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Jeff Hickman Interview

Jon Wood Posted:
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WAR: Jeff Hickman Interview

MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood sat down with Mythic's Jeff Hickman to talk about a number of issues including: Rally Call, Career Balance, the game's 10-Day trial and more.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mythic Entertainment’s Jeff Hickman to talk about a number of different issues that have come up recently about Warhammer Online.

In an article that we published last week, I talked a little bit about my impressions of Patch 1.2, a pretty hefty little update in which Mythic made changes galore. My mission: to find out exactly what the team’s “rally call” feature was all about. . We know that it’s a new system that will prompt players to port to the nearest Warcamp for some Open RvR goodness, but we wanted to know how it worked, and what we can expect from it in the future.

During our conversation, we also talked about issues like: Mythic’s current 10-day free trial, balancing careers, and other Warhammer issues:

Rally Call

As mentioned before, Rally Call is a new button on WAR’s UI that lights up occasionally and will, if pressed, teleport the player to the nearest Warcamp. The feature itself has been fairly well received (though not universally, there are still a few who don’t like it), whereas it does seem to improve the number of players in ORvR, but the fact of the matter is that no one really knows how it works. To players in-game, it seems more or less random.

“Rally call is almost always time based,” Hickman answered. “All that it is at this point is an effort to pull people into the open RvR lakes. It’s not currently based on any kind of queuing or population-based criteria so it doesn’t attempt to balance sides or anything like that.”

“We have a second phase of that that’s coming with the next major patch,” he continued. “It’s more of an Open Field Queuing System where you just sign up for a Rally Call and when it gets to a certain max, it fires off. That’s the intent for the future, but it doesn’t do that currently. We didn’t want to hold back on what we had, so we put it in.”

Balancing Careers

Next, I asked Jeff a general question about the balancing changes that have been made in 1.2. What worked, and what didn’t:

“It’s really tough to balance because there are two pieces to it. The first is the perceptual piece from the players, and then there’s the piece that we get from our data that we pull from the game. Things like: time to kill, damage output, DPS, one on one fights between specific careers and how they play out with each other, what abilities are being used more often than not, these kind of things.”

“It’s difficult balancing careers,” he explained. “I always say that I wish we never did anything with careers. The problem is that this makes the players unhappy too, so you go in, you be as careful as you possibly can, and you look at the facts and you glean from them what needs to happen and then you try to help players understand so that perception is good.”

“In actuality,” he said, turning back to the specific question, “it’s gone very well. There are a couple of pieces that I’ve looked at and said I’m not sure if we tweaked it just right, but this was on public test for a month. We were constantly listening to and reacting to what the players were saying. We were analyzing every little piece, but it’s so complex that I think there are a couple little things that probably need a little bit more tweaking and we’ll of course be ongoing looking at that stuff but overall, if you look at the data that we have, everything looks really, really good and in general we’ve had positive feedback about it. There are a couple of little places… Witch Elves aren’t happy, but when you look at the facts, their DPS is still outrageously high but in line with where it should be whereas before it was way out there. There’s a lot of pieces that are difficult to stomach because you have to balance somebody down, or balance somebody else up who is their enemy which makes them feel weaker. No matter which way you go, you never seem to make everybody happy, but I think we did a pretty good job this time.”

Warhammer Online Screenshot

Communicating Systems to Players

One of the gripes that I have had with Mythic about WAR has been that while there are some great and complex systems at play in their game, they don’t always do a great job of explaining them in-game to their players. The rally call system is a good example of this, I saw a lot of people responding the same way: it’s great, but how does it work? Same goes for the Twisting Tower Scenario added into the game for this last live event. Similarly, players who are new to the game often tell me that they find the Experience vs. influence (two different kinds) vs renown advancement system difficult to understand. I asked Jeff to talk about this a little:

“That’s a great point,” he said. “There are a couple of ways to look at it: Certain systems we don’t want to explain. We don’t want to tell you the exact ins and outs of how exactly everything works but there’s a point at which you need to know how to use it. I think Twisting Tower is a really good example of that. I don’t want to slam my team; Twisting Tower is a really cool scenario, it’s also very complex and when you go into it, it’s just like any other scenario. It works in pretty much the same way: you come to the loading screen, it tells you that you need to capture the Atrium and the Loft to capture the Oculus of Change… and you’re like ‘great… what does that mean?” I get in there to play and it’s like I have no idea what I have to do so I play it three or four times to figure it out. So I think definitely, we can work on it. I think for the simpler systems in the game, what we have works really well, but when you get more complex, I think we need to improve on how we give that information to players. It’s difficult, because we can run into tooltip overload where the solution is just to put a tooltip in because that’s how we generally explain things… Sometimes we try to do this with our more complex systems and we find that it’s just too much so then our recommendation to our team becomes, ‘don’t be so complex, keep things simple because we want players to understand.”

Servers (population and such)

A while back, EA announced that Warhammer Online had roughly 300,000 subscribers currently in the game. I wanted to ask Jeff how they felt about the numbers and whether or not those numbers held up to the number of servers that the game currently supported. Jeff told me that Mark Jacobs had already answered those questions and that his answers should stand, but he also wanted to give us a little bit of color for them:

“In general, we’re very happy with our numbers, in general, with the servers that we have right now, we want the most populated servers we can get (up to a point) and we’re very happy with how we’ve pushed population to a core set of servers. Those servers are where we want people and on those servers, we have great populations. They’re not perfect, some are too high and there are I think one or two that I think are too low but we have a core number that we want, a number of players we want on the server to make it feel good, and we’re constantly pushing for that. I think some of the things you’re going to see with some of the things we’re doing: We’ve got a 10-day trial that we just put up, we’ve got a re-acquisition campaign coming up… We’re already seeing populations rising on those core servers and we push all of our new players to those servers. So I’m very happy with where we are with those servers, with the population numbers that we have on those servers, and the direction that our population is going.”

10-Day Free Trial

There is always a lot of debate surrounding MMOs and free trials. Some people think that a free trial should be available at launch, others think that there shouldn’t be free trials at all. Some think it’s an arbitrary thing, some think that it’s an indication that the company is finally happy with the product that they have released.

In any case, I wanted to talk to Jeff a little bit about the 10-Day free trial that Mythic is now offering for WAR. This is in addition to the current Recruit-a-Friend promotion that the company has been running.

“We really looked at this 1.2 Version, the start of the Call to Arms, as a chance for us to play catcher on a baseball team. We’re sitting, right now, with our giant catcher’s mitt out. 1.2 was a focal point for us to pull the glove out and say we’re ready to catch everybody.”

Up until this point, I was with the analogy, but here’s where it became a little bit more amusing:

“The people who we are hoping are flying through the air,” he continued, “are people who are: coming from other games, who went out to play… oh, I don’t know… Lich King, and who have done what they wanted to do and are bored with it. We hope they are people who tried our game when it first launched and for whatever reason didn’t subscribe, or new players even. So we’ve targeted a whole bunch of different subsets of the population and said ‘Ok, we’re going to do everything we can to lower the barrier of entry to get those people to come and play the game.’ And so it’s things like putting the buddy key system in place and making sure that we motivate you to say ‘hey friend, I want you to come play this game with me. And if that friend says ‘I don’t know if I want to go out and buy the game’, you are now able to tell your friend that there’s a 10 day trial and a fairly small download, it’s not even the full game. And then, beyond that, there’s re-acquisition: ‘hey, you’ve played our game in the past. You should come back and try it again, and here is X for coming back and trying our game again. Oh, and here’s version 1.2, the new classes… all of the things that we’ve done. So, if you look at [all that we’re doing] they all come together in this 1.2 and 1.3 version over the next couple of months, it’s just a matter of doing everything we can to make the game accessible to everyone.”

To clarify, the trial itself is for 10 days, but it limits players to teir 1 and capital city content only (thus the download not being the full game). I was told that you can do everything in T1, but nothing else. It all comes out to about 6 Gb for the trial (out of 12 or 13 for the whole game).


Jon Wood