Happy one year anniversary, Warhammer Online! Wow, has it been a year already? A year since the long-awaited date when beta closed up shop, head starters trickled in, and then the gates were thrown wide open? A year since we had a good month where all was praise and adulation for this title, without a lot of the frustrated griping and subscriber bleeding that happened after? A year since Mark Jacobs, Paul Barnett, Josh Drescher and the rest of Mythic’s motley crew made daily soundbites across the MMOsphere?
Now, it’s the “in” thing to hit a company when they’re down, and while I’d really debate anyone who would claim that a 300,000+ subscriber title represents a down company, the perception is still out there. Instead, I’d like to celebrate WAR’s one year milestone by going over ten things they absolutely, positively did right with the game:
1. They never once made the claim to be better than World of Warcraft, just different. Everyone was just waiting for them to say it — to say that they were going to “beat” WoW, to be better than them, to kill Blizzard’s baby, to top 11 million subscribers — but despite what some have deluded themselves into hearing, Mythic played it smart by stating up front that it wasn’t their goal to be the next World of Warcraft and topple the king. They just wanted to be different, the “Led Zepplin” of fantasy MMOs to WoW’s “Beatles”. Sure, the comparisons were inevitable, but Mythic kept its head in this area by not making fantastic claims as to the future ascendency of their game to the top of the pile.
2. They made public quests their legacy to the MMO genre.
Public Quests are one of those ideas that, when you see them, make you ask why they haven’t been in MMOs waaaay before now. Sure, PQs suffer when they’re poorly designed or have zero participation by the players, but they are often awesome, dynamic events that make you feel as though you’re doing something meaningful that keeps you on your toes — with friends! Seeing as how Champions Online, Guild Wars 2 and others have picked up on the PQ concept, I’d say that WAR pioneered a terrific concept.
3. They weren’t afraid to try new ideas — a lot of new ideas, actually.
If awards could be handed out for games that tried the most new things, then WAR would have gotten the blue ribbon for 2008. Open grouping, trophies, “living” cities, flinging you across the battlefield in a catapult… Mythic was a wellspring of terrific ideas that got us excited.
4. They ran a textbook perfect pre-launch marketing campaign.
There was PR, there was hype, there was backlash to the hype, there was backlash to the backlash — but what many people don’t acknowledge is that Mythic accomplished the #1 duty of any MMO marketing team prior to launch: they got the word out to just about everyone on this game. It was hard to ignore WAR last fall, even if you weren’t interested in it, because of their masterful video podcasts, hyper interviews and sheer saturation of advertising.
5. The Tome of Knowledge was incredible.
We’ve never quite seen a utility like the Tome of Knowledge in a MMO before or since WAR, and this multi-layered character-tracking tool was an immense achievement for the game. Some people simply didn’t care, but those who did appreciated the ToK’s “meta game” — tracking down unlocks to gain titles and items.
6. Trophies and dyes solved the armor problem.
The armor problem being, “Everyone has the same-looking armor as me!” But with trophies to add bits and pieces onto your armor, and dyes to change your colors, players had a bit of flexibility and customization to gradually craft a unique appearance.
7. Live Events were spot-on cool.
I never expected Mythic to pump out a new live event for the game pretty much every month, but that’s what they did more or less since last September. Live events were always a blast to play, with new scenarios, cool rewards, and awesome synergy with the Tome of Knowledge.
8. They appreciated their community.
Ask just about any prior or current WAR blogger or fan site operator, and they’ll all tell you the same — Mythic was hands-down terrific with talking to the community and often treating the “little guys” with equal respect as the big media sites. I’ve never seen a MMO company give so much to blogs, to the point where they used them primarily to promote two separate special events in the game (Night of Murder and Land of the Dead). Doing a WAR blog wouldn’t have been half as fun without their support.
9. They responded and adapted to criticisms.
We can play the “this is where they went wrong” game until the cows come home (unless you don’t have cows), but dev teams rarely get props for working hard on critical problems and addressing them to the point where it removes the reason for the original protest. And yet, if we’re to be honest, Mythic’s been slaving away at fixing, tweaking and reworking bugs and serious issues, especially over the past couple months. Fixing things and making a game more stable isn’t “sexy” by any means, but it is important to the lifespan of the game, and it’s great to see that they weren’t so blindly driven to do their own thing while ignoring the cries of their playerbase.
10. They got Snafzg back. If you don’t follow Massively, Snaffy has been conducting a one-month experiment where he resubscribed and gave WAR a chance to win him back. Turns out, they did just that — the boy kept his subscription running. Knowing how critical Snafzg has been of WAR as I do, and how angry he’s gotten over the title, this is a symptom of a new, good direction Mythic is taking the game.