August 4, 2009

Heartless_ View: Casualty of Warhammer

It all started, as so many things do these days, with an Internet news posting.
In 2008, after almost four years reviewing games and covering industry news and events, I lost my job. In my search for new work, I came across a posting for QA/customer service jobs at Mythic Entertainment for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. I didn't have much of a technical background aside from being a lifelong gamer, but I had a few years of customer service experience, so I shot them a resume. I heard back a month later and started at Mythic a week after that.

I initially thought it might be some type of call center job, but my supervisors explained that I would be working within the game itself. The journalist in me thought it would be a fascinating look behind the curtain at a young MMOG. The gamer in me thought it would be awesome to finally have the powers of a GM. I would be like an agent in The Matrix.
So, for those that read the above article, we get a sad story about the state of a customer service position at a company who's product failed to meet expectations. The article is both revealing of what happened with Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) and a bit annoying at whats implied.

First, the article lays heavy blame at Wrath of the Lich King's feet for WARs collapse. Little is said about WAR's own shortcomings. Granted, this was a viewpoint looking out from the inside, so its understandable why they were looking for reasons or excuses that didn't point any fingers back at themselves. I'm not going to say that Wrath had nothing to do with WAR's faltering performance, but it was a minor footprint to where I lay blame: the fundamental design of WAR was a fragmented mess with no continuity.

Secondly, there is too much effort in trying to make everyone feel bad for the people losing their jobs. Wake up, customer service is a cruel mistress in any career field. I have no sympathy for the guy in the article. He set lofty goals in a volatile position. Strip all the names away (EA, Mythic, WAR) and this story can be sung a million times over for failed projects.

Lastly, I can count on my hand the number of game designers/developers that have come from the customer service realm. Big dreams are nice, but they lead to big disappointments. Goals need to be precise, small, written down, and most importantly, must be measurable. Thus, I have no illusions of breaking into the games industry.

7 comments:

tagn said...

The lack of reflection on the flaws in WAR was a bit much.

One of the common problems with working in customer support is that you start to believe that your product is deeply flawed because everytime you pick up the phone or open an email, somebody is complaining about your product. He should have been keenly aware of the issues with the game, but he seems to have eluded that somehow.

His view of the world was that they were done in by "gold farmers, cheaters, and WoW's new expansion," all three of which were part of the environment the game had to exist within, is just silly. He might as well blame Microsoft, swine flue, and North Korea while he is at it.

Sleepysam said...

Could be he ain't allowed to talk about the known flaws that he dealt with on a day to day basis.

heartlessgamer said...

Everyone is free to talk about the flaws of the game. He didn't have the be specific, but needed to at least admit that possibly Mythic had a hand in what happened. It was not a "perfect storm" of outside forces that sealed WARs fate.

In essence, what he said was worse, as the article reads as though Mythic/EA blame those three outside forces as the cause and don't place any of the blame squarely on themselves.

Radishlaw said...

Whether or not EA or Mythic think that is up for spectulation. It wouldn't help the job of CSR in anyway, to say that WAR has what kind of flaws. CSRs, as far as I am aware, do not need to be concerned with flaws in the game, they just have to know enough to solve the customers' problems, and since the article writer does not seem to process a lot of experience, it may well be that he has nothing to compare to the amount of CSR requests in regards to bugs/getting stuck/other things.

Also, it's just one sentence in four pages of the article. Most of it is just detailing the work up to release and the later layoffs in EA.

I wonder why people want to believe there are hush-hush going on instead of a simpler reason: they are in a different position and thus has different perspectives.

Bhagpuss said...

The guy just worked for EA/Mythic, he didn't make any decisions and he didn't design anything. Nothing he said, did or thought about how the game or the company was run would have had the slightest impact on, or been of the slightest interest to, those people who DID make decisions.

It's a safe bet that, at his level, no-one told him or his colleagues anything of any significance beyond the bare minimum needed to do his job. It's entirely possible that, while he was working there, far from having a clearer idea than players what was going on, he actually had a more limited perspective.

One of the pains of working for a big corporation at a low level is that you tend to know very little of what's going on, while people outside assume you must know a lot. And you may have no emotional connection with your employer beyond your need for a paycheck to meet your bills, while customers assume that you are in some way "part" of the company, as if you'd been born into it.

For what it's worth, I thought it was an interesting piece. The thing that most surprised me about it was that CSRs had any interest at all in the game they were GMing. I would have assumed it was a pure call-centre roll, staffed by people who largely had no interest in gaming.

heartlessgamer said...

@Bhagpuss

The article makes some of us wonder what the corporate culture was like and makes at least me suspect, from the way it is written, that a lot of outward finger pointing was being done. Enough to influence this guys opinion of why WAR was failing and his friends were getting kicked out the door.

For him to include it in the article, so pointedly, indicates to me that its probably something that circulated in his office. Wether he intended it or not, it reads as though that was Mythic's viewpoint at the time. He was their employee and he more than points the finger towards Wrath and gold sellers.

thatsskarwithak said...

Personally I think that the WotLK and it's pre release patch had a massive impact on Warhammer numbers.

There was no time for aclimitisation to the warhammer model, before the 3.02 patch (It had a lot of important changes for the new professions for inscription) and then post release of Warhammer you had the WotLK. Which offered a lot of WoW players a comfortable game to slide back into. So instead of sticking with Warhammer during the rough 1st month or 3, they jumped ship.

There is no denying that Warhammer has problems, but it would be naive to under estimate the impact that WoW had on the numbers.

Personally if I had had the power and I knew the release date of WoW:WotLK, I would have bumped Warhammer back 3 months (Which for the product itself would have been bloody useful aswell). This isn't hindsight speaking, it's a healthy respect for the cleverness of Blizzard. They knew exactly what they were doing and the impact that they were hoping for and think otherwise is not to give them their dues.