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Preparing for WAR: Mark Jacobs on Launching Warhammer Online
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Preparing for WAR: Mark Jacobs on Launching Warhammer Online

September 22, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next

How are Warhammer's numbers?

MJ: We should figure it again, but as of [Thursday] night, we had more people playing the game at the same time in North America than we ever had in Dark Age of Camelot. We have the numbers now to back it up -- so it's not just, "Well, you guys had a nice head start."

No -- we now have more than Camelot ever had, by about 50 percent. That's a significant increase. When you also look at our downtime -- only one patch in almost seven days -- that's a pretty tough record to beat when you look at the launches of every other MMO, including WoW. Especially WoW.

Can you give that figure?

MJ: No; publicly-traded company. Wish I could. But I can say it was about 50 percent higher than what we had in Camelot.

So what's the official word on the head start grace period -- the period of time that preorder users have to get a final retail CD key in there? It seems like it's very short now, while some people were expecting more like two weeks --

MJ: No, no, no. First of all, it was never, ever two weeks. Even right now, our most vocal detractors say it was four days. We had a post up on our site which we took down very quickly -- but it was up -- that said the head start would be for four days. We have never, ever said two weeks. So that's first.

Second, during the day I've been announcing modifications for the policy. It's a really complicated issue; we've been reaching out to the retailers and talking to them about certain things.

For example, all Amazon customers won't have to worry about that; we've extended the grace period. All EA Store customers, we've extended the grace period. All Go Gamer, we've extended the grace period. So it certainly is not what some people would make it out to be. The vast majority of our customers right now, from what we see talking to the retailers, will either be getting the grace period, or getting their product on time. If that doesn't turn out to be true, we'll continue talking to the retailers.

EA Mythic's Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

What about server queues? Is that just inevitable?

MJ: Well, first of all, there is a certain inevitability. Take WoW; that was pretty bad. Not only was their queueing bad, but they didn't have a solution to it for quite a while before they allowed character transfers. We're talking about WoW itself, not Burning Crusade, because by then they had the technology working I assume. In the beginning, they did not allow server transfers for quite a while.

No matter which game you're using, if you're using the model 99 percent of MMOs use -- the world or shard model, where you support a few thousand per shard -- you're going to hit this problem, unless you just tell people they can't join that server. Which some games have done, except then you can immediately split a guild.

So we came up with what we thought was the best solution, and I'm kind of proud of it. By cloning the servers, any guild now can automatically choose to play on the other server. They don't have to do anything, other than decide, "I'm going to play on this one tonight, or permanently." It's even better than character transfers.

What is that technology exactly?

MJ: Okay, this was a great idea. I like to think I add something to the company every so often, and this is one of them. We take a server -- with all its information for the players, the guilds, the auction house -- and copy it. It's a little more complicated than that, but think of it as a clone. All that information is on server A, and server B at the same time. So when your guild comes on, they can decide which one to play on.

People worried about whether things will transfer -- it's already done, automatically. Nobody in the MMO industry has ever done this for customers, ever. There's no, "We'll allow you to transfers in a few weeks, maybe." No -- it's done. You can play on either, or both.

So at a certain point in time, the entire state of a server was duplicated, and you can pick up where you left off on either one.

MJ: Right. People didn't even lose one second of experience. The server was down, we copied it, we put it back up, and we put the new one up. You don't have to choose where you want your character to be -- keep both if you want.

Was that a technical problem in any way? It sounds basically like backing up your data on your PC.

MJ: Exactly. It was really elegant. It's the kind of thing I like to do -- as a game designer, and obviously as lead designer of Warhammer, I don't have time to do all the design stuff I did ten years ago or even twenty years ago. I just don't have the time anymore. So what I like to do is think about the design of the game, and think of different things to do, or different ways of looking at things. This was just doing what I did with public quests, but I did it on the technical side. I used to be a programmer, so that helped.

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