Are You Calling Me… Chicken?

August 26, 2008

In his latest post at Player vs. Developer (PvD combat is so sweet), Green Armadillo taunted me personally with the news/speculation that Blizzard is ramping up its Wrath of the Lich King profile to try to counter Warhammer’s tsunami of publicity. I am not an oak; I am a weak-willed chicken who has to take the fight whenever Biff Tannen calls me out. Nobody… calls me chicken.

Well, nobody did either [sideways smiley face]. Really, it’s not anything new — we’ve seen this tug-o-war for press mindshare between Blizzard and Mythic ramping up for months now, and it only stands that just as WAR is nipping hard at the heels of Blizzard’s aging buffalo, the beast won’t take it without a few horn swipes of its own.

I actually still keep up a bit with World of Warcraft by subscribing to WoW Insider, but I have to tell you, even if I was still playing, the news about WotLK would leave me cold.  They’re once again trying to reinvent/overhaul the entire game, wiping out years of hard-earned progress in exchange for a giant RESET button.  If you thought you knew your class, you probably don’t any longer, as new talents and skills and heavy-handed manipulation of the roles have sent several classes into disarray.  It’s a game where, for all intents and purposes, Blizzard would much rather forget levels 1-60 and just start every character at 61… and, oh, hey, they’re sort of doing that with the Death Knight.

I remember way back when they first announced the DK and my immediate thought was: ONE new class?  And they don’t expect the servers to suddenly become flooded with them?  I really feel bad for any current tank classes… but really, this is all indicative of Blizzard’s standard operating proceedure.

One of the greatest things about getting to know Mythic this year is that this is a dev team that isn’t bunkered down inside walls of secrecy, obfuscation and arrogance (although they sometimes have their moments).  They’ve just been terrific talking to the community, going above and beyond to communicate when hot button issues pop up, and they’re not taking the Hillary Clinton route of inevitability.  They’re a scrappy fighter, a David standing up to Goliath on the battlefield, except that David has his own giant publisher at his back as well.

I’ve read it again and again — people from all MMO backgrounds wish that their previous game’s devs would just talk with them as much as Mythic does.  City of Heroes did a terrific job as well, but Funcom?  Blizzard?  Turbine?  Meh.  By allowing the playerbase to see a bit of the inner workings at Mythic, the decision making processes, the admission of mistakes or problems, we get the feeling of being invited into an inner circle of trust that isn’t too common in this genre.  It’s a huge step toward getting both players and devs on the same side of the fence, instead of separated by miles of mines, barbed wire and exploded chickens.

The “I wanna be on the side of right” part of Syp really hopes that Lich King stumbles in sales, Warhammer does surprisingly awesome, and other MMO titles will realize that Blizzard isn’t infallible or unassailable.  But hey, if Lich King does great and WAR does great and life goes on?  I’m okay with that too.  There’s room enough online for both.



  1. “Say hi to your Mom for me.”

  2. “I’d like a milk… chocolate!”

  3. The problem most devs probably have is not knowing what they’re allowed to talk about at any particular time, and even if they haven’t been explicitly told not to say anything, they will still choose to err on the side of caution.

    This issue is likely aggravated by the often ridiculous and disproportionate fervour a community can froth itself into into over the tiniest of issues. And the marketing department will also be casting a long shadow.

    People like Mark Jacob’s, who have the knowledge, experience and authority to roll up their sleeves and engage meaningfully with the community, are a rarity. Usually the people at his level in the company are restricted to a high level view of the product, and probably have a limited understanding of the low level technical aspects.

    Also, I can’t talk for the others you mentioned, but the Turbine devs seem to be pretty good at engaging with the community on hot issues, in the US at least.

  4. I had my fill of WoW after playing from launch day until February-March 2008 (before I knew anything about WAR other than the fact that it existed). Like you, I also got tired of the constant class overhauls from Blizzard, which often seemed designed to do nothing more than break popular talent builds for the sake of sending players scrambling to discover the Next Big Thing©.

    After my time in the Beta, I am excited about WAR’s official release. I only had access for a few weeks, but even in that short time the game greatly improved.

    I am looking forward to WAR’s more meaningful PvP(RvR), interesting classes, and new content from more responsive developers.

    To summarize: sieges > raids.

  5. Blizzard is obviously worried about WAR. They know that years ago they just kept on using all the Games Workshop content even after GWS pulled out the licensing rights from Warhammer. They know that we know they just ripped off all the core elements of the Warhammer Universe.

    Blizzard did some stunts back when AoC launched, and the only reason so many went back to WoW was because AoC was so flawed, and remains so today.

    I personally could care less about WoW, it’s fanboi’s, or what Blizzard does. I’ve played WAR, and I know it will be successful. It’s the next evolutionary step in the MMO genre.

    So keep on playing WoW and keep talking trash about WAR. It’s just like it was before WoW came out and all the EQ, AC, and DAoC fans talked trash too. And we see how that turned out.

    So in time, WAR will outgrow WoW, as people get their free fourteen day trials and realize how awesome it is compared to WoW. It will happen in time. No hurry. And when all you WoW fanboi’s come on over, I’ll be there waiting with my big choppa and shield to back you over the head. 🙂

  6. It’ll be a very interesting 3rd and 4th quarter is all I have to say.

    Comparing what Blizzard did for the AoC release to WAR, they are obviously more worried about WAR because of its similarity. Yeah, people will kill me for this, but WAR is too close to the WoW look and feel to not draw subscribers from it.

    I like that Mark is hands-on in the community but I fear for the dark side of this. I’d almost ratehr that Mark be spending more time helping drive teh vision of the product rather than posting on boards. And I’d really like to see some of the other folks get some face time, too, especially the community managers whose job is to – surprise – communicate with us, something we haven’t seen (Missy is all but invisible, so is Robert, and James is only minimally around).

  7. I think it’s pretty clear that both WAR and WotLK are going to be hits at this point, though on a different scale. While it’s fun to ascribe devilish motivations to Blizzard’s timing, it’s also possible to take that too far, for example by speculating that Big Bad Blizzard is holding an already-finished WotLK to release right on top of WAR.

    I have no doubt that Blizzard would love to do that, but the reality is that projects of this size are not fully controllable by anybody in terms of release date, and trying to hard to control them (by managerial fiat) results in fiascos like Vanguard. The timing of WotLK’s trailer release, on the other hand, is suspicious, and I expect to hear some kind of major news about Wrath right around September 18 in another attempt to steal the spotlight. But Wrath won’t be out until at least a month later than WAR, probably two and perhaps three, and right now the buzz channel is getting abolsutely dominated by WAR. The dueling trailers were amusing – WotLK’s was good, but WAR’s just smoked it.

    Buyers of Wrath are largely likely to be people who don’t may much attention to those buzz channels, so I doubt that WAR’s release will have much impact on Warth sales. At the same time, buyers of WAR are likely to be people uninterested in WoW or already burned out on it, so they are just as likely to get into it regardless of Wrath’s release. It’s not as if WoW is going anywhere.

    Now, I think that WAR is in someting of a unique position, in that it looks like it may be poised to grow after launch instead of shrink. But even so, talk of its overtaking WoW is extremely premature at best. If WAR gets 500K sales at launch, it will be considered a huge hit. If it retains 350K after six months it will be considered an enduring success. That’s still a far cry from WoW’s millions, although WoW’s tidy 11m number is itself somewhat deceptive – a lot of those 11m are in Asia where they don’t pay subscription fees so can be counted as ‘registered users’ even though they may be casual players putting much less than $14 a month into the WoW vaults… or even former players. WoW is vulnerable because of Blizzard’s compacency – much more vulnerable than people think – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

  8. I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that this percieved tug-of-war is over a much smaller base of players than we expected. I think WAR is attractive to ex-WoW players or people from other games, but not the current WoW population.

    However, I also think that the ‘ex-players’ group is quite large. The concurrent number of WoW subscriptions has held steady or grown over the past few years despite the exodus of a lot of players.

    I swear to god that more than half the people playing WoW right now never played prior to TBC. So where did all the other peeps go? That’s the WAR market.

  9. I can’t understand the mmo community. It’s like kids fighting! My mmo is better than your, my mmo is cooler than yours. Is Blizzard worried about WAR, no, is Mythic worried about WOTLK, no. Of course they’re going to try to compete, but they’re 2 different games. They’ll each have fans and they are 2 great games. If you don’t like WoW, it’s fine, if somebody doesn’t like WAR, it’s also fine. Mmo fans should be happy that more and more games are coming out.

  10. I’m really looking forward to Warhammer. However, I’ve only just recently starting reading information about it seriously.

    Mostly because I never got into the beta, so I didn’t want to spoil anything about the game.

    My question is this. Where does Mythic generally communicate with their gamers? City of Heroes was mentioned, but even though they communicated with players, they actually didn’t listen to their player base.

    Blizzard communicates with players on their message boards.

    Does Mythic have a specific message board that they frequent, because if so, I want to start reading it.


  11. @dvorak: Warhammer Alliance is the forum that seems to be their favorite (http://www.warhammeralliance.com/). They do post on other forums occasionally, but those posts very often get linked to WHA if they are significant. Just check the Dev Tracker at WHA and you’ll see what I mean. James for one is very prolific.

  12. MMOs are a business. As a business you make decisions designed to maximize your profit. Of course Blizzard is acutely aware of WAR’s development and is acting to minimize it’s impact. To do otherwise would be negligent.

    That said, I’m also in the WOTLK beta and I can tell you with a certainty that the game, and probably even the patch in question, will not make it out anywhere near WAR’s release date. A great deal of WOTLK content, including class abilities, crafting, and instances are not tested, working, or implemented yet.

    WAR will have a head start. It’s up to the game to keep players interested. And while WAR has some work to do to be truly polished I think they’ve got a good shot at producing an enjoyable game.

  13. Quoth Syp: “The “I wanna be on the side of right” part of Syp really hopes that Lich King stumbles in sales, Warhammer does surprisingly awesome, and other MMO titles will realize that Blizzard isn’t infallible or unassailable.”

    I’m going to let you in on a little secret…. I hope that happens too. I might actually like to play Warhammer, and, even if I don’t, Blizzard could really use the kick in the tail. They don’t run out and change things every time some idiot posts “fix this or I quit !11!!!11” on the forums, but it’s pretty clear that they DO make major changes when their aggregate numbers start to show that people are leaving because the game doesn’t have enough X, Y, or Z. Having a second MMORPG above the 1 million mark would be good for everyone, no matter which of the games they personally prefer.

  14. Thanks thade

  15. I’ve been playing WoW since launch and still enjoy it, but I’m looking forward to playing Warhammer too. Preview weekend was my first shot at hands on. There were some technical issues (pathing being the worst), but I thought it was very solid and has a lot of potential.

    Of course, it’s no surprise that WoW is going to try to rain on Warhammer’s parade, or that Warhammer fans are going to start rabidly touting their game as the Second Coming.

    Frankly, I think the competition will only benefit the players, as the companies (both backed by very big bucks) try to one up each other new information, new features, and new offers (WoW’s new Recruit a Friend doubles as tool to recruit new people and retain old players by enticing them to start a 2nd acct — and I think it’s no surprise it’s out now).

    I think Warhammer will do fine on launch. Much better than AoC right out of the gate. There’s a large audience of ex-WoW players, serious PvPers, Warhammer fans and people willing to shell out $50 for something new. Whether they stay is the real question.

    How well Warhammer does long term will ultimately depend on how well they deliver — and continue to innovate — on their promises. Tabula Rasa and AoC are both examples of products that did a good job generating hype but couldn’t keep most customers very long. So far, Warhammer looks like a winner, but only time will tell. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

  16. I personally know at least 7 current WoW players who will be going to Warhammer. 5 or 6 ex-Wow players who have been waiting for Warhammer. If I have my say I’ll be dragging one or two more with me.

    I think WoW’s subscriber base is a lot more vulnerable than people think.

    But I also think releasing WOTLK now is a double edged sword for Blizzard. Sure, the people who really like WoW won’t try Warhammer, but all the people that are kind of blah about WoW, especially during the pre-xpac doldrums that seem to hit every guild, and who are facing the loss of all that gear they worked for during the past 2 years (again), are probably pretty vulnerable to a sales pitch from Mythic right about now. Why not switch now, when all your gear is about to be made obsolete and your guild is falling apart? When you’re going to have level blacksmithing again? Save up for another mount?

    And then their friends will try it cause of that person. Some will stay. They will bring more friends.

  17. I think Mythic learned a valuable lesson with DAoC as well. They realized that drastic changes to the game without careful thought behind the mechanics of the game can be disastrous. Trials of Atlantis was an ill-conceived expansion that ruined game play for many in the DAoC community. It was the reason I left DAoC for WoW. I played WoW from release and must admit that initially I was completely hooked on the game. Then I levelled my character to 60, helped a guild progress, and obtained epic gear from Molten Core and other instances that took months to obtain. Then Burning Crusade came out and although it wasn’t as disastrous as Trials was to Mythic, it had its’ flaws. I HATED that the gear I had worked so hard to get was being replaced by green drops 15 minutes into my ventures into the new zones. It also made the old content obsolete. WoW is not perfect, and Warhammer will have its’ faults as well but I look foward to the change and to see how far Mythic has come since the DAoC days.

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