Jeff Hickman is Executive Producer at EA Mythic. He has worked on several titles including Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online. Jeff gave a presentation at AGDC which outlined how players will purchase and play games in the future and what design ideas we might see years from now. He also touched on some of the areas where Warhammer went wrong and explained some improvements they are trying to make for the future on all of Mythic's products. After his presentation I had a chance to interview Jeff, sadly the video interview was lost, sorry Jeff, but I'll try to highlight some of the points he made.
Jeff explained that digital distribution is important in the future for games. There will always be boxed sales, but with services like STEAM and other digital download companies, getting games directly online easier than ever to do. In the future, more and more people will be downloading games online than going to the store to buy them.
Games will continue their trend to grow online. Almost every game in the future will have some aspect of online play to it. The phrase MMO will simply apply to every game across the board. In this change, the customer service of game companies will become more critical. Once players join an online game, it is important for the customer support to be top notch. Not just the help desk, but the community management as well.
Jeff continued on to talk about Mythic's history and future. Mythic started making much smaller online games in the 1990s. Then started work on Dark Age of Camelot which was a huge success for the studio. The game launched as being one of the best PvP experiences in the online market and filled a niche that Everquest never really offered. Dark Age of Camelot remains active today, and I bugged Jeff endlessly in our talk about giving the game a face lift and a more up to date look for the current MMO space to bring some players back. More on that later.
Jeff next talked about Warhammer and some of the problems they had when they launched the game. He listed three mistakes they made when designing the game early on. The first being easy of play, by this he said that the opening zones were too easy for players and did not add any risk or value. I can remember flying through the first ten levels without so much as a scratch on my character. This did not invest players enough in the risks of the dark and gritty Warhammer world.
Next Jeff explained that the game lacked certain social tools that worked to bring players together. While guild leveling was an important element, players still had very little reason to play together unless they joined a PvP scenario. Also, if you remember the mail system in Warhammer, it is one of the worst. Mail needed to be more fluid and easier to use for players. These failed efforts in social tools did not give players any reason for players to socialize.
The last place that the game had its problems right from the beginning was with its economy. Mythic was so extreme on getting rid of gold farmers that did not realize it made their economy pointless for the player. Jeff explained that commerce between o people can help build relationships between friends or guilds. With Warhammer's current economy there is very little need for gold. Right from the start this caused problems.
In talking with Jeff during our interview after the presentation, he also admitted that the W.A.R. team is working very hard to fix certain problems in the game. Right now, class balance and end game PvP are two of the problems Jeff explained needed some heavy repairs. He said the team is pushing to get these problems solved so PvP can get back to the forefront in the end game. Yes, Jeff knows AoE and crowd control need work.
Back to the presentation: Jeff talked about two elements of Warhammer that worked out very well in the game, the first being Public Quests, which are a great milestone in MMOs. The public quest system did well in bringing players together even if they were not in guilds and allowed them to work together. Public Quests did a lot for Warhammer both on a social level and on a game advancement level. Now players had a system to work together for loot as well. The next element that worked out very well for Warhammer was the open grouping system. Used especially in PvP the open grouping tools facilitated the need to get players together and into the battles on the map.
Overall Jeff's presentation was a good one. It was afterwards though that I got the chance to pressure him about Dark Age of Camelot. Many players remember DAOC as having the best PvP experience in the online game space. It is often referenced as the prime model for PvP, oddly enough no one has captured its format again. The key to DAOC was that three factions, Albion, Midgard, and Hibernia were all fighting it out for control. Mythic put in some expansions that sadly diluted the experience over time. Trials of Atlantis and New Frontiers were two that many people say did the game in. When Jeff asked me if I would like to go back to DAOC the way it was in the beginning I got excited.
It is great when an Executive Producer says, what would you do with Dark Age of Camelot? Well I explained that maybe a sequel would be the way to go. Or perhaps revamp the game with an updated engine, new graphics and art, and keep the world in its old form with game play very close to the way people remember it. Jeff smiled, smirked is more like it, for a very long time. Jeff said that they are hiring right now on the Dark Age of Camelot team. We can only hope DAOC will see a rejuvenation back to its old awesome PvP self.