Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down in separate interviews with Jeff Hickman, Josh Drescher and Mark Jacobs to talk about the launch of Warhammer Online, the game that they have both been working on diligently for the last three years.
I asked both Jeff and Josh of them the same set of questions about the game and its launch. In Part One, Jeff Hickman answers our questions, Part Two will give us Josh’s answers to the same questions and Part Three will give you an overview of my one-on-one conversation with Mark Jacobs about not only the launch, but EA, Mythic’s future and more.
In Part Two though, It’s Josh Dreschern’s turn to answer our launch questions:
How do you feel now that this stage of development is over for Warhammer Online?
Josh's answer to this question was almost metaphysical. He actually referenced "Lost in the Cosmos" by Walker Percey who at one point talked about how people can get so involved in what they're doing that day to day things get lost in the shuffle. You stop remembering your drive to work... that kind of thing. He went on to tell me that the day after they let the players in for the head start, he actually walked outside and noticed the sky for the first time.
While this may seem like a bit of an odd answer, it isn't as much as you'd think. Making a game like this, on this scale, can be all-consuming. It's funny what happens to people when it ends.
Did anything make it into the game near the end that you thought might not make it?
Josh's answer more or less mirrored Jeff's in that he talked about how well planned out the development cycle of every feature was. He actually went further though in explaining to me that they had a system where they identified a number of different types of feature for the game:
He told us that the pie-in-the-sky stuff from the "would" category went away a long time ago (pot-pourrie coming out of the CE box, and things just as ultimately wacky and wasteful). Josh felt though that they did get a lot of their "could" category in and credits EA coming in and providing extra time and money for the project. The first two categories though have been the focus of the last two years of development. He said that he was pleased that they managed to get as much of that stuff in as they did. For those of you who might be wondering, he also made reference to those few things that they didn't have confidence in from those categories being scooped out of the game two months ago (yup, that'd be the cities and classes cut).
He feels that they were removed because the cities and classes involved just weren't up to the level that they wanted (which is the same reason given at the time of the announcement).
Is there anything that didn’t make it into the game that you’re looking to add in the next few updates?
"One of the things that you don't want to do," he said in response, "is leave your customers in the dark, especially about things that have been cut that you've talked about in the past. While you can certainly defend a developer for saying, 'we've talked about this game for three years, of course there are things we said in the past that might not make it in', it's unfair to the community not to express that clearly. That's already been something that we believed in seriously. If there's something that we at some point talked about, we said 'Man, we'd really like to get that in', and then we decided it didn't belong in the game or it wasn't going to fit in our schedule we communicated that as quickly and as clearly to the community as possible so I don't think there's anything that people are going to be surprised by during launch."
Josh went on to tell us that in terms of things that they are hoping to add in later, they are indeed working on expansion planning and also integrating a number of other elements from the Warhammer universe that just didn't make it into the game at launch.
"We have a very distinct vision of where we want to go," he said, "and when the time is right, we'll announce those plans to the public."
There has been some concern among head-starters that Destruction populations are going to dwarf (excuse the pun) Order. What can you say to this?
Josh told us that they feel that they have three distinct groups of players to draw from, and as they've added in new groups, they've found that this problem has gotten just a little bit smaller:
In the end, they think that the populations are going to balance pretty well.
Josh went on to talk about things that they have in place to make sure that the populations don't become too much of a problem. He told us (as Jeff did) that the realms are capped in terms of server population. Beyond that, he talked about incentivising people to join sides on servers that need it. The first and most obvious example of this comes in the form of a screen that a number of us have already encountered in the game. During server selection, the game will inform players that the side of X on X server is in need of recruits. This is completely optional, but at least lets players know where they can help. If there is still a server that "habitually underperforms" in terms of population, they do plan to offer incentives like XP buffs for players who join the under populated realm on a specific server. This also serves to help players who are on the under populated server to move a little more quickly to offset the delay that lower population could cause.
"We never do anything that touches RvR," he said. "But we do do a lot to try to balance the population on a sort of PvE basis in the hopes that will then carry over and balance the RvR."
Finally, he told me that if they do find a server where everything has been done to try to balance things out and there is still a side that keeps winning and winning and winning... That's just a part of the game. "We're not going to punish people for being good at the game... At the end of the day, it's a game about competition.
What makes Warhammer stand out the most (especially from World of Warcraft, which some people accuse WAR of cloning)?
Josh told us that they didn't set out to copy any other game. They set out to create a game that was true to a captured the feeling of the Warhammer Universe. He also made some reference to the fact that some other games might draw their inspiration from the same Warhammer source, which is beyond their scope.
He went on to say that he feels that beyond some aesthetic similarities, Warhammer distinguishes itself in many ways. He feels that RvR changes the face of the game and the reasons that people are playing. He cites the feeling of team play that is fostered through the RvR design and forms the basis of the game. He also talked about where the focus of the game is, noting that in other MMOs a lot of the focus and "fun" is put at the end of the game (known as endgame for a reason). With Warhammer, they tried to give you that feeling right from the beginning.
In the end, Josh feels that Warhammer Online is its own game. He feels that MMORPGs can't just be made because they're popular and expect to draw $15 a month from players. You should be making the game because you have a creative vision:
"With all respect to noble competitors", he began, "it needs to be a vision that extends beyond a weird gimmick. It needs to extend beyond 'in this game you will see geysers of blood, and nipples, please give us $15 a month to play.' If that is all you have to offer, the customer base for MMOs is extremely mature. They're a group of people who vote with their wallets and they vote quickly and they understand the level of quality that they deserve and they expect that from developers. They can see through the pure marketing shtick pretty easily so for us, it was about paying off all of the promises that we made and making sure that anything we talked about over the three and a half years we've been developing the game, all the core philosophies that we've been running around waving our hands in the air and screaming about, that we actually make good on all of those promises. So, for us, it really is about 'we are different, we are unique, we bring something to the genre that no one else has offered so far and we think that it's already been rewarded with the energy that we've seen from the testers and the enthusiasm we have seen from our head start players..." He went on to say that he hoped to see the same from players at launch (yesterday).