Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Warhammer Online down to 300k subscribers

Via Brokentoys comes the news that EA fessed up to the real Warhammer Online : Age of Reckoning subscription numbers, and they are a lot lower than most people thought: Right now WAR has only 300k subscribers. Which isn't shabby in comparison to any other $15-a-month game except World of Warcraft. But with Mark Jacobs having repeatedly stated success criteria for WAR like "half a million subscribers" or "not closing down servers", 300k is a disappointment.

I've read different numbers about WAR's earlier subscription numbers, like 750k subscribers in the first month, or 1.2 million boxes sold. Which would mean that 3 out of 4 people who bought WAR and presumably played it a bit then decided it wasn't for them and quit. Now it is easy to point a finger at Wrath of the Lich King and to claim that the WoW expansion killed WAR. But of course Mythic wasn't forced to release WAR so close to WotLK, and if their game had been more attractive, they wouldn't have had such a high attrition rate. Not selling a million copies is one thing, but selling over a million copies and then not being able to retain those players is quite another.

So I have to admit my estimate of WAR having between 1 million and 2 million subscribers by the end of 2008 was wildly wrong. Not that I feel bad about it, because at the time everyone agreed and even chided me for choosing such a "safe" range. I still think that WAR isn't a bad game, but in a performance review of it you'd probably read the line "didn't meet expectations" somewhere.

So why didn't Warhammer Online succeed as well as expected? I still think making scenarios too attractive, thereby emptying the open world of players, was a big mistake. But in a larger sense the problem is probably that leveling up in WAR is a lot more grindy than in WoW or similar games, and once you did it and reached the level cap, there is only PvP to do; which has a range of problems from technical to social, and just isn't as captivating as the eternal hunt for better gear the PvE games are offering.
300k means roughly 4+ Million US$ per month, plus box sales. Not too bad, but I don't know dev costs to see if WAR is profitable yet.

As for WHY the reason is simple: successful MMOG's have somethign for everyone, ie. that every player type has room to live his favourite style of play. If you miss out on one you are not only loosing this type of customer but also the relationship between the roles the customers are playing.

WAR has not enough PvE, it is PvP centric. Thats its biggest weakness. WAR fans who love PvP don't see this but a MMOG needs PvE content to serve the casual customer who players usually solo and sometimes socialize.
The majority of the people that quit can't have hit 40 to even try out RvR at that level. I've had an active subscription since release and still don't have a L40 character. Most of that is due to WOTLK, but some also because it's really boring to level in that game in my opinion. I suspect I would have played more if I would now have a character at L40. To be honest I would rather level by doing RvR since PvE is the most boring part of WAR, but even in RvR there are problems.

There just hit a patch which locks out people that are below L37 (IIRC) from keep takes/defences if there are too many people so that's pretty much out of the question. Also when you get to tier 4 you really can't get any experience in scenarios, well at least not on my server as destruction. The problem is that the winners of the scenario get all the XP. So if you end up facing enemies which are almost all L40 and your side don't have that many you will lose, probably not get many points in the scenario and therefore hardly any XP. I'm not really sure why Mythic decided to distribute XP depending on wins/losses since it just gives more XP to those that need it the least. There should at least be a fixed amount of XP given out at the end of the scenario which is equal to what you get now for winning a scenario. The added XP for killing other players can be left as it is. This way leveling through scenarios can actually be a viable way even for the losing side.

Of course it could really help to separate the L40s from those that haven't hit the cap yet too. That would probably make it more fun for both those below and at the cap.
I have never played WAR but 300k subscribers is certainly not a failure. Reading the blogo-sphere it seems to me that although the initial surge of players have left there is a core of committed WAR players who are there for the long haul. If they can hold on to those players they should be able to make money from the game. We must look elsewhere for our WOW killer. In fact if I had to put money on it I would guess that the only real WOW killer will be old age.

Did you see an excellent post from Syncaine a week or so ago Tobold where he talked about the WOW spillover that every new MMO has to deal with. You get 1 million bored WOW players in your first week after release but only a small percentage of them are going to stay. He was talking about Darkfall but it applies to any new game and poses challenges in terms of the number of servers required etc.
The number according to many people is a lot lower than 300k, since the 300k number includes the 3 month subs that ended in mid January.
The problem with WAR was not the leveling curve or the slow XP gains. Doing all the quests in all zones in T3 and T4 gets you to 40 easily (better done with a friend of course).
The real problem is that there is/was no end game. I hit R40/RR38 in about 1 month+ and at that point I was faced with two unappealing options:
1) Poorly thought and desinged PvE: Horrific Mob AI, Insane mob respawn rates in instances, the often DC's caused a respawn at the entrance of the dungeon etc.
2) Buggy RvR:
a) The zone locking/flipping mechanism was not documented. I'm still unsure, what our warband should have been doing in order to lock a zone after we have taken all BO and keeps...
b) Bugged contribution in all RvR objectives (nothing more demoralizing than solo healing 20 people and ending up repeatedly below 12th in contribution)
c) No incentive to get higher than RR38/40, other than the e-peen side of it.
3) Boring RvR: The repeatabilty of RvR killed the game for me. Scenarios got boring after the 1235th time (despite the fact that some of them were pretty original). Keep attacks/defences involved either banging on 2 doors or being sucked by the magnet abilites.

All in all, WoW did oRvR better than WaR with Wintergrasp, and thats the biggest fail of WAR in my opinion.
300k is a decent enough number and i think it will build on that - they have improved it alot from when it launched and put alot of the old content back in quite quickly. Plus they seem to be adding new content and live events which are good fun.

However as it was hyped as a game to go head to head with WoW it hasn't done so well in peoples perceptions-things like the cut content and to few people spread around to many servers for to long kind made people think it was failing.

I hope it beefs itself up to some decent numbers as it has alot going for it and it would be good to have a big viable alternative to WoW.
I played WAR at launch and stopped after the free month.

The reason for that was that even though the quests / lore / public quests was awesome, most of the time I was just running around alone and the pq's were empty. Every one were leveling by playing scenarios.

Last week I re-subscribed and boy has the game changed.

It's now like it was meant to be played. Open RVR is in bloom.

Yesterday US / Today EU is/was patch day. I would recommend everyone that own the game and quit after the first month to check it out now and see how much it has changed.

And oh, if you are thinking "I can't do that now, everybody is rank 40 already and I'll be all alone." Wrong. I re-rolled on another server and started from scratch. There are still more players at ranks 1-20 than 30-40.
World like the Old World of Warhammer deserves a deep and detailed PvE counterpart: the scheming and plotting and possibility to be amazed by the corruptedness and vileness of the quest givers you thought to be on YOUR side was the bread and butter of WHFRPG. If that has not been included, then the game is lacking one real key element on it.

I haven't still gotten the game, and the more time passes, the less I want even to try it. Besides, WAR is priced above WotLK, which makes the decision pretty easy in these days, especially if you have WoW and TBC already...

I tried it out for a few weeks.

And one of my rules of thumb is: "If I can't properly rebind my keys, it's not worth it."

Couldn't bind any keys to /, * key on my numpad. That pretty much makes it unplayable to me.
300k is still a decent number. Personally, I didn't like WAR because it was a very transparent grind with no real sense of a larger world or immersive gameplay. It was just like playing Unreal Tournament or something on my PS3 - no connection to my character or the world.
"[PvP] just isn't as captivating as the eternal hunt for better gear the PvE games are offering."

This is an interesting point. I personally agree with it, but I suspect that everyone who is a 'hardcore WAR player' will disagree, as its supposed to be about your skill and not your gear. Of course, the game has gear you can improve, even if only to a point, which they are presumably aiming for, and countering their own points.
PvP is the problem.

"PVP IS FUN, UNLIMITED ENDGAME CONTENT" this particular mindset still seems to exist.
People usually cry for: 1.) Multiplayer mode 2.) PeeVeePee

All they usually get is massive "pee".

WAR is better than that, but in the end it is just a pvp styled variation of a DIKU-Mud in the EQ/WoW tradition.
And I am probably not the only one who gives a rats ass about the Warhammer universe that I never really could appreciate somehow.
So why didn't Warhammer Online succeed as well as expected?

One of the factor which is conveniently never talked about is the ridiculously high expectations piled on it by the MMO punditry before launch - the next big thing since sliced bread, the WoW killer, the one saviour from the dated, plain, unoriginal, boring Warcraft. As I've said in comments here and elsewhere in the past, the expectations were set so high that WAR was almost guaranteed to disappoint. There has been so much gushing fanboyish anticipation in parts of the blogosphere (matched by marketing hype) that WAR isn't really acknowledged for what it is, but for what too many people expected it to be.
I am not sure it would have done better but I think one of the major problems they had, especially at the start, was to try and be all things to all people and didn't develop one area well enough, which in their case would be pvp. So, when it came out, people were complaining that pve (instances, dungeons, etc..) was not that good. Other people were complaining that pvp wasn't good enough. One problem was the mentality, too of the rush to the end. Those that rushed to the level cap were especially bored because the rest of the pack was behind them and any endgame required fellow opponents.

I still think that as a casual player, who plays an hour or less a night, WAR is much better for me, though I am probably in the minority.

One other thought....maybe it wasn't dumb to release before WoTLK even if the game wasn't quite as ready as it could be. Consider that by releasing beforehand they ended up selling 1.2 million boxes whereas they might have sold a lot fewer had they released AFTER WoW came out, since what they got were a lot of the bored WoW players who probably wouldn't have left once WoW lad out new content Maybe they ended up with a lot of cash that they wouldn't have had for further development. It might be strange to consider that with that influx the game is better today than it could have been had they waited until now, considering the amount of information and feedback they get from having a large playerbase. Now I'm not saying it is ideal, but it is getting better.
I quit WAR at level 35.5. I think players who are willing to PVP all the time are only a niche market. Mythic did well in adding PVE, crafting and the grouping mechanic. The problem was that the number of Scenarios and PQs spread the population so thin, it was hard to do anything consistently other than Scenarios. I found the PVE to be quite good and would have done more but it was way too much LFG to get it done. I also had an alt in the 20s so I didn't race to T4. However, when I arrived I could hear a pin drop in the T4 zones. oRVR was spotty at best and riddled with lag and CTDs. Capturing and holding keeps was rather pointless for a guild. All it did was drain the guild bank. I just hit a point where the options weren't appealing and I left. I didn't go back to WOW. I know players that bailed at level 40 because the PVP/RVR masks a massive PVE gear-grind to do the City Sieges. They were like, "WTF?"

It's easy to find 15 to 30 minutes of entertainment in WAR, something I really enjoyed. However, finding a couple of hours of rewarding opportunities was difficult - VERY difficult at the higher levels. It was convenient to be able to come and go in the game without disrupting others - something casuals need. However, when I had a block of time and wanted to play for a block of time, it became very evident that a group was required. The majority of the fun I had was when playing with a static group in our guild. Once I got behind their leveling curve (real-life crits for 10K) WAR felt ominously barren.

Leveling was a brutal and boring in T4. And crafting, something I do when I need some tinkering time or fill in the gaps, has to go down as one of the worst conceived implementations I've ever had the misery to attempt. I've crafted in every MMO I've played and I've played many. For all the "this isn't grindcraft" boasts, random dropped materials equals massive grind!!!! Burying components in Stage III PQs that you can't get to because there aren't enough people to do PQs was a horrible idea. I don't know. I grind to level and I've never felt like it was grinding. When I had to grind in WAR and it felt soulless, empty and void so I split.
I got 40 within 10 days. I loved the single player PvE content. I loved their quests. Although I helped create the biggest guild on the server and had a hell of a lot scenario fun with with them, I ultimately had nothing to do. Endgame PvP was bugged and boring, endgame PvE a joke. So I left. I quit after the first month and have not played an MMO since then.
I'll be back for WoW 2.0 :)
For me personally, I quit the game because 1) the lag was horrible and 2) the combat system was extremely buggy.

A game based around PvP needs to have very smooth gameplay (at LEAST in scenarios). But I often found myself *thinking* I was blocking a player only to have him port 30 yards away a few seconds later (lag) thus negating any benefit of collision system in PvP. My spells went off VERY LATE making timing much less important and putting an emphasis on facerolling. I could go on and on.

The bottom line is yes the game content was thin (give it a break, it was a fresh launch), but a PvP game with SERIOUS combat problems is a sure failure.
The only reason I quit after about 2.5 months and being 40 for a few weeks, was because Mythic/GOA choose not to let me play, by not offering the possibility to get off my low populated server. Heck I would have even paid for a transfer how crazy is that?
rawr. insert angry offended and offending comment here.

I like WAR, i think they're gonna get it together and post at least 750,000 subscribers by dec. 09
Tobold, why are you so good at putting everything together like that? I've always wondered. If WAR fixed its PVE it might have huge consequences but as Keen has pointed out, its a means to an end right now and therefore ignorable.
I just started playing WAR this week after getting burned out on my highest level WoW character ever (36 Shadow Priest). I like how quickly I was able to get into PvP. I also like being able to level off of it. I also find the combat system for my healer (Disciple of Khaine) more interesting than my Shadow Priest.

Someone posted about the horrific AI, but I don't think it's any worse than what I encountered in any other MMO.

It IS missing some of the magic that WoW has. For one, they bombard you with too much interface like XP, Renown, Public Quest Goals, Public Quest Influence, Overall Realm Status, Morale abilities, and more. My character for some reason turns her head sideways and attempts to look up at the sky every once in a while like she's stuck in some sort of upper-body animation hell. I didn't think I was doing any damage in between abilities at first because there's no hit animation if you're already locked into an attack.

But my biggest problem is on average it takes 20min to enter a queue, and about 5 min at the quickest.

I tend to like niche MMOs though, with EVE and Shadowbane (free version) taking hundreds of hours from me. :)
I'll admit I called it wrong Tobold. Most of the fun I had with the game was when everyone was in beta, where nobody went past T2 and everyone was just doing ORVR. Spread everyone out with a big level grind and hide most of them in scenarios and the game proves to be considerably less fun. I also misjudged how quickly I (and others) would get tired of the basic ORVR play.
I stopped playing Warhammer as my both my characters approached the level 40 cap and I started to experience the WAR end-game. The problem, as I saw it, was that oRvR wasn’t very meaningful. OK, so a zone is controlled – so what? There is still no real purpose to any of it and certainly little in the way of personal rewards or sense of achievements.

As I wrote in my exit to WAR blog entry: ”In theory, if one side is really dominant over the other side, then they can attack a City and all this cool stuff happens. But uh.. the problem with that logic is that it means one side needs to get trounced. So either you a) have no opposition and can assault a City with little opposition, or b) you have good opposition and end up in some stalemate unable to get to the City "end-game".

So in reality, the only options left to you in Tier 4 are the same exact ones that are open to you at Tier 3. You can do Scenarios or you can attack/defend Keeps and Battlefield Objectives. Don't get me wrong, these are fun enough but they lack purpose.”

I really liked a lot of things about WAR. And even though I’m playing WoW again, I can’t get myself to participate in WoW PvP (something I used to do a lot) because it pales in comparison to what WAR offered. But that being said, pointless keep sieges combined with epic battles that just end up lagging you out is not something I found enjoyable for very long.
I find the lack of rabid fanboi wailing and gnashing of teeth comments very disappointing, please re-enable anonymous posting :P
I'm actually very tempted to go back into WAR personally. The new class changes, the updated bits n' bobs, it's all very persuading, we will see. As it stands WoW has already done it's turns with me in WotLK and I want something a bit fancier to throw myself back into. And amusingly, i'm not sure why, by seeing WAR only having 300k subscribers (is that over US, EU or both?) makes me really want to sign up to make them have another funder for their project. How odd.

and following on from what sid67 said: "And even though I’m playing WoW again, I can’t get myself to participate in WoW PvP (something I used to do a lot) because it pales in comparison to what WAR offered" that's exactly how I feel.

I resubbed this month after canceling after launch. Tried new characters and new classes on "new" servers and still ran into the same problem as post launch. WAR is too dependant on having other players around to be enjoyable and doesn't have the population to support players across 4 tiers and 3 racial pairings.

War is everywhere*

*Everywhere meaning Empire vs. Chaos pairing from 6:30 server time to 11:30 server time.

I played it for another two weeks and decided to just go level up another alt in WoW and canceled again. WAR just needs more stuff. It feels like a series of well designed and somewhat original RvR scenarios that are placed on top of an empty shell of a PVE game.

Public quests can be fun but I rarely found enough players to do anything besides endlessly grind the handful of easier ones in a given chapter, as we could usually only keep 6-9 players in the group long enough to complete them.

The solo PVE in WAR lacked a lot of continuity and has a very bad flow to it. WoW does great quest stacking and really hides the grind well. WAR quest chapter hubs would routinely send me to the same area to kill the same mobs multiple times for different quests. It's just not very well planned out and just reflects the rush that they had to push the game out the door and then the later rush to squeeze in more PVE quests w/o adding any actual content.
It does seem surprising that the warhammer designers didn't design the game to have closer levels (Like other PvP games), didn't start with larger servers, or do some guild wars type system where people would automatically be transferred between servers to keep a certain populations together, and/or designed the game to avoid some of the positive feedback cycles that seemed to cause so much trouble with the players.
I played Warhammer for about a month or so. At first it was pretty fun and I liked the mechanics. As a WoW PvP person, I loved getting into scenarios constantly, snagging XP from them, and learning how the different classes worked.

I got to about level 20, followed Tobold's crafting guide and made enough money for a mount...and then stopped playing.

The game isn't bad at all, and if WoW didn't exist, I would probably still be playing it. I quit, not just because of WoW itself, but other factors.

1. Lots of WoW friends didn't touch Warhammer, and maybe 6 people tried Warhammer out. Probably half the reason I still log onto WoW is to play with friends. Honestly, I don't know how someone could continuously play WoW solo. I mostly PvP and PvE with friends. If everyone I knew quit WoW, I'd probably instantly cancel by sub.

2. Warhammer didn't feel finished. Animations seemed to be bulky and cluttered. PvP scenarios would become laggy when everyone was in a large pile. Quests seemed to be few and far between once I hit level 20. PvE dungeons were weak. Public quests were almost empty past level 15. But mostly (I know the game is new and not as covered as WoW) too many things seemed to be hidden, without information given. Ever look at the tome of knowledge and wonder what all the crap in it was for, how you got it, etc? Maybe for some people it posed a challenge, but to me, seeing vendors in that capital city with gear and no idea how to get half the tome unlocks was just annoying.

3. Wrath of the Lich King. As im sure a lot of people could tell you, once WoW 3.0 came out, I had a full plate again of WoW stuff to do, along with a ton of friends/guildies. Warhammer was a fun diversion for a month, but 2+ years into WoW with social connections and connections to my WoW toon made it pretty easy to cancel my War sub.

The game itself was good. But it wasn't as polished or complete as WoW, and its the reason I left. Assuming Mythic builds upon the success they've had thus far and make Warhammer better for all around, I'm sure the game will live on. Nothing but WoW 2 will kill WoW, but Warhammer can fill a market open for open RvR, especially if they can polish their game up and improve on a few aspects, such as PvE.
I think you underestimate the effect Wrath had on WAR's numbers Tobold. A very large number of boxes were purchased by bored WoW players. Not bored MMO players, but bored WoW players. Players for whom WoW is there first, favorite, and only game. They played WAR because WoW hadn't had an expansion in nearly two years. Then Wrath came out, and *poof*, they canceled. I was in a destruction guild that came over from WoW (I wasn't in their WoW guild). The day Wrath came out was the last day anyone in that guild (other than me) logged in. They were never interested in the game, and I doubt it would have mattered if WAR WAS the best thing since sliced bread - it wasn't WoW, so they didn't care.

As Wrath grows stale (and from the looks of things that won't take long) people will start drifting away to other games again, and I suspect WAR will pick up a lot of those people, at least until the next WoW xpac lands.

I am not a PvP gamer by nature, but I prefer the gameplay of WAR to that of WoW. WoW is all about grind. Grind for reputation, grind for gear, grind for levels, grind grind grind. WAR I could just play and have fun. Yes, the PvE content was inferior to WoW. I don't think that's a surprise to anyone. WAR is a PvP-centric game, and never even tried to beat WoW at it's strong point. WAR is easily the best PvP MMO on the market, and if you like PvP, that's the place to go. It will never have the mass appeal of WoW though, for the simple reason that it's too much of an MMO, and not enough of a single player game. You can level 1-80 in WoW and have a decent enough time even if there were no other people on the server. In WAR, you MUST have other people around to make the game enjoyable.

The other thing that has hurt WAR is performance. I have a 4 1/2 year old computer that wasn't cutting edge even then. It runs games like WoW and City of Heroes almost flawlessly, but flounders in WAR's RvR. Even with all the settings turned down or off it doesn't run that well. I briefly had access to a high end modern machine and playing WAR on it was glorious. Going back to my old rig made it unplayable in comparison, and as a result, I no longer play it. I'm mostly playing City of Heroes now, which has become the ultimate casual MMO, with the ability to jump in for 30 minutes and do something useful, and it's subscription base is actually growing.
I took the trouble to look back at your
Guess how many copies WAR will sell
thread from August last year.

I guessed: 1 million box sales in the first 6 months, 3 million sales by the time the population peaks (about 9 months in) and decline to around 500K subs within 18 months as people get bored with RvR.

So I underestimated the sales for the first 6 months, but overestimated the subscriptions. I still think an RvR only endgame is a long-term problem, but there's nothing to stop WAR picking up a few extra subs as Wrath fades. It's still quite a good game, just not strong enough to compete with WOW at its peak.
And I think the 300k is as high as it will get. People aren't very willing to give a game a 2nd chance. Wouldn't be too surprised if EA closed the doors when it doesn't get higher soon enough.
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