Just before the launch of Mythic Entertainment's Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk about the game. We covered a lot of ground in our short interview, and in this half, we talked about talking about everything from the finished product itself to the GOA head start issue to Mythic's decision to forgo official forums and his thoughts on accountability.
I started out my conversation with Mark by asking him a question that I asked both Jeff and Josh before him. Was there anything that got into the finished product of the game at the last minute that you were worried wouldn't make it? His answer was the same as Jeff's. "I'm glad the auction house got in on time," he answered with a bit of a chuckle. "That one was touch and go there for a while."
After the auction house, Mark told me a little bit about some of the other kinds of issues that needed last minute resolving before launch beyond the shiny and obvious features. Specifically, he wanted to tell me about the crash to desktop issues that people had been having throughout beta and into head start. He said that just before launch, a fix had been implemented that would take the already small number of these, and cut them in half before the official launch.
"While they [the CTDs] were low to begin with in the Head Start, they were still higher than I'd like," he said. "So getting rid of 50% of them now is a really good thing."
From there, I wanted to ask Mark about the issues that European players had been experiencing with GOA in terms of everything getting started on time and a myriad of other issues.
So, how does Mark feel about how that situation resolved?
"Right now," he answered, "I feel great. I mean, GOA had a ton of people playing and everything is running beautifully. They've turned it around nicely."
"There were issues," he said. "As I posted on the forums, we were in constant contact with them. We had some very meaningful discussions with GOA over that time, and the results now speak for themselves."
He continued to comment on the fact that ever since the major issue was resolved, things have been running smoothly and they're doing a much better job of community management and Mythic is happy with this renewed effort.
From there, we talked about the decision to give those players who were inconvenienced by the whole ordeal a free week of play. Originally, I had thought that the decision had been Mythic's to make, but it turns out that it was entirely GOA's move.
"It's their money," he said. "We can talk, but in the end, it's their money and we didn't force them to do it. Did we talk about the issue? Absolutely, but in the end, they made the decision."
This conversation inevitably led to a quick conversation about the blog that Mark had written on the subject. (http://onlinegamesareanichemarket.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/oh-what-a-night-late-on-sunday-back-in-008/) Specifically, we talked about Mark's opinions on the subject of the way that some users choose to express their frustration with companies and / or people in situations like this.
According to the blog, Mark wholeheartedly supports the gamer's right to be upset or disappointed about a product as a whole, or an incident. He doesn't, however, support people expressing those frustrations in hateful and abusive ways. This is a big part of the reason that Mythic chooses not to use official forums for their MMOs. I asked Mark if this was a decision that they were still happy with, given that the GOA situation gave rise to a number of player complaints about the lack of forums.
"Thrilled, overjoyed, enraptured," he answered enthusiastically. "Look, here's the bottom line. What I said in my blog, and what I've always said publicly is that I respect the player's right to be disappointed, to be angry, to be frustrated. We are supposed to provide a service. If we don't provide the service then you have, as a customer, every right to be upset with us. What I don't support, what I'll never support is what some people see as their right to not only cross the line but then to erase it and draw a whole new line miles in the distance. You can't say the things that some people say. That's wrong. You can't make the threats that people make. That's wrong. You can't heap abuse on other people. That's wrong. Be angry, be frustrated, absolutely. Complain? Absolutely. I get it. But the stuff that some of those people are saying... the death threats, the vulgarity. No one should have to put up with this. I am still 100% behind the stay away from the official forum bit."
Just speaking with him for a few minutes on the topic really gives you a sense of how passionately Mark feels about this particular subject.
"... I think that when you do what we do with the Herald, which is a tremendous flow of information. When you do what we do with in-game feedback, when you do what we do with community outreach... there is no need for an official forum. People point to some games and say 'look, there's a game that had official forums and succeeded.' Yeah, but there are also games that had official forums and failed. Then there are companies like us that never had official forums, and we succeeded with Dark Age. I don't believe that official forums contribute at all to their success and frankly, when people say that it contributes to the community... No, in some cases it contributes to a mob not a community. They're very different things."
From there, I asked Mark what he could say to people who complain that not having an official forum is a way to escape accountability for the company and for issues with the game.
"What is accountability?" Mark asked. "Is accountability the fact that you can get a community manager who has nothing to do with the game development (not saying Mythic but at a lot of companies the CM has nothing to do with the game other than being community managers)... to go on the forums and have abuse heaped on him? That's not accountability. That's like putting out a goat for the Tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Park. Accountability is when the players vote with their credit card. That's accountability. If they players feel we aren't doing our job, they should cancel. I've always said that. We are accountable that way."
"In terms of reaching out to the community," he continued, "nobody in this industry does it better than us. Not on the large scale. I can't talk about the smaller games, but if you look at EverQuest and WoW and LotRO or any of those games, we spend more time reaching out to the community than any other development team. I'm on the boards, other people are on the boards and we will continue to be going forward. We are accountable that way, but we're more accountable to the players by their use of their credit cards. If they don't like the job we're doing, they should cancel. That's the best way to send any developer a message."
He rounded out the answer by saying that, "If people think that accountability is just their need to vent their spleen at some community manager, that's not accountability. That's just people heaping abuse on somebody in order to feel better."
That pretty much does it for the first part of the interview. Next time, look forward to my conversations with Mark about the Warhammer IP, Games Workshop and Mythic Entertainment's relationship with EA.