EA says 'Warhammer' has tools for success


Electronics Arts believes that the massively multiplayer online video game space might get a lot more massive with this year's release of "Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning."

Led by the recent success of Blizzard Entertainment's "World of Warcraft," which has more than 8 million subscribers worldwide, the MMO market has grown into a $2.3 billion business, nearly doubling in the past two years, EA says.

EA acquired MMO game developer Mythic Entertainment last summer to bolster its position in the MMO space. In addition to launching and maintaining the "Dark Age of Camelot" game franchise, EA Mythic is putting the finishing touches on "Warhammer," based on a popular tabletop war game that has been around for more than two decades in various incarnations.

"There are probably 1 million active gamers playing 'Warhammer' (pen and paper games) today," says Mark Jacobs, co-founder of Mythic and vp and GM of EA Mythic. "That's a very large fan base. The franchise has sold tens of millions of toy soldiers, along with countless editions of books."

Also working in their favor, Jacobs says, is the fact that since "Warhammer" license owner Games Workshops is in the business of making games, it knew to give Mythic the freedom to create the right product for the MMO space.

"They know how to make games that are fun and games that will sell," he says. "With them, especially, they're not interested in exploiting their license. A lot of licensors only care about making money. Games Workshop only licenses out what they think they can make their intellectual property great."

Jacobs credits "Warcraft" for not only introducing millions of new consumers to MMO games but also making many casual gamers more adept at playing the genre. This will help other publishers that will release MMO games, he says.

There are 116 such games running around the world and another 76 in development. This year, Disney Online will unleash "Pirates of the Caribbean Online," which will join such other Hollywood MMO games as "The Matrix Online" and "Star Wars Galaxies." Other Hollywood MMO games in development include "Stargate Worlds," "Firefly" and "Star Trek Online." There also are competing MMO games based on the Marvel and DC Comics universes in development.

Jacobs' take on these games? "My feeling is that most Hollywood-licensed MMO games will fail," he says.

"Unless you have the right licensor, it can be hard to make a great game," he says. "If you look at licensed games over the history of the game industry, a lot of them have failed because you can't get the freedom to make a really great game. That's hard enough in the stand-alone game business, where you have to satisfy a few people. With MMOs, we have to make tens of thousands of people happy at the same time."

Jacobs wonders just how much freedom Marvel and DC will give to developers for their games. Another potential risk, given the $40 million-plus price tag and four years of development time for an MMO game, is the fragile nature of a Hollywood IP, he says.

Case in point: When Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment enlisted Monolith to create "Matrix Online," it was riding a high off the first film, released in 1999. With the subsequent critical and popular backlash of the two sequels, not many people wanted to play the game when it came out in April 2005.

One thing Jacobs does see as a plus for the MMO industry is the arrival of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

"When you look at the new generation of consoles, it's very exciting from our perspective," he says. "We didn't think the connectivity was there for Xbox and PS2. We're looking at what Sony and Microsoft are doing. There's a lot of stuff we need to figure out with Sony and Microsoft before committing to anything, but the opportunity is there."