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Why Warhammer Online Failed — an Insider Story 235

sinij writes "An EA insider has aired dirty laundry over what went wrong with Warhammer and what could this mean for the upcoming Bioware Star Wars MMORPG. Quoting: 'We shouldn't have released when we did, everyone knows it. The game wasn't done, but EA gave us a deadline and threatened the leaders of Mythic with pink slips. We slipped so many times, it had to go out. We sold more than a million boxes, and only had 300k subs a month later. Going down ever since. It's 'stable' now, but guess what? Even Dark Age and Ultima have more subs than we have. How great is that? Games almost a decade [old] make more money than our biggest project." The (unverified) insider, who calls himself EA Louse (named after the EA Spouse who brought to light the company's excessive crunchtime practices) says similar trouble is ahead for the development of Star Wars: The Old Republic. EA has not commented yet. God of War creator David Jaffe has criticized the insider for having unrealistic expectations of working in the games industry.
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Why Warhammer Online Failed — an Insider Story

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  • by Rix ( 54095 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:33AM (#33890586)

    Myself included, even if we had no intention of investing the time required to play an MMO anymore.

    Warhammer's real problem was that it learnt all the wrong lessons from WoW, and tossed out the superior RvR design from DAoC. The silly instanced RvR bled off too many people from the in world zones because it was easy to just jump into. Rather than the back and forth of DAoC's RvR where you'd sometimes be outnumbered and have to mount a last stand at an important keep, there was bland, perfectly balanced by numbers twitch RvR.

    Of course, even numbers doesn't mean balanced. If your pick up group got matched with an opposing guild group, you had no real chance.

    Still, I might play from time to time if they made it f2p.

  • by fadir ( 522518 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @02:09AM (#33890718)

    I'm working in the games industry for quite a few years now, meanwhile as a project manager (just for a small, independent studio) and those are some of the lessons that I have learnt so far:

    - Have a plan and and be ambitious - but have realistic expectations.
    - Ship it when it's done.
    - Stop it when you see you will never reach your goal.
    - Don't release crappy software, it will hurt you in the long term.
    - Be honest to yourself and the people around you (in that order!)

    So stuff like Warhammer, Age of Conan, Hellgate London, etc. should have never been released the way they got released.

  • Re:1st post? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pspahn ( 1175617 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @02:21AM (#33890762)

    For what it's worth, I worked at EA briefly after high school in phone support. Not long after starting, I think it was observed that I was of higher skill than most of the other employees and was given new opportunities to grow that were outside my then current role. I am certainly not an ass-kisser; I just did my job and did it well. You can bet your ass this caused some jealousy among coworkers.

    Now, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, I'm just stating that from personal experience, EA does in fact (or did, it's been some time) promote quality employees. Maybe I should have stuck around, but the Bay Area commute eventually got to me and I decided it was time to leave California and move somewhere with a higher quality of life.

  • In Game Voiceovers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by maccodemonkey ( 1438585 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @02:39AM (#33890834)

    "And you know what they’re most proud of? This is the kicker. They are most proud of the sound. No seriously. Something like a 20Gig installation, and most of it is voiceover work."

    Maybe I'm shallow, but this is one of the biggest reasons I'm interested in The Old Republic. Full voiceovers on an MMORPG implies someone was actually interested in the plot and user experience, and is trying to deliver something on par with a single player game.

    And 20 gigs of space? C'mon now. That's not much these days. Hell, I remember when I have a 100 meg hard drive, and my full install of Warcraft 2 was 80 of that. I've dealt with worse.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 14, 2010 @02:45AM (#33890856)

    Independent game design can be a good portion of that idealized vision you have of game design, so long as you accept the uncertainty of a paycheck or health insurance, have the patience to grow slowly on small projects, and have supreme amounts of confidence in yourself and your team. If you're a part of the "industry" though, it's just your standard corporate bullshit and politics with a "game company" skin laid over it. They will use and abuse the talent exactly the way the music industry does, and promote the bland, boring, two-faced corporate assholes in charge when they're done firing all the real brains behind the product.

    If you must work in the games industry, do it to get some experience for a resumé, then leave with some patient friends to start a little shop and have some fun. That or start the shop off your own ideas and spare time while working a real job. Sticking with "the industry" will chew you up, spit you out, sap your soul, and generally make you hate life.

  • This is EA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TranceThrust ( 1391831 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @02:55AM (#33890888)
    I already did not expect anything else. Look at Dragon Age. Good game, but bugfest galore when it comes to DLC. And who'd you think is primarily concerned with that specific part: Bioware or EA? And do you think EA even cares, or even puts up half able people at their service desk?
    More recent then: Dragon Age: Awakenings, expansion of the aforementioned game. I have never played a game which was more blatantly unfinished. Characters were rushed in, options were butchered-out. How do you know? Well, because they didn't even have the time to properly remove all traces. I realise this has been getting the norm for more and more games nowadays. But it's affecting more and more potentially really good games. Civilisation 5 anyone? Or Neverwinter Nights 2 back in the day?

    My only hope is on consumer power. I will not buy any product, specifically EA products, before I *know* it is proper. I will not buy at launch. I will sit and wait until the bugs have been fixed, or until I forget about it. I hope many will do the same and companies will again produce only products which are *finished*, and developers regain their pride and tell publishers to sod off when they have to.

    But thanks to the insider speaking out, confirming once again rushing is the norm nowadays.
  • by DaAdder ( 124139 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @03:56AM (#33891030) Homepage
    The game actually is quite a lot of fun and it's finally been going in the right direction for the last 8 months or so. They've focused entirely on the PvP/RvR experience though, so those looking for updates to the PVE aspect of the game should probably look elsewhere. As for the dull keep-taking in T4, that's being overhauled in the patch that's currently on the test server. They did a similar overhaul of the end game that's city invasion which turn out to be quite good. They're definitely on the right track these days, but it be too little too late. I know me and my friends will stick around for a while longer though, there's simply no pvp experience that gets close elsewhere.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 14, 2010 @03:56AM (#33891032)

    Last I checked, Minecraft is on PC, Mac and Linux only.

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @04:19AM (#33891088) Homepage
    Where does "Spout obvious generalities in bullet points" fit into your list of bullet points? Powerpoint can fix anything!
  • Re:Ya pretty much (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MartinSchou ( 1360093 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @04:39AM (#33891156)

    How do you know that what he is saying is not 100% objective and true? Being furious and lashing out does not mean he's not truthful and objective.

  • by MORB ( 793798 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @04:54AM (#33891214)

    [i]"Ship it when it's done."[/i]

    There were more than 110 people working full time on AoC at the time I left funcom, most of them working in Oslo with salaries adjusted for the high cost of life there. That's expensive as hell.

    Unless you're blizzard and swimming in money, you have to rely on external sources of funding for that kind of project, and if you need to push the release back, you have to convince them to pour in more money instead of cutting their losses and pulling out.

  • by fadir ( 522518 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @05:38AM (#33891378)

    Still kind of proves my point. If you don't have a producer/manager/whateverheistitled that has the balls and the authority to call the shots and cut features when it's getting out of hands then you aren't capable of handling such a project.

    Developing a game is much more than having a bunch of good programmers. Someone needs to keep the strings in his hands and have a plan and a schedule to follow - and the ability to make people (all of them) follow his lead.

  • Re:Ya pretty much (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pipedwho ( 1174327 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @06:33AM (#33891588)

    This kind of reminds me when an employee resigned and in their letter of resignation gave their reason (basically pointing out how corrupt, dishonest and incompetent our manager was). Of course, the next layer up just ignored it as "that person no longer works here, and therefore their observations will not be considered". After hearing about what was written, we all thought that it would be certainty that the manager was going to be replaced. Long story short, they just blamed the guy that left.

    Needless to say, two months later the entire engineering team (all five of us) resigned in the same way. All five letters were put on this guys desk within the space of 30 seconds. The look on his face was priceless. This was years ago, and that guy is still working there.

  • by TBBle ( 72184 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @07:54AM (#33891898) Homepage

    Dear Moderators,

    I'd like to request substantive support for the parent post.

    Games development can have great advantages over non-games development (irrespective of cubicles) but it's posts like the grandparent that can scare people away from an otherwise fulfilling career.

    Sure, you probably end up trading in potential salary, but if you find the right studio and right team for you, it's worth the pay cut.

    Regards, from someone who took a $15k/year pay cut to join the games industry almost half a decade ago, and is still thrilled to be making video games for a living.

  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @08:12AM (#33891988) Journal

    Actually, I dunno... at the risk of coming across as schadenfreude, I kinda feel vindicated. Relatively soon after launch I wrote a post titled something like "Warhammer: Curse Of The Half-Arse", detailing some ways in which it was a half-arsed unfinished mess. Not only I had a bunch of fanboys telling me I'm wrong -- and verily, according to them even WoW had never been better -- but some flat-out accused me of lying.

    Now it turns out that it _was_ unfinished, and even at least one dev says so. And it's apparently insightful now to say "what else is new?" about that.

    Not that the fanboy squad will learn anything from it. Come next game, they'll again bark to defend their corporate idol and accuse users of making up issues that get officially fixed in the next patch, or are documented in some patch notes, or is acknowledged in some dev blog or interview. But woe if you're the one saying that their corporate idol did anything less than _perfect_.

    At any rate, I'm guessing for some people it must be new. 'Cause it sure wasn't obvious to them at the time.

  • Enjoyable Game (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 14, 2010 @08:18AM (#33892030)

    After they fixed up the game they announced their "free trial" program, so I decided to give it a shot.

    I played EQ1 in high school for two years, and used a buddies EQ2 sub for a year while he was deployed overseas, but other than that hadn't touched an MMO in years.

    I actually *really* enjoyed it. I thought the experience was really polished. The graphics were decent. They seemed to fix some of the gameplay mechanics that had always annoyed me in MMO type games. The problem was I simply don't have the time to sink into an MMO, so rather than upgrade my trial account I just quit once I reached the trial level cap.

    I've actually tried free trials of other MMOs since then, and have been pretty disappointed. WoW just seemed primitive and missing features after having played Warhammer. I also tried the free version of the EQ game, and was similarly disappointed. If I were looking to actually get into an MMO, I'd go with Warhammer Online in a heartbeat.

  • Re:Ya pretty much (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tibman ( 623933 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @09:40AM (#33892742) Homepage

    I believe you. Not sure why terrible people are kept around like that. In that kind of situation, it's the good employees that leave.. the shitty ones will stay because they are atleast getting paid.

  • by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @10:34AM (#33893786) Homepage

    The sad thing is how often that happens. Developers have to make unrealistic promises in order to get that initial contract all of the time, especially with MMO's. Not only do you have to make an unrealistic promise, but you have to make an even more unrealistic promise than the dev house up the street just did. The "publisher" might care, but the accounts managers making the deal don't seem to realize or care.

    Of course, my opinion is that if you have to make a bad deal to get a contract, it's time to walk away. But you can't walk away from every contract and still have a company. I've seen far too many bad deals in my day because the company got hungry.

  • Re:Ya pretty much (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tophermeyer ( 1573841 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:11AM (#33894564)

    Plus from the organizations perspective, if the team has just lost one or more of its most talented core members then it cannot afford to also lose the group leader. No matter how incompetent the person might be.

    In my experience employees that jump ship like that are seen as immature, and any issues that they raise during their resignation are chalked up to that employee having poor conflict resolution skills. I've done something similar to what the GP described, and in hindsight I regret it. After speaking with contacts at my former organization, the company's management looked at the situation as my supervisor being cursed with a number of disloyal employees, and gave her an opportunity to restructure her team.

    Remember that throwing your immediate manager under the bus to their boss is not always a good strategy. That persons boss is likely the person that hired or promoted them in the first place.

  • Lessons not learned (Score:2, Interesting)

    by KriticKill ( 1502071 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:14AM (#33894640)
    Sounds like EA needs to take a look at Blizzard's success and their unofficial "It will be ready when its ready" motto. EA appears to employ short sighted business execs who lack common sense, as a general rule.

    I was one of the people who played at launch, and quit shortly after. A few things bothered me (not the issues with the Bright Mage snares; I was playing one after all). The linear, progressive nature of the campaign was really irritating. Finish an area? Good, your done, forget about it and never come back. Other than maybe pick up some old titles you might have missed there was probably no reason to go back. Coming from WoW where there are good excuses to revisit old areas (farming, achievements, old instances/raids, etc.) it was annoying to realize that once you finished up with the campaign, there was literally nothing to do, except pvp constantly (which I suck at anyway). The public quests were an interesting idea, but ultimately a failure. For about a week after launch it was fairly easy to get people to stop by and join in. After that everyone moved on, and the only way to do them was with a guild or friends. For someone that doesn't have very many friends that mmo game (and the ones that do, didn't bother trying WAR), this was a killer. The crafting system was a steaming sack of shit. I don't think I ever did more than glance at it and gather a few things, in the three or so weeks I played. Finally, there was little reason to go to the major cities. You could find all the vendors, skill trainers, and almost everything else you needed along the way (I didn't play to far, but the library and the trophy stuff seemed to be the main reason to visit the cities). Again, for someone coming from WoW this was a huge turn off.

    On the good side, the idea of public quests was solid. It just needed a better player finding feature. The titles, the lorebook, the bonuses for killing lots of creatures of a single type, were all very cool, much better than WoW's achievement system, simply because there were tons of titles for all kinds of crap, and you could get alot of them with very little work, making it easy to feel like you were really accomplishing something. For example, there were titles for thing like clicking on yourself 50 times, or doing pvp naked, scoring critical hits, and survivng pvp fights with 5% hp or less (getting that one was awesome; I wish WoW had a Toothskinner title), as well as situational titles that you got if you found certain static world objects and such. This game showed alot of promise. Its a shame EA fucked everything up.
  • Re:...EA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Digital Vomit ( 891734 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:51PM (#33896426) Homepage Journal

    Mature gamers who remember what EA used to be, and hope that a company as old and (once) respected as EA

    If EA was ever a respected company, it was probably just because customers didn't know any better. I recall discussing game development with one of the developers of Starflight [] (released in 1986) on a message board many years ago. He cautioned others to be careful of publishers like EA (who published Starflight) and lamented how naive they, as developers, were in their dealings with them way back in 1982, when development of the game began.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @03:44PM (#33899352)
    And where's the personal integrity? These people shipped a known bad product. And all because of the threat of being fired. Let me in on a little secret. That's unethical, and it gets the company out of business almost as fast as you'd have gotten your pink slip. So why act unethically then loose your job? I'd rather act ethically and look for a job than unethically and look for a job.

    "They would have punished for our incompetence if we didn't act negligently, so we decided to act negligently, rather than take responsibility for actual mistakes we've made." Sounds like they should run for office.

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents