by Cody "Micajah" Bye (Managing Editor) and Garrett Fuller (Industry
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by Mark Jacobs, CEO/VP of Mythic Entertainment
Few names in the massively multiplayer online gaming industry hold as
much clout as the often quoted Mark Jacobs. Having been a part of the
online gaming industry since the early 1980s, Mark has been a
fundamental factor in the gradual evolution of massively multiplayer
online gaming. With the release of Mythic Entertainment's latest
MMORPG, Warhammer Online, it looks like Mark has again played a
fundamental role in the evolution of MMO gaming. But with any MMOG, the
work isn't done when the game is released, and the Ten Ton Hammer staff
sat down with Mark to discuss the future of Warhammer and his thoughts
on their initial launch. We hope you enjoy the discussion!
Ten Ton Hammer: What's
your general sense of how the launch went? We're past the first weekend
and into the first real week; how do you think things went?
Jacobs attests that WAR had the smoothest launch in MMO history.
I think it was the smoothest launch in MMO history. For six days there
were no crashes. No real emergency patches. No downtime. Not only did
the entire game not crash, but no servers even crashed. So for the
first six days, things were fabulous. Of course that evening we had two
crashes and then two more after that, but that's the only real blemish
on the record.
But when you have 55 servers up, that's some pretty good up-time.
Ten Ton Hammer: How are
you dealing with game balance? Obviously you had plenty of testing in
beta, but now you're seeing it in full speed. How are you dealing with
the class balances, faction balances, etc.?
about what we expected. We got a lot of it right. The beta testers told
us a lot, but they didn't tell us everything. They never do. So, we
have our strike teams looking at everything - the reports, the metrics
- and we're going to balance things. No MMO ever comes out fully
I think we're certainly in better shape than where we were with
Camelot. Are we perfect? No. I'd be hard pressed to think of any MMO,
especially one that's PvP geared that is, within sixty days, didn't
have some major balancing adjustments to the game. Hopefully we won't
be making major adjustments, but we're certainly going to be balancing
When you have 55 servers and they're busy almost all day every day, you
get a lot more data than when you do during beta.
Ten Ton Hammer: In
regards to RvR balance, when you look at scenarios versus open world
RvR, it seems like the instant gratification for scenarios is very
high. Are you offering some sort of similar reward system for open
world RvR? It seems like players are drawn to the scenarios, and the
open RvR has been a bit lesser populated.
the way it will be in the beginning. Whether they're coming from WoW or
LOTRO or Camelot, right now scenarios are very quick and easy ways to
level and get gear. We knew that people would be drawn to that.
However, we expect them to start to move over to the open RvR once they
get past the first couple tiers.
In terms of loot and all that, we certainly are going to provide a lot
of encouragement to people to get involved with open RvR.
Ten Ton Hammer: How are
you planing on handling gold farmers in WAR? You crafted a fantastic
blog about this subject very recently, and I totally agree with your
sentiments. But you must have some larger schemes in mind than just
players reporting to the CSRs. Do you have something larger in mind for
these gold seller scum bags?
Mark: I sure
Ten Ton Hammer: Can you
comment on that?
Ten Ton Hammer: (laughs)
step at a time. Certainly you know and anyone who has been around me
for any period of time knows that I can't stand these guys. I have no
use for them. I think they're helping to undermine MMO gaming, and as
somebody who has been making online games since the dawn of time, I
have no use for somebody who wants to help destroy what has taken over
two decades to build up. And that's what these guys are doing.
You can pretty much expect that this is just the first shot. This is
the easiest. We're hoping to discourage them. Discouragement is good;
it takes less time, less effort, and less cost. But we ain't stopping
Ten Ton Hammer: How did
you end up creating a game that has combined really meaningful PvP with
some really quality PvE experiences? A number of games have tried to
blend the two in the past, but few have reached such an outstanding
level of PvP gaming that your studio has attained. What kind of tricks
and secrets did you use to come up with this formula?
Mark: A lot
of hard work. A lot of willingness to take feedback from other people.
One of the things I talk about in many of my interviews is that I don't
think that I'm the world's greatest game designer. I don't
think that I'm a genius. I think that I'm a pretty good game
designer. One trait that I try to spread among as many people
as I can in the company is that you have to be willing to
listen. Nobody is right all of the time. Nobody is
perfect. Just as I can take criticism when one of my ideas is
bad or something we do as a company is dumb. I think that a
great designer has to be willing to listen to other voices and go 'yeah
you are right I wasn't thinking.' Whether it is how we are
trying to mix PvE and RvR, or things like the tome or the quests.
This has all evolved from both internal and external feedback, and
that's the secret sauce. I mean, I've spoken out before
against the idea of the Vision, as opposed to a vision. You
know a small 'v' versus a capital 'V'. When you have a small
'v' that's a good thing. That's the initial vision for a
game. That's what I did with Warhammer. But I don't
have the vision with a capital 'V', that's when bad things happen.
Ten Ton Hammer:
It's true! Thats when bad things happen in almost every field - and it
doesn't matter if you are making games, making movies, television, or
writing books - when you are so caught up in that Vision that
you have. When you are the only one who can be right.
Sometimes absolute greatness ensues but its easier the less complicated
things are. I've yet to see an MMO that has that kind of
Vision, where you can tell that it is some one man's, one woman's
Vision, truly succeed. WoW is not that kind of
vision. Its the vision of a lot of very talented people at
Blizzard who did their job and did it very well. And so if
you are looking for the secret sauce that's where it is. Hard
work and a willingness to listen.
According to Jacobs, Vision with a capital 'V' almost always leads to trouble.
Ten Ton Hammer:
How are you planning to equalize server populations? I know
that's been the thing that's.....
Always! That's always going to come up. That's
always going to be a pain in the butt. I mean one of the
things that we did already that no one else has done was the server
clone idea. I can't believe that it took so long for anyone
to think of it. Now, I'm glad I was the one who thought of it!
But we are going to take other steps as well. I've already announced
that we're going to have free character transfers if the servers don't
even out over the next week or so. What's funny is that if you look
back at WoW's launch, people had horrendous queues. While people
weren't very understanding, they were more understanding.
After two days - just two days - people are going "Oh my god! What are
you going to do about the server queues!? It's an epic fail!" I'm like
- it's been two days! Two days since we launched! Then the population
started evening out some more, and they're going to continue to even
out. We're going to wait before we do anything drastic, like people
putting in transfers. It doesn't really make the problem better,
It's pretty humorous, really. If you go back four years and compare the
two games, we have far less problems than Blizzard had in terms of
their queuing. And yet, we get blown out of proportion. We're going to
do whatever we need to do.
In terms of ongoing balance, it's important for people to understand
that just because you're outnumbered on a server, doesn't mean that the
other guys are going to win. That's the beauty of this; you can have
Destruction have 20% more people than you, but in scenarios you can
still kick their butt. Even in open RvR; if you go back to the Camelot
days, how many times did the underpowered realm - in terms of numbers -
win? It was all the time! For a lot of the people that are always
complaining about their being more Destruction people, it just means
that you get into a scenario faster. And for those Destruction people
complaining about their not being enough Order players, within 24
hours, people should have moved to a different server.
It's not like people can go "Oh my god, it took us six months to get
our characters to level gazillion and now I need to move because
there's nobody online to play with." When we tell people that this is
what we're going to do and we have plenty of servers up, and
they choose to go to the crowded server....
Y'know we put warning after warning up telling people not to choose the
crowded servers, and yet I get to watch a board that shows how many
people are logging in and creating characters and new people keep going
to the crowded servers. So what can we do, right? If we shut off
character creation there, then the guilds will get pissed. So we can't
do that. If we give people a bonus for growing to the less crowded
servers, then the guilds still bitch because we gave a (hypothetical)
10% leveling bonus if they would move to that server.
Since we're not past week one of our initial launch, we're not going to
overreact. We learned our lesson from the years of DAOC.
Ten Ton Hammer: So no
server mergers in the near future?
Mark: Oh god
no! The funniest bit was that when this stuff first started, people
told us that we needed to merge servers. It was Friday. And so I'm
keeping track of how many servers are mid to high population levels. I
even told people on the Vault about it.
The next day, four more servers had moved from low pop to mid pop. I
just want to tell people that this will keep happening and to just be
patient. We opened extra servers than we would normally, because we
wanted people to have those option. We listened to our community.
When we did our first launch with the CE and the SE, people were asking
us to open a few extra servers because of large guilds or alliances. So
we did. And of course people started complaining.
But it really doesn't matter. We opened with far fewer servers than
what we will need to contain all the sales that we're going to get over
the next month. We know - or at least we hope - what our numbers will
be, and since we have plenty of servers to handle that, I'll think
we'll be just fine.
Ten Ton Hammer: So do you
think you came out with the right amount of servers?
think we did come out with a couple too few for the CE, and I think we
did come out with the right amount for the first week with the SE. What
other people have to realize is that if we put too few servers on and a
problem happens at two in the morning, we're not going to be able to do
anything about that. The people that give you the high sign to put up
more servers may not be there at two or three in the morning. Now the
CSRs are there and we do have people watching, But these servers are
delicate, it's almost a feel thing.
It's not like we're just watching the numbers and trying to make a
decision when to move people over. We really prefer to have a few extra
servers now and wait and see what happens over the next week. It hasn't
even been a week yet since we went on sale.
Ten Ton Hammer: Are there
any plans for reducing scenario wait time? Some players have been
getting anxious with how long it's taking one faction compared to the
other to get into a RvR scenario.
is another thing that involves server population and people that are
willing to jump into those RvR scenarios. If you can't seem to get into
the RvR scenario, that's why we have open world RvR.
But if one side wants to do open RvR and the other side doesn't, that's
going to be a problem. That's a problem with any game, not just WAR. It
could be something that happens on the WoW PvP servers or the Camelot
servers. If guys don't want to RvR, then they have to sort it out among
themselves. You can't force people to RvR. You can't force 'em to PvE.
These things will sort themselves out once we have the transfers going,
then people can make the choice if they want to stay on their server or
not. They might look at the servers and discover that one is a bit more
PvE oriented, so they'll move to that server. But activating anything
now, that's just going to make the problem worse.
So will the Orc Choppa be coming back into the game in the next four months? We'll have to wait and see.
Ten Ton Hammer: Do you
think there will ever be a time where you tell players what tendency a
server has? Maybe put "RvR Scenarios" or "PvE" or "Open World RvR" in
parenthesis beside the server name?
absolutely! If we see that something is going on regularly, that this
particular server is really into RvRing, then we would absolutely do
something. whether it's flagging or allowing free transfers off those
servers. We would tell players that "Sorry guys, no one is RvRing on
your server. Why don't you move to another one?" I have no problem with
that. We want people to be happy.
Ten Ton Hammer: The pace
of the game is really fascinating; it is not boring. Every time I sit
down and play, there's always something to do. Was it your philosophy
to give players so many options that they'll never be bored?
one of the keys to the design of this game. I wanted to cut out time
sinks whenever possible. It should be really intense. What I'm hoping
is that people will settle into a natural rhythm after awhile where
they might start up a separate character and take things a little
slower. Part of the thing with time sinks is that it gives people time
to talk and start to build a community. Now I think people will begin
to start that community due to all the action that's going on, and
you'll see all the guilds in the scenarios and then in the open RvR.
I wanted a game where I wasn't spending a ton of time waiting or
healing or riding on this thing to go to this other place. That all
makes the game feel more grindy. I would get annoyed when I couldn't do
some things or I'd have to wait for things. Our pacing is absolutely on
Ten Ton Hammer: What can
you tell us about the future? What's coming down the pipe?
Mark: I can
tell you without any fear of contradiction that one of the things we
are looking at is bug fixes. That is a priority item for us.
On a decidedly different track, over the next four months we're looking
at bringing back some of those classes that we cut or some of the other
content that was cut. Or giving players some additional things that
they want and have been asking for.
That said, we're not making the game more PvE. We're not
talking about that. But I did sit down with Rob and I have a list of 21
items on my board. Out of those 21 items, I have nine things that I
consider to be hot button items from the players perspective. This is
taken from my experience and what I've seen on the forums. Out of that
nine, we'll probably be able to get to six or seven that will go in
Then there are the changes that need to come in because I didn't want
to have any point in the game where the player can say that they'd
rather stick a hot poker in their eye than do that again. There are a
couple of things that are on that list for WAR. And I just go, "How the
heck did this not get fixed before we launched?" The answer is frankly
that we thought it was fixed but it somehow made it in. These are the
things that can get really annoying to the player over time.
A perfect example would be like when you get booted or want to switch
toons and you get stuck in the server queue again. We thought it was
fixed, but we're going to go in and fix it again. To me, that's
something that's really important to fix right away. That's not a
balance issue. Nobody is going to be pissed off about us fixing this
dumb bug. That's one of the things that I really want to do over the
next thirty days; get a whole bunch of these annoyances or bugs out of
the way and then get ready for a couple big content patches.
Ten Ton Hammer: Thanks
for your time, and it's always great talking with you Mark!
you very much!
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