Warhammer Online moved from Closed Beta to Open Beta this weekend, and Goa, Mythic’s longtime European partners, had servers that melted under the stress.
Apparently, European Warhammer players were unhappy about this. Warhammer is Quite A Big Deal in Europe, and the players who couldn’t, well, play, were quite miffed. The newest Warhammer blogger, especially, blamed the Internet.
Why do some people feel it is okay to threaten, curse, abuse and be downright hostile to other people over a game, especially in this case when it is only over access to a game that is still in testing (Open Beta Test = Not Yet Ready For Prime Time Players)? While I’ve become quite cynical over the decades, I still find myself amazed at times at certain people’s reactions to stuff like this. I don’t mind when people get upset but to treat other people in such a callous, mean and immature manner is really a bit much. Again, it’s not the complaints I mind and nor am I excusing GOA or Mythic when we mess up but to apparently take things like this so personally is just hard for me to understand even though I know that most of the very hateful things are being said just for effect. However, I’ve worked with online communities for a long time and I do know that some of what was being said around the ‘Net was really coming from people’s hearts. I won’t quote any of it here, since doing so would simply encourage more of it, but I would ask anyone who said those kinds of things and who reads this blog to look at yourself in the mirror and ask how you would like it if you were treated this way in the real world? Are you really the kind of person who thinks it’s socially acceptable to threaten people just because you are having problems with a game? Are you and your life so perfect that you don’t have your own issues or make your own mistakes?
First off, one quibble – when you start an “Open Beta Test” one week before a game’s release? If it’s not yet ready for prime time, even bad SNL references won’t save you. Let’s be honest here – this isn’t a beta test. The game’s locked down (at least it had better be), and you’ve moved to a marketing preview/encouragement of pre-order sales. Once you let effectively anyone who wants to kick the tires and light the fires of your game, it had better be ready for prime time, because that is what your early adopters are looking to test – and badly managed open betas strangled any number of games stillborn. You don’t get the “but it’s still in testing!” excuse when you open the floodgates, any more than you get the “but it just launched!” excuse a week later.
More to the point, Mark is apparently rediscovering the joys of Internet discourse, where “aww, is poor widdle baby butthurt?” is considered a witty riposte. I can only conclude that he wasn’t paying attention during, you know, every single other MMO launch. I especially remember in the year after DAOC’s launch, as the DC sniper was stalking the local gas stations, our helpful wonderful players were wonderfully helpfully suggesting that people forward the shooter pictures of Mythic employees. You know, so he would know where to aim. I’m not sure what provoked this strong desire for us to all DIE. I seem to dimly remember something about clerics. Or maybe it was archers. Whatever, it was certainly cause for us to be shot.
My point isn’t that this sort of psychopathy should be excused, or even really expected. I don’t even really think it’s limited to MMOs, or computer gaming. I would, in fact, argue that in the past couple of decades, public discourse in general has become “smashmouth“. You don’t just run the ball, you run it straight down their throats and make them CHOKE on it. You don’t debate your opponents – you BREAK them. Civilized discourse is for the WEAK.
As our national – no, make that global community deals with disagreements through the strategy of smashmouth, why should our micro-community be any different? After all, if someone disagrees with you, the response isn’t merely to respond, but to respond EN MASSE, SHOUT THEM DOWN, AND DESTROY THEIR WILL TO RESPOND. Every campaign has a War Room, every public relations firm a Rapid Response Team, every challenge has to be responded to the same day in a blizzard of paper, every natural disaster an occasion to dump bad news. So how do you make yourself heard in such a microtrend-plotted environment? You amp up the volume. You say something outrageous so it stands out in the storm of thousands of responses, all demanding some sort of response or recognition. And having the President of the company complain about your post in his blog certainly qualifies as recognition.
My point isn’t that this is acceptable behavior, or even expected behavior. My point is that in smashmouth community management, our communities are simply reflecting our wider community, and these are not issues that are going to be resolved by fixing an authentication server.
We already have two operating MMOs. We launched a game called Ultima Online in 1997, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and that’s still in business. It’s still got hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Then there’s Dark Age of Camelot, which we picked up when we bought Mythic; we also have a situation where we have well over 100,000 subscribers.
Well, those are orders of magnitude greater than the numbers rumored for both of those titles. SirBruce, the NOTED INDUSTRY ANALYST, speculates that UO’s subs are 75,000 at while DAOC’s may be as low as 45,000. My gut feeling is that both of those numbers are low, but not *that* low. But hey, he’s in EA management and I just work on those wacky web games.
Also, he thinks that competing with WoW on their own terms is eminently doable:
There’s always that ultimate killer app that comes out and creates a mass-market opportunity, and WOW is that for the MMO category. And what they’ve done is create millions and millions of players who are now comfortable with the way MMOs play, they’re comfortable with the models, and they’re looking for more.
Our job is to go after that new market and really grow a business. If it’s a situation where you’re directly competing with WOW, so be it. The key is to make sure that your product is different from theirs and bring something fresh to the equation. Something that fans will find exciting, and we think we have that in Warhammer. It’s also important for us to come out with new concepts and different IPs.
Note: insert some snark about how wildly different the Warcraft and Warhammer IPs are here -> <-.
GS: An IP based on a popular science-fiction franchise, perhaps?
FG: No comment [laughs]. So, we look at the models in Asia, where there are bigger games than WOW. Now, no MMO is bigger than WOW globally, but the market is growing here in North America. And it’s not just with high-end MMOs. You’ve got a lot of lighter titles like Runescape and, hell, even Club Penguin is a bit of an MMO.
So I see it as much more diverse market than simply, “I must beat WOW.” I thank WOW for a great few hundred hours of gameplay as well as making a market. But we’re gonna compete there and we’re going to succeed there in a lot of different ways by coming at it from a lot of different angles. I see it as a very lucrative, long-term part of our business.
Sure seems to be a lot of smack talk lately coming from the EA monolith.
Mark Jacobs, in the latest of a series of interviews with the hard-hitting journalists at, um, MTV, explains that no, he really wanted Age of Conan to succeed, because, er, now it’s all on them, you see.
“At some level I wanted ‘Conan’ to succeed because for the last few years people have been saying it’s all Blizzard and nobody else can do it,” he said. “‘Only Blizzard can get those kind of numbers,’ and so far they’ve been right. But now it’s our turn.”
He added, “If we don’t succeed with EA behind us, the ‘Warhammer’ IP behind us, with one of the most experienced teams in the industry, that’s not going to be good for the industry. We need to show the world that it’s not just Blizzard who can make a great game, and that the audience is absolutely willing to try new things and to play a game other than ‘WoW.’”
Of course, if Warhammer Online does succeed, the chatterring class will point out that people are still not playing a game other than ‘WoW’, really.