Last month Mythic Entertainment quietly renamed itself as BioWare Mythic, and emerged as one of four BioWare studios currently hard at work making videogame magic happen.
But where does that leave massively multiplayer online role-playing game Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning? There was a time when the fantasy game was called a World of Warcraft killer. No longer.
Here, Eurogamer speaks to BioWare Mythic general manager Eugene Evans and Warhammer Online producer Carrie Gouskos to find out where Warhammer's at, where it's going, and competing with the behemoth that is World of Warcraft.
Eurogamer: Since you've taken over the running of Warhammer Online in Europe, what's changed for gamers?
Carrie Gouskos: It's our goal to keep the experience as mirrored as possible. Specifically, we're now making sure we're more conscious of the time we do various updates, which are now happening simultaneously in the Europe and the US, as opposed to on a time delay, even though it was just by a day. And making sure things are covered in multiple languages.
Personally, in terms of getting to have a little more direct interaction with our European players, that's been one of the big points for me and the team. Making sure we're meeting the needs of the European market, which I've found plays the game somewhat differently and has different perspectives. That's been interesting to engage at that direct level.
Eugene Evans: The short answer is we have a much more direct relationship with the players now.
Eurogamer: How do European players differ from North American players?
Carrie Gouskos: Aside from the language needs? I'm still learning. I keep live characters – obviously anonymously – that I play on our live servers, so I can integrate with the players and hear what they're saying directly about the game, as opposed to what they're willing to say in public forums.
I'm not fully integrated with the European communities yet. But one of the biggest examples is that European communities do tend to side towards the bomb group style of play.
They group up with certain specs. Bright Wizards all together, maybe six Bright Wizards in one group, or six Sorcerers, that are bomb specced. They do heavy amounts of AOE, running together – that kind of style of play.
They also play a lot more close quarters than North American players, for whatever reason. We're still trying to figure out a lot of that. But it means we pay attention to the different types of nuances of gameplay.
Eurogamer: I'd love to know the psychologies behind that.
Eugene Evans: When we've figured it out we'll either let you know or we won't be telling anybody.
Eurogamer: How does Warhammer's current status tally with the expectations the team and EA had before it launched and soon after?
Carrie Gouskos: We've come a long way since the expectations of two years ago. For us it has been about centring the game on the players we have and growing that.
Warhammer is in an interesting place. We have a strong user base that loves the game. We get to interact with them in lots of interesting ways. The group now, I feel very comfortable going to and saying, 'Hey guys, I've got some ideas. What do you think?' and really engaging the player base directly and going, 'Help us to make this game the play space you want to enjoy.'
This year I've seen a lot of positive momentum in that area. The communication's been great. The interaction's been great. It's only going to get better with the European players – to be able to interact with devs specifically.
We go through several layers of iteration on features and a lot of it comes early to the players and they can give feedback. There are players who had meaningful impact on the game in that way.
Being able to expand to the European group as well is exciting for us. So for us it's about the growth in the year and how well the game is doing right now. I feel pumped about this game right now.
Eugene Evans: The important thing is, we're coming up to two years since the game was released. We're still running it. The game is profitable. We have a team that's engaged in it. We're seeing a great response from the community as they rediscover the game.
When we launched we were up against the biggest competitor in the business, and arguably one of the biggest franchises in our business, with World of Warcraft. That was a huge challenge.
We're far from giving up on the game. Here we are two years later, and despite all the naysayers we continue to improve the game.
These games are not defined by the product you have at launch. They're defined by what you do with the game and how you respond to the community.
Eurogamer: Was it unfair of players to compare the game to World of Warcraft at launch and subsequently?
Carrie Gouskos: No. It's not unfair. It's what they do.
Eugene Evans: The challenge with releasing any online game is the competitor has the advantage. You're not only up against the game they built and launched, but you're up against the game they ran for a number of years and have grown.
At some point you have to get out there with your product and you have to compete. We were offering a very distinct experience with realm versus realm play. People still love the experience and are coming back now.
People are always looking for the next game they want to play. We've focused on the core players that have discovered what it is that's unique and fun about Warhammer. And that word is getting out there.
Carrie Gouskos: Maybe we attempted too much early on, making sure the player versus environment experience was as meaningful as the RVR experience.
Right now, everything we're doing and where we're going and what the path of the game is is focused on RVR. We know that's our strength. That's what our players who are playing right now want. And that's something we have a pretty good handle on. We know our strengths and we're playing up to those as best we can.
Eurogamer: How many people are currently playing Warhammer?
Eugene Evans: We don't disclose that – the joys of being a public company.
Hands On: Warhammer Online: The Land of the Dead
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Hands On: Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
Beta Report Part 1: The early levels.
There's pretty much everything you could conceivably want to know about Warhammer's crafting system in one sitting here, a whole 13 minutes of it, presented by none other than the general manager of EA mythic himself.
Eurogamer: But you mentioned it's profitable, which in this economy is great. You must be delighted.
Eugene Evans: Yeah. The other reality was that we found ourselves releasing the game at the front of one of the biggest financial crises for a long time.
What's the challenge of any new MMO? Taking people away from a community they're enjoying playing with.
A new MMO comes along and they don't want to abandon their old community. They want to try a new experience. If that means they have to subscribe to a couple of games for a while, that's more difficult in this climate.
One of the biggest effects we had on our community was the release earlier this year of our endless trial, where we were able to present a new trial experience that gave people the time to discover what was great about the game. They weren't worried about trying to discover that in 10 or 14 days.
We're still getting tens of thousands of people a month coming through trying that experience.
Eurogamer: Will you go free-to-play?
Eugene Evans: The free-to-play model has huge advantages but my opinion is you either have to design a game from scratch to drive that free-to-play experience, or there is a significant amount of work to re-engineer your game to deliver something that can drive the same amount of revenue.
Carrie Gouskos: We've looked at free-to-play and how that works. One of the biggest problems we have is it's very difficult, especially in Western markets, to monetise RVR-based experiences.
You're basically saying, in order to make it meaningful, you've got to let people pay for power. That feels wrong. You want people to be able to earn it.
We've definitely looked at free-to-play long and hard, but at the moment we don't have a need to.
Eugene Evans: We're happy with the players we have and the level of engagement they have with the game.
Carrie Gouskos: You want to make sure you're not diminishing the value of what people have played and paid for this entire two year period. You want to make sure they feel that it's worth something.
Eurogamer: What did you think on Blizzard's effort to impose Real ID on its forums? Would you ever consider doing that in your forums?
Carrie Gouskos: No. Never. Never. No.
Eugene Evans: We wouldn't do it. I'm surprised they did it, and for a group that is so close to their community, it was amazing that they misread it that poorly.
I'm pleased to see them reacting to the community. We should all learn to listen to our communities.
Carrie Gouskos: I would fight that tooth and nail. I've had some very personal, really bad experiences in online communities with that. Personally, I'm against it.
Eurogamer: Blizzard argued it would improve the quality of their forums. Do you understand that point of view?
Eugene Evans: Their community made it very clear what the right answer is.
Eurogamer: You're running three games at the moment. What's next from BioWare Mythic?
Eugene Evans: We're not ready to talk about that but we will be very soon.
Eurogamer: How soon? gamescom?
Eugene Evans: Probably not gamescom. That's very, very soon.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is out now.