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Warhammer_Online[Make sure you check in every Saturday, as Gamer Limit will always have an interesting editorial for you to read. Feel free to also check out our full schedule right here!]

Warhammer Online was pimped as the first convincing World of Warcraft competitor. It promised to create an experience that completely overhauled the tired MMO experience, with glorious Guild Vs Guild combat, Open Quests, proper Realm Vs Realm combat and a raft of other features. But it seems that WAR was generally unsuccessful at poaching the lucrative, and restless, “shifting voters” of Blizzard’s behemoth.

But why? Did Warhammer promise too much and not deliver? Or was it doomed to fail before it even opened the first retail server? On the anniversary of the first year since WAR hit the MMORPG landscape, I’ll explore why WAR fell from grace and joined the many other contenders before it to relative obscurity.

Warhammer Online was released on September 18, 2008, to an excited and rousing reception. Things were looking promising: the beta period was successful, players were spreading the word of a new kind of MMO, focused on delivering a great story and finding new ways to involve players in the active world, rather then continually funneling them into instances for gameplay.

Retail shipped, and the problems began. WAR had a less than stellar launch. With the record for the highest number of pre-orders for any brand new MMO IP, over a million players were unsuccessfully not logging on to the servers. Unfortunately, the retail version of WAR had shipped with a faulty executable, generating mass confusion and a relatively bad informed fix. It seemed to be the first of a few launch issues.

Servers, in the beginning, had huge problems with over population, lag, and a host of bugs and glitches. It could take, in some cases, over 40 minutes to an hour to connect, and when you did, you were stung by terrible ping times, and the many bugs, balance problems and such that, Mythic was forced to release a significant number of patches in the early days to fix all of the reported problems.

In the end though, it didn’t really matter. WAR *was* fun. The Open Quest system was fantastic, being able to just deviate into an active world event and work with strangers to complete goals for loot was a breath of fresh air. Joining other players to defend keeps, where teamwork was not only recommended, it was essential to repel invaders. One of the best moment’s I’ve ever had was a frantic two hour battle to defend a keep against wave after wave of player characters.

warhammer

But issues with the core WAR play style began to hit home hard and hit home quickly. WAR was designed from the ground up to require significant amounts of active players to maintain realm balance. This then stemmed to every single feature in the game; from the very heavy PVP component (instanced battlegrounds, open world pvp, open quests and endgame RVR combat) to even a lot of the tougher PVE quests.

PVE was never really a focus for the title, and the developers had mentioned that while it had a strong PVE component, the meat of the game was in the PVP. Players complained from the beginning about the lack of, and diversity of, quests and instances. While some elements of the questing were unique, most quests were lazy interpretations of the “Get this, go here” mechanic that many other MMOs did better. As a result, most people preferred to grind battlegrounds to level.

It was obvious that the retention rate, essentially, the amount of people staying on past the initial 30-day block, was nothing like the number Mythic had planned for. While the initial active population started around a cool million, it quickly took a tumble month after month. At the end of October, less than a month later, the base had dropped to less then 750,000, over 250,000 less than launch. The next quarter was even more devastating for WAR, with the player base halving to barely over 300,000.

This had a catastrophic effect on play. In fact, even trying to play on a balanced PVP battleground was next to impossible a month after release. Mythic noticed the dwindling player base and made an active effort to condense it, closing servers (including the much lauded local Oceanic server) and providing incentives to players for joining other Realms. Even so, the player base was still spread like thin jam across far too many servers, making it difficult to complete a lot of the gameplay objectives.

details_warhammer-online

It was then that the flaws in the cogwork were exposed for all to see. While other MMOs are likely to start with a strong PVE contingent as a fallback, WAR decided to put all of its eggs in a single basket and bank on a huge and constant population. But it was quickly obvious that most of the elements didn’t work. Open Quests weren’t compulsory to complete, so most people didn’t bother to do them. It was easier (and more fun) to level in the battlegrounds instead. Everything else relied on servers being full, people leveling steadily.

People have thought up all sorts of reasons why the player base dropped so significantly and so quickly after the game’s release. Some say that the game didn’t emulate WoW, and it failed to provide a gateway in the way a lot of other MMOs are doing (such as Aion) to make the early game similar then introduce new tactics and systems later as players get used to playing. Others think the very heavy emphasis on PVP scared off many PVE stalwarts back to the safe grounds of the worlds they knew and loved.

What’s key in all of this is that the MMO marketplaces has been developed, and WoW owns the mainstream. If you are going to develop a game that requires a WoW size (or even 1/6 of the player base) to operate, you need to be able to poach and sustain that base. MMOs like Eve Online are successful with smaller player bases due to significantly different gameplay and a much tighter community (one server).

WAR was ambitious and, sadly for its demise, very fun to play. But without a better PVE contingent and a larger population to sustain all of the PVP/PVPVE based activity, it was doomed to obscurity from the beginning. That said, it’s current player base on a few specific servers is high enough to still provide the full experience if you are willing to give it a go. But as a WoW killer, or even a contender?

I don’t think Blizzard’s worried any more.

  1. I’m not sure it’s the desired response to this post, but I went and downloaded the trial after reading this.

  2. More like WOE-HAMMER.

    Played ’til 14, then quit.

  3. avatar asd

    got till lv 19.

  4. avatar BC

    I enjoyed the game, right up until the moment when everyone stopped playing, which was about 2 weeks in. I could see why people stopped playing, the game itself wasn’t very well balanced in PvP and the PVE content was lacking to say the least. The developers didn’t have time to fix the underlying problems, the game play mechanics weren’t different enough from WoW to be compelling.

    But once everyone left those that remained got hit badly, the public quests (the highlight of the early levels) and subsequent gear were practically impossible to get on your own. Equally the battlegrounds become hard to get a game in (like 4+ hour waits!) and really you couldn’t play the game at all without the population being high enough.

    I don’t think this game really had 750k players at the end of the first month, it had far fewer than that, just most of them forgot to cancel their subscription.

  5. avatar xosfear

    made it to 22 – still remains the mmo i’ve spent the most time on. having never played wow and since trying it. its like taking massive step backward.

  6. avatar Matt

    So I stuck it out with WAR, playing until June and getting an Engineer up to renown rank 65 out of 80. WAR had potential, and I had sincerely hoped that it would do better. As a player who stuck it out, I’d like to point out two significant woes of WAR that James missed.

    -WAR’s old game engine could not support very large scale RvR. The backbone of WAR, PvP, was hindered by a dated engine that could not consistently handle large battles for all players. The hallmark of the game, epic confrontations, was a lackluster experience for many players due to abysmally low frame rates.
    -Mythic gutted the PVP end-game by removing four of the game’s six cities. This ruined the tier 4 campaign, which was supposed to keep players going for years. They haven’t found a good way to repair the campaign yet.

  7. @Matt

    Thanks for the added perspective mate. I know very few players who stuck it out as long as you did, the majority of us left around lvls 25-30, and either went back to WoW or dropped MMO’s altogether.

    Both of your points are spot on – gutting the game and developing an engine that refused to scale are two extra nails in the coffin.

  8. avatar duman

    im still playing and i too have a lot to complain about, im a Renown Rank 64 Witch Elf. A class that has been crying for changes and balance with our counterparts since the 1.2 patch. Myself and a lot of the others that are still playing just feel as though the developers arent listening to what we want and going on their own path to do live events and other giummicks instead of hotfixing so many little things that would keep the player base happy. Patches are far aprt, things that could get fixed wait months. Simple things that could be done would make the playerbase so much happier yet seem to get ignores. The next pacth is currently in testing and it will either make or break it for those of us that remain.

  9. avatar Bacon Wafer

    So, does this mean that the game is out just like AOC? Is the game still running? I’ve been playing WOW since it came out, but now I’m tired of the direction Blizzard took in the game and I was thinking to switch to WAR for good. Does this mean that there’s no other option beside WOW?

  10. avatar duman

    just to add to my comment from before. Dont get me wrong, this game is great!!! I have never played another mmo (tried WoW and couldnt stand it). The RVR is great fun. They just need to balance the 2 sides out better and fix the little things and it will be back on track. If your thinking of playing id definitely say try the trial, the game has so much potential.

  11. @Bacon
    There’s always Aion, and the newly released Champions Online.

  12. I played till 28 before I quit. One of the biggest reasons this game failed was because of WoW. These idiots decided to release WAR less then a month before the new WoW expansion…. If they had waited 6-9 months, improved the game even more (fixed their crappy city issues, AH, and Mail issues), and THEN released the game I think allot more people would have continued to play.

    I played again in August when they offered me 10 days of free play to check out all the cool new features. All I saw was the same crappy unfinished features, and a big ghost town.

    Bottom line the game was rushed to market to try and “hook” players on WAR before the WoW expansion hit. I’m sure someone lost a job over this tactical error.

  13. avatar Vicegrip

    Thing is, I’ve been a wow player since the beginning. WoW is relentless repetition of the same PVE grind: “get shiny, shiny is made obsolete by next patch, get new shiny”.

    All these MMOs aren’t games anymore. They are just time sinks. WoW has no sense of longevity to any of its accomplishments.

    Frankly, if you want to be entertained, play single-player games. Frankly, the game I miss is UO.

  14. @Vicegrip
    I’m a near launch UO player myself. It was such a great game, I even played it in college with some friends of mine!

    I also had really fun experiences with Final Fantasy XI, but I really didn’t have the time to play it: with groups as a requirement to level (sans Beastmaster), that’s the biggest time sink I can think of.

  15. This was the first MMORPG I ever reviewed. I have to admit, I do give it credit for really having its own identity rather than “Let’s be like WoW” but very well written article.

  16. avatar Calikinakka

    I actually had a free account that didn’t expire for a year. I made it to level 10 and never continued from there. It just didn’t have the draw that WoW did. *side note: WoW free for 2 months and going!*

  17. avatar Senior Nacho Grande

    The tragic failure of WAR boils down to the fact that Mythic put the entertaining game at the end instead of the beginning. Very few people were prepared to invest the dozens of intervening hours to essentially earn the privilege of playing the core game! Mythic should have been bold enough to let WAR be the game it wanted to be and just ignore the PvE altogether (and why not, the PvE was so uninspired that no PvE players stayed with the game anyway).

    It’s a good lesson for other MMO devs to learn. They need to start thinking about long-term development in a modular way. Do NOT release a new MMO that tries to be a jack-of-all-trades. Instead, release the game around a single tight concept that you do well. Then, once you have a proven concept and an active and enthusiastic user base, you expand on the core game with new features and types of gameplay.

  18. avatar HughC

    @Senior Nacho Grande: I completely disagree.

    The problem with WAR, as I saw it, was that Tier 4 (i.e. the endgame) was completely broken. The reason myself and loads of other guildmates quit were (in no particular order) :

    1. Playing keep-swap with the opposing faction in the RvR lakes got old really quickly.
    2. The city seiges, the pinacle of endgame RvR, were a total anticlimax.
    3. The ridiculous amount of AoE Crowd Control flying all over the place.
    4. Little to no interesting PvE content.

    I hated Tier 4 so much I levelled about 3 alts while I waited for Mythic to fix it. I wasn’t alone either – I have never played an MMO where alting was so prevalent as it was in WAR.

  19. avatar Anonymous

    If you were on the top population server, the game was very fun- but…

    It was just a zerg from objective to objective to grind rvr rank.

    There was no place for competitive pvp, manwaves of 100 people can own any six man group, even if they’re in full warlord gear.

  20. avatar Anonymous

    @Senior Nacho Grande

    The most fun in warhammer is the first 30 levels. T4 sucks.

  21. avatar Droviin

    I made it to tier 4 and played for about 6mths from launch. I liked the game; I got in with a very active guild and played lots of RvR. The problem for me was the ward system. If it would’ve been a bit easier to pub the gear I probably would’ve kept playing. I guess at the time our server was a high pop one, though.

  22. avatar raresilk

    @HughC – i agree with you.

    i was very excited about WAR, having tried other MMORPGs but never stuck. i was interested because of the unique balance of the features, the whole promise of the RvR, PvE, PvP, open quests, etc, most of which was broken down by (1) needing PvE to level and (2) PvE being based on unreasonable assumptions about initial user base. thus instead of growing their base gradually, they shrank it dramatically by promising huge and delivering small.

    and killing half the capital cities? after the whole story line has been created? thus making several races essentially an afterthought?? so what else is going to disappear or be marginalized? people invest in a game like this and get hooked on it because they want a more involving and real environment than WoW. doing that basically tore down the fourth wall of the game and lost a lot of people right there.

  23. I have to agree with most other comments and the article itself. The PVE was just plain boring and all the fun things required large groups of other players. The game wasn’t ready for launch when it came out and I second Komplex in a big way the timing was simply put moronic.

    I am really looking forward to the future when some crazy developer out there finally realizes trying to be WoW is a waste of time. Until that happens the MMO genre will continue to stagnate and lose customers overall. When it does happen though I just hope they find a company that has real finances and understands rushing a release will only backfire.

  24. avatar Drithe Bors

    Did you even play this game? There are MANY reasons why this game tanked so badly. YOur view of Warhammer is so vague that it doesnt even touch the surface of what actually happened in that game.

    James Pinnell, you should be ashamed of your silly little blog.

    End of Line.

  25. avatar Bogstar

    So I guess the lesson we all should learn from this either be just one more WoW clone on the market or watch your IP fail? Is that what MMOs have come to now?

    As far as Aion, the complaints are already coming in on that one. It will suffer the same fate as many other MMOs that were proclaimed to be the next WoW killer. There is no such thing as a WoW killer. Just live with the fact that there is WoW and then there is everything else out there. And Champions Online? Again that game has had so many problems from the get go. Just go looking around the various blogs and boards and you will see pretty loud complaints about both games.

    Of course if you base your opinions about any game on those things, blogs and boards, your probably only really hearing ten percent of the most venomous vocal game population.

    I still play Warhammer. I enjoy Warhammer. Just because a game doesn’t have a 12 million person player base doesn’t mean the game is dead and gone. The biggest reason why Warhammer did not do as well as everyone THOUGHT it should have was because the WoW fanbois didnt have a WoW clone to run to when they felt the Blizz devs were ignoring their whining and crying. *shrugs*

  26. LOL there will never be a WoW killer… The game was more advanced when it was released then most MMO’s are at release now. Then don’t forget that they’ve had 5 years to improve WoW features and remove bugs. AH, Raiding, PvP, etc.

    A company would have to design a game that AT LEAST matches WoW’s current features and conveniences. Then improve on them, or add unique options like WAR had. All while making sure to create a rich environment, dynamic classes, and great end game.

    The development cost ratio would simply be too high… The only way a WoW killer would arise would be WoW making allot more game change mistakes, and making the game much more repetitive. Not to mention that the new game has to be everything I mentioned above.. I have been playing WoW since beta, and recently quit two months ago. Sad as it is, after trying so many other games, I don’t think there is anything close, nor will there be because of the massive head start WoW has…

  27. avatar shmarvin

    Played until 14 then quit. I would have quit at 9, but my friend told me to start playing the PvP scenarios. Those were fun.

  28. avatar Anonymous

    @ Bogstar

    SW: TOR will be far from a WoW clone, and it almost certainly will not fail. Will it be a “WoW killer”? Probably not, but that isnt even really possible anymore. I bet it will have subscribers in the several-millions range.

    • avatar Raquell

      After I initially comtnemed I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the exact same comment. Is there a means you can remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!

  29. avatar Gixustradt

    I suppose it’s worth pointing out though, that WOW opted for a very WAR like atmosphere with its “Apocalypse”. Even if they don’t regard WAR as a competitor anymore, you can guarantee they stood up. Let’s face it, WOTLK was rushed as hell to try and stem the tide.
    I loved WAR, player count or not. It was easy enough to level up for me even without PQs or RVR, though I did love those immensely. Level 10 Engineer, FTW. At least it ain’t dead yet.

  30. avatar Wrade

    I played Warhammer from launch on the Iron Rock server, had a blast with it and leveled up an Iron Breaker and Witch Hunter. T-4 was very lackluster and what started out as realm balance became nightly visits in Altdorf from our Destruction friends. And once the city siege began there literally was nothing else to do. So my wife and I left the game, because it just stopped being fun.

    With that being said, we had enough fun that we just started to play again, and are leveling up a couple of ranged dps characters to see how the other half lives. :)

    Mythic still has a lot of work to fix their mistakes and prove to their fan base that they are dedicated to making a great game. Who knows if they will eventually succeed. The good thing about MMOs is that they are ever evolving and you can check back every six months or so to see if you want to play again.

  31. @ Drithe Bors

    Feel free to elaborate on what you feel are reasons for its downfall, as others have done, since I can only comment on my own experiences and what I learnt from research.

    I’m more then open to learn more on the subject, as I commented furthur up the page.

    Other then that, I’m actually pretty proud of this “silly little blog”, thanks for reading! :)

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