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Massively interviews WAR's producer on the future of the game

Tracey John

Warhammer Online has gone through big changes recently, both in-game and out. Mythic recently released the title's 1.3.2 patch, which had some controversial changes, and this week we learned that staffers at the studio were let go as part of Electronic Arts' new business strategy.

In the midst of all this, Warhammer Online producer Jeff Skalski answered questions via e-mail to about where the game is headed.

"Right now, our focus is on improving the RvR campaign, career balance, and game performance,"
Skalski said. "These are critical to our long term success. We also continue to fix bugs and work on overall game polish. These are the things we sit down and discuss every patch planning meeting we have."

Though we got a letter to the community from producer Jeff Hickman earlier, Skalski also addressed questions about appeasing both existing and new players, whether or not to merge servers again and the overall future of Warhammer Online in these troubled times. There were a lot of changes implemented in the 1.3.2 patch that made some users upset. What do you say to those who don't agree with the changes?

Jeff Skalski: We hear them and always take our users feedback very seriously. We made a lot of good progress in 1.3.2, and for those none too happy about how often city sieges are occurring, rest assured there is a plan in place. In fact, just recently we hot-fixed a few things to address some of the players' concerns and have an upcoming PTS event to test a few more additional tweaks to the city endgame. This should help carry us through to 1.3.3 where we plan to introduce an underdog system into the RvR campaign.

Why were these changes implemented? Do you see these changes as a split between trying to appeal to the existing userbase and attracting new players?

Every week, we get reports generated on how players are playing the game. We read the forums and we listen. All this data helps drive the planning of feature improvements in our patch schedule. If you specifically look at 1.3.2, we added features targeted at our endgame, such as the new keep difficulty system and removal of fortresses, and at new users coming into the game through our new user journey experience. We purposely pushed our last patch to hit two different types of player in WAR, but in the end all subscribers benefit from all the improvements either directly or indirectly in cases.

Do you find it challenging to try to appease both existing and new players?

Yes, its fine line we walk. The last thing I want is for a subscriber out there to think we are not aware of or don't plan to address their top concerns. We don't want to be working on a part of the game that has no relevance to their play style.

What has been the most challenging aspect of working on WAR these days?

Making the call which features to include with each patch. We have so much that we want to get done, but unfortunately we can't get it all done every patch. We want to make sure we always allocate time to address lingering bugs and put more polish into WAR.

Why do the endless free trial now? What do you think it will accomplish?

We are very proud of the work we've accomplished over the past year on WAR, with new careers, new content, and our recent performance and stability improvements. We want players to come check out everything we've done, whether it's for their first time, or it's a returning visit to the game for another look. Now, no one has an excuse. We've simplified our trial account registration, drastically lowered the initial download from 6GB to 1GB, and revamped the Tier 1 content to be a more enjoyable PvE and intense RvR experience.

It's great that people are able to play Tier 1 for free, but many have also complained about the lack of players beyond that. Do you expect the free trial will really boost those numbers after Tier 1?

Definitely! We have every confidence that the changes we are making to the game will hook players and they'll want to continue into higher tiers and take part in the RvR campaign. We plan to take what we've learned from the new user journey experience in Empire vs. Chaos Tier 1 and apply it all the way up and through Tiers 2, 3 and 4.

Would it be better to merge servers again?

Yes and no. Merging a server affects a lot of people, and some players rejoice while others get upset about the change. It's a tough call really. Right now we're closely watching Dark Crag and Phoenix Throne. Both have passionate players on them, but we wish the populations were higher. With the recent release of 1.3.2 ,we'll be holding off on any merges until we get a few more weeks of data. Then we can make final, informed decision if needed.

Some say that WAR is still trying to find a clear direction. Can you tell us what elements, development-wise, that Mythic is focusing on for WAR?

Right now, our focus is on improving the RvR campaign, career balance, and game performance. These are critical to our long term success. We also continue to fix bugs and work on overall game polish. These are the things we sit down and discuss every patch planning meeting we have.

What do you say to the naysayers who say WAR's on the decline?

When's the last time you played the game? If the answer is anything over a month, then do me a favor and give the new endless trial a shot. The team's made a lot of great improvements in 1.3.2 and we have even more planned for 1.3.3. We're sure we can change their minds.

Do you ever see WAR going free-to-play?

No, not in its current state. WAR would need to have a lot of things scraped and redone in order to support that type of business model successfully.

What can we expect from WAR in the future?

Well, with 1.3.3 we're going to be introducing the underdog system to the RvR campaign. This will act as a handicap system for the Realm that is losing the war and give them a chance to fight back. We are also preparing for WAR's launch in Korea and there will be many enhancements/adjustments from to that version that will be big wins for all our entire global player base. For example, the upcoming visual enhancements we're doing in 1.3.3, including Bloom/HDR lighting and new weapon trails, come from the work we've been doing on WAR for Korea. Beyond that we'll continue to take a strategic approach to tweaking the careers, and you can expect continual improvements to the RvR Campaign to make our endgame even more exciting.

[Note: We asked how the layoffs at Mythic specifically affect the game and the team, and we were informed by PR that no one at EA will be commenting on the layoffs at this time. We wish the best to everyone affected.]

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