Bravo, Mr. Jacobs

Posted: July 11, 2008 by Kendricke in warhammer online
Tags: , ,

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post-mortem on the fall of Sigil. Other players and would-be designers chose to concentrate on Mr. McQuaid’s personal failings, or upon the reports of his peculiar office habits as the head of a studio.

My own analysis at that time was that Vanguard had failed, not because of the issues within the studio per se, and not because of the one man marketing tour de force that McQuaid had become, but because the game’s overall design was simply too ambitious for release.

Had Vanguard cut its scope during one of its monumental five beta stages, who’s to say that the world of Telon would have been any less grand. Did Vanguard truly need THAT many races and THAT many cities spread across THAT many continents which included THAT many features and systems to be a good, solid game? No, and a competent project manager could have reigned in the scope at multiple points in development as a short term hit for a longer term win. The only other option would have been to postpone release, and in a perfect world, perhaps that would have occured.

But, as the ads remind us, we don’t live anywhere near Perfect, and in the really, really real world, we have to deal with the much vaunted triple constraints of any project. As the old Project Management axiom teaches us, I can perform any task you want and I can do it cheaper, faster, or better (pick two).

For many companies, time and money often equate. Sure, you have some level of flexibility with the timelines, but at some point, the money set aside for the project simply starts to dry up. Unless you have a consistent supply of quality developers who have no problems working for reduced pay (or none at all), you’re going to have to release the product at some point, or risk not releasing at all.

I bring all this up today because Mark Jacobs over at EA Mythic has announced some changes to the release version of Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. While some players immediately cite only negatives with the decision, I can’t help but finding myself joining the ranks of those applauding Mr. Jacobs for taking the short term hit in favor of the long term goal. In making this choice, Mr. Jacobs is showing that he has no problem re-evaluating the scope of his project in favor of quality over quantity.

For the vast majority of players, it won’t really matter to them that this class or that city aren’t in at release – provided the game that IS released is a quality product. As Steve “Moorgard” Danuser once reminded us when unpopular changes were made early in Everquest II’s development, “there are no sacred cows”.

It would be easy for me to make statements from the semi-anonymous comfort of my home office regarding the business direction Mark Jacobs should have taken regarding the design of Warhammer online. I’m sure I could just as easily decry him because he’s choosing to cut back content rather than push out his release…but I would make such statements without any knowledge what-so-ever of the cash reserves left in EA-Mythic’s coffers, and without any care as to the quality of life for the developers in EA-Mythic’s offices. Without the data that Mr. Jacobs has access to, it would be easy for me to say “release it when it’s ready”.

Yet, I do not have the information. The information I do have, coupled with the limited experience I possess, leads me to believe that this is the right choice for the game and the company. If anything, it should serve as an object lesson in humility for studio representatives as a whole to curtail early discussion of game intentions that may end up being changed later on. After all, it’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver.

That’s the real sin here, if at all – that expectations were already set. Even though the game has not even released, we’re already feeling the frustrations of a perceived “nerf”, when the reality is that had such content never been announced in the first place, would we really miss it?

Is Everquest II a horrible game because the Village of Marr was never released? Because we never saw the zone of ? Most players never knew these areas ever existed at all, and frankly most players never will. It simply won’t affect their judgement of the game or not.

I can’t help but think that had Brad McQuaid yanked a continent and a third of the races from Vanguard during one of the five Beta phases, would Vanguard’s launch have been so bug laden? Would the quality of the content that did make it to release had been so inconsistent? Whatever the other issues at Sigil – whatever McQuaid’s personal failings, I still believe that had the game’s scope been re-evaluated and reigned in prior to release, the game would have been much, MUCH better at release for it.

Sure, no one likes to hear about content being “removed” – even content they may never have actually experienced directly, but in the long run, I think these sorts of decisions made prior to release will result in much better releases overall. So, while I can completely understand player angst over the decision, I am glad to see the decision was made the way it was.

Bravo, Mr. Jacobs. I know it couldn’t have been an easy call to make.

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Comments
  1. Michael says:

    I didn’t say I saw it as negative, I said that I didn’t know what to make of it. 🙂

    I still don’t.

  2. Ardwulf says:

    As a Vanguard player I well remember your postmortem, and it hit a lot of things squarely on the head. The reasoning there is also applicable here, but in this case it seems to be rather late in the process to perceive this as less than a devastating removal that not only removes promised content but potentially compromises major play elements as well.

    I do have some confidence in the Mythic team; maybe they’ll pull this off. But as I write when the news broke, I think these cuts have the potential to alter the dynamic of the game very substantially.

  3. Kendricke says:

    Michael, you don’t see it as negative!? Here’s the first few sentences of your post:

    “This is … this is really bad guys.” “I don’t see any way to look at this as a good thing.” “Sorry, I’m just dissapointed [sic!].”

    I guess I’m just reading too much into those statements, eh? 😉

  4. Kendricke says:

    Ardwulf,

    You should have SEEN the doom and gloom posts that were made when Moorgard announced SOE would be removing the Artisan archetype from Everquest II.

  5. TheRemedy says:

    The largest problem of it all was them starting the hype train about two years before release. It’s fine to cut features, we all know it happens, but don’t attempt to sell me a product on X for a very long time when you really can’t deliver it.

  6. Laldail says:

    Isn’t it sort of a Catch-22? How does one hype a game scheduled for release in 2009 without discussing the planned features? And yet, one must hype the game and build excitement and anticipation in order to get any kind of marketing and shelf placement (brick and mortor or virtual) to ensure a successful launch.

    Players like to talk about games. Developers who give them nothing to talk about will get exactly that … noone talking about them. Or worse, talking about them negatively. The trick is to give players something exciting to chat about that is actually going to be in the game on release.

    Inflexibility is indeed a roadmap to disaster, ala Vanguard. However, promising Jurassic Park and delivering Jellystone Park doesn’t work well either.

    Mythic has a good track record with Dark Age of Camelot. They took the game in a direction I did not care for but it had nothing to do with quality of production in the game itself. I’m sure Mr. Jacobs has the best interests of his game well in hand, whether or not I would personally enjoy playing it or not.

  7. […] My questions for Mythic’s Warhammer Online Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning – Told You So! Bravo, Mr. Jacobs WAR Thoughts EA Mythic finds the third way    Episode 51 – Panic in the WAR Disco!: […]

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