So. Farewell then
Warhammer Online
They say that in the
grim
darkness
of the far future there is only WAR
But it looks like
they were wrong
(unless Keith gets his server
emulation working and it
merges with Shodan or Skyguard or
that one out of Wargames
and wipes out humanity, maybe
that’s what they
were talking about)

E. J. Zoso, age 17½

News of the impending closure of Warhammer Online came as a surprise to some, in much the same way that people are surprised when they read the obituary of a celebrity they thought had died years ago. The last major patch had been game update 1.4.0 in 2010, other than the announcement of an arena-ish Play4Free spin-off, Wrath of Heroes, it had been pottering along quietly for the past few years, so it’s not really surprising it had dropped off the radar.

It was a different story before release, publicity for WAR was swirling around at the time Melmoth & I started this whole blogging business putting it quite firmly on the Anticipated Future MMOG Radar; my fourth ever blog post, from 2006, linked to a Slashdot WAR Q&A. The early buzz was good, but over time there were less positive signs; release date slipping to the right, content being cut from the initial release (four classes, four of the six capital cities), nothing particularly shocking for a game (or indeed most large IT projects) as The Crunch sets in, but not ideal, especially with a World of Warcraft expansion in the offing.

Casting back through the blog I’d forgotten the landscape WAR launched in; around 2005/6 the rising tide of World of Warcraft looked like it might lift all MMOG boats into the mainstream, an enticing prospect for Games Workshop and EA, but by 2008 it seemed fairly clear that wasn’t the case, nothing was getting near WoW, especially in the west. Except in rare cases (like EVE, pre-dating WoW) it didn’t seem possible to gradually build a player base, subscriber numbers for new games peaked at launch then rapidly fell away.

Personally, after drifting away from City of Heroes and WoW, I’d been pinging between newly launching MMOs like DDO, LotRO, Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Hellgate: London, Age of Conan, playing a month or two at most, and had a bit of a breakdown at the prospect of killing 10 more things. Warhammer Online hooked me in for a good old run, though, getting up to the level cap and doing a spot of end-game city raiding on the Order side. There was a lot to like; the visual style, public quests, poking around zones, the Tome of Knowledge, besieging and defending keeps and castles… Course there were rough edges too, some that got ironed out fairly quickly, others that are probably still kicking around in tier 4 public quests. Some elements didn’t quite work out, like those good old Kill Collectors; Barnett really nailed a frustration with a game mechanic (I hadn’t realised quite how much my History Repeating post echoes it until looking at the two together), but there were still plenty of bog standard “Kill 10 Things” quests in the game, available resources couldn’t quite support the ambition (see also: P. Molyneux). A long term PvP-centric endgame is also somewhat problematic for new/more casual players if characters keep getting more powerful with time and success.

Player numbers dropped (not least when Wrath of the Lich King was released shortly after), the inevitable server merges followed, I drifted off myself on another MMO-break. I drifted back a while later and rampaged around on the Destruction side of things with Van Hemlock’s Hipster Battalion, hitting the level cap again, pushing WAR up to second place on both my Total Subscribed Time List and Most Fondly Remembered MMO List after City of Heroes (*sniff*), so far those are the only two games where I’ve hit the level cap with multiple characters.

The 1.4.0 patch hinted at the possibility of a move to a free to play model, with “booster packs” available in the EA store; other major titles like Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online seemed to be doing well after conversion, but it never transpired, though it turns out the work had been done behind the scenes if EA, Bioware, Mythic, Games Workshop or some random combination of the four had wanted to go down that path. Perhaps closure was inevitable from that point; the end of the Games Workshop license deal is being cited as the reason the game is closing in December, with WAR not turning out to be a money-printing bonanza I guess neither side had much appetite to renegotiate the license for a different revenue model, especially as with lawyers involved the costs could easily spiral into the realms of “the price of a couple of Space Marine squads”.

All right, that’s just silly. One Space Marine squad.

Towards the end of last year SEGA and Creative Assembly announced a partnership with Games Workshop for a “multi-title licensing deal” … “to create videogames based in the Warhammer universe of fantasy battles” … “scheduled to launch from beyond 2013″, prompting some speculation over the future of Warhammer Online amongst those who remembered it. Not long after that key WAR figures either jumped or were pushed, including the lead developer and community manager, the Wrath of Heroes beta closed down, and the only news on the WAR homepage was the withdrawal of six month subscriptions. Some speculated that was because the game wouldn’t be around in six months, suspicions confirmed three months later.

So. Farewell then.

Posted by Zoso at 8:51 pm