, Massively 1)

(FINE PRINT: In regards to references, it's been said, possibly inaccurately, that the VN Boards are generally thought to be more "pro Warhammer" and fanboyish who intend to address most of their posts to someone at Mythic, while Warhammer Alliance has gained a slightly unsavory reputation for harboring a good amount of negativity towards the game. Mark Jacobs posts frequently on the VN boards. His posts are usually followed by about 85% of the people trying to fellatiate him digitally, with a sane 15% actually trying to say something objective and without balls in their mouth. This, along with a guestimation that a good portion of ex-Warhammer players would not visit these sites again, led me to my conclusion of a 65% rating. That guess is about as stable Funcom's financial situation.)

I'm not sure what the margin of error should be, but any way you cut it, roughly 1/3 or 1/4 of Warhammer Online's customer base could be not resubbing or thinking about not resubbing. The last official word from Mythic had 750,000 people buying the game. So, if this research is accurate, almost 200,000 of initial buyers of Warhammer Online could be hanging up their boots after the first month. Or, in strict money terms, over 2 BAZILLION dollars a month. Er, 2.5 million $USD per month, sorry.

More importantly - what does this mean in today's market?  Would a 25% player first impression cut rate be higher or lower than other MMO’s like Age of Conan, WoW or LOTRO? Your guess is as good as mine. Initial player retention might be far less important than long term player growth, like in World of Warcraft - which started with under 1 million subscribers (according to

THIS

) and has now grown to over 10 Million, or about 2 million if you exclude bot and farming accounts from ninja countries. The question then would be: Does Warhammer have what it takes to make a substantial player growth in the coming years?

In my amateur opinion, I would say no. The difference between now and 2004 is that the MMO genre has a lot more to choose from. The competition in the field has increased by about 300%, or even more when talking about strictly fantasy MMO’s. Warcraft undeniably took a lot of players in from other genres and overall, the MMO industry has expanded significantly because of it. On the other hand, Mythic has catered to the already existing customers of other MMO games (mainly) and hasn’t drawn many into the scene. They’re focused on trying to draw away players instead of generate new ones. This was a fundamental marketing flaw that you really can’t do much about, I’m afraid. So, while Paul Barnett put his money on 3 million subscribers in the future, I’d put mine on hovering around 1 million at most. In the end, though, I could just be plain wrong.

It’ll be curious to see how this affects PVP/RVR based games in the future. I think most will agree that the genre did need - hell, it still needs - more PVP focused games to play. (Hello Darkfall, yes, I know you’re there. Look, about last night…) Let’s hope that just because Warhammer hasn’t generated an enormous player base, other investors and game studios will shy away from creating PVP oriented games.

So, what’s everyone else think? Is this “approval rating” healthy, unhealthy, or just a bunch of crap? How do you think it will do in the long run?

Original article here.

The Mark Jacobs "State of the Game" Generator

Posted by Daedren Thursday October 16 2008 at 11:18AM
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Well, can't do PHP scripts here at MMORPG.com - so here it is: 

http://www.r1ft.com/war/mark-jacobs-state-of-the-game-generator/

Enjoy. ;) 

 

Warhammer Online: Will You Subscribe?

Posted by Daedren Tuesday October 14 2008 at 3:38AM
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While it might be no secret on my personal disdain for Warhammer Online, I've been curiously intrigued by the amount of negativity towards the game. Over at Massively, they recently asked the question "Has Warhammer earned your money for another month?" - and surprisingly, almost half of the commentors expressed their intent to either not resub at all, or definately leave once WotLK is on the shelves in November.

Most can agree Warhammer isn't exactly shattering boundaries with its ideas, but the fact remains that it's the biggest PVP/RVR focused game to ever be produced. For a PVP oriented gamer like myself, this gives me a vested interest into the future and prosperity of Warhammer, as failure could pose problems for producing similar games in the future. So, while I might not have been wooed and wowed by the ideas or implementation of the game, I'd still like it to have a healthy subscriber base to at least encourage other companies to go forth and forge an epic PVP focused game.

This medium (blogging) isn't the best for objective market analysis, but its a start. So far, between my blog and Massively, with over 200 readers responding, it seems that almost half of those will either not resub to Warhammer or leave back to WoW in November. Perhaps it's mainly the negative people commenting, perhaps not. Anyway, I'd like to find out.

So, I ask my readers here: will you subscribe or resub to Warhammer Online? 

 

The Inevitable "Meh" of Warhammer Online

Posted by Daedren Wednesday October 8 2008 at 8:34AM
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Hi, I'm Daedren. You might remember me from other articles like "Squig Vicious: When Herding Goes Wrong" and "Fatality: My Age of Conan DVD in the Microwave." I know, I know - it's hard to write something where you know you're going to alienate or piss off a good portion of your readers with just the title, but it's just how I feel. To summarize, my thoughts are basically this: Warhammer Online is a mediocre remake of everything we've already seen in the industry. It lacks passion, it lacks real creativity, and at the end of the day, it doesn't provide a unique or memorable experience. Or yeah, something like that.

The first few weeks after an MMO comes out are always bustling with activity. People just can't seem to shut up about a game. I suppose it's all about that new and exciting feeling, the same sort of feeling you get when you're waiting for your test results back from the lab after hooking up with the tattooed girl at work. I can honestly say I really wanted to like Warhammer. That said, I don't. Just a warning: there will be an immense string of negativity hurled Mythic's way in this rant of an article. These are my personal thoughts on the game, and how I feel about it. Some will agree with me. Many will not. Keep this in mind before you get all stabby with the comments.

Warhammer Online, on paper, seems to be a good, solid game. On paper, it's a nicely designed game that at least tries to take some baby steps to advance our MMO industry. On paper, it's not so bad. Unfortunately we don't play the game on paper, so let's focus on one thing: why does Warhammer make me say "meh?"

The "MEH"

What the hell does "meh" mean anyway? Well, to me, it's this feeling of "blah" or apathy that can roughly be summarized as not caring too much about whatever it is you're talking about. For example: "How do you feel today?" - The "meh" answer here would portray a sense of uncaring blandness that isn't quite good, and isn't quite bad. Upon further questioning, the purported sayer of "meh" will be somewhat uncertain of the exact cause of this: they can't pinpoint something that is outright bad, but they know something is amiss.

That's my feeling towards Warhammer Online. The inevitable "meh." I can't get worked up to actually care about fighting Faction X because I'm Faction Z. I feel distanced from my character in game because it feels like I've been there before. I don't feel for the Elf or Empire or Dwarf cause. I don't care that Chaos people and Greenskins go burning virtual buildings and killing NPC's or players that magically respawn back into existence. And quite frankly, I've done enough "Ten Kill Rats", "Talk to Joe" and "Collect Item X" quests in my life to never see one again and be happy.

I just don't care about playing. Some people might say "Daedren you need a guild!" - well, I have a guild. A damn fine one at that. Never a shortage of people to do things with. Sadly, my guild can't make the game fun to play. They can't take that apathetic feeling away that makes it feel like a chore just to log in and progress. I just can't convince myself that the game is fun enough to spend my time playing. Perhaps I'm getting picky, but I really just think the game is "meh". Unchallenging, uninspiring, and lacking passion. They've solidified an already existing game dynamic, adding a few bells and whistles, and expect people to spend a good portion of their free time in their unoriginal cookie cutter world. I just can't do it.

Playing Bad Guys, Factional Combat and RVR

A few months ago, when people started saying that Destruction to have the most people playing it, I had my own ideas why. Mainly it's because I thought that most people playing Destruction would be some emo/goth hybrid, torn between listening to death metal or Evanescence whilst painting teardrops on the corners of their eyes or writing poetry about how the world doesn't understand them. Now, though, I understand that it's really because Mythic spent about 75% of their development time working on Destruction classes and areas. Thanks to that, we now have everyone and their kitten running around playing naked Witch Elves or hulking Greenskins. They've gone and made being bad popular, and what does that mean?

From a design perspective, Mythic has allowed players to play a bad or "evil" faction. The problem here is that they allow players to play the role of an evil-doer, yet infer no material or moral consequence for their actions. Universally, there is nearly no difference in playing Order or Destruction other than some weakly implied moral bias. Every player knows that you don't really kill another player in RvR - as they are magically reappearing seconds later because of the joke of a death system - but the real problem is that deep down, players know that they can never really win. You can't vanquish evil, you can't slaughter the forces of good - all you can do is work at inconveniencing them for a couple minutes. It's a never ending game with no side being able to actually win or claim a real victory, so it blends into a meaningless label of Good/Evil or Order/Destruction with a lack of substance behind any faction or player.

It's depressing from a player perspective: no matter what you do in the game, you cannot change anything. Sure, burn Altdorf down. It resets in a week or whatever. The Order players are still there. You can never get rid of them. You can maybe evict them and their stupid Keep Lords from their temporary residences, but they'll be back. They have places to go where you can't, making the Warhammer Online universe no more than a staged battlefield, a Valhalla of sorts, where nothing can ever really change.

Factional WAR

This subject has the potential to be the most disturbing and controversial subject of them all. Warhammer isn't the first to implement it, though, but they do use it as the main selling point of their game. RVR combat - Order vs. Destruction. Or, as I like to call it, Spock vs. Evil Spock. You know, with the goatee.

I don't subscribe to the "It's WAR! Kill them!" pamphlet that makes me a robot soldier in an army killing an opposing robot soldier for Generic Reason X. This sort of mentality is exactly what is wrong with the world - killing other "people" because they are a certain race or faction. Are there no Goblins in the Warhammer world that are happy growing food and tending their squigs? No Dwarves or Humans that would betray their faction for the right price? No Dark Elves that are born with purple eyes and happen to be morally at war with everything their people does? Oh, if only life were this black and white. They've eliminated any sense of a "grey area" and have overly simplified objective right and wrong. The fact that Orks and Dark Elves can't kill each other is almost as laughable as Elves and Dwarves fighting alongside each other. So much for embracing game lore.

So, basically all we are in Warhammer are Battle Droids. The leaders tell us what to shoot, and we shoot it, no questions asked. Or maybe we're Stormtroopers. Who knows. Either way, we seem to be stuck in the role of "Don't think, we'll do that for you" to the supreme Warhammer overlords. It sounds like a mentality that a typical government would love for it's people to have: unquestioning and unthinking. Sign me up for the war, sir.

Preventing this is something very hard to do from a design perspective. It definitely makes things harder, throwing grey into the world. Perhaps people like the ease of determining good vs. evil - perhaps the fact that it doesn't mirror reality is what makes it comfortable - it is, after all, fantasy. I'll admit that the thought of a real and visceral evil is a bit romantic and provokes thoughts of real heroism and chivalry. Warhammer hasn't captured that in any sense, though, at least to me.

Whatever happened to Heroes?

Another stream of logic that Mythic has embraced is downplaying of your character in the game. They aren't alone in this aspect: the only MMO to really capture the true "Hero" aspect is probably City of Heroes/Villians. However, they've taken the high-fantasy world of Warhammer and allowed players to make characters in this world. These characters are not heroes. They're more like errand boys and shock troops. At most you could be considered a red shirt wearing Ensign of Star Trek. Go, zerg that keep like the good minion you are. Us heroes will be safely waiting here in the Warcamp as you do our bidding.

The real heroes of this game are the Keep Lords and the terribly powerful guards you see standing around. The insane power of these guys make you wonder why they don't get on a damn horse and try to go mobile. Hell, half of the guards at a Tier 4 Warcamp could probably take the opposing faction city with little problem. And here we are, the players, running around delivering notes to them and letting them direct us. We're their minions. Whatever happened to making a player feel like they are a hero? Why can't we have minions and troops to command? Where are the armies that we can direct and lead? The reason that D&D and Warhammer tabletop games were popular is because the story revolved around the players; they could noticeably affect and change the world based on their decisions. This main aspect and magic of the game is lost in a sea of inane, repetitive and fun killing "Quests". Yay, fun!

Creative Vision

I suppose what Mythic really missed here was the Creative Vision. Now, that's not to say there is nothing creative in Warhammer Online: we have nifty things like Public Quests, an advanced RvR system, flags and statues in cities, nifty little easter eggs floating around, etc. In the big picture, though, it's all small beans. All the repetitive "content" will be explored and done. People will hit max level and RvR for a while. Keeps will be captured and Capital Cities captured, ad infinitum, like some sort of pointless tug-of-war. As sad as it is to say it, Warhammer just doesn't have that "epic" feel to it. Polishing brass on the Titanic is more like it.

It's clear that Warhammer Online was designed with World of Warcraft as its working business model - and this is probably the biggest weakness of the game. I can understand the logic of "Hey, let's make WoW - but with an actual PVP and RVR system!" - yet it's failing to do anything for me. The good thing about WoW was that it was new and exciting at the time, even if it was just a rehash of Everquest and DAoC with a bigger development budget. WoW was a logical evolution in the MMO industry, and it helped mainstream MMO's and brought in a boatload of new people from outside the industry. And now, it's all about the three step process to mediocrity:

  • Use WoW as a business model
  • Make a game almost exactly like WoW but improve it a little bit and make it a bit different
  • Try and profit

Yay, recycling is fun! Ok, it's not that the game won't make profit. Sure, I suppose it will. It sold enough, has enough "content", and its got enough raving fanbois to keep a healthy population for a long time. Then we'll have Vanguard and Age of Conan on one side, and LOTRO and Warhammer on another.

4 Games. Over 250 Million USD in production costs. And almost absolutely nothing new to the MMO industry.

What about the end game of Warhammer Online? I haven't experienced it yet, that's true enough. Not many people have. The end game is all about RVR. Keep Takes. City Sieges. Renown Grinding. People always need to have the best stuff. What's the best way to get to RR 80? Why, it's playing the same scenario, over and over again. Think of Warsong Gulch 75,000 times. So, the majority of my end game will be grinding up to max RR level, with sparse breaks for actual open world PVP and keep takes? Thanks but no thanks. As always, it'll come down to the time = currency formula in MMO's, though I suppose it was silly to try and think that would change anyway.

Burnout

I've been told by a few friends of mine that my disillusion with the game is probably due to MMO burnout, and I agree. I stopped playing WoW a year ago. Tried EVE, wanted to love it, but couldn't. Age of Conan was a disaster. Warhammer was supposed to shake things up, but I got bored of Warhammer quicker than AoC, which isn't how it should be. Warhammer, on paper, sounds like it should be great game for an old-school PVP hound like I am, but in execution it leaves me overwhelmingly dissatisfied.

Maybe it's just age. I've felt more drawn to games like King's Bountyand even replaying Bioshock than grinding yet another character up to max level in MMO "X". For some good PVP I'm apt to go play Team Fortress 2, DOTA or Call of Duty 4. Perhaps the appeal of PVP in a MMORPG has just worn off. I've yet to see any MMO implement a system where actual skill mattered in a PVP fight - it usually just comes down to who has the most time to play or who has the most people to roll with them. This thought especially weighs down upcoming releases like Darkfall which not only embraces the "shoot me in the head it's another high fantasy MMO" aspect but also seem to have a PVP formula similar to Shadowbane and Age of Conan.

I've often wondered how the MMO industry can recapture the minds and hearts of MMO veterans like myself. A good portion of the player base started off with Ultima Online or Everquest - meaning that it's safe to say we've seen and done nearly everything Warhammer has to offer, albeit in a different light. The magic, we wants it back. The draw to the genre was that it was massive and new. It felt like things were created with heart and passion, not based on a working business model. I suppose it'll take another company or another game to really break out of the mold to get a lot of the old players back.

So that's it, folks. Warhammer has failed to impress me. I'm not the only one to have this happen, but on the other side, there are plenty of people enjoying the game still. Anyone else feel unimpressed and unmotivated to play? Do tell.

Original article is here.

Otherland MMO - Cyberpunk? Not so much.

Posted by Daedren Friday October 3 2008 at 6:24AM
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For those that haven't heard, an adaptation of Tad Williams Otherland books is in development by an unheard of German company with a bunch of Aussie developers. I think most people will say "What the hell is Otherland?" - something I can empathize with. Tad Williams isn't exactly the Dan Brown of sci-fi. However, his books do have a bit of a following, and I've actually read all 4 of the monstrous, Bible-sized novels. With that said, I'm going to talk about what I think of this idea.

First of all, the announcement of this MMO seems to have brought a bunch of clueless half-wits to the table to talk about this MMO. Eurogamer, in the fanboy, payroll induced article I linked above, went as far as saying "Let's call this the first cyberpunk MMO." And I'm going pull my hand back and say "No, let's call this Second Life, version 2" - Yeah, the Otherland series is technically cyberpunk - there is no arguing that. It's just that the MMO has announced it'll be focusing on the avatar / Lambda Mall version of the series, which is pretty much no more than a glorified 3D chat room.

Allow me to explain. Here is a quick synoposis of Otherland:

Set in the future, we have some mega-cities and urban sprawls that are popular in cyberpunk. People plug into "the net" via a neural shunt and some fancy VR equipment. They then hang out at the "Lambda Mall" and run around with crazy looking avatars - pretty much nothing more than elaborate version of Second Life.

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

The real appeal of the Otherland books was that the main characters get trapped in "the net" because an evil mega-corp is doing something naughty. They end up having to battle the evil guys and save the world pretty much. It takes them through some crazy places - user created lands - via a river. For example, they go into a jungle and are the size of ants, get attacked by a scorpion. Or they have to play cowboys and indians with real life toys in a kitchen. Or they're thrown into a Viking-esque frozen land where they're chased by savages. And lastly, there is actually a Lord of the Rings-esque MMO type game in the game. One of the main characters lives in it (he's a kid, sick, has a terminal disease).  Basically a VR/Cyberspace version of any modern MMO.

I'll be the first to say that capturing the second, main element of the stories (user created worlds, dynamic content) might make an Otherland MMO actually worthwhile. So, unless every MMO subscriber gets to be one of the Otherland super-rich, playground/world creating guys, the thought of running around with a crazy avatar is about as exciting as it gets. From the over-excited Eurogamer article, it seems you can't do more than have your own space in the world and customize your avatar. Yipee!

Continuing the line of cluess-gits, we've got this announcement over on the Shadowland (Otherland fansite boards). The topic? Otherland MMO could be the WOW Killer! Now, while most of my regular readers are familiar with my thoughts on this subject, the fact that this came up 2nd in a Google search for "Otherland MMO" makes me weep for humanity. What's next? Hello Kitty, the WOW Killer? Fuck WOW, and fuck killing it. You're talking apples and oranges here. How is "making a pretty avatar!" going to compete with people that like high-fantasy and enjoy the treadmill-like advancement system of WoW? It caters to a completely different audience.

I digress, like I usually do. I'm all for a non high-fantasy MMO. Warhammer was pretty much the last straw in terms of the general populus's tolerance for yet another orcs and elves, magic and swords, fuck creativity of a game. It's like watching television and the only thing on is CSI or 10 spinoffs of it. I like crime shows as much as the next guy, but it's time to move on. So, in that aspect, *applause* to the unknown German company investing the rubels into something a bit different.

However, until we're told otherwise, Otherland MMO is not Cyberpunk. It's 2nd Life with a 90's retro theme. Let's not get too excited to say "FIRST POST!" in the land of MMO's in regards to a genre. Uncouth, Eurogamer, uncouth. So, until you know a bit more about the game, this guy from Office Space wants his Jump to Conclusions Mat back when you're done using it.

Original article is here.

Digg it here.