Tobold's Blog
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Full disclosure on my relationship with Mythic

In the interest of full disclosure I'd like to tell you that I accepted a free subscription for the US version of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Yeah, I know, it smells like a bribe, but my reporting on WAR is not going to be influenced. It's hard to remain too principled if somebody is sending you a code telling you that it is valid for all beta phases and the live game itself.

Nevertheless I will still pay for WAR, because my main activity will be on European servers, where my guild is. Playing WAR on a US server means not only a slower ping (not good in a PvP game), but also being 6 to 9 timezones ahead of everyone. I was in a US guild for other games, and it didn't work out, with guild events constantly scheduled for what was 3 am for me.

But then, getting into the European servers might not be all that easy. It's 24 hours before the open beta starts, and the GOA account site is still not up. European community manager Iain Compton posted this comment on my blog yesterday:
"Firstly, there is no doubt about whether Europeans will get an open beta. We announced this in the last newsletter and confirmed it yesterday in our news. The EU open beta has never been in any danger of being postponed, canceled or otherwise missed.

Secondly our website has already been dealing with traffic that makes the expected rush for signups pretty trivial. We get more visits per day that the total number of open beta keys in existence across the world. We have launched major timed events before and we have a lot of experience in making sure that key systems are able to handle the pressure. The account pages are coming, they have been tested thoroughly and we aren't concerned about the stability of the server."
Well, excuse me for being sceptical. I promised I'll keep you all updated on the development, but honestly I wouldn't be surprised if some people never got to enter their open beta codes they paid some pre-order fee extra for.
I work in ICT myself and i can not imagine why GOA is so keen on cutting it that close, basically giving themselves zero margin for error.

When prepping large project for the moment they go live, i built in as many safeguards as possible. Losing even 1 business hour because of the project launch is unacceptable for me as a professional, just as it is unacceptable for my client.

Naturally i am confident that all will go smooth and as planned, but that doesnt mean i just skip plan B and obvious, easibly implemented safeguards.

So from that pov GOAs attitude comes accross as mildly arrogant and risky.
"Mildly arrogant and risky" is being far too kind!
I don't care why they want to enable the site to enter your beta-key the same day they start the beta, but the point is: It's utterly illogical.

Hopefully they surprise my and all the oder critics with enough server-power to handle not only the onslaught on their webservers, but also the patch-servers that you cannot even access to patch your game without valid login-data.

At least the process of downloading the beta-client by torrent went astonishlingly smooth. Thumbs up.
VDU - You know there's still another 3GB to download using the patcher...
Yeah, I heard about it - that's the reason why I cannot understand why you have to login to use the patcher. If I remeber correctly, WoW does it the other way round.

Any alternate way to get the patch?
Regarding that patch, this is a quote from Iain on Warhammer Alliance:

[quote]Actually the patch is an optional download (mostly additional voice packs) and we have decided to hold off with it till next week. We'll publish news when it's going live with instructions for downloading and installing it.

So no 3GB monster patch before the OB starts.
Phantasmagoria - well that's at least some good news!
Nice one Tobold :) Score!
I'm trying to register my key on the european website. The site either doesn't load, or when I refresh it enough, clicking on the registration button results in "The registration service is momentarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience".

So, to the point: nice prediction, Tobold.
congrats Tobold. You can tell us all about it!
I have zero interest now in playing WAR, beta just didn't cut it. I'll look forward to reading reviews though and see if the masses cheer or jeer.
The WAR Europe website has been unreliable for weeks now. It would be sad to see what is, by all accounts, quite a good game ruined by mismanagement at the European end.
Unexpected and unfortunate.

You've been fairly even-handed with your thoughts on Warhammer so far, but no matter how you dress it up you're going to sound like a paid stooge now.

I love how you try to brush it aside as no big deal since you're still going to pay for it so you can play on Euro servers.

I many other bloggers out there are on Mythic's payroll?
"You've been fairly even-handed with your thoughts on Warhammer so far, but no matter how you dress it up you're going to sound like a paid stooge now."
That's unfair. At least Tobold is being honest and disclosing his relationship with Mythic. If anything his comments so far have been slightly harsher than those of neutrals who've been playing the beta.
You're assuming I can be bought for the value of a lifetime subscription. That's $200, if we take LotRO as price comparison point. Fortunately for me I'm not quite that cheap.
Tobold, I appreciate your honesty in writing about this, but I must say that I am not that surprised: I always found a little strange the sudden interest you showed in WAR suddenly this summer, considering it's mainly a PvP/RvR game and you stated more than once in the past that you're not really interested in PvP.
If you changed your mind about this perhaps you may reconsider your recent dismissal of Darkfall, which was frankly way too harsh. DF may be a quirky and indie game, but it's still a new MMO and will offer a few more interesting things apart from full PvP looting: Aventurine's approach to class design and their "no levels" planned character growth are two others.
I hope you'll keep reporting equally about all new (Aion is another interesting upcoming title) and current MMOs on the market, and that you won't limit your coverage to WAR only, even if I will definitely play it.
I enjoy your writing and I still have faith in you, being a blogger myself (in italian). Please stay free and independent, if you can. Ciao.

Developers send free copies of their games to critics. It only makes sense that MMORPG developers would need to start providing free subscriptions to critics. There's nothing wrong with that.

The shadiness is not in the free games though, it's when they start giving you other stuff. "Hey, try out WAR on this great new video card!"

I forget who it was, but I remember reading some veteran game critic (or was it a software critic?) who one time was offered _sex_ -- a developer gave him free passes to a brothel.

So yeah, I think it's great that Mythic thinks you're important enough to give you a free sub. Congratulations! :)
Tobold is a blogger, not a professional reviewer, so lay off.

The fact that he is disclosing a potential "conflict of interest" is awesome.

Did Gamespot do so before the reviewing scandal was out? For those who are curious, they fired a long time editor because he was too critical of a game from a publisher that had recently spent a lot of advertising on the site.

Now, what about the review sites you know and love? Do they let it drop that they got a free copy of the game? Usually in preview state? I'd say 80% of them get these little "perks" - betas, free release versions, etc., and never disclose them.

So, Tobold lets you know up front. But does this really matter? After all, Tobold doesn't review games so much as comment on their design. When Tobold discusses design flaws in WOW, I don't think its from the angle of a "reviewer" who thinks a game is good or bad. Its from the angle of someone who genuinely wants the games he loves to get better. Its a sharing of ideas, which is exactly what a blog is supposed to be about. So... a free subscription to War? Will it change his articles so that he doesn't critique their instances of bad game design? No.. I don't think so. If he loves the game enough, he WILL critique those aspects that he (and you!) want changed, and he'll do so because he loves the genre, not because he's getting paid.

So, to sum up: Tobold's interest is to make these games better, because he intends on playing them for a long time. A typical reviewer's interest is letting the public know what they think about a game, then move on to the next one. The reviewer archetype can be corrupted when "incentives" are brought into the picture because they only have to live with the game for a short period. The other archetype - the design commentator cannot, because if he has a lifetime subscription and wants to use it - he wants the best damn game possible. He's interested in a long term relationship here. So, basically, people, RELAX FFS!
I always found a little strange the sudden interest you showed in WAR suddenly this summer, considering it's mainly a PvP/RvR game and you stated more than once in the past that you're not really interested in PvP.

I got the free access code only yesterday. So anything I wrote this summer couldn't possibly have been affected.
I don't think for a second that Tobald will turn into a toady for Mythic.

He's been pretty critical of them and I wouldn't expect that to change.

However, taking this subscription leaves a hint of doubt in the minds of the blog-o-sphere and I can't blame them for feeling a little put out.

Are they a little jealous? Probably. But there's more to it than that.

The second bloggers appear to be taking paid bribes by game developers is the second we have to wonder whether bloggers are really part of the "professional" media.

Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive)

P.S. "Bribe" is probably a harsh word for it, but raises a question that needs to be addressed. Are bloggers starting to become part of the mainstream media?
Tobold seems to be the first of us, Jason.

I hope it's a growing trend, that is for those bloggers who do go out of their way to be objective and measured like he is.
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