Thursday, March 12, 2009

Warhammer Free Retrials, and The Latest From Mark "No Spin" Jacobs

As others are reporting, Mythic has rolled out a free re-trial program for Warhammer. The unique thing about the announcement is that the form email is addressed directly to your character (I'm guessing it picked the highest level one). It even says that two of my "friends" are still playing (I don't remember who these people are, presumably I /friended them because they were in the guild that I joined for the last week or so before my time ran out). This is by far the most creativity I've seen in such an invitation. There's even a promise of some sort of an in-game item reward and full rested exp.

I've been suggesting that there should be a re-trial program since as far back as November, so I'm glad to see Mythic put their money where Mark Jacobs' mouth is. They have just launched the 1.2 patch, which sounds like it has improved many of the rough edges that the game had at launch. It's arguably only fair that Mythic foot the bill for players who felt the game didn't live up to their expectations the first time around to give the game another chance. One would expect it to be a good business decision as well - if even a handful of players who take the re-trial decide to resubscribe, the program should more than pay for itself (especially since the free time probably doesn't end up costing Mythic much, if anything).

Personally, I'm going to save this thing for sometime when I would actually be able to play it - I'm already happily juggling two games, and don't have any interest in dropping either at the moment to make room for a third. When I do have some spare time, though, there is no reason NOT to give War a chance at a price tag of "free".

Separating the Product from the Spokesman
As I said in my look at the 1.2 patch last week, I've been having a bit of trouble writing about Warhammer of late. I have generally warm feelings towards the actual game. In my view, they got a lot of difficult things (classes, combat, scenarios) right, but ultimately didn't really get a fair shake from the market due to a combination of timing and a few areas (including incentives) that needed some work. On the other hand, much of the actual news about the game comes via its semi-official spokesman, Mark Jacobs, who reminds me of a used car salesman who has stretched the truth so many times that you don't want to buy a car from them on principle.

Scott Jennings has the latest from Mark on the recent server mergers. (Poor Cheerydeth the Second will be on a new server if/when she returns, as her first home is among the 40 US servers - out of the 55 the game rolled out during its launch - that are folding.) Mark says that the servers had to be closed because there were no players on them. Then he points out that these servers no longer have any players on them because Mythic strongly encouraged players to transfer off back when the servers were underpopulated, but technically not-yet-closed.

A reasonable person might infer that the decision to merge the servers was made - but not announced for PR reasons - before they decided to make the underpopulation worse by transferring players off. Indeed, Mythic still might not be using the m-word ("merge") to describe what they're doing - involuntarily transferring all remaining characters off the servers and then closing them - if the sharp-eyed Brooke Pilley hadn't noticed the details buried in an innocuous-looking announcement and reported it on Massively.

What gets to me about the post is the part where Mark declares that they're making this move because the community demanded it (which is technically true, but was a symptom of the problem rather than the cause) and that he's not trying to spin us (which is laughable in the face of such semantic acrobatics). Did he really think the community is so stupid that no one would notice 40 servers closing as long as they called it a "source server transfer"? The decision to do the merges was absolutely right call. The suggestion that it was the community that forced the closure of the servers by taking the heavily encouraged transfers is outright insulting (or, in Mark's words, "OMG Fail").

At the end of the day, I'm a bit of a critical/analytical thinker, and I am very protective of my limited gaming time and money. When someone is as creative as Mark is with language (he's not the only one hawking the game's gimmicky "live expansion", but he has been quick to push the "no other game has..." angle), my gut reaction is that he's trying to swindle me. Even though this may not be entirely true (the game actually has improved), it's hard for this distrust not to color my view of any news of the game that comes via Mark's desk.

Like I said, I don't know how to compensate for this in my writing/analysis. Then again, if admitting you have a problem is the first step, I suppose I'm somewhere on, or at least near, the road to recovery.


  1. I hope other games take a careful look at that resubsciption offer email. I actively enjoyed the time spent reading it, even if it was obvious that it took friends randomly from my guild that I don't remember. The guild I joined was named "The Underpants Gnomes," so the email told me to "rise now, and bear the standard of The Underpants Gnomes to the very heart of The Inevitable City! To arms, and to glory!" That one still makes me giggle.

    I can't imagine it took all that much work to code up this email, and while it's not personalized (even though it tries to be), it's one of the best emails I've ever gotten from an MMO company. Points for that!

  2. I will give them credit for coming up with a clever email, it isn't the standard generic one.

    But interesting that you actually have to resubscribe to get the 10 free days, so I don't really classify that as a "free trial."
    I think it would probably take more than 10 days for me to decide if this game were worth it again.

    My characters are probably on a different server, I'd have to find a new guild, etc etc. Plus I'm already playing WoW several days a week.

  3. I'm with you - can't stand Mark Jacobs. I had some good fun with Warhammer at first, and I loved some of the design decisions. For one, the RvR lakes that you can quest in while levelling were awesome. You's a PvP zone? How did WoW not have this all along?

    I would have liked more of those, actually; I love world PvP, but a lot of folks don't like being attackable at all times, so designating some areas (rather than a personal "flag") for PvP was a brilliant move.


  4. Having a show piece front man is a double-edged sword. When they are in favor they do your product good. When they are not... Mark has hit the spin-doctor label in my book so anything he has to saw is filtered thru that glass.

    Secondly, for people who pre-ordered this game and paid for a couple of months this resub to get 10 days is a slap in the face.

    If you've really improved the game then stack some no-strings attached time to it like EQ2 does. They've gotten me back twice with that tact AND I re-sub at least 2 to 4 months beyond the free 'welcome back' offer.

    Mythic gets no points for me on this one other than, way to make a free-trail confusing.


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