It's fair to describe EA Mythic's Warhammer as one of the most keenly anticipated massively multiplayer games on the slate right now - so the groans and frustrated harrumphs heard when the company announced a three month delay to its launch schedule earlier today are only to be expected.
Even if it's a bit further away now, though, Warhammer is still a big deal. It's Electronic Arts' first dalliance with MMORPG publishing since Ultima Online all those years ago, for one thing. More interestingly for MMOG players, it's also developer Mythic's next title after the celebrated Dark Age of Camelot, which was much-loved by fans for its large-scale Realm vs Realm battles.
With that in mind, we collared EA Mythic's boss, Mark Jacobs, and shook him about roughly until he spilled the beans on the reasons for the delay - and how the game is taking shape. (Don't worry, no developers were harmed in the making of this feature - it's all done with computer graphics these days.) Firstly, what's going on?
Mark Jacobs: We are extending the development schedule of Warhammer for another quarter, into the second quarter of 2008. We're doing this really for two major reasons.
Number one, to put more polish onto the game - the teams have been working very hard on delivering content, and what we were finding is that they were cutting into the polish time. They were getting things done on a content side - quests, monsters - but they were getting them done a little bit later. When John [Riccitiello, EA supreme overlord] said last night on the conference call that we missed our milestone, that's absolutely correct. We had a choice - either we could continue cutting into the polish time and release in February, or we could extend the schedule.
The other thing that we saw was that during beta, some of our players told us that they didn't like certain aspects. A lot of quests were great, but some of them weren't so great; they loved certain things, but others needed more work. They loved Realm vs Realm play, but missed some of the RvR from Dark Age of Camelot. We looked at that as well, and said okay - we'd better take a little longer on the feature-set.
When you put the two together, between the content polish and the feature-set, we made the obvious, although not easy, call. Take the extra time, get it right, and be sure that when this is released, it is a great game.
Eurogamer: So would you say that the work needed on the RvR play, based on your beta feedback, is a major reason for the delay?
Mark Jacobs: That's mostly true; the RvR has been a factor in the delay, absolutely. The only thing I'd like to add is that polish has also been a major factor for us. I've said this before, but right now, the game that has raised the quality bar higher than anyone else, ever, has to be Blizzard's World of Warcraft. Whether you love the game, hate the game or don't really care either which way, you can't argue that the quality that Blizzard put into that product is outstanding.
They have raised the bar beyond all other games. We had a choice - we could have looked at our game and said, "we're going to be feature complete, we'll have some polish, but not quite enough polish." We said no. We didn't want to do it; EA didn't want us to do it.
They wanted this to be truly a great next-generation MMO, and that includes the feature-set - including, like you said, RvR. Realistically, the single most distinguishing feature about Warhammer, just like Camelot, the feature that is key to our success, is RvR. Between that, and the additional polish, that's the reason for the delay.
Eurogamer: What state is the game in right now?
Mark Jacobs: There are two aspects to that - one is what we call feature and content complete, and the other is polish. What we're hoping to have by the end of the year, or early next year, is the game being content complete. That does not mean polished; that means the first cut, or the second cut, of all the stuff is in the game.
In terms of features, then, we're not that close. We've still got a lot to do - we need to add the open RvR that we spoke about in the announcement, and we need to do a bunch of other things. I don't know what percentage that is, exactly. However, the beauty is that if we accomplish that, meet all our goals and get content complete, you can see how much time we're going to have to polish the game before release.