Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 12, 2009
 
WAR server shrinkage

Warhammer Online is closing down 40 of its 57 US servers, and 20 of its 43 European servers, for an overall closure of 60 out of 100 servers. I'm very much tempted to just state those facts and not give any comment, because somebody is going to accuse me of being a WAR hater if I state the obvious: That closing down 60% of your servers is not indicative of a great success.

But of course for bloggers and MMO theorists the fact that WAR isn't really successful is less interesting than the speculation of WHY it isn't successful. Is it more a technical problem, of large scale battles not being fun due to lag? Is it a problem of incentives, with scenarios being too rewarding compared with the open world, leading to depopulation and lack of open world PvE and PvP? Is is related to leveling up PvE and PvP being much slower than in competitor games? Or is there a fundamental lesson somewhere that MMORPGs with just PvP as endgame are limited to a small niche market?

I don't have an answer, except for stating the likelyhood that it is a bit of all of the above. That is on one side I don't see all that many people interested in fighting over the same PvP keeps for months, but on the other side there would probably be more players interested if those battles had less lag, and leveling up to the endgame was faster and involved less scenario grinding. There is no way around the fact that at its core PvP is zero sum, that is for every winner there must be a loser, while in PvE everybody can be a winner. But I can't say how many people would still like to play zero sum PvP if only there was the perfect PvP game out there. I only know that the number of players in the theoretical perfect PvP game would be smaller than the number of players in the theoretical perfect PvE game. Which leaves game companies having to decide whether to try to make the perfect PvP game, or a sub-perfect PvE game and still get more subscribers. I foresee more PvE games and less PvP games in the coming years.
Comments:
> Is it a problem of incentives, with scenarios being too rewarding
> compared with the open world, leading to depopulation and lack of
> open world PvE and PvP?

We'll see. WoW Raids are also too rewarding, in my opinion.
 
The castles are boring, unrealistic, mean no incentive. The PvE end game is a joke. The PvP endgame means fighting for those castles.

WAR would be quite ok .. if there were no WoW.
 
If you use WAR's measuring stick they set out for themselves they clearly have failed ... bad.

If you ask avid pvpers their response will be it's a niche market and as long as there is a positive cashflow on their financial statement it's not a failure.
 
Someone at Mythic (or EA?) massively overestimated the number of servers required at launch time. What do you think the servers can support? 15,000 accounts per server? I believe Darkfall launched with 1 server and 20,000 accounts (correct me if I'm wrong)?

So with 100 servers at launch, they could support a massive 2 million accounts. Dream on, Mythic/EA. I don't think WoW hit the 2 million mark for quite some time after launch, and their PvE focus arguably hits a wider target audience. Where I work, one server costs us about $20,000 for all the hardware and support. I have no idea about thier setup, but if it's 'in the same ballpark, they overspent by about $1 million. They should have launched with support for 1 million users. Where I work, someone would have lost their job for overspending that much.

Here's something to think about. Do you think they closed servers now to free up hardware for their Asian launch? They just free'd up server infrastructure to support >1 million users. Going by the western:Asian ratio of users in WoW, that's about the right amount of expected users in WAR when it finally launches in Asia. So was the shutdown at this time a move out of desperation or calculation?

MM
 
"There is no way around the fact that at its core PvP is zero sum, that is for every winner there must be a loser, while in PvE everybody can be a winner. But I can't say how many people would still like to play zero sum PvP if only there was the perfect PvP game out there. I only know that the number of players in the theoretical perfect PvP game would be smaller than the number of players in the theoretical perfect PvE game. Which leaves game companies having to decide whether to try to make the perfect PvP game, or a sub-perfect PvE game and still get more subscribers. I foresee more PvE games and less PvP games in the coming years."

I totally agree. I also think that many people cry for PvP, but in the end only want the positive sides of victory and combat, but not the necessary downside of losing/getting killed/losing stuff occasionally, too.

In the case of WAR, I do not like the Warhammer Universe in particular. I am also a bit tired by the flood of comic adaptions in cinema, and Champions Online looks like City of Heroes on steroids, about which I do not care either.
 
The deserted open rvr for scenarios thing, that was an issue early on, is no longer an issue at all. The open rvr areas seem to have action going on all the time in all the teirs in the (now) populated servers.

There is still an issue, for me, of the long term appeal of what reminds me of the tarren mill/southshore zerg that was so fun in early wow. You will hear wow players lamenting the days when whole evenings were spent zerging back and forth between Southshore and Tarren Mill, for no reason and no reward other than having fun doing it. That is WAR, with added rewards, which can be really great fun but I am just not sure I would want to do that all night every night.
 
I'm not a fan of WAR, but I don't believe that it's incarnation of PvP (nor WoW's for that matter) is zero sum. Both sides are getting influence points, etc. as they participate in PvP.
 
Although the news does show pretty clearly that warhammer has been loosing subscribers, to me it seems that, with the way the game was designed, warhammer needs to run with smaller numbers of higher population servers, rather than having people more sprawled out.

(Though as to why they designed the game and their server architecture the way they did is another question, to me looking from the outside, there was a lot of problems with order/destruction imbalances, server populations, populations of different areas of the game, etc. that pretty obviously could cause some trouble with the game, and should have been dealt with earlier.)
 
As Jason said, WAR RvR is indeed not zero sum, while DF is actually negative-sum.

And as Dan pointed out, your reasons for WAR not being successful are first month stuff which no longer applies. People don't grind scenarios, RvR lakes are packed, leveling is faster than most games save insta-cap WoW, and lag in large scale battles is a client-side issue now 90% of the time (if you have the hardware, you don't lag). The game still has its issues, but none of the ones you mentioned.

And as I'm sure you know, dropping down to 'just' 17 US servers places WAR above all but WoW in server numbers, which is exactly the spot Mythic predicted they would hold. Until an MMO comes along that actually holds the WoW tourists longer than a month, this will be a problem going forward in the industry. Either you open extra servers early on to make room for them, or you limit your release like DF to try and minimize their damage.
 
And as Dan pointed out, your reasons for WAR not being successful are first month stuff which no longer applies. People don't grind scenarios, RvR lakes are packed, leveling is faster than most games save insta-cap WoW, and lag in large scale battles is a client-side issue now 90% of the time (if you have the hardware, you don't lag). The game still has its issues, but none of the ones you mentioned.

Wrong. This is either fanboy-ism, or else it's a distorted view from somebody who happens to be playing on one of the 2 or 3 viable servers.

I've had some wildly divergent experiences in WAR based on which server I played on. I originally started on Volkmar, and quit the game before they added decent incentives for engaging in the RvR lakes at low levels. Scenarios were basically the only game in town. I quit once I hit T4.

Fast forward to February - a friend convinces me to resub. The game has gotten much better in a lot of ways, with incentives for engaging in the lakes. But when I rolled up a new tanker on my original server, I found T1 to be entirely devoid of any life whatsoever. Nobody PvEing. Nobody in the lakes (despite the incentives). There was only one thing to do, really - scenarios.

So, I tried a different server. Same results.

Finally, I went to join him on Dark Crag, the server with the worst ruleset but the best population numbers. Here, and as far as I can tell by my limited sample *only* here, the game seems to largely be functional in the lower tiers. The lakes are active, the scenarios are active. You can do one or the other or both as you desire. And this really covers up a world of sins, including the broken ruleset.

So I'll say this - unless you start on Dark Crag, the game will probably suck. The mergers here are a good start to getting the game on the right path, but for every server to "be like Dark Crag" they need to only have 5 or 6 total. Mythic's reluctance to make the hard choices to merge servers earlier lead to a worse game for everybody.
 
So what do all of you think of the way Darkfall manages their server? They only have one of them, and they simply don't let more people into the game than the one server supports. That sounds like a nice idea to keep server population stable, but I'm sure the suits at EA liked the idea of selling over a million boxed copies of WAR instead of just as many as WAR has subscribers now.
 
PvP works when you have players to PvP with. When you don't you revert to PvE, which if you're playing WAR you didn't want to do. When there is hardly any PvE (or when PvE also requires other players), what else is there to do but quit?
 
Two different business models though, right? WAR benefited from the tourists buying the game at $50, and will be fine now that the wave has moved on. They could easily afford the extra servers needed for the first few months, and aside from giving the one-monthers something to talk about now, the server mergers are just business as usual. Plenty of people are/will come back to see what has changed.

For DF, having to open more servers and later contract them would be devastating for everyone playing. You just can't really do that in a sandbox game that relies on community, guild cities, and establishing rivalries/alliances/territory. And who knows, perhaps this will be one way to deal with the overall tourist problem created by WoW. Would it really be shocking if the next MMO out does some form of a staggered release?
 
Lag is the route of all evil.
 
My two cents: new people are still coming in to WAR. I came back to it. The lowbie ORVR is pretty active, you can always find a warband at night. The tier 4 rvr seems to be thriving. (and this is from my experience on a mid range server)

The WAR will kill WoW meme is conclusively dead and buried, but WAR is a game that is very very fun to level in and the endgame is fun as well (if you're in to that sort of thing).

What its not is a game that lends itself to being an alternate lifestyle. But if you play it in moderation, its the only MMO I've found that is genuinely fun (by my "would you do it for free" definition of fun).

Mythic has my money for now. It's the only MMO I could picture myself playing anymore.
 
I don't think WAR (in Europe) opened with too many servers, not when you consider the size of the queues. We know WotLK hit it hard, and there is a natural drift of subscibers in the first 6 months in any MMO. Hopefully all that is the case here is WAR finding it's natural level. So long as it remains profitable to run, and it continues to be supported well by Mythic, EA and GOA, then it will remain an alternative to WoW. I don't think that success can always be measured in pure sales (though these days it does seem the driving factor), and I do not think that it's fair to measure a games success by holding it up to the blinding light of all things Blizzard and WoW.

I'm not sure I buy into PvP MMOs essentially dieing out because of the "lower" success of games that feature PvP (RvR) more than PvE (Raiding). I hope that game designers continue to push MMO design in all directions. There's a big MMO user base out there, full of people with different tastes, and I'm sure that good game design, polished implementation and decent support will be the driving factors as to whether a game is hit, or a flop.
 
"You will hear wow players lamenting the days when whole evenings were spent zerging back and forth between Southshore and Tarren Mill, for no reason and no reward other than having fun doing it."
I was one of those fighters, yet I find the battlegrounds and arenas of WOW boring (as I did their equivalents in WAR). Why? Because it all feels so contrived and I really don't care about the outcome. Those battles between Southshore and Tarren Mill were player organised. You felt like they were stepping on your turf and you wanted to protect it,even if the attackers were 20 levels above you. There wasn't some silly queue to get in and it wasn't in some locked away zone. It was there, in the world, so it felt like it mattered more.
 
Couple things.

First there are lots of small reasons why WAR isn't doing as well as MBJ predicted. No one major factor is the contributor which is probablly the issue. The reason it didn't do as well as everyone hoped isn't obvious.

Second it is MBJ's fault that WAR is being percieved as a failure. He is the one who was running his mouth that if WAR wasn't adding servers 6 months after launch or it didn't hit 500k sub would mean bad things for them. This is why most dev's keep their mouths shut.

Third - @MM69
The issue with the servers is funny because alot of the beta testers were screaming for them not to make this mistake. At launch each server had a cap, it was around 2k. The problem was there were so many pre-orders they filled the servers up fast. So they opened more servers. This kept happening, along with a gradual increase in the player cap on each server. The problem was that all those people filling those servers didn't play past their first months sub. So the game was left with 80% of the servers empty 3 months in. Which ALOT of us predicted would happen.

Fourth. I just came back to WAR after a 4 1/2 month break. I've done everything in WoW so I figure with the release of the Choppa now is the best time to give it a chance.
 
"What [WAR is] not is a game that lends itself to being an alternate lifestyle."

Toxic's comment a couple posts above is one I've heard stated by others before. It's the reason my girlfriend refuses to start leveling in WoW, but is planning on opening an account in WAR in a couple months once she graduates from college. I'll probably be quitting WOW around that time and joining her then.

While what I've seen of WAR's actual gameplay is disturbingly derivative of WOW, there appear to be some "back end" structural improvements over WOW that make the game intriguing to me - chief among them the highly improved mobility between (the few remaining) servers. That's my biggest gripe about WoW - if you make the acquaintance of someone in RL who also plays WoW, the odds of you actually then joining them in the game world to cooperate together are remarkably low compared to previous MMOs I've played, most notably Guild Wars.
 
Is it a problem of incentives, with scenarios being too rewarding compared with the open world, leading to depopulation and lack of open world PvE and PvP?

I saw one of their pre-release dev videos explaining how different battle types would contribute to the overall success of your faction. When I saw that scenarios weighed more than all other forms of PvP (open-world, to be exact) I decided not to even buy the game upon release.

I don't mind negative or zero sum PvP, but I cannot stand for the life of me any form of battlegrounds!

I just want PvP with more strategy based on group dynamics rather than class / gear makeup. Where is the flanking? Where is the outnumbering them with a massive group of lowbies? Where is the group formations? Why can't my small group of 5 players hold off a group of 15 through a small passage in the mountains?

Someone mentioned Darkfall, has anyone played it yet? Has it lived up to ANY of its hype?
 
I remain inclined to try WAR when I get bored of WoW. I tried AoC and felt kinda burned - I bought several new PC components bought the game too then found it really wasn't worth playing after 6 weeks.

I'm now inclined to wait at least 6 months before trying any MMO. I'd rather try Vanguard at the moment than WAR because at least Vanguard has fixed its problems.

For all that my medium term goals are raid with my latest character, see Ulduar then switch game, possibly keeping my WOW account live and logging on for raids while I play WAR, DF or Vanguard.

As for these changes they are simply sensible changes refelecting realities in a game process far too dominated by hype.

@Keystone - check out Keen and Graves regarding DF
 
@ Syncaine
"Until an MMO comes along that actually holds the WoW tourists longer than a month, this will be a problem going forward in the industry"

Hi, there already IS a MMO that holds the WoW tourists longer than a month.

It's called World of Warcraft.
 
Stabs, a Valley Girl called and she wants her cliche back.
 
It's going to be a long time before any game touches WoW. I don't think even another Blizzard game could compete with it. WoW is successful for one reason - http://blog.weflyspitfires.com/2009/01/25/my-boss-plays-wow/
 
First, 300,000 subs is good, and the game probably sold 1.5M copies, so EA made a lot of money there, too. It's doing well, just not relative to its start or compared to WoW, and it's may not be meeting expectations. It looks like a solid moneymaker, though.

Mostly, it looks to me like any game that tries to be like WoW not in all ways, but in some ways, and isn't quite as good, is going to be relegated to a very distant second place. You can be 95% as good as WoW, but if you're not better, 95% of the players will stick with WoW. Or play a non-MMO if they are tired of WoW. If you played WoW and liked it, why play a game that isn't as good? Different isn't better. It's just different.

And since WoW has such a headstart now, and such an embedded base (your friends play there, your guild players there, etc.), it's virtually impossible to compete.

So you really have to do something different. What that is, I don't know. I'd have trouble coming up with a business plan that asked for funding for a $40M MMO, though.
 
WAR is down to 17 U.S. servers? Wow, even EQ2 has 19 U.S. servers. The numbers for WAR in Europe more than make up for that, though.

Too bad the folks at Mythic didn't set realistic expectations or we'd be talking about how well WAR was doing with 300,000 subs. If people were talking about how well WAR was doing, people would be signing up to play the game just through word of mouth. Instead, people who don't really follow games are hearing that the game is failing and might hesitate to buy a copy. After all, who wants to buy and fall in love with the next Tabula Rosa?

Did I just compare a game with 300,000 subs to TR? Ridiculous, unless you belived the Mythic marketing machine.
 
300,000 subs for a $30M+ budget MMO isn't all that great, unfortunately. 300,000 subs for EVE is great. 300,000 subs for Warhammer isn't, even though it's likely profitable.

And Warhammer is in a much more fragile position than WoW. Nothing is likely to out-WoW WoW, but lots of things could out-Warhammer Warhammer. Even a game like Darkfall is more likely to nibble away at Warhammer's base than it is at WoW's.
 
I played WAR for about 3 months. I have to admit they did a great job with the game from ranks 1-39 but once you hit 40 there really just isn't that much content left. You end up fighting in a couple of keeps again and again, running the same scenarios and once you get to the fortress/capital stage of the game, at least for me, technical issues made it unplayable. Basically the game just gets boring.

Most of my guild who started at launch left once they hit 40 and went back to WoW. I started late, but myself and the rest of us who stuck around left for Darkfall once the beta started in Jan.

There is a core group of us now play DF and so far my experience has been positive despite issues with their launch (limited copies available, queues, sync issues). I believe that these problems are very much solvable. Our guild alone has more than half our members waiting to see how it shakes out.
 
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