It’s no secret that Warhammer Online is in a big rut at the moment. The most important link the community had with the devs, Andy Belford, left Mythic and Carrie seems to have given over the reins of WAR development to James Casey. Big changes the community is rightfully sceptical of. Any game development discussion seems to have slowed down and patches are being worked on very slowly (the patching speed never was lightning fast to start with). It’s as if Mythic isn’t quite sure where and how to begin setting the game up on its legs again, after the recent changes, the population drop and with most of the staff being shuffled to help with SWToR (it’s not a secret, Bioware). So here’s my contribution. A short countdown or a list of items Mythic should be working on, the ones with the highest priority on the top. Yay, a countdown!
1. Separate RR80+ players from lower ranked ones.
If you thought the power gap between players fresh into T4 (anywhere between RR30-45 these days) and RR80 veterans in Sovereign gear is bad, wait till you see how the RR90 players in Doomflayer rip the Sovereign guys a new one. It’s quite comical to watch. But it stops being funny when they fart in your general direction (two crits can be enough, especially if they are a MDPS) and you get overkilled back to Ultima. The power gap between RR80 players and RR90 players is almost as big as the one mentioned before it. I daren’t even think of RR100 players in Warpforged.
New tier is warranted, as the power gap will only grow because of the fact that committed players rack in exponentially more playtime over time than casual players. But don’t just separate the community into two already largely separated parts (the casual and the… not-so-casual). Give players a choice and gently but firmly nudge them into the right tier. I’ll expand on an idea about this in a later post.
2. Introduce new PvP content.
PvP in WAR has largely been the same since launch, bar some technical and mechanical changes. The feel is indeed quite different from back then, but those kind of changes don’t do away with the drudgery of staring into the same textures, models, terrain, spells,… as back then.
Every game gets stale if it doesn’t get new content. Single player games are meant to be played and replayed a few times and then maybe returned to a few months or years later. That’s why they get expansions, DLCs (those disgusting drug dealers) and sequels. MMOs are designed to be played every day for the rest of your miserable, tiny, insignificant life. Err… That’s why they need new content. And because WAR is a PvP game it needs new PvP content (gasp!). No PvE environment will make the game feel fresh if the focus of the game is PvP. How is that not apparent and evident at first glance?
Let’s take a look at new (really new) content we’ve seen so far:
- Land of the Dead – PvE: bad
- Hunter’s Vale – PvE: very good PvE at that, but what am I going to do with a ladder?
- Revamped city sieges – almost counts as new content: very good
- Thanquol’s Incursion – PvE 90% of the time: bad
Swift conclusion: PvE: bad, PvP: good. Whoa!
Unneeded conclusion of a conclusion: WAR needs the rest of the cities released as playable PvP (don’t mention another word of your PvE dungeon ideas, or I’ll smack you!) content.
New PvP zones, new scenarios, new game modes (imagine ORvR CTF, King of the hill, Murder-ball, leapfrog,…), new enemies with new ways of kicking your new ass. Whatever. PvP content, we need it. And it’s gotta be new, which means you can take out two stones with one bird by fixing both issue 1 and 2 with a single solution, but more on that later.
Playable skaven don’t count as new content if they aren’t really playable. Good idea, bad implementation. More of that but better.
I know balance is on every MMO developer’s mind (no, don’t interrupt), more so on the brain of people who are developing PvP MMOs. Because it pisses players a hell of a lot more when they get killed by an OP class, than when they get outdamage on a boss by the same OP class. And when you think those people have it rough, you bump into WAR, with its complicated faction-wide mirroring system instead of straight class mirrors. You can’t deny it makes the game something special, but you also can’t deny it makes it a nightmare to balance. Especially because of the subjective nature of balance, as no one can see the whole picture, not even the guy who made the game.
Mythic has a history of knee-jerk reactions after taking way to long to realise that there is a problem in the first place. Playerbased feedback is always a multi-edged ball of swords, but a developer that has access to metrics, statistics and what-not should be able to realise that there is a problem way before the playerbase discards a class as useless. Rings a bell (clues: the disabled, drunks, cross dressers, more drunks, lunatics, drug addicts and possibly legolasses)?
That past of exchanging periods of silence and denial with knee-jerk, all-in reactions left the game in a shaky state. After most of the people responsible for that debacle were sacked or promoted (in equal measure), the game balancing changed shifted into an over-cautious mode, where the sorely needed changes were only promised in favour of subtle and ultimately redundant changes that were taking painstakingly long to implement.
This is how balancing is done today, one step forward and two steps back onto a banana peel. Some careers are now extinct or soon will be. I hear they’re removing the Magus from the kill tasks for the next live event in order to make completing it possible.
I can and do appreciate how hard it is to balance a game with a bunch of passionate geeks, cross dressers and pre-pubescent boys yelling into your ear. But it’s quite obvious that Mythic is failing hard at this, as most other games do more than fine compared to WAR in this area. The solution to this is quite simple. Read about it in the appendix (totally unneeded).
In conclusion: more firm and timely balancing. Small reversible steps with testing periods in between. That’s how you dance the PvP-money waltz.
4. Fix server population.
Mythic, you keep going on and on about how server population is important for the enjoyment of the game and how you are taking it seriously. But at the same time, with all your supposed metrics and monitoring, it takes you a whole year to realise that a server is dead. Not wanting to jump the gun and offer transfers early is one thing, but leaving a server to die for a whole year is quite another. Holy cow, and then you have the nerve to go and introduce paid server transfers and charge a fortune for them? In feudal japan the whole bloodline of the guy whose idea this was would perform Seppuku. Yes, it’s that bad.
If the metrics and stats that you are constantly collecting (as you are quite eager to remind us, as if it gives you some sort of virtual control over the situation — by the way, monitoring and inaction isn’t controlling, action is — ) don’t give you all the information about how playability on a server suffers when the population dips, the solution is simple. Read about it in the appendix (unnecessary, but orderly).
To summarise; as with balancing the game, server population balancing needs to be faster and firmer. Offer transfers in short windows of time, make them reversible once, whenever. This will ensure only the active population transfers and that the transfer can be reversed. Perform many of those and slowly balance servers, but most importantly, SHOW YOU’RE BLOODY DOING SOMETHING.
And if you’re worried about realm pride, don’t, its long dead. If there is any left anywhere, addition of new blood will only spices things up. Sort of like the addition of a few shots of tequila or whiskey after a few pints of beer.
5. Improve communications between developers and the playerbase.
Back when the EU community was stuck with GOA, it was only to be expected for us to be pretty much cut off from the discussion, no matter how much either side tried to bridge the gap. Now that all the communities have been merged, with translators working non-stop (as much as the developers, at any rate) to bridge the language gap, the EU community can’t really tell if anything has changed. We’re pretty much in the same hole as we were before, but this time everyone is in here with us.
During the development and a few months after Mythic used the great blogging community to spread excitement, incite discussion and bring the community closer together, despite the lack of official forums. Why did you stop Mythic? That was one of the best viral ad campaigns I’ve seen and was exciting for both the bloggers and their readers. Sure you do blog round-ups now and then (who’s going to do them now that Andy is gone?), but that’s not nearly the level of interaction we’ve seen in the past.
Creation of the official forums was a light at the end of the tunnel. Even though at the time only NA players could participate, the forums did good. Then came the move to the shared Bioware forums, which are, excuse my french, shit. They suck. Even though I know that the move is very likely completely out of your control Mythic, I can’t ignore the fact that the Bioware forums actually hinder communication rather than improve it. I usually browse nearby blogs when I’m searching for a developer post because I’m more likely to find it there, and faster too (thanks Skar!). There isn’t even a developer post tracker for crying out loud (as far as I know)!
Games Workshop threatening to sue the biggest unofficial WAR forums, Warhammer Alliance, didn’t help. I know trademark protection isn’t something anyone besides GW controls and likely wasn’t done out of malice (then again, GW are like an evul dragon sitting on a mountain of shinies and roasting anyone who dares approach), but it didn’t help. Fact.
The game’s website has become pretty much useless, at this point. The news aren’t updated, the fabled Realm War was taken offline and pretty much every other part of the website is outdated or broken. DAoC has a better website a this point, they even have a semi-working Realm War.
I realise the funds and the team has probably been curbed beyond workable by now, but I’m sure the higher-ups can understand the need for keeping up an orderly public appearance and the importance of allowing the players to interact or at least imagine interacting with the game even when they aren’t playing. Not to mention the usefulness of a working website that doesn’t give the impression the servers have been shut down long ago.
More and faster communication. You were good at this once, try harder. Without communication, WAR is just a game. If I want to play just a game, I’ll go play tic-tac-toe with a penguin. Actually that would be more than just a game, nevermind.
6. Start using more of the game’s world.
WAR is a very big game, zone-wise. Each tier is packed with cool mobs, locales, items and random easter-eggs. The game world and the Tome of Knowledge with its unlocks are quite obviously a labour of love. Sure there might be some recurring caves and tombs and some of the unlocks may be broken, but the amount of content that exists out there is similar to the one used by the PvP section of the game. It’s almost like the two sections are walled off and completely separate, because they don’t interact and the components of both never co-exist.
For instance, there is no PvP to be found in the PvE sections of the game, not unless some intrepid guild or individual organises it. Likewise, there are very few unlocks, easter-eggs or other secrets to be found in the PvP areas of the game. Why can’t they intertwine and co-exist?
Start by experimenting with zones. Take one of those greenskin vs dwarf PQs where both sides compete, make it into a live event by making up a few tasks and throwing up some random but lucrative rewards, chuck them randomly across the zone, multiple in one and stretch the ORvR lake over the whole zone. Then observe. Are the results good? Did the players like it? Continue with the experiment. Do a live event where you queue with a group for a dungeon, say LV. When the opposing realm queues aswell, you get to enter the instance, both groups at the same time, each into their own instance. You then race against the other group (that you can’t interact with but can track on the map via a sort of gutter runner blips) to try to kill individual bosses before them or finish the instance first. Throw in a random event where the two groups get ported into the same room and have to duke it out, bad or good PvE setups, tactics, morale loadouts, gear and all. The loser suffers no punishment other than not completing the tasks and getting laughed at. A bit hard to pull off because it’s quite a bit of work, but hopefully you’ve still got a live event team that is sitting on their asses.
Start mixing things up. We are here for PvP, but with a world so full of wonderful things why not mix in some PvE aswell. City sieges are a great example, if it weren’t for the fact that most of the sweets of the old city sieges (Gotrek and Felix, Aekold Hellbrass, opposing realm city dungeons, cities to explore, etc…) have been moved or disabled with the overhaul. More of using your own content please!
7. Separate scenario queues for premade and PuG groups
Look, we don’t care about your excuses. We don’t care that you’ve “tried”. We don’t want a band-aid fix like a permanent 6v6 scenario (although after a few PuG scens I’d settle for this). Every other MMO can do it, why can’t you?
Cross-server queues, 20 min waiting times, sacrificing Bobby Kotick to Khorne, whatever it takes. If the scenarios are only enjoyable 30% of the time, when you get an even balanced fight, I’d rather have to queue longer and do away with the frustration of bad scenarios. Let’s say the new queue takes 30 min, but I can do an average of 3 scenarios in that time (Crestfactory is fast, Serpent’s Bowels is the long haul) in the old system. I’d rather take that one pop every 30 min and enjoy it than take all 3 faster pops, enjoy one of them and want to commit suicide by a rusty spoon the other two, twice. Reduce insignia costs for reduced pops. Whatever it takes. Get my drift?
Appendix (the Unneeded)
It’s quite obvious that Mythic is out of touch with the game and has very little idea of the game and server population balance. It’s plain that they either don’t want to or can’t play the game enough. The solution is to hire a few trained professionals to actively play WAR with different careers at different ranks in offices on a daily basis for 6-7 hours a day (peak hours). Pay them a measly 2$ an hour or so and give them a free lifetime sub. Have them submit a report or a questionnaire each day after “work”, inform them of emergency situations (server pop is low, career sucks,…) and have them alert you to it. You can even take your metrics and crap. Alternatively, if you still have a Q&A department, get them to start playing WAR instead of WoW and at least be useful that way. They sure aren’t doing any good the way they are.
Just make sure they aren’t and don’t become fanboys, see themselves as grunts and feel privileged to be paid for playing. Punishment, abuse and frequent layoffs should do the trick.
That way you’ll have a constant stream of cheap and reliable inside information that you lack and will be able to fix the game and servers accordingly. If you still fail after that you just suck.
And before you even try, core testers are not exactly what is being suggested here. Core testers are a bunch of stuck-up twats that think themselves above the rabble because they help test things. Their knowledge is usually lacking and where knowledge is absent, heart takes charge. Fanboism and groveling galore. Well, mostly anyway. No, I don’t care if I hurt anyone, you’ve never given me anything except rash.
No, I’m suggesting an objective, hateful bunch of pathetic drudges that hate you too much to grovel before you and just want to get their job done. Now, where do I sign up? I’ve got the hate part down perfectly.