Demos vs. PublicansAugust 25, 2008
One of the reasons why starting up with a brand-new MMORPG won’t quite be like past “new” experiences is that you’re of course bringing a huge load of past experience with you to the table. Even though Warhammer Online is a fresh game, very few of the initial surge of players will be MMO newbies, nor does anyone consider WAR to be 100% original and unique.
Ergo, we got a lot of expectations and predictions right from the get-go. The online RPG genre does not change as rapidly as high-horse commentators might wish they would, and online players don’t. At all. Tell me the difference between gankers in Ultima Online and gankers in WAR, other than the tools they use to do the job, and I’ll give you a cookie. They’re the same jerks with the same mentality, separated by a decade or so. People are far more predictable than they often think.
While Mythic might wish for all of its upcoming players to enter their game with a complete blank mental slate (at least blind to other MMOs), only the most foolish would think that seasoned MMO vets won’t be hauling in their baggage as they log in. They’re looking for red flags that annoyed, infuriated or expelled them from previous titles, and they’ll be quick to hop right on them. In a way, it’s the playerbase continually setting the bar higher and higher for future MMO dev teams, which sucks for the teams but is great news if they can actually answer these issues.
So what hot button issues have galvanized the seasoned vets trying out WAR? Aside from the wildly unpredictable “overpowered” classes (just wait until we’ve weathered the next ten patches, people), the biggest concern is: “The population is going to be severely overbalanced in favor of one side (usually Destruction), which will ruin a game founded on large-scale PvP!”
This was a concern even before Warhammer Alliance and The Greenskin teamed up together to freak out the entire fanbase of WAR. The news was simply this: according to a rather large poll, a definite majority of future WAR players were leaning toward the Destruction faction. Then, once the NDA dropped, many beta testers confirmed that the login message (which gave the numbers of current Order players vs. current Destruction players) almost always favored Destruction. Finally, after the past preview weekend event, it seems as if there’s no end to the whining that Destruction outnumbers Order everywhere, particularly in open-world PvP.
It’s a valid concern, of course, and one that hasn’t mystically escaped the attention of Mythic. We do know that they’ve been pondering the faction question for a long time, and in the past few months outlined how they’re going to deal with it: instanced scenarios (which present even teams), faction population caps on servers to encourage a semi-balance between Order and Faction, and giving artificial aid to the defensive side, particularly when their capital city came under attack. We haven’t really seen the population cap fully working yet, of course — it’s only when we start logging on after launch to make permanent characters that this will matter.
Then there’s the viewpoint that one WHA poll does not a fact make. Just because hardcore fans *now* pledge more to Destruction means little to what will happen *later*, particularly once you start throwing the more so-called casual players into the mix. If games like WoW and City of Heroes have shown us, it’s that casual players tend to flock toward the “good” side in games when given a choice. I really wouldn’t be surprised if in six months, we aren’t seeing people whine about Order outnumbering Destruction (almost everywhere, they’ll claim). We’re not at the point of WAR’s history where we can make expert analysis and recommendations, only predictions and speculations based on a very limited experience and factors.
Now, as Archmagery pointed out earlier today, a lot of Destruction’s popularity can be laid at the feet of Mythic themselves. Like the current presidential race, the press has favored one side of the battle to the near-exclusion of the other. WAR’s press literature is very Destruction-friendly: “Waaagh!” and squig herders and massive Chosen tanks and Greenskin-talk (“Beta Wot Is Closed!” on the Warhammer splash screen comes to mind), Paul Barnett’s seeming fascination with the faction, and so on. In a way, it makes sense — Destruction comes off as more “war-like”, which is a Good Thing if you’re trying to market a game based on war. I’ll admit it, and maybe this is personal taste, but Destruction definitely seems to have more “cool factors” going on as well — they have a much wider assortment of mounts (Order has a gyrocopter and two horses; Destruction has four mounts, only one of which is a horse), Destruction careers have more flash and style to them; and playing the “bad boys” typically has greater appeal to many PvPers.
But nobody likes the thought of a game designed to have one side be the more popular, and the other side to be the plucky underdogs. Like the careers themselves, the sides should have a decent chance at success — without handicap or help — depending on their skill and tenacity.
In the end, I’m not going to suggest that Mythic deliberately designed the game to be this way, or even wishes for it. They’ve publicly taken a neutral stance, much preferring to create attractive careers on both sides and then throw players at each other in an artificially-created petri dish of racism/hostile nationality. It’s competition they want, but the drive to compete and win “for my side” is often so great that it quickly crosses a line to where you vilify and genuinely hate the people across the border.
It’s here where my earlier political metaphor breaks down (as all metaphors are wont to do at some point). People choose to belong to a political party because the party represents what they themselves believe in, and they want that party to win because it will promote into leadership people who will nurture those beliefs in society (or enforce them). Translated to Warhammer’s dual factions, it’s kind of silly. What does Order stand for that Destruction doesn’t? Sure, you can go for the lore reasons, but not many people play a game with lore firmly lodged in their mind. So you end up fighting for a side and wanting it to win because (a) you like to win and hate to lose, and (b) winning gets you, personally, more goodies.
There’s really no difference between the two sides, is what I’m saying. It’s a struggle between two self-serving groups of players who don’t really stand for anything idealogically in-game, but still want to win because it benefits them the most.
It’ll be very interesting to see how the population pans out post-launch, but I think it’s a bit too early to be pulling on the ripcord and declaring mayday on the whole thing.