Creative Assembly has not had a good 2023.
The maintainers of the "Total War" series of strategy games have, for a few years now, with their Warhammer line of games, had a license to print money. The games were pretty good, the setting is fairly well known, and Warhammer fans are already primed to throw money at regular intervals to have blue demons added to their roster of red and green demons.
Cracks of doom breaking through this perfect storm began to appear with the release of "Total War: Warhammer III", which expanded the setting to Not-Russia, Not-China and the Not-Arctic where the forces of Chaos prepared to kill everyone in Not-Russia and Not-China. One problem, well beyond CA's control, is that in the wake of recent events, playing a campaign as Not-Russia became... unpopular for many. Another problem, which was a bit more CA's fault, was that TW3 was released early and had some teething issues. Fairly massive post-release patches addressed some of these but not all.
Then in August, the "Shadows of Change" DLC was released, and all Chaos Undivided broke loose.
The asinine attempt of CA to threaten the TWW community that almost unanimously carries their company on its back is mind-blowing. It is as if negotiations failed with GW and they know they won't be able to make future entries in the 40k series or AoS (two universes that would work as it requires a setting where running at another army in melee does, in fact, work when the other army has a gun line) and they decided to gut the community for all the money they had left while they still could.
If it was just a pricing issue, and they later saw the error of their ways and admitted as much, I would have considered making future purchases. But, with their comments to their community, they have shown a level of arrogance and lunatic ignorance that was it clearly written to destroy their own company. Because no company in their right mind would ever say such stupid things, so it goes toward their obvious goal of committing hari-kari. Well, allow me to assist them with that, feel free to borrow my Chainsword.
CA, please listen to your community and do better; you are rapidly losing all the goodwill this community has given you all these years. I am predicting Pharaoh and especially Hyenas will not do well; please focus your attention on your one profitable product.
Chaos corrupts CA. It must be purged.
Why such fury? Well, two reasons:
- Previous TW:Warhammer DLC releases followed a pattern: two "Legendary Lords" (essentially, the leader of a given faction the player starts with), one or both of which has significantly new game mechanics, along with an additional free one with the accompanying patch, priced at around $10. This DLC had 3 Legendary Lords (and no accompanying free one) with no new game mechanics worth mentioning, for $25.
- CA's response to the completely predictable blow-back of its most fervent customers being asked to swallow a 150% price hike was equal parts panic, confusion, and dismissal.
The right to discuss is a privilege—it is not an entitlement you earn by playing the game.
Where we let you down today was in how we spoke to the topic of constructive criticism, choosing language and phrasing which completely missed the mark, and led too many of you to feel that your feedback, your thoughts, and your passion for the game to be an out of bounds subject.
Things escalated to the point the team lead finally had to ask TW:Warhammer players to please stop abusing his staff.
“Finally, we need to ask you again to stop directing abuse at individual team members. Frustrated as you may get, these are human beings who spend many hours representing you and your voices within the studio. All of our work gets easier when they are treated with respect.”
Then, in late September, another axe fell: CA's attempt to enter the hype of the microsecond game development trend ("extraction shooters", in this specific case) collapsed and brought down much of the company with it.
A source close to Creative Assembly told IGN the entire Hyenas studio now faces redundancy, but staff expect massive cuts across the company. Staff were told the news this morning, September 28, at the same time Sega issued its statement. The cancellation of Hyenas so close to release came as a surprise to staff, IGN was told, although internally there was concern that the game would fail to do well.
The next month saw the release of "Total War: Pharoah", and again customers were unhappy with the value vs. what they received: the limited scope of the game (focusing primarily on Ancient Egypt) vs its $60 asking price. Player reviews were mixed and the game reportedly did not sell well.
So, we arrive at today's news: CA realizes they have a fairly large problem – their core customer base simply doesn't trust them any more.
We see the confusion, the frustration, and the distrust of us across the community and honestly, it breaks our hearts. We make games to bring you joy, to inspire a love of history, of fantasy, and strategy games. Total War is our everything, we care about it as deeply as you. Recently, it’s clear that we have failed to demonstrate that in our actions.
We are sorry.
The letter goes on to very carefully not state what exactly players are confused about (what charitably could be termed "price gouging", perhaps), and promises two remedies:
In the next few days, all current owners of Total War: PHARAOH will see that Steam has processed a partial refund to you, and that some funds have been added to your Steam Wallet. This is happening because we have lowered the price of the game to a new RRP of $39.99/€39.99/£29.99.
Our next update, and what was originally our first paid DLC will release early in 2024 as a free update for everyone who owns the game. We’ll have plenty to show you about this now free addition to PHARAOH in the new year.
Issuing a partial refund over your pricing practices is a good start. However, the future of the game itself remains uncertain:
We have now begun the process of reassessing what comes next for PHARAOH, and while we don’t have all the answers today, we want to make it clear to you that we’re not closing the door on other, more ambitious updates to the game in the future.
It's worth noting that a previous title, Total War: Three Kingdoms, set in ancient China, was far more ambitious than Pharaoh and saw its post-release support abruptly cancelled when it failed to meet sales expectations.
We have listened to your feedback on Shadows of Change and we know that we failed to meet your expectations of what a DLC should be. To address that, we are enhancing our offer for everyone who purchased Shadows of Change with more content and a commitment to ensuring that we better meet your expectations going forward.
We’re targeting a major update to Shadows of Change which will arrive free for everyone who owns it. We have the goal of releasing this update in February 2024, at which point it will become part of the package for everyone who buys it in the future.
This fails to address the primary complaint of nearly everyone: a 150% price increase for less content. Instead of addressing the price increase, there's a promise to add more content. This implies that going forward, every DLC will be nearly half the price of the full game. For players, this isn't sustainable. And that means for CA, this isn't sustainable.
Look, I am well aware that the state of the game industry is best described as "turbofucked" (something I plan on going into great length further), with a record number of layoffs thanks wholly to gross corporate negligence across the board. And make no mistake: all of CA's problems detailed above are completely and utterly self-inflicted wounds made by greedy management seeking to strip mine a previously loyal community for whatever it can get. In the past year CA has become a byword for price gouging, its community has become unreservedly toxic, and the responses to date have been fairly tone deaf.
Issuing a carefully crafted mea culpa which dances perilously close to the PR "We're very sorry you were offended" standard of not-actually-an-apology won't help CA's trust deficit. Actions will; in many ways the next year will be critical to see if the studio continues as a going concern.
Because, after all, Warhammer inventors Games Workshop sets such a good example for fair pricing practices.