What’s wrong with EA: EA Mythic, and the FAIL of WAR

I’ll do a follow-up post in a minute with the anecdote that lead me to this. But here’s the general opinion/analysis first.

Project history (skip if you know all about Warhammer Online and Mythic already)

Huge project (cost in excess of $50 million to develop), based on a 20-year-old IP that is known and loved around the world, the game launched last year to a big marketing campaign.

Initial sales figures were excellent.

First-month renewals were dire, the company lost large amounts of money, they laid off large numbers of staff, and the CEO quit/resigned. They are now (late 2009) into the key point in such a product’s lifecycle where it has one last chance to succeed.

The parent company has recently laid off 1500 staff across different countries and products, but also just bought a small studio for $400 million.

The problem with Mythic/WAR today

Here’s what’s going on right now (based on observation, guesswork, and personal experience of similar situations at other companies):

They are spending large amounts of money to acquire new customers, while simultaneously erecting artificial barriers to turn away those new customers.

They are running loud marketing campaigns to attract those who’ve already rejected the product, while simultaneously creating powerful negative publicity for their own product.

In other words, this is a company that has a failing product AND has a non-unified product strategy, and yet is continuing to spend heavily. This strategy is known as “pure, blind, Hope”. It looks extremely similar to what happened with TR towards the end of it’s (brief, painful) lifetime:

“let’s work harder, do more, spend more! Cross your fingers, chant the secret mantra, and hope it all turns out for the best!”

Hope is not a strategy. All that can happen is that they might get lucky despite all the mistakes; there might be enough good left that they can survive this foolishness long enough to ditch the deadweight and pull themeslves out of the mire.

The inevitable PlayFish comment…

Maybe this would be a good project for the new hires from PlayFish to start work on? The essentials are there – and if the product could be made to succeed, it is a huge cash-cow. It could single-handedly pay-off a lot of the debt on that $400 million…

11 thoughts on “What’s wrong with EA: EA Mythic, and the FAIL of WAR

  1. Scott Jennings

    Be interested in seeing your further comments on this. I haven’t said much (publically or privately) due to the usual conflicts of interests/lack of perspective from having worked there prior combined with not actually being on that team. But I’d hazard a guess that design decisions had a lot to do with the precipitous lack of retention (as has cursed many other post-WoW games in the same vein).

  2. Olivier

    Too close to WoW, it was easy for Blizzard to integrate any significant delta between WoW and WAR, and not significantly different for ex-WoW players to keep playing while losing their community and old habits.
    “Me too” doesn’t work in nigh monopoly markets.

  3. UnSub

    I think WAR is suffering the same problem as Tabula Rasa did: it cost a lot and didn’t meet what was likely promised to EA management.

    Right now, I can’t think Mythic would be a fun place to work. Layoffs would have thrown fear into the workplace so everyone would be expecting the worst, changes in management leave people potentially leaderless and the new management has little time to come up with a comprehensive plan to keep things moving in a positive direction.

    Ultimately WAR failed because it promised one thing (“WAR is everywhere!”-style RvR) and delivered a mediocre PvE experience and PvP that didn’t deliver (so “WAR is occasionally somewhere, if you get there in time!”).

    What needs to happen for WAR to succeed is an all-or-nothing play that everyone considers genius if successful but obviously doomed if it doesn’t. It’d be something like making WAR F2P or making forward progression to the level cap incredibly rapid. I really don’t see any middle ground here, any ‘softly softly’ approach that would turn WAR into a market success because I think the last thing Mythic has is time to implement a multi-year plan for the game.

  4. adam Post author

    @UnSub

    “WAR is occasionally somewhere, if you get there in time!”).

    LOL

    “What needs to happen for WAR to succeed is…
    an all-or-nothing play
    that everyone considers genius if successful
    but obviously doomed if it doesn’t.
    It’d be something like making WAR F2P
    I really don’t see any middle ground here”

    I agree 100%. My first reaction to “WAR now has an F2P intro” was “hey – maybe they’re doing it”. The reality turned out to be both less – and also less slick – than I imagined.

  5. oskar

    As an oldskool WFRPG and Tabletop player since the late 80’s, as well as an avid MMORPG player since the birth of the genre I immediately lost interest in WAR when I saw their propaganda movies showing a EQ derivative combat gameplay.

    The idea behind warhammer combat is one of swift and brutal destruction, and the rare event of some longer lasting setting where the opponents may deal each other several blows before someone is permanently injured. Preferably injured and driven insane by insanity points.

    What Mythic did to the IP was to treat it as old product(EQ)/new market(Warhammer & pvp fanbois) and aim at these niches but they ended up building the whole thing. A fundamental design flaw since if a product is aimed at a niche it needs to explicitly stay away from taking on the costs of battling head on with the incumbent.

    The failure to stay away from the WoW design cause the market to be positioned not at a safe niche, but rather head on aimed at the centre of the WoW market. anyone seeing this coming would know it will fail, unless EA backs it up with three times the budget of the incumbent, which appears to be some law of economics derived from Lanchesters Laws.

    Anyhow, WAR should have stayed closer to the Warhammer game mechanics and thereby been forced to innovate themselves away from the market black hole which is WoW.

    I guess this is just the same as what Olivier said. +v

  6. Andrew Crystall

    Warhammer’s mechanics wouldn’t really translate that well to a hero-focused PvP game.

    WHFRP, now… (Of course, I’m not sure that’s actually part of the licence WAR is based on, the Warhammer/WHFRP licence situation is complex)

  7. oskar

    “Warhammer’s mechanics wouldn’t really translate that well to a hero-focused PvP game.”

    And that is the whole point, isn’t it?

    To take a market position against WoW means you must innovate on the mechanicics or you will fail. Innovation in a mmorpg is inherently risky business and it is acting on this risk which is the one and only potential lever you can deploy against the dominance of WoW. If you don’t act on this risk the only remaining alternative is the low budget position, which is getting overflowed by the likes of Alganon and other ..lol.. copies. :P

    By avoiding this risk and instead copy the core functionality you are forced to compete on the WoW home market, and then you will need a vastly greater budget than what WoW has burned through since the beginning of its development. Not even EA will be interested in financing that monster.

    —–
    I don’t really want to get bogged down into the details of the solution as that would be silly. In my perspective its the spirit of the design in Warhammer on the level of individual units which could be an entry point to innovation. Perhaps something along the lines of what was implemented in the early versions of the Realm of Chaos series where very small units of highly diverse characters battled it out and got interestingly interfered with by the environment.

  8. Jesse Scoble

    Adam, what happened to the follow-up post / anecdote?

    And as I’m not looking at WAR too closely, can you elaborate on this comment: “They are spending large amounts of money to acquire new customers, while simultaneously erecting artificial barriers to turn away those new customers.”

  9. adam Post author

    @Jesse

    Short summary: Mythic have made recent modifications, including F2P and Mac compatiility, and spent on the associated marketing. But as soon as you followed the link to downlaod the Mac client, you got a message telling you that it wasn’t available.

    Turned out this was just Mythic being hopelessly incompetent, but I’d like to *prove* the mac client is working or not working before I post.

    (there’s more to it than that, but that’s the kernel)

  10. Andrew Crystall

    oskar – No, not really.

    I’d point out that DDO has minimal innovation in its gameplay mechanics (it’s D&D 3.5, with slight modifications) and it by all accounts doing quite well since it went F2P. And plenty of MMO’s with innovative mechanics have flopped.

    I’d also refer you again to the Warhammer Fantasy RPG, which is a quite deep game with quite a few really interesting aspects. It’s also rather clunky to play PnP, but a few minor changes could really streamline it for computer gameplay.

    It’s also not really the same setting, it’s far more interesting. Honestly, WAR screwed the heck up by not putting the Scaven in there.

  11. Pingback: T=Machine » How not to market an MMO: EA/Mythic Entertainment

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