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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

Hyping the Hype: From Conan to Warhammer

Posted by Daedren Thursday September 4 2008 at 7:51AM
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The great Sun Tzu, father of modern journalism, once said in his treasured writings: start with a Mime and you can't go wrong. Of course I just made that up, and I assure you that the WoW-killing Mime is not yet with us. We'll leave mimes and memes to rest for a moment, and venture over into the underworld of Hype.

Hype in the MMO industry isn't all unlike hype in other industries like Music and Cinema. People anxiously await the latest release from their favorite artist, film-maker or actor with some level of anticipation, and this "anticipation" can be roughly translated into "Hype". Measuring hype over a large fan base isn't an exact science, of course, so what it comes down to really is a persons impression of the level of hype via various mediums.

I speak for many people when I say that the hype for Age of Conan was absolutely insane. Of course, this could have been one of the reasons for its ultimate demise, a point I actually didn't cover in my "Post Mortem Analysis" - to put it lightly, the game "didn't live up to the hype". People were writing and posting and going nuts over the prospect of finally getting to enter into the Hyborean frontier, possibly under the false impression that the entire game of Age of Conan was as polished and "fun" as the open beta area, and possibly because they hadn't experienced major MMO released since the failure of Vanguard a year before.

People can debate the reason that Age of Conan was hyped so much all day: whether it was the possibility for a revolutionary "Next Gen" MMO to finally be released, a mainstream MMO that was built around the promise of PVP combat, or people longing for a game that catered more towards a mature, adult audience. Funcom even took the phrase "There is no such thing as bad publicity" to a whole new level by trying to piss off and alienate the majority of their loyal playerbase by trying to make a buck or two out of the Open Beta. Even trying to scam 5 bucks out of people to play a beta wasn't enough to scare most people away.

New domains were registered, new blogs were created, and people spent countless hours pouring over beta videos, deciding what classes to play, and trying to get a "feel" for the game. People started throwing terms around like "Wow Killer" and "Finally, a PVP based MMO!". Theory-crafting was rampant, alliances and guilds formed, and at release, roughly 800,000 people rushed into the world, satisfying this primal urge to experience something they've truly anticipated.

Needless to say, Age of Conan let down the majority of players, on a larger scale than Tabula Rasa or even Vanguard: Saga of Brad McQuaid. Age of Conan was marketed towards a somewhat niche set of MMO demographics: adult content and a PVP oriented game. Without argument, the game has completely failed on the latter point, though it somewhat succeeded on the first - it kept its "M" rating, you get to see breasts, and the level of violence is unparalleled in any MMO on the market.

This brings us to Mythics upcoming beast Warhammer Online. It is my personal opinion that the hype level of Warhammer is less than Age of Conan, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. People were so aching for some new MMO blood on the market, especially PVPers, that Conan had a distinct advantage of being "first". In general, it seems people are much more cautious when considering Warhammer. Not that the internets has any shortage of fan sites or ongoing blogs about WAR - there are far more of these than there were for Conan. Warhammer has a clear advantage of using a very established Intellectual Property, meaning the amount of information and fan interest is already, by default, higher than Conan.

This might change once Warhammer Open Beta hits this weekend. Things really took off for Conan once the open beta disaster was underway - while the previews for the game itself were positive, the methods that Funcom used to both distribute and charge for access to the Open Beta caused a huge uproar in the collective MMO sphere, thus generating even more attention and/or interest to the game. Warhammer has taken a far more professional and less controversial route by not charging for Open Beta access, distributing the beta client on their dime (or via partner and fan sites) and generally being very open and forthcoming discussing problems and issues with their upcoming game. It's not easy to tell players that 1/8 of their playable classes won't make release, and only 1/3 of the proposed major cities will be there.

Conan might have had the upper hand with this "first MMO excitement" - but Mythic was clearly happy letting Funcom "pave the way" and learn from their mistakes. In fact, Mark Jacobs and crew have done almost the polar opposite of Funcom in many regards: calculated delays, cancellation instead of inclusion of sub-par game content, and overall a very professional and stable open beta platform.

Without a doubt, the hype level for Warhammer Online is about to peak next week once the Open Beta is up and running. And, while any game is susceptible to being over-hyped or "not living up to the hype" - I think that for the most part, due to the failure of Age of Conan, people will expect less overall from the Mythic team and from Warhammer Online. Using this logic, the failure of Age of Conan will be directly tied to the success of Warhammer Online in the first few months due to players overall caution and lower expectations going into a game.

I don't want to try and downplay Warhammer Online potentially being a good, epic, long lasting game: for a PVP wacko like myself who got tired of killing sad AI MOBS 10 years ago in Everquest, WAR could offer a PVP MMO experience that could rival the fun factor of DAoC many years ago. Sure, it might just be WoW 2.0: PVP Reloaded, but it still beats Blizzards joke of an "e-sport" (emphasis on quotes) even if Warhammer PVP/RVR ends up being a frontier zerg fest. As long as there is an Emain Macha in Warhammer, people will want to PVP, and PVP in any open environment is highly preferable to the controlled and instanced PVP battlegrounds of both WoW and AoC.

So, what do my readers think? Is the Warhammer hype less or more than Conan? Has Mythic done well in their attempts to hype the game? Are people really going crazy and I'm just missing it? Do tell.