This excellent comic from Penny Arcade was actually my first experience with Warhammer Online; it brought it to my attention, which at the time was completely inundated in the WoW. Warhammer as a table top was always cost-prohibitive to me to join it, and – something I now find ironic – I often mused to myself that if all of the rules of the game were transcribed into a video game, then I would happily play it. It would be a world where I wouldn’t have to buy miniatures, paint miniatures, or buy more miniatures and table-top terrain and rule books. Hundreds of dollars was just too much for something that only I would play and only once in a while.

This topic came up last night, when I commented the very same to my flatmate: I wouldn’t want to buy into Warhammer TT, but I would play a video game of it. Not the “Dawn of War” type RTS games…but a real, honest turn-based system that modeled exactly the table top, only on a PC. I realized, as I said it, that there is no way Warhammer would ever allow such a mirror to exist, because they subsist upon miniature sales.

My flatmate – a once avid Warhammer TT player – explained to me that of late he’s seen the prices of all miniatures literally doubled from when he played in earlier years of his life. One example he cited was a human commander unit that cost him just under $20 when he bought it. He saw an identical commander unit for sale in a store the other day for $40. I believe him: times are tough. When there are computer games out there in a world where everyone has a computer that can handle them, I can see how a table top mini game would have trouble. Enough trouble, perhaps, to open their arms to a company that might financially save them for a few years; for instance, Mythic with Warhammer Online.

Did you play Warcraft III? It was a pretty good game. I didn’t enjoy the online portion of it (well, Defense of the Ancients was pretty fun for a bit), but the single player game I did enjoy. And I was one of the players who would take the time to click repeatedly on units to see what they could be motivated to say. The griffon rider comes to mind: he told me that his “hammer cost 40k”. At the time I thought “Oh, cute, a reference to Warhammer. Isn’t Blizzard cute?”

The internet carries a rumor. One which I can’t find substantial evidence to support (i.e. an article or quote from Blizzard or Games Workshop), but one that feels quite believable. Frankly, if Tycho believes it, I am inclined to believe. And it makes sense; a lot of sense.

The rumor is that Blizzard had been in talks with Games Workshop for a license to make a video game out of the Warhammer IPs; both Fantasy and 40k (which became, according to the rumor, Warcraft and Starcraft respectively). Now, picture with me – for a moment – a world where Blizzard hadn’t lost the license for whatever reason they did…a world where Warcraft and Starcraft existed, but with very different stories: where Protoss were Eldar (or perhaps Tau), Zerg were Tyranids, and Space Marines were…well, Space Marines. And World of Warcraft would really have been World of Warhammer, and everything we hate and get angry about in Warcraft would have been Warhammer instead.

Since Warhammer is so fundamentally rooted as an IP in player-vs-player combat, and character customization is also fundamental (i.e. painting your armor), I wonder if Blizzard would have worked that into the mix, instead of opting not to? RvR would have been out of the question of course (and, as cool as it is, I’m glad Mythic holds the torch), but I wonder what they would have done to address that? Battlegrounds, I suppose. Makes you a bit uncomfortable, no? It certainly does for me.

Whenever talk of PvP came up, virtually every hardened gamer I knew would sigh and muse about Dark Age of Camelot, and how its PvP was infinitely superior to WoW; often enough that I regretted never having played it. Mythic did itself proud then, and its clearly doing itself proud now. But where did Blizzard go wrong in the beginning? How did they lose the favor of the mighty and (relatively) ancient Games Workshop? I suppose we’ll never know.

But this really lies at the core of the whole thing, doesn’t it? You can’t compare WoW and WAR without taking this concept into account: even if Blizzard wasn’t after the license, they clearly derived influence for their games from the Warhammer IP. I’m certainly not faulting them; they got some good ideas and ran with them, and they made some great games. I still play Starcraft sometimes; it really was a good game. Blizzard fell out of favor with me for only one reason, and that reason came long after the two years of successive Diablo 2 delays, and long before WAR became something of an interest for me.

More on that later.

~ by thade on August 28, 2008.

4 Responses to “Origin?”

  1. I think the concept of “rampaging savage greenskins invade medieval European humans who ally with mountain dwarves and mystic/woodsy elves” is a lot deeper than WFB. Tolkien, for example? Similarly, “plucky gritty human astronauts vs. space bugs vs. supertechnological aliens” isn’t really a W40K original idea. Starship Troopers, which is basically Space Marines vs. Zerg/Tyranids, was published in 1959 – almost 30 years before W40K’s first edition showed up. To claim that either the Wow or Warhammer IPs take from each other’s broad characters and stories is basically ignoring most of the development of the sci-fi/fantasy genre. That isn’t to say that each IP doesn’t bring its own unique twists to the playing field. But in short, Blizzard did not clearly derive influence for their games from Warhammer IP – at least not solely.

  2. No, of course not. Tolkien is pretty much the core of all of this. Well, him, and the original rules to Chainmail by Gygax


    Set the stage for RPGs.

    Anyway, if it is the case that Blizzard was trying to get the IP for Warhammer for their games in the first place…do you see why I might be willing to believe that it was a very heavy basis for their game?

  3. I very much doubt that Blizzard was looking for IPs to publish games of.

    You forget that Blizzard started from very very humble beginnings. It’s easy to go out and point to their success now because they’ve shown to put out the highest quality products on the PC time and time again.

    But look at the beginning really quickly.

    Warcraft 1? Can you imagine some no name company, with a total of what? 10-20 people? Trying to get the Warhammer license and being rejected because they don’t think they can come up with a standard fantasy franchise of their own for a DOS game? Think about the times, PC gaming was literally limited to Wolfenstein, other floppy disc adventures, and was considered for the most hardcore of nerds only. It’s just preposterous. Some no name company with little to no funds won’t be pushing to acquire licenses that probably wouldn’t have helped their sales at all regardless (look at all the other Warhammer licensed strategy games that have failed besides the Dawn of War games). Especially when said licenses are extremely generic to the fantasy/scifi field.

    It wasn’t even really until Warcraft 2 that Blizzard was put “on the map.” The game was so popular an RTS That many paid services came about just to play it online with strangers (kali.net). However, Blizzard really didn’t establish itself until Diablo and Starcraft with Battle.net (Kali.net was only for hardcores and was considered expensive for the time), solidifying their big three IPs.

    If you mean that Blizzard wanted to acquire licenses recently (when gaming has become more mainstream) or post their big three IPs — that would be plausible financially, but silly because their universes do just as well and they have complete creative control. Their universes are also less generic and heavily stylized in their own way.

    The rumor that “Blizzard was trying to get the IP for Warhammer for their games in the first place” is simply that, a rumor. Probably started and perpetuated by someone in the Warhammer community because of their insecurities about how Warhammer Online would do against World of Warcraft.

    Blizzard has established a brand and a trademark for making very good computer games from very humble beginnings. There are many people who would now buy a Blizzard game, no questions asked, because of consumer confidence. They delayed their games and took losses based on quality way before they were financially able to do so. Seeing how you’ve been around since those days, you still remember when Blizzard was a small company and accomplished such feats.

    Games Workshop has had a history of licensing out to products that are extremely low quality. They are a company that makes money primarily on rehashing the same miniatures (or variations with different hats), selling the painting product for those miniatures, and selling the rules to use said miniatures (and props and whatnot). Essentially, they’re like every other collectible game type company (Wizards of the Coast, UDE, etc.) and they try to milk as much money for products for their games as much as possible. There is nothing wrong with tis as some of those games are impressive in their own right and have evolved into healthy competitive games (Magic the Gathering), but you know that 95% of the stuff on that market is out to force you to pay excessive amounts of money to just “play” the game (getting rares, painting the miniatures, etc).

    Only recently with Dawn of War series and Warhammer Online has Games Workshop shown any potential. Yet those companies will have to constantly ping Games Workshop for approval, game direction, etc. and both of those companies (Mythic and Relic) don’t have the history or consumer confidence that Blizzard has. I loved Dark Age of Camelot (zergfests around keeps, assist-trains of groups that would one-shot you before you even loaded them on your screen, and all). I love the Relic games, I own every Dawn of War and Company of Heroes games. But honestly, no matter how great these companies do with Warhammer, they don’t own it. They aren’t invested in it. Mythic could turn their back on the IP in 4 years and say, let’s do Dark Age of Camelot 2. Relic could turn their back and say, let’s do Company of Heroes or whatever the hell we want whenever they wish. They aren’t invested in it.

    Blizzard knows that if they make a misstep in any of their IPs, they will take the blunt of it. That’s why they care more and that’s why they continue to put the most polished games out there. Because at the end of the day, their lives and profits depend on the quality of their computer product.

    For Games Workshop? Well, they can always invest or license to some other company for their computer games.

  4. I know I just posted a long post, but I just wanted to add this:

    If you look at all the Warhammer licensed games prior to Dawn of War and the timeline at which Blizzard made their games. It is clear that Warhammer was throwing their licenses left and right just like Marvel in the 90s, hoping to make a quick buck simply by selling their license (regardless of quality). I mean seriously, going to Mindscape back in the day to make Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat? Not to mention a variety of games that they have recently released only a few years before Dawn of War games that got scores of 3.0-5.0 from many of the game review sites? They didn’t care back then (and threw their license around like fools) and I’m sure they only care now after seeing how successful Blizzard has become. If Blizzard came a’ knockin’ for the license back in the day, I’m sure those Warhammer guys would have been happy to sell it for a quick buck not caring who it was they were selling it to.

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