Mark Jacobs: WarCry’s WAR Launch Day Interview
By John Funk

WarCry: First of all, congratulations!

Mark Jacobs: Thank you very much.

WC: It must feel good to see all this work finally bearing fruit.

MJ: Yes. It’s been a very long process, and we’re getting there! We’re not there yet, but we are getting there.

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WC: It’s sort of the pitfall of the genre: MMOs are constantly under work. So you’re never quite done, are you.

MJ: Noooo. Never. That’s one of the beauties of the genre.

WC: So how do you think the launch went so far?

MJ: Smoothest MMO launch in history, so far. I think in all fairness we have to wait until tonight, but if you look at some numbers – you know this from obviously knowing the genre – number of crashes since we launched on Thursday of the entire game, 0. Number of individual server crashes since Sunday, 0.

WC: That’s very impressive.

MJ: That alone makes us number one. The only crashes we’ve had have been of some of the zones, and a very, very, very small amount at that. If you’ve been playing, you know that we haven’t taken down the servers constantly to patch them. The only patches we’ve put in have been client patches, which don’t require the servers going down. We took some of the servers down, obviously, for our new solution to server queues. That’s it.

You look at any other MMO launch, including Camelot, and if you want to draw an apples-to-apples comparison you can certainly wait until tomorrow morning, and go “Okay, this is the first official 24 hours.” However, one thing I’d like to point out – if you look at the peak concurrent users that were playing our game during these four days … at the highest number, we have more people during these four days at peak than we had on Day 1 of Camelot‘s launch, on Day 2 of Camelot‘s launch.

If you’re doing a simple numeric comparison, apples to apples, we were smoother than Camelot. And you do know, of course, that Camelot has been called either the smoothest MMO launch, or certainly one of the smoothest – most people call it the smoothest.

WC: Right. Obviously, you did have experience with this. Do you think the whole Head Start program helped, phasing people in instead of a gigantic rush with everybody?

MJ: Well again, that’s the beauty of it! Even with the phasing in – you’ve got it right – but even with the phasing in? We still had more people playing Warhammer than we did with the non-phasing-in of Dark Age! It’s an incredible number! I was watching it last night and the night before, going, “Yep, we just passed Dark Age.” So even with the phasing in, we still passed Dark Age.

What we did during Beta, what we did during Head Start, what we did during Open Beta … was to constantly force people to relog and re-create characters, to all log in at the same time. So we were testing this stuff. We used it, we used that time very carefully, so that it would almost be anti-climactic.

Now, we’re not there yet. We have to get through tonight, because if we really want to be fair and say, “Okay, look. Even though the numbers for the Head Start were great, even though obviously, as we announced on Monday, that we had more preorders for this PC title than any other EA PC title in history. Even though we had that, it’s not quite the same. Fair enough.” But we’ve been up since 12:01 this morning, so we’re now looking at 18 hours – no crashes, no shutdowns, no emergency patches, no maintenance.

We’re not there, we’ve got six more hours – one more night – to go, but, you know, if you want to compare launches, whether it’s the first 24 hours of launch, peak concurrent users of launch, whatever numbers you want to apply: we have some great numbers now. I’m watching the board, and they just keep going up, and up, and up.

WC: You said that the numbers were higher than that of Dark Age. The world … ever since 2004, you have more people, there are more people playing MMOs. So I think obviously the numbers were going to be higher. What would you say – say, five months from now – how many subscriptions would it take for you to look at the game and say “This is a success, we’ve had a successful game”?

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MJ: Well, the only thing I can say, and I’ve been very consistent from the beginning in terms of what would constitute success … I want to be number two in this space. That’s what I want to be, and that’s it. I won’t talk about actual numbers, I have the issue of being an officer in a publicly traded company, so I can’t offer any real guidance there. It’d be a bad thing to do, people would get angry. Secondly, I really don’t believe in doing that, and I didn’t do that with Camelot either. The only thing I would talk about was “What do we need to be considered a success for Mythic, in terms of what we need to keep the company going” – back when we were independent.

The corollary to that is what I just said. We would like to be number two, and for me, in order for it to be considered a success, we need to be number two.

WC: You mentioned that you had, again, more preorders than any other EA PC title in history. I believe that the announcement was you shipped one and a half million? Obviously, those are great numbers, that puts you in a very solid number two.

MJ: Yep.

WC: Earlier this year, we had Age of Conan, which also started very strong with 1 million, and then … well, we know how that story ended. WAR has, so far, a very strong start. The numbers are there, are definitely there. Like you said though, you’re not “there” yet.

MJ: Nope.

WC: What sort of things are you doing – do you have in mind – over the next three, four months to keep people there, to keep people playing, and to keep those numbers – to not have the Age of Conan meltdown?

MJ: Well if you look at what we did with Camelot, the first thing is: continue to add new content. When you look at the amount of things we gave the players as part of their subscription, whether it’s the ongoing content or even the free expansions, that were really large-scale additions to the game … we’re going to follow that exact same pattern. So we’re not going to announce in a month that “Oh, we’re working on another MMO,” or that “The team is moving on to something else,” or even that “We’re doing the expansion pack.”

Our focus right now, and for quite a while, is making this a better game. Adding more stuff to it. Making it even more challenging, we hope, for our friends over at Blizzard. We’re also going to focus on fixing any issues – because anyone who says that, you know, these MMOs launch without issues is obviously delusional. WAR is a great game, but it’s not a perfect game. We never said it was. No game ever launches that’s perfect, unless it’s a perfect failure. So we will spend the time, we will spend the money, to do what we need to do – to keep players playing our game. To make their experiences even more enjoyable.

WC: I think that’s a very smart goal.

MJ: Thank you.

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WC: When it comes to adding more content and then, you know, making sure what’s there is very good … well, one of the things I really do like about the game, that I think is very well done, is that there’s no – when you start the game, there’s no “Here, take a dinky wooden sword, go kill ten rats.”

MJ: Right.

WC: You’re thrust into the middle of the conflict, you’re told “Hey, here’s your ancient, ancestral enemy, you’re in the middle of a war: go kill them.” It does a very good job at making a new player feel like, “Oh hey, I’m a badass!” instead of “Oh hey, I suck.” I think you have the whole, well, “War” concept down very well. My concern, my question is: if I’m a level 5 Dark Elf, I’m killing High Elves. If I’m a level 20 Dark Elf, I’m still fighting High Elves. Obviously, I can go into the different racial pairings, but the progression is the same.

MJ: Mm-hmm.

WC: If, in an expansion or a content patch down the line, if you add more levels (or go the Camelot route with side levels), will it be just more levels of fighting High Elves? How do you go from here to keep it interesting?

MJ: Well, we go a lot of ways. The number one … well, it’s not a goal, but obviously the game is based around racial pairings. So are you going to continue to fight Dark Elves? Yeah, they’re your enemy. So if we were to add more content, we would certainly add more Dark Elf content if you’re a High Elf: if you’re a High Elf, you will be killing Dark Elves … but that doesn’t mean we’re going to not add additional content. The focus of each of the pairings is the racial conflict, and that is the High Elves/Dark Elves, the Greenskins/Dwarfs. We’re going to continue with that, because that’s what – especially for Warhammer fans – they want to do.

On the other hand, we know we have to add a lot of other content as well. So it’s going to be a combination, and you’ll be seeing our plans – sorry, we’ll be talking about our plans – over the next few months. This is all stuff that’s going in as content, as subscription content, not as expansion pack content. That’s a whole different issue.

WC: Okay. The RvR content, the racial pairings … I think that, that is the core of the game. I think it’s easily the game’s strongest suit – deservedly so. Would you say that you would like to maybe implement … you have a very strong core there, you would add more, more High Elf/Dark Elf, Dwarf/Greenskins … would you also add more PvE content, in addition to the RvR?

MJ: Oh, absolutely. Oh my God, of course. We’ve always talked about WAR, even though it’s an RvR-centric game, of having a very strong PvE component. Otherwise we wouldn’t have the Public Quests, the Tome of Knowledge, all the other things we’re doing for PvE. For us not to improve or add on to, or substitute PvE content with more PvE content, that’d be kind of foolish. We make mistakes, but we are generally not foolish. …other than Trials of Atlantis.

WC: *laughs* You live and learn!

MJ: Yep. Exactly!

WC: I was talking to Spyke Alexander at PAX, and he mentioned that exact same thing: you guys pretty much have the hardcore PvPers in the bag – they were going to play this game anyway. So you do want to ensure that a player who may not like PvP all that much will still be able to play Warhammer and feel at home?

MJ: Absolutely. We really, really, want to add as much as we can do this game – both in PvE and RvR. It’s still going to be an RvR-centric game, just as it is at launch. It would be stupid – it would be very stupid – of us to go, “Oh, we’re only going to do RvR. Sorry all you PvE-ers who bought this game for PvE; we’re not going to do it.” It makes no sense. So, expect us to put a lot of resources into development.

WC: Will, say, high-end PvE encounters still be tied to RvR – the city raids? That’s where the cream of the crop is… will there be other stuff, or will the prime stuff be there, still tied together? How I understand it is that currently, the top-end PvE content is tied to the RvR: when you sack the enemy city, when you attack Altdorf or The Inevitable City … is that going to continue?

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MJ: Oh yeah. Look, the idea was that you’re RvRing all the way up until you sack the city, and then you sack the city. We want people to enjoy the fruits of their victory. *laughs* One of the best ways we can do that is by putting in lots of things as a reward that you can go in and stomp. It doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be challenging, but it’s there for you to stomp.

Whereas, if it was purely RvR, as the sacking of the city, post-sacking of the city, then people could find themselves outnumbered because there were more defenders now from the other side who were real players, and then you don’t feel so good about it, do you? Then you go, “Damn it Mythic, I spent three weeks helping my guys to take the city, and then at the last minute fifty guys from this guild showed up and knocked us out, and everybody else got the goods but my guys didn’t, you suck!”

WC: You’d end up with lots of frustrated players.

MJ: That’s what’d happen, exactly! We don’t want that! *laughs* If you’ve done your job all the way to get to the sacking of the city, and you sack the city … there you go guys, have fun. Just play smart and you’re going to win! Don’t play smart? Well, that’s a whole different story. But at least you know if you play smart, like any PvE encounter, you’re going to have a very good chance of winning.

The nice thing about NPCs? They don’t have hurt feelings.

WC: *laughs* This is true!

MJ: So we can make sure that it’s nice and fair and balanced and you have a good shot at winning. Whereas with RvR, if you do that and go, you know, the defenders have a worse chance of winning, the defenders get pissed. If you make it so that they have an advantage, then the attackers get pissed. On the other hand, with the NPCs, if we err a little bit on the side of making sure that if you play smart, you win, it’s good for us – because it’s good for the players.

WC: I do want to say … in the Open Beta, I had a High Elf Swordmaster, now I’m playing a Sorcerer, so I got to check out both of the cities. I have been very impressed by Altdorf and The Inevitable City. They’re huge! And they’re great! My question is, and I’m sure you’ve been asked this tremendously … what about the other four?

MJ: So, first thing: when you look at the cities, we made the decision not just to cut cities, but to cut cities and make the other cities better. So it wasn’t just a question of, “We’re going to cut four cities and leave these two as they were. We cut four, and made two so much better than they were originally. We were able to add so much more content, polish them so much more. So, you know, these two cities are really, really cool.

In terms of the four other cities… well, one of the problems with the approach was – my fear towards the end was, “Boy, if we have too many cities in there, are people going to get distracted? Are people not going to be able to sack the cities because, well, these guys don’t want to sack that city. Or if you wanted to defend Altdorf, but somebody else doesn’t because they don’t want to defend your city, because they’re being jerks. Or they just don’t feel the need to help the Hu-mons! Well, with two cities that’s not a problem anymore. You only have one city to sack and one to defend.

Are we looking at putting the other cities back? Absolutely. We’re looking at different ways of getting them in, we’re looking at different solutions. The only thing that I won’t allow is a solution that will make it harder for people to RvR and enjoy RvR. That’s the endgame for us: the endgame for Warhammer is the RvR sacking of the cities. If you can’t do it, then it’s not much of an RvR-city-sacking-thing, now is it?

WC: So your concern is that it would be diluted. You’d have half the people saying, “Let’s attack the big Black Ark!” and half the people saying, “No, let’s go for The Inevitable city!” And in the end nobody would capture either one.

MJ: Exactly. Exactly! “I took the Black Ark already, I don’t want to do it, let’s go to The Inevitable!” “Oh, but I did The Inevitable five times, let’s see if we can…” blah. No, let’s focus on two.

Plus, the other thing is – and this just comes from experience – we know we’re going to mess up. Everybody does. Nobody gets it right the first time, and sometimes most people don’t get it right the second time. So no matter what our cities look like, no matter what the sacking of the cities look like, the RvR setup to the cities look like … I guarantee you one thing: we’re going to find something that we need to change. If we have to change that with six cities? Eugh. Boy, is that a problem. At least with two, it’s much easier.

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WC: Three times as much work. *laughs*

MJ: Exactly. We can also look at rotating cities in and out, maybe. Maybe we’ll rotate Altdorf and Inevitable out, and rotate in something else. We don’t know. We honestly do not know yet, because right now, the exact implementation of that plan is not high on my priority list.

Getting the classes that we cut back in? Much higher priority!

WC: Really! So, the four classes are more higher priority than the cities?

MJ: Oh, absolutely! Because if you look at the classes that we cut: the key to the game is RvR balance, right? And choices. We cut out two DPS, two tanks. So it’d be nice to put them back in!

WC: I think the DPS … the DPS was the Greenskins and the Dwarfs? They still have Ranged DPS, the Squig Hunter and the Engineer. But I think what really hurts is the removal of the Knight of the Blazing Sun and the Black Guard. Because, say, starting on my Dark Elf, the very first Public Quest: “Oh, we don’t have a tank.”

MJ: Yeah. And that is a concern – that’s one of the reasons we tried to make it very easy to get between the different areas, so you didn’t have a big hassle. No, that’s a much higher priority for us. Especially when you have some very iconic classes that we cut – the Choppa is hugely iconic. And the Knight is hugely iconic. So yes, that is a much higher priority.

WC: In the beginning of the month, Mark, you mentioned in an interview with MTV that one of the reasons that Warhammer was delayed was because of The Burning Crusade. You felt that you wanted more “water cooler” quests, that would make people go, “Oh, that was really cool!” Obviously – and I’m sure you’re sick to death of the comparison, but I think it’s inevitable: WoW set the bar high, Burning Crusade nudged it higher. Do you think WAR has set the bar higher still?

MJ: Absolutely. I think if you look at our Public Quests, our Tome of Knowledge … if you look at the whole RvR setup of the game, I think we have absolutely set the bar higher. I know that at least on one of those, Blizzard tried to meet us, or match us with their Achievements system versus our Tome.

WC: Yes. Also, love the Tome by the way, it’s very fun.

MJ: Thank you! So that, to me, immediately says that we raised the bar! *laughs* When the competition, especially one as talented as Blizzard, sees that they want to do something similar to us – not that we invented the Achievement idea, obviously we didn’t – but if we see something in their game that’s coming out after our game, and it has something that we are touting, and that they didn’t have before … then it certainly looks like we’ve raised the bar, haven’t we?

WC: I’d think so. You also said in another interview – actually, it might have been the same interview – that one of your goals was to show that it wasn’t just Blizzard who can make a great MMO. Paul Barnett said that WAR at launch was better than WoW at launch, and I think you’d concur. I think a lot of people would agree that WAR has a lot more content. The trouble is, and I think this is something that you’re obviously going to have to deal with – that you’re not going up against WoW at launch. In a few months, you’re going to have a rather large storm about to hit with the new expansion.

MJ: Mm-hmm.

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WC: If I were, say, a WoW player who was playing WAR, what would you say to me to keep me through the launch of Wrath of the Lich King?

MJ: Hmm. If you’re having fun in our game. If you love what you see, then why should you go anywhere else? If you’re happy with a new game, with new mechanics, with new ways of doing things. With continuing on with your adventures in a world that’s going to continue and grow and expand rapidly – well then, you should stay. If you love RvR? Our whole game is RvR. Our PvE is there, and it’s meant to be as strong, but this is an RvR-centric game. This is not an afterthought, this is not something that’s bolted on. I’m not referring specifically to WoW here, just saying that if you look at what we’ve done with RvR, the way we’ve weaved it through the entire game, nobody else has that. So if that’s what you like? You should be with us.

WC: All right! So, just a few final questions here: Where do you think the game is strongest now, and where do you think it’s weakest and needs the most shoring up – and how are you planning on doing that?

MJ: RvR is where it’s strongest. Crafting is where it’s weakest. So, ah … the crafting system is very good, it’s very innovative. It’s deep, but it’s not *wide*. If you look at what you can do with Cultivating, with Scavenging, with Talisman Making, with Apothecary … it’s very cool, it’s very neat. But we don’t have all the other things that a lot of players expect, so we’re going to add more.

But keep in mind with crafting, in our case, it’s quality and not quantity. If you see what we’ve done with the Cultivation system that’s different, with the Apothecary system that’s different. This is not just a slimmed-down, recipe based system. This is, you know, a system where you can experiment and innovate – you can really do different things. So it may not be as wide, but boy is it deep, and boy is it interesting. It’s certainly different.

WC: So what class are you personally playing right now?

MJ: Ah, Marauder. But I’ve also got a Sorcerer going.

WC: Really, so you’re a Destruction kind of guy?

MJ: Oh, absolutely! I’ve always said that I am “Destro-geared.” I will play Order, I like the White Lion, but I am Destruction, and I do prefer Destruction.

WC: So, Mark, that’s pretty much everything I had for you, congratulations, and… oh! One final question!

MJ: Yes?

WC: Are there any plans to bring back Silent Death Online? I loved that game.

MJ: *laughs* Not in the short term. It was one of my favorite games of all time, one of my favorite designs, but not in the short term.

WC: Ah. Well, it was one of my first online game loves, so I figured I had to ask! Well, it was great speaking with you, Mark.

MJ: You too.

Don’t forget to check out WarCry’s Official Review of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning!

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