Warhammer Online: Exclusive Interview with Producer, Josh Drescher
One year ago today, Warhammer Online went live and the world of PvP hasn't been the same since. Mythic had been the granddaddy of Realm versus Realm combat for years, but even they had a few missteps along the way with Warhammer's release. Ten Ton Hammer recently had the chance to sit down with Producer, Josh Drescher, and what an interesting interview it was. In a unique twist in the interview world, Josh stepped up to the plate and didn't beat around the bush with any answer.
Whether you're a current player, one that has been gone from the game for a time, or someone that is hoping to hop into the frenetic, fast-paced, and brutal in-your-face combat that Warhammer revels in, you owe it to yourself to read this refreshingly straightforward, push-off-no-blame interview.
Ten Ton Hammer: The experience and renown curve has varied since the launch of Warhammer Online in terms of open-world RvR, scenario RvR, PvE, etc. Are those kinds of adjustments still in the game, or were they just temporary until something settled out? Josh: Those things are areas that we're always looking at in terms of internal metrics, trying to find areas where we feel like, particularly the experience leveling curve, either tapers off or it drags too much. The polite thing that you were tiptoeing around, and I'll just say it explicitly, Tier 3 dragged like crazy and was terrible.
One year ago today,
Warhammer Online went live and the world of PvP hasn't been the same
since. Mythic had been the granddaddy of Realm versus Realm combat for
years, but even they had a few missteps along the way with Warhammer's
release. Ten Ton Hammer recently had the chance to sit down with
Producer, Josh Drescher, and what an interesting interview it
was. In a unique twist in the interview world, Josh stepped up to the
plate and didn't beat around the bush with any answer.
Whether you're a current player, one that has been gone from the game
for a time, or someone that is hoping to hop into the frenetic,
fast-paced, and brutal in-your-face combat that Warhammer revels in,
you owe it to yourself to read this refreshingly straightforward,
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finished up the Wild Hunt this weekend. What kind of turnout did you
have for the event? Was it something that was mainly for the gamers
already playing or did you have a lot of players re-subscribing to take
part in the Wild Hunt?
Philosophically, the live events are intended to cover what you just
implied. They're intended to be something new and exciting for existing
players. They're intended to be something attractive for people that
maybe played in the past that are teetering about whether or not they
want to re-subscribe.
Then also, it gives us something to talk about publicly for potential
new players. Through the trial, we do have new people coming in every
day. So you've got thousands of people coming in every day and trying
the game and the live events give us a way to introduce them to special
events, trying to give them something that makes them feel attached to
the world quickly and so forth.
I would say that primarily, the people that enjoy them are long-term
players mainly because the live events kind of represent a history of
your character. The items and titles and experiences that you've had
there that are sort of unique are things that you can point to with new
or returning players and say, "Hey. You weren't here for it, but I got
this particular title or this particular time, this particular weapon,
or this particular piece of armor from this particular event. Here's
what happened," so and so forth.
We're looking forward to some of the events from last year coming back
over the course of the next year like the ones that are more directly
affiliated with specific holidays. So you'll see Night of Murder,
Witching Night, things like that come back annually as we continue to
work on the ongoing process that is Warhammer live. The live events are
a great way for us to stay connected with our existing players, to
constantly add new content to the game and so forth.
The Wild Hunt was near and dear to my heart. It draws from Warhammer
iconography, some of the Warhammer mythology, the white stag, etc. But
it also gave me an opportunity when doing interviews to talk about Ted
Nugent. That was very important to me.
kind of like Ted Nugent meets Warhammer. You wander out into the
forest, you've got all your weapons, and the red mist sort of descends
over your eyes, and you go flying out into the middle of nowhere.
Suddenly, you find that you're in a new area because there was a unique
dungeon available only during the Wild Hunt.
You're in that area, you're killing lots of stuff, hunting things down,
and you wake up a few days later. You're covered in boar and you've got
all the things you just earned so you take all these trophies back and
show them to your friends so you try to take them back to this mystical
hunting ground but it's disappeared. Everyone kind of looks at you and
goes, "I don't know, Nuge. This might be another one of those 'madness
of the hunt' episodes.
you do anything different when developing the Wild Hunt, or was it
similar to the other events we've experienced in the past?
This was a pretty unique event because we had access to a limited-time
dungeon. We've done specific scenarios that were available during
individual live events, but this was really the first time we offered a
large-scale piece of PvE dungeon content for players. We were pretty
excited about that. It was kind of an extension of some of the content
sensibilities that we had from Land of the Dead.
We tried to introduce kind of more like a platform style of gaming to
try and break away from that traditional MMO feel that while yes, I am
in the world and it does have geometry and so forth, it always feels
like the content is always taking place on one continuous flat surface.
Amplifying the feel a little bit more, like a blade that's swinging
back and forth in front of me in the Land of the Dead in some of the
dungeon areas that I need to be careful around as I'm moving through
that or like tricks and traps. Players responded really positively to
that because it's coherent and it makes sense with the way that they
play other types of games. I think as MMO's become more mainstream
you're going to have a lot more of that quality of implementation being
expected especially with PvE content.
So, yeah. Time limited dungeon, something that we've done for the first
time, keeping that sort of platform game style that we first introduced
with Land of the Dead. It's part of the never-ending process of
expanding the Warhammer Online experience. style="font-weight: bold;">
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the final three events are happening over the next three weekends. What
can you tell us about the scenarios? Are they new for this event?
We're bringing back some scenarios that we've introduced with previous
live events. We're also making an effort to make this more accessible
to people from various tiers of play. The game is a year old at this
point, so we do have by and large a fairly mature population with
people that tend to be in the third and fourth tier and in the past,
we've tended to just focus a lot of the content on them. But since
we've launched the free trial, we also have a substantial number of new
players coming in regularly so we want to be sure that during the live
events, or the anniversary events, and so forth, that if you're coming
back and rolling a new character or coming in the for the first time
that you're not feeling excluded from these events that are taking
That's actually a goal we have moving forward for all future live
events and for Warhammer overall, to make the game more accessible all
the way from the beginning to the end, trying not to focus new content
or anything else exclusively on one section or another. There are
obviously going to be exceptions like, 1.32. We're introducing a new
user experience and that's obviously far more useful to a new player
than it is to someone that may be re-rolling or is already in a higher
tier. Generally speaking for content though, we're going to try and
make things as accessible as possible for as many people as possible.
you talk about 1.32 a little bit?
Everything is subject to change until the day that we actually launch
the patch, but philosophically, some of the types of things we're
trying to target are ongoing premier balance is probably job one.
Trying to make sure that some of the imbalances that we've seen with
some of the careers are worked out. We're looking at (sort of broadly)
trying to normalize abilities across both realms.
We've kind of noticed over the past few months that there has been an
up tick in dissatisfaction with some of the abilities that exist in one
realm, but not the other. They don't have a direct correspondent on
either side. So one of the things we're looking at in 1.32 is trying to
normalize that and make sure that functionally, you're not at a
disadvantage simply because of the realm that you've chosen.
And then sort of on a per career basis, just making sure that everybody
is as close to balanced as you can ever get in an MMO. Sort of tied to
that, we're going to continue our struggle with crowd control, trying
to make sure that is not a particularly frustrating experience. You
know, we've had some pretty obvious issues that we've already started
to address. We're not totally happy with the state of things at the
moment, but it's certainly better than it was a month or two ago.
Really trying to make sure that players feel like the utility of a
crowd control ability is still there but it's not so overwhelming that
you feel like you're holding still half the time in a fight.
In addition to sort of premier stuff, we're looking closely at the
high-end RvR experience. This is something that Executive Producer,
Jeff Skalski, made some announcements a couple of months ago our
willingness to take rather bold steps to improve what we feel is sort
of the core of the game which is the RvR experience. We looked at
particularly the campaign system. We felt like there were a couple of
really glaring places that needed improvement.
One of those was sort of a bottleneck in the campaign taking place at
the fortress level where you needed to take two of the three fortresses
for the enemy realm before you could lay siege to a capital city. One,
we were unhappy with the frequency with which that was actually
succeeding. Two, we just didn't feel the performance of that experience
was up to par. At the moment, the client does not respond as nimbly as
we would like it to when you get the types of numbers that we were
seeing in fortress attacks on screen at once. At the end of the day,
while yes it would be awesome to support a thousand people on either
side, you have to look at it and go, realistically, we can't do that in
a satisfying way.
So we're not removing the fortresses, but we have some cool stuff in
mind that I can't talk about just yet for how we're going to re-purpose
them in the future. They'll remain in the game, they'll remain
siegable, they'll remain holdable, and so forth. We just have decoupled
them from the city siege campaign so you'll no longer need to take the
two fortresses in order to assault an enemy's capital city.
all you have to do is have faction control essentially?
Correct. All the zone control stuff remains the same. Literally, the
only change is you don't need to take the fortress at the end of that
zone to control. In addition to trying to improve the sense of
competition and so forth in open world RvR, we had some concerns about
keep sieges in general being too difficult. We previously had an issue
where people didn't feel there was any incentive to defend, and as a
result they would just hop the side of the wall and run away any time
they got attacked.
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we've improved the arguments for defending but we felt that it was
actually too difficult to successfully take a keep. Even if you were
strategically planning your assault and you had the right type of
numbers, having that choke point as only one ramp up to the keep made
it very, very difficult for people to successfully attack keeps. We
added a second ramp to each of the open world RvR keeps that
effectively allows you to split your forces going up, but more
importantly, it forces the defenders to disperse more broadly
throughout that keep in order to successfully defend it. Part of that
is just an ongoing desire for the RvR experience to be far more
frenetic; to feel like it's a constant back and forth rather than a
thing of once you've got control of some keeps it's actually a very
easy thing for a limited number of people to get control and keep
control of it. So there's a fair amount of RvR stuff in 1.32.
We're laying the ground work down for some stuff in 1.32 that I can't
talk about yet but that will basically be the next as-of-yet
unannounced live event, so people will start seeing some of the initial
elements of that starting to trickle in.
From there, it's really all patch note things that will wind up in the
eventual version of that gets announced publicly. But sort of broadly,
our goal is very much focused on quality of service, improving the way
that the game plays. We'll be introducing the new user experience which
is intended to make it easier for people to understand what's going on
in WAR, to make some of the existing support features that were in
there more obvious.
Most people don't even realize there is a tutorial system in the game
so we're trying to make that more transparent. In our effort to not
have it be annoying, it actually became effectively invisible, so we're
trying to make it still not annoying, but more obvious and apparent to
a new player.
you making some UI changes with that new user experience?
Obviously, anything you try and do to make those extra things more
visible involves adjusting the UI. We're trying to make those
adjustments in a way that is not disruptive to existing players that
don't need help, so like I said, nothing is finalized until the patch
notes come out, but the goal would be it's much more obvious how things
behave, it's much more obvious how you're supposed to be playing the
game, it's much more obvious how to interact with the different parts
of the world and to have that be in a way that is comfortable to
players that are either coming from other MMO's or, more importantly,
that have never played an MMO before.
We all have a tendency to say, "Well of course you've played EverQuest,
Dark Ages of Camelot, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, etc.
So we have these presuppositions of things we assume players already
know. While actually, if you're coming from outside of MMO's, they're
very daunting and that's one of the areas we've recognized over the
last year that we needed some improvement on.
experience and renown curve has varied since the launch of Warhammer
Online in terms of open-world RvR, scenario RvR, PvE, etc. Are those
kinds of adjustments still in the game, or were they just temporary
until something settled out?
Those things are areas that we're always looking at in terms of
internal metrics, trying to find areas where we feel like, particularly
the experience leveling curve, either tapers off or it drags too much.
The polite thing that you were tiptoeing around, and I'll just say it
explicitly, Tier 3 dragged like crazy and was terrible.
Yes it did. Yes it was.
Yeah. You'd get through Tier 2 pretty quickly and then you'd hit Tier 3
like a brick wall. In my mind, we were very aggressive in the way that
we addressed that and I think it was appropriate to basically go in
there and say really ramp up the way that players travel through this
section of the game. Because by that point, you've actually moved
through the first half of the game. You're pretty much committed to,
you know, "I actually like what this game has to offer." You've had a
number of audit points to pass through and you've decided to keep
playing and now you've got your eye on the prize. And then we just sit
there and make it so you're barely moving through Tier 3. So players
that were maybe with us early on and left as a result of that type of
frustration, if you come back today, you'll find that the Tier 3
experience, it flies by in comparison.
There are additional improvements we're hoping to make to that in the
future to have it be stuff that you want to be doing and hand off the
rewards quickly enough that you feel like you're progressing at a sane
rate. Other areas that we look at, we really do have three or four
different progression systems in the game that can actually be
independent of one another depending on how you choose to play. We
have, obviously, the experience system for just sort of base leveling,
we have the renown system for RvR competition, we have the influence
system for public quests and PvE progression. style="font-weight: bold;">
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adjustments to, particularly, the influence system pretty early on. The
players can earn influence through RvR competition. Part of that was if
I'm in middle of a public quest and I've been trying to move my
influence along to earn some specific piece of armor or an item or
reward of some kind and there's a battle going on in open-world RvR, I
don't want to be de-incentivized from jumping into the fight. So giving
you the ability to earn influence by fighting in open RvR in the area
where you're gaining PvE influence meant that you were able to choose
from whatever felt like it was the most significant thing to be doing
at that time.
Those types of adjustments are things that we continue to make over
time. We continue to look at level progression, renown progression, and
try to make sure there aren't bizarre points where there's a spike in
difficulty or where you slow down unnecessarily. We want players to
always feel like they're always progressing in a meaningful way but
that is always an ongoing challenge.
switching gears a little bit, why did you decide to push Warhammer to
the Mac? There's only a handful of MMO's that have really taken that
step. That's not really a big player base, is it?
Well what's interesting is the idea that it's not a huge player base is
actually predicated upon bad math. People have a tendency to look at
the infamous statistic, and depending on who you look at it, it will
vary anywhere from ten to fifteen percent. What percentage of the
market does Mac currently "own"? Wow, they only have ten percent,
fifteen percent, sixteen percent, or some small number. Then Windows...
sheesh. It's just dominant. There are more computers running Windows,
but those numbers are on a pure OS basis and they count everything from
ATM's that are running Windows slim client to servers that don't even
have keyboards attached to them, to desktop PC's and so forth.
If you actually take PC's that are used for gaming, and Mac computers
(and I would argue that the majority of Mac users are in the
demographic of those that would play games if they were available) and
put those head to head, it's much, much more competitive. I think that
that's been something that the gaming industry has missed over the
past, probably ten years. Since the return of Steve Jobs and the
continued sort of ascendancy as kind of a preferred platform for young,
up and coming folks in the world. We’ve had a tendency to
look at consoles and PC's and ignore Macs. About 18 months ago EA made
a pretty strong decision internally to try and support Mac platforms
much more aggressively.
looking to the future, should we expect anything in terms of a boxed
expansion coming anytime soon?
If you actually look back through the past 10 years of Mythic's
history, with Dark Age of Camelot, we released stuff in retail
expansions and we released some live expansions. Philosophically, we
look at our products and go, if we're coming back to the well so to
speak, and asking for another $50 every 18 months, that becomes a
burden on the players that I think, and we've always felt, is somewhat
inappropriate. Certainly, a retail expansion is something that is on
the table. It's a thing that we could do if we feel that it's
At this point in time we're very happy with the live event, live
expansion system, giving us the ability to drive new content and
significant new content to our players. We've added four new careers,
we've added an entirely new geographical region to the game, we've
added new scenarios, we've added new dungeons, we've added new systems
- all without asking anything above and beyond the initial cost to
purchase the game and a subscription. Personally, if I thought we could
do that indefinitely, that's the way I would rather move forward
Curiously, you mentioned a boxed retail expansion and I think if you
start to look ahead 5 years from now, the dominance of boxed products
at all for this industry is going to have significantly tapered off.
People are starting to wise up already that the games we are delivering
are actually not products; they are services, and like cable television
or internet access, or electricity, water, gas, whatever, that is
actually much more attractive to the consumer to not be expected to pay
a ton of money up front in order to access what you have to offer and
to instead, annuitize that over time by subscriptions or micro
transactions, or some other payment model that's a little easier on the
consumer and doesn't require them to take a risk by spending $50 on a
game they're not sure they're going to like long-term.
I would say that five years from now you won't see retail expansions at
all. You'll service expansions and live expansions
and you'll see the kinds of things that we're doing now and I'm happy
to be at the forefront of that. But yeah. A retail expansion is always
a possibility, but for now, we're very happy with the way that we've
delivered content to people for the last year.
was great talking to you again, Josh. Thank you again for taking the
time to talk with us!
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