WAR’s Launch: A RetrospectiveJuly 8, 2008
Part of the fun of blogging is casting mindless speculation to the wind, often on what might happen in the future. But today, let’s do something a bit different. Let’s imagine a parallel world, where the only thing that’s different than our own is that Britney Spears actually became an accomplished singer and drug-free mother. Oh, and Warhammer Online went ahead and released in early June, without the decision to delay.
After looking at the books, EA put the pressure on Mythic to get their title out of the door well in advance of World of Warcraft’s next expansion, even though Mythic and the beta testers asked for more time. It was good, they said, but not quite done yet.
Get ‘er done, said EA. Pronto.
Guild and open beta were rushed into being during the month of May, and the devs scrambled to fix the most show-stopping bugs as well as patch in content to cover some serious holes in the game. The decision was made to hold off on cities and the massive city sieges at launch — a highly toted feature, but one that was impossible to deliver properly by the launch date. The NDA dropped, and beta testers, old and new, churned up the waters of public discussion with spirited debates over the many good and bad points of WAR. There was a good game under the hood yet it needed more work, was the general consensus. The devs, in full crunch mode, got more than a bit testy as they came under critical attack for what the fans perceived as failings.
Even with some serious worries and hesitation on the part of both Mythic and the players, the game went gold in mid-May, right as Age of Conan hit the store shelves. A huge firestorm of a debate over which game would be better — AoC or WAR — raged back and forth between the two games’ fans. Age of Conan shipped an impressive half million units, but many players vowed their loyalty to WAR, and held back from purchasing it. The WAR Collector’s Edition sold out in a few European countries, but remained purchasable throughout the month of May in North America.
Giddy with glee over getting their mitts on the game, fans counted down to the June 10th launch date even as Conan suffered through a very rocky launch. EA threw gobs of money into advertising WAR across the internet and in various print ads, helping to contribute to the hype as best they could. CE and regular edition pre-orders numbered in the high 500,000’s, especially in Europe.
June 10th came and WAR opened its doors to all, weathering the standard launch day problems of server stability as a glut of new players tried to log in. A serious authentication code error kept a sizable portion of players from getting into the game until the 12th, which angered the group and soured others. Game journalists had their hands full, dividing their attention and coverage between Conan and WAR. By mid-June, most review sites raised WAR up as the superior of the two titles, offering a far greater range of content and new innovations, although far less in terms of nudity.
However, journalists and players weren’t blind to the numerous problems of WAR — extreme lack of end-game content (which, ironically, Conan was suffering from as well), a small handful of classes unavailable at launch, bugged quests and population balance. Servers often found themselves lopsided, some heavily favoring Order, some Destruction. Mythic continued in crunch mode for most of the summer, issuing weekly or bi-weekly patches to help improve the game’s performance, stability and features.
Even so, with Conan falling behind as a credible threat to the new kid’s top spot, WAR picked up steam over the summer. Guilds formed, RvR raged, and the subscriber population doubled from the first month by August. In late August, crafting was patched into the game, and by September, so were the much-anticipated cities, city dungeons, and city sieges. That was good news, as a sizable chunk of players had hit 40 by mid-July.
It was a good launch, but not perfect. A good game, but not a classic. That’s how the WAR launch will forever be remembered by those who lived in that parallel world.
Or… not. Too many variables to predict “what might have been”, but considering how much they’re working on WAR’s polish and features and content as of this moment, we do know that the decision to delay was most likely on the money. We’ll just see how the REAL launch goes this fall.