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BioWare Mythic
MMORPG | Genre:Fantasy | Status:Cancelled  (est.rel 09/18/08)  | Pub:Electronic Arts
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Warhammer Online: Mark Jacobs on the WAR Delay

After yesterday's announcement that EA Mythic would be delaying the launch of their upcoming MMORPG Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood spoke with VP Mark Jacobs about the move.

Yesterday, EA Mythic announced that they would be delaying the launch of their upcoming MMORPG Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, until Fall of 2008. Reaction to the announcement has been somewhat mixed with some applauding the move in the name of a fully polished product, with others suggestion that the move may mean doom and gloom for the IP game. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with EA Mythic VP Mark Jacobs about the move.

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The first question that I asked Mark was whether or not this delay should be seen as a sign that their game is in some kind of serious trouble.

“Oh God no,” he responded in his usual candid way. He went on to tell me that if the game was actually in trouble, we would have been more likely to see one of two things happen. First, we would have seen changes at the company, most likely starting with Mark himself and second, EA wouldn’t have granted the time extension. Since everyone is still employed, and the delay was announced, we can assume that the game isn’t in trouble. In answering the question, Mark also pointed out that if the game were in trouble, it would be far more likely to go the way of EA Mythic’s last project, Imperator, which was “postponed indefinitely”.

While some out there may think that delays are nothing more than a developer’s way of showing disdain for their players (a position that I have never really understood), the reality is that while it’s a pain in the butt for players, it can be an expensive proposition for the development company, and for any partners who might be involved. In the case of EA Mythic with Warhammer, the company footing the bill for the delay is EA and the partner company (otherwise known as the licensee for the IP) is Games Workshop. With this in mind, I asked Mark to give us an overview of the process for getting their delay approved:

  1. The Warhammer team tells Mark that they think that there are going to be some issues in getting the game out on the due date.
  2. Mark and the team sit down and discuss the issue / issues and what could be done to resolve them in time to meet the deadline. This includes but is not limited to: bringing more people in to work on the project or cutting certain side features in favor of focusing resources on something more important. In short, what would it take in order for the team to make the date while still producing the quality of game that is their goal. In the case of this particular delay, they decided that the only thing to be done would be to push the game back.
  3. Mark then takes the issue to EA where he has a conversation similar to the one that he had with his dev team about whether or not there is anything to be done to get the game in on the date. Here, Mark stressed the good relationship that they have with their parent company. Once EA has given the go-ahead, it’s time to…
  4. Talk to the partners. In this case, the partner that I was asking about is Games Workshop, the company that actually holds the IP for the game and who also has to be answered to. It is interesting to note, for those folks who might be thinking that the delay was known about for much longer than we were told, that this particular phase of the process didn’t happen until the day before the announcement, so before Tuesday, even Games Workshop didn’t know that there would be a delay.
  5. That brings us to the final step of the delay: the announcement. A good deal of care generally goes into this kind of announcement, and this time was no exception. Upon making the announcement, two things happened (that I noticed). First, Mark posted on the Warhammer Alliance forums (the site that seems to be proxy home of the game’s forums), stating that he would be happy to answer people’s question, but that he had prepared a number of answers in advance (It’s a good list, check it out here). Second, the PR team got busy in scheduling interviews with news sites so that we could get our questions answered. In short, it appears, at least to my eyes, that they were trying to be as transparent as possible about this move that was sure to be controversial.

While the delay may have been necessary, the team at EA Mythic knew that there would be a number of people who would be upset by the move and Mark was as candid about the motivations as he tends to be about everything else. He told me that he would rather have people angry now about a delay than angry with the quality of the game after launch.

Next, I asked Mark whether or not the game’s unique beta process had contributed to the delay of the game. For those who might not be aware, WAR conducts its beta in an interesting way. The process is called “focus testing”, and consists of focusing its players in on one area of the game at a time rather than letting them run willy-nilly throughout the game. While this may be frustrating for players who had hoped to get some free play time in, it has been a boon for the developers, allowing them to focus their efforts and get concentrated feedback on different aspects of the game.

Mark told me that he thought that yes, this beta style did contribute to the delay, but that it is a good thing. In fact, Mark said that if they had had the time and resources (remember, they were an indie studio then), they would have done the same thing with Dark Age of Camelot.

The last question that I asked Mark was whether or not this new date was solid. The answer was a resounding “No”. “No date is set in stone,” he said (though he did say that he hoped that this date would be set in firmer mud than before. He went on to say that if a dev tells you a date is set in stone they are either very nearly complete, running out of money, or wrong.

“It’s hard to set a date far in advance,” Mark told me, “No matter how smart we think we are as developers, the players are smarter. Players will come up with ways to defeat what the developers are doing.” With that in mind, he told me that this in and of itself makes it difficult to predict when a game will be ready for release. So, in the end, the projected Fall 2008 projected launch date is just that… a projected date. In the end, with EA Mythic seeming to get the full support and confidence of EA and with both parties dedicating themselves to making the best possible product it really comes down to one simple idea: It’ll be done when it’s done.

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