Bioware Mythic announces Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, which was originally titled Warhammer Online: Battlegrounds And That’s It Because You Gits Have The Attention Span Of A Tsetse Fly And We Added A Third Side Because DAOC Battlegrounds Were Pretty Fun That Way And This Title Is Really Long We Should Change It.
So if you played Warhammer Online and thought “you know, I really liked the battlegrounds, but not enough to pay a monthly sub, but maybe enough to pay extra for a +4 Sword Of Swordening”, this is your thing.
[EDIT 4/9 8:30p: Mythic made an official statement today explicitly taking responsibility and pledging to make right their error. This is far better than their earlier comments that I rail about below but it does make much of the rest of this post look unjustifiably whiny. Frankly, I'd rather look whiny and people get good CS then the reverse.]
Today, my bank notified me that Mythic entertainment had billed my credit card 44 times in a single day for $14.95, for a total of more than six hundred dollars. This was interesting since I don’t have 44 Warhammer accounts. Indeed, I cancelled my Warhammer subscription a few months ago.
We have confirmed with our vendor that players who have been charged multiple times for their subscriptions should start seeing a reversal of charges within 24-36 hours. We anticipate that once the charges have been reversed, any fees that have been incurred should be refunded as well. If after 36 hours, there are still incorrect charges or fees on your account, please follow these instructions:
Please begin by contacting your financial institution and explain to them that you were incorrectly charged multiple times and, as a result, over drafted. Most financial institutions will reverse these charges
If your financial institution is unable to remove these charges, you may contact our billing department by calling 650-628-1001 during our hours of operation, which are 10:00 AM EDT – 10:00 PM EDT, 7 days a week. Please have the phone and fax number of your financial institution ready when you call.
We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience that this issue may be causing our players. Please continue to watch the Herald in the coming days for further information regarding this issue.
Note what is missing from this:
* A clear-cut statement of responsibility and assurance this won’t happen again. As is standard operating procedure from the CYA manual, all that is offered here is an “apology for any *inconvenience* that *this issue* may be causing”. Because hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees (which, contrary to Mythic Rumor Control, banks do not reverse when you ask politely), you know, is a minor inconvenience – not “our mistake”, not “our issue”, just “this issue” – that can be addressed with a statement that refers to “an event” that, you know, just happened.
* Any sort of compensation to players for their financially damaging *inconvienience*. Because, I suppose, that would entail some statement of responsibility. For, you know, cleaning out your customer’s bank accounts. Instead of just, you know, assuming that just somehow *happened* by some unnamed *third party vendor*.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. And, you know, Flagship Studios isn’t around any more. There may be a connection. If you can’t even be trusted to collect just the money you’re supposed to… there may be some issues. Oh. Sorry. “this issue”.
So now that I’m home and can look up from wikis and playtests, some reflection on part of today’s news.
It’s probably no secret that Mark Jacobs and I have had our differences in the past – in particular, after some of my more critical writings about Mythic and Warhammer, it’s safe to say I’m not on his holiday card list. After a day of following various commentary on Mark’s departure around the darker corners of the Intarwebs, though, I think some things need to be noted publicly.
To say that Mark was an outsized personality does an injustice to outsized personalities. When I started at Mythic, I got an inkling of what I was in for when Mark grilled me over the phone – for three hours – before I started over an intemperate forum posting on my old site in a post about gay rights, to make sure that the newest addition to the Mythic family wasn’t an intolerant gay-basher. (Mythic was heads and tails above the gaming industry in hiring diversity, something I never appreciated enough until I left.)
In case I hadn’t gotten the message, it was reinforced when a week later, after I spent a night in a DAOC IRC channel enjoying the ego boost of being ‘a developah’, he showed up at my desk with a detailed, annotated chat log of the multitude of mistakes made, with the unspoken message that the new guy who was third tools programmer from the left probably didn’t have a lot of business doing community relations, no matter how much of an Internet badass he thought he was.
One of the most irritating mistakes the media makes when covering games is treating games as the personal project of their most visible namesake – World of Warcraft coming from Rob Pardo or Jeff Kaplan, Assassin’s Creed coming from Jade Raymond, or, in this entirely too risible snippet Old Man Murray found on IGN once upon a time:
“There’s a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person,” says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex.
Except that in Mythic’s early days, it wouldn’t have been too far off. Mark wasn’t just a visible figurehead – in many ways Mythic was his. Mark wasn’t intimately involved in DAOC’s design or production (although I do remember him whiteboarding crafting systems a lot) but for him, Mythic was his family. He was immensely proud of how none of the original Mythic staffers had left for years. When Dark Age of Camelot shipped and was a commercial success, the ensuing bonuses (which I had just made it under the wire to qualify for) were generous – in my case a significant portion of my salary, and carried over long after DAOC was no longer as profitable. Because he saw them as his family.
It was a family he was very protective of, as I found out when I joined the merry band, and that aspect changed little over the years. Unfortunately, Mythic rapidly grew beyond the 25 or so that shipped DAOC, and as that family atmosphere changed, it was easy to see that Mark wasn’t happy about it. He would occasionally drop into my office and others as the years passed, either to trade insights on the industry or on entertainment in general (and for him, a Joss Whedon MMO would probably have been the perfect storm).
Then there was Imperator. Imperator was very much Mark’s project – he came up with the backstory, was deeply involved with the design, and was far more hands on in its production than I had seen him in years. Unfortunately, it didn’t work (something I later came to be very sympathetic with) and as the company smoothly shifted gears from Imperator to Warhammer, he took great pride in how almost everyone was able to keep their jobs in the process. Mythic was still his family, even if it was too large for him to actually know them all any more.
By that time, though, it was a family I didn’t want a part of any more. When I posted my initial farewell, I noted that my motivation for leaving was to move to Texas from northern Virginia. That was certainly true – I’m currently typing this from the living room of my house, and making that statement true in NoVA would have cost me about a half a million more than it did here. But it wasn’t the entire truth – Mythic had, by that time, grown to the point where it was no longer a family, but a company, and a company with the usual office politics, mismanagement, and frustrated career paths. In retrospect, if I worked for me, I would have fired me; as it was, Mythic was good enough to let me find my way out the door (even after, in one memorable Homer Simpsonesque moment, I arrived back to work from a job interview to find out someone at the company I interviewed at IMed a producer to ask what I was doing there. Whoops.)
And on my last day, after I was ordered to leave the building early – by Mark – I was asked to come back to talk – by Mark. He wanted to know why a family member was leaving. And so I told him, and mentioned in passing, given the then in-progress EA buyout to watch his back, that there were people there who did not have his best interests at heart.
Those people are still there. Mark isn’t. And while I wouldn’t work with them again – and most likely would have significant issues working with the lead designer of Warhammer and Imperator – the Mark of the DAOC launch team, I would have taken a bullet for. I’m pretty sure everyone involved feels the same.
But given the outsized personality that Mark is, I’m 100% sure that we have not heard the last of him, either in the near term (he does have a blog he seems to have forgotten about – and he certainly has more qualifications for drive-by pontification than nearly anyone else, including myself) or in the long term.
And I would hazard a guess that the Mark of Dragon’s Gate will be a far happier guy then the Mark of EA Mythic. And that’s what counts among family members.
For the number two spot, Jacobs reasoned that “Warhammer” would need at least a half-million subscribers, which he guessed was close to what “Final Fantasy” and “EverQuest 2” have now. “Let’s just say north of half a million would mean we’re successful. Now how a far north? I wouldn’t mind being a little bit cold.”
Well, given the drop from 750K to 300K, I suspect there have been some particularly arctic moments. And given the general state of the economy – and of Electronic Arts - things will only get chillier.
The industry needs a hit from a company not named Blizzard, please.
…as for the new careers, what can I say but they are both very, very cool. Players have asked us for a year whether we would put the Choppa back in and many have asked (especially here on the Vault) that we please add the Slayer.
But hey, that’s not all. Darkness Falls is back! (Which is cool, I loved Legion and he loved me, especially in a stompy sort of way.)
I think it is very safe to say that DAoC’s Darkness Falls was one of the most successful addons to the game. Over the last few months we’ve gotten a ton of feedback and requests (once again, here on the Vault) asking us to create a next-generation DF, and we are in the process of doing just that.
21 customer service employees, half of QA and all of the playtest group according to Joystiq, which if true would mean that Mythic is not immune to the layoffs coursing through the rest of EA’s bloodstream.
All is not lost, though, as the MMO company still finds time to send out hair care gear.
Seems like everyone’s talkin’ about Warhammer these days. Including, you know, those wacky guys who work on the most popular MMO ever made. Jeff Kaplan in particular had a few things to say:
Now that “Warhammer Online” has been out for almost a month, I wondered if Kaplan had gotten a chance to try it. Even though he’s been busy working on “Wrath of the Lich King,” he revealed he has spent a little time with it.
“My character is like level 13 right now, and I’m playing Destruction on a server that’s imbalanced,” he said, referring to the factions in the game. He also said leveling his character has been going a bit slowly. “I’m at the point where I’m thinking about quitting because it feels like the best way to level up is in the battlegrounds,” he explained.
Hmm, sounds kind of familiar. And you’d think it would make sense for the Lead Designer of World of Warcraft to keep himself aware of the state of the MMO marketplace, right? However, the interviewer decided to poke Kaplan a bit about Mythic’s somewhat draconian beta/NDA policies:
I asked Kaplan why he thought he and other Blizzard employees weren’t allowed into the “Warhammer” beta. “That’s a great question,” he said. “I’m always fascinated by betas in general and [non-disclosure agreements] and how tight-lipped they tend to be. It’s Blizzard philosophy that if you’re really confident in your game, then you have nothing to worry about. So I guess that would be my big take away from that.”
WELL then. That’s a pretty diplomatic way to say “O SNAP”, I thought. Surprisingly, Mark Jacobs disagreed.
Frankly, what got me steamed is a piece at MTV where the guy talks a bit of smack about WAR, our Beta policy and stuff like that. My reaction to that was, interesting.
You don’t say.
I’ve always said nice things about WoW as I thank Blizzard for expanding the market, bringing more attention to this space, most important MMO of this generation, etc. But for Kaplan to shoot off his mouth about our beta policy, lack of confidence or criticism about WAR is just BS and it’s wrong. And so, I deviated from my long-standing policy of not criticizing other developers, especially on subjective issues. It will be an interesting read.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I remember one interview with Pardo prior to WoW’s launch where he saud that WoW’s PvP system/realm point/honor point/etc. would be, unlike DAoC, useful. Hmm, how many times have they redone that system? Developers should stick to worrying about their own games and companies as none of us are perfect. People who live in glass castles and all that.
“I’m disappointed with the decision from a leader in the MMO industry to go down a path which in the past, has been an anathema to them and remains so to just about every other MMORPG company in the industry. I think that not only supporting the sale of in-game characters, items and currency, but also taking a ‘cut’ of those sales, is not only a mistake but one of the worst decisions in the history of the MMORPG industry,” says Jacobs.
They have made billions off WoW and they really don’t need Kaplan dissing, in any way, a competitive product. That’s just wrong, period. I didn’t diss EQ/AC/UO when we were developing DAoC and that’s always been a standing rule of mine. If another developer doesn’t want to play by the same rule, I reserve the right to respond, which I did. In Kaplan’s case, talking about “his issues” with WAR during it’s first 30 days is laughable especially since WoW had plenty of issues of their own at launch and considering that they spent 2x as long working on WoW as we did on WAR, some of their issues were just as bad or worse than ours. And his nonsense about our Beta is even more laughable considering Blizzard runs internal-only (NDAed by employment agreements) alphas at the same point where we would already be inviting thousands of regular people (under NDA) into our game.
I’m not normally a conspiracy kind of guy but within a few days of each other the COO and the Game Director of Blizzard both diss our game (though Paul did damn us with faint praise) does make me wonder.
Yes, of course the fact that, you know, Warhammer Online launched last month and garnered almost a million subs and people in the MMO industry might have opinons on that is besides the point: BLIZZARD IS GOING TO TAKE MYTHIC DOWN. Oh, if only a corporation with very large pockets stood behind plucky little Mythic.
Referring to Kaplan’s mention of the 30-45 minute wait times for battlegrounds (called “Scenarios” in “Warhammer Online”), Jacobs said that “World of Warcraft” also had long queues just to get into the servers to play the game when it first launched in 2004.
Well, yes, to a neophyte on online games (like, dare I say, the MTV reporter), sure, that’s a fair cop. Of course, Blizzard’s queue times (which were often far greater than 45 minutes) were the result of half the known world trying to access the game servers, and Mythic’s queue times are the result of, well, half the known world choosing Destruction. Note to Mythic: not buying enough servers is something your Ops team can fix. Making one side have heavy metal Vikings who can turn their arms into battering rams and the other side having poncy elves? Um, that’s not something Ops can fix.
Responding to the user interface similarities, Jacobs said that “World of Warcraft” wasn’t the first game to feature customizable interfaces. While he credited them for polishing it, he also said that it should be pointed out that “World of Warcraft” learned from Sony Online’s “EverQuest” and Mythic’s “Dark Age of Camelot.”
Again, Mark taking advantage of a credulous reporter’s lack of knowledge here. Actual MMO players would know that there is a WORLD of difference between the ability to skin an interface (seen in EQ and DAOC) and the ability to SCRIPT an interface (seen in WoW and Warhammer). Now, if Mark had simply said “Yes, Warcraft’s interface scripting set the standards for user interfaces, much as Everquest set the standards for easy UI skinning and the whole getting 40 friends to kill a dragon thing”, that would have been more accurate. As it is, I have to wonder if he’s been giving debate advice to John McCain.
“If you look at ‘Warhammer,’ there were so many points [where] we consciously made the decision not to be like ‘WoW’ and to try to push the envelope. I think you’ll find that if you’re actually going to compare the two products, I would say ‘WoW’ is certainly a more polished game now than ‘Warhammer is — of course they’ve had four years and billions of dollars — but if you look at the innovations in ‘Warhammer,’ you’d be hard-pressed to find as many in ‘WoW.’”
Billions? BILLIONS of dollars? Um, no. Bobby Kotick said it would TAKE a billion dollars to compete with WoW – which, ironically enough, Mark Jacobs quite correctly called him on. To date, the most expensive video game production has been Grand Theft Auto 4, whose budget is in the $100 million range. But that’s a side tangent – the point is that if World of Warcraft and Warhammer developers are going to get into a slapfight over which team was the most derivative, um… er… I think we’ll all laugh quite a bit. And then both developers can collapse, tired and beaten, into their HUGE VATS FULL OF MONEY.
For more cranky bastard commentary, see the relevant f13.net thread, where I ganked these thread links from (apologies for the inexact direct linking, but, hey, you know, Vault Network.)
Haven’t seen this anywhere online but Quarter to Three message board, but apparently this was in their latest newsletter:
When the credits story first appeared, Mark Jacobs, the GM of Mythic, was in the middle of a series of interviews in New York. After an interview with N’Gai Croal of Newsweek and Level Up blog, Mark asked N’Gai for his thoughts on the subject. N’Gai suggested simply putting the full credits online. Mark is in the process of implementing N’Gai’s suggestion, and in doing so, Mythic will move towards a greater level of credits inclusiveness.
I’ve known Mark for more than 10 years now, and he’s always been a strong proponent of the online games industry and an ethical businessman. Mark was honest about a difficult subject and immediately after the interviews ended, he began a process of formulating new credit policies. Unfortunately, when the previous newsletter was sent out, Mark, unbeknownst to the me, was quietly continuing to work on a new credit policy for the studio. Mark, I regret that my comments caused you personal and professional distress.
The Mythic team is also taking the following steps to address credit policies:
- In-game and manual credits will be reserved for the launch team.
- Mythic will create an online database listing the name and title of everyone who contributed to a project, regardless of current employment status. Additionally, the studio will make best efforts to provide this information for its previous online games.
- Mythic has committed to working with the IGDA, leading game industry history and credit sites and other interested parties to establish a credits feed, listing all contributors, to promote fair and accurate credit reporting across the industry.
- Mark Jacobs will consult with the IGDA Credits Standard Committee to offer guidance on the issues and challenges posed specifically by MMOs.
Fair and accurate credits and transparent standards for crediting remain a pervasive problem in the industry, and I applaud Mythic for taking steps to address this issue. I’m personally looking forward to Mark’s involvement with the Credit Standards Committee, not only because of his depth of experience in online games, but because, more importantly, his personal commitment to fair and accurate credits sets an outstanding example for industry leadership.
There are also a few ex-Mythic employees that I recognized listed in the “Special Thanks” section of the Warhammer credits that appear in the client, so there was some give on that as well. (I bought the electronic delivery version, so I don’t know what’s in the manual.)