Fear, ItselfJune 28, 2008
If we were burdened with the homework assignment of listing the greatest fears of the Warhammer Online community right now, “another delay” would be tied with “not living up to expectations” and “getting the stuffing beat out of it by WoW”, but just behind “spiders and spider-related superheroes”.
It’s the big invisible elephant in the WAR room: what if WAR’s going to be delayed again? It’s not outside of the realm of possibility, after all. Mythic has made the call twice to postpone WAR for futher testing and polish, and EA has stuck by them both times. Mythic’s also been adamant that WAR doesn’t ship until it meets their expectations, first and foremost. “It won’t ship until it’s done,” they’ve said, “And done right.”
Delays cause considerable conflicting emotions to well up in the hearts of fans (note, that’s not fans of Heart, which are a great group of people you should get to know today). On one hand, we’ve witnessed enough lackluster and faulty launches in the MMO genre to choke a sea cow (yes! another manatee graphic!), and the thought of WAR stumbling and falling flat right out of the gate is a truly cringe-worthy image. On the other hand, fans aren’t noted for their long-lasting patience, and two delays have tested what little credit there is already.
There comes a point where a game must be launched, or must be canceled/indefinitely postponed, due to the costs of development. Right now, WAR is purely in the red for EA. Every day, every month they work on the game is an outflow of money without a single dollar coming back in. EA can afford to be patient — after all, they need a big MMO hit and not another screw-up — but it’s not infinite. Sooner or later, WAR has to get out the door to bring the books back to the black.
So imagine this scenario: August or September rolls around, we’ve been in guild beta and perhaps NDA-drop land, but open beta’s yet to begin. After taking a hard look at beta numbers and surveying the closed beta crowd, Mythic feels that they need to push it back again — to Q1 or Q2 2009 — in order to really make everything click. Open beta gets pushed back as well, to October/November/December.
What would happen? Well, I think this time around fans might have more ground to be justifiably upset. Devs at this point have verbally committed to the “Fall 2008” ship date so many times it’s just as much of a mantra as is “War is Everywhere”. Top that with sales of the Collector’s Edition, which fans have been paying for as early as April 2008, and you’re going to have more angry players demanding to see the game they’ve already shelled out the big bucks for. And don’t forget, another delay would possibly let Lich King slip in the door first and draw in scores of WAR-wannabes who might be fed up with the delay and starving for new content that they’d return to WoW. Top that all with the public perception that a thrice-delayed game must be extremely faulty at the core, and WAR could become the butt of a lot of jokes.
It’s not a pretty picture. It’s not worst-case scenario, but it’s getting there. And yes, you’d still have a strong contingent of fans who would back up Mythic’s call and wait it out until WAR’s release. But if WAR doesn’t ship this fall, there’s going to be hell to pay — and hell doesn’t pay very well.