E308: Warhammer's designers explain the career/city removal

Careers lead Adam Gershowitz and Associate Producer Josh Drescher were instrumental in making our Massively goes to WAR series a success. Our lengthy discussion with the two Warhammer Online designers resulted in our in-depth analysis of (at that point) every class slated for the game. Last week at E3 our discussion with the two gentlemen turned to the removal of four of those classes, as well as four of the slated endgame capital cities.

The announcement of that content removal has been a sore point for some members of the Warhammer community, but Drescher and Gershowitz were adamant that it was the best decision for the game. We talk in-depth with the two about why the content was removed, how the decision was made, and what the designers are going to do with the time they've freed up for themselves. Oh, and they're firm: EA had nothing to do with it. "EA has supported us this entire time, and it's really not EA pressure that led to this decision. What you've got to realize is that we're making a giant game. It's very expansive and it has a lot of features. We could easily fall into the trap of 'forever making the game'."

"Just from a pure design standpoint, having two cities is the right choice at the start of the game. Players need to have a linear focus, they need to understand where they're going, it's absolutely the right choice for the game."

The recent announcement of the removal of four classes and four cities from Warhammer Online has caused a lot of fan turmoil. From your perspective, how has the community taken the news?

Josh Drescher: About what we expected. One of the reasons we wanted to make the announcement close to a major event like this was to guarantee that we could talk to as many people as possible as close to the announcement as possible. As you can tell, any time you offer this type of information to the fans, it's really difficult to get the message across and to cover all of the unexpected additional concerns that crop up immediately afterwards.

In terms of timing, the proximity to E3 was definitely something that we were looking for. We didn't want to wait for Leipzig or PAX, and E3 was the best possible choice for us in terms of when it made sense to announce.

As far as how the community has responded, I think generally people who have taken an objective look at it understand why we're doing it. They understand this wasn't an arbitrary choice, it's not about rushing the game out, it really was a creative decision, a production decision. When we started this game we were an independent studio. We had a big vision for the game, but we had independent studio expectations of what we could actually do in the time we had. Our original spec for what the cities would be was dramatically less expansive than what we having the current game's living cities.

This is going into some detail, but I hope you find it interesting: Nine months ago or so, when we reintroduced a lot of the open-world PvP, threw the keeps and sieges back into the world and ratcheted back the focus on scenarios, part of that was a recognition of the fact that we would be able to expand what we would do with the capital cities. Those keeps kind of represented a rough estimate of what the cities would be like. They would have had additional vendor and social elements inside, but in terms of size and scope they were roughly equal in importance. That was fine, but they sort of belong in the lower tier of the game. They didn't represent what we wanted from the living cities. When we started building the cities, we realized it needed to be bigger. By several factors, until they turned into the gigantic cities you see today.

It comes down to the amount of time and coordination it's going to take to press through that campaign, to control two of the three fortresses in the racial pairings, to successfully lay siege to your enemy's capital city, then successfully complete all the encounters, public quests, and raids that are inside the capital city, and finally press into the final king encounter – it's a massive undertaking strategically. To be honest just from a pure design standpoint, having two cities is the right choice at the start of the game. Players need to have a linear focus, they need to understand where they're going, it's absolutely the right choice for the game.

"In some cases some of the careers just didn't play as well as we wanted them to. We had two choices: we could spend a lot of time focusing on the weaker careers and bringing them up to par, or we could go back and make the strong careers we have even better."

And the classes ...?

Adam Gershowitz: I can take that one. The careers really came down to a very similar choice. We started out with 24 careers, they had a tight focus to them. Then we started expanding, putting in the mastery systems, we expanded the number of abilities, we expanded the number of armor sets, we expanded the amount of art, and this was all as a result of our Beta feedback. Beta's been running for almost two years now, we're constantly iterating off of that, constantly reassessing how good things are, wondering if we have to put a little more in. Quite a few months back we sat down and we took a look and asked "how are we doing?"

Everybody was giving us really good feedback on the careers, we were making good progress, we were excited about it, but what we were finding was just like with the capital cities we needed more. We needed to flesh it out and make it better. In some cases some of the careers just didn't play as well as we wanted them to. We had two choices: we could spend a lot of time focusing on the weaker careers and bringing them up to par, or we could go back and make the strong careers we have even better. Expand the number of armors from 300 to 400, increase the number of abilities, extensively test every aspect of the mastery system ... we took a look and we said 'let's see how it goes'. We took a look at one or two careers, and really hammered on them to see how much content they'd need to be 'done'. In that FAQ we put up on the site, we talked about the analysis we did to look at what was the most popular careers. That's helpful from a production standpoint, but what we wanted to do was to square everything away, make our final decision.

What ended up happening, thanks to player feedback, is that we moved the good parts from the less polished careers to other, more fully fleshed out careers. We double checked balance on everything, and eventually removed the weaker careers from Beta so that we could spend a good chunk of time seeing how the game would play without them. Our first and foremost concern was balance. We found that even though Dark Elves are "missing" a tank, the Disciple was able to pick up some of the slack as a Healer/Absorby –type guy. He could hold the line, as a sort of stand-in.

Josh: One of the core things people need to remember about the careers is that we have 20 careers across two realms. When you're thinking about what your options are in-game, 20 options across two very different realms. There are lots of options, there is parity across the realms, there is no deficiency in the game. It's a realm vs. realm game. When Adam says that the "Dark Elves are missing a tank", that's true – but their realm is not. If you look at the classes we took out, there was a melee-focused reduction, but there were previously twice as many melee classes in the game as ranged attackers. There are still an equal number of ranged/caster and melee attackers.

"EA has supported us this entire time, and it's really not EA pressure that led to this decision. What you've got to realize is that we're making a giant game. It's very expansive and it has a lot of features."

Adam: So in all, this wasn't something we did lightly. We considered it carefully before deciding, and went about it in a methodical way. It wasn't like "hey, it's July, we want to get the game out soon, let's hack these out."

Some members of the community are saying that EA had to have been involved here. How do you respond to that?

Adam: I'm sure that if EA as a developer and Mark [Jacobs] and everybody decided we really needed to push this game back again, we would do it. EA has supported us this entire time, and it's really not EA pressure that led to this decision. What you've got to realize is that we're making a giant game. It's very expansive and it has a lot of features. We could easily fall into the trap of "forever making the game". We want the end result to be a really good, tight game, but we want to get the game out to everybody as soon as we can. And then move on, evolve the game.

We've been considering it for a while, and it lets us finally move into thinking about the game after launch. We haven't announced any plans to add anything "back in" after launch, we're just focusing right now on making it the best game we can for launch. Then afterwards we'll sit down and talk about all the Beta feedback we've gotten, all the Live feed, and progress from there.

How long ago would you say the decision was made to remove the content?

"I think we've hit enough checkpoints, I think we're doing the right thing, and now with this show we have the time and opportunity to explain how much time and consideration we've put into this decision."

Adam: We didn't make the final decision until relatively recently. We've been working around it for some kind. We've been planning and testing for it for some time. That's the thing, you don't pull out content of this magnitude unless you're absolutely sure that it's good for the game and you actually see what happens when that content is not there. Part of the reason we didn't make this announcement months ago is that we wanted to see what would happen first. We wanted to make sure that the Beta community supported it and that the game supported it. We started thinking about it months ago, and over the past months we've moved the game in that direction. I think we've hit enough checkpoints, I think we're doing the right thing, and now with this show we have the time and opportunity to explain how much time and consideration we've put into this decision.

Thank you, again, for your time.

Adam: It was a pleasure.
This article was originally published on Massively.