Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

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Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby -Papa Gino » Thu Jan 25, 2007 12:19 am

In case someone hasn't seen it yet:

www.warvault.net/chat/transcript.php

I am not going to pre-judge here - but I did find several of his statements to be quite indicative, both positively and negatively. At least, it seemed a bit more frank (in places) than the usual stuff one gets out of GW designers. Also, keep in mind that the interviewers' stated intention was _not_ to go after Graham or GW (but, rather, to "build a relationship").

There is an ongoing discussion thread on Warhammer Empire forums about this, by the way:

www.warhammer-empire.com/...ic=14288.0

While I would not go so far as to praise those forums for stupendous intellectual depth, but I did find Mike Chung's second point (about a dozen posts down on the first page of the thread) to be...compelling. Not the least because I have seen alternative approaches to the issue in action (Wizards with MTG, BF with Flames, Fanatic with Epic, etc.).

Separately, I found it interesting that Graham (apparently) left GW in June of 2006 - ostensibly before the NEB had even gone to print. Could be "noise", could be symptomatic of designer turnover and management style.
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Re: Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby -Jarrett » Thu Jan 25, 2007 2:05 am

This is the same story we've heard before - they don't feel player conducted playtests are worth the trouble, even though the best game companies consistantly do beta tests of some kind. Even when they did have them they took most of what was suggested with a grain of salt.

What's a little interesting about this is that in direct contrast to their generally non-competitive view of their game (and game design process) they've made for a resurgeance in GTs.

I feel that they've failed to mesh the idea that their young product-hungry kids are inevitably the tournament players of tomorrow. They keep hammering home the idea that it's all a game, spirit of the rules, etc, but don't appreciate that a) just because the game is all for fun it can't be perfectly balanced for competitive play, and more importantly b) the fundamentals of competitive play (here at least) emphasize the same strong points of casual play: sportsmanship, conversions and painting, theme and balance. They seem to have the notion that emphasizing tournaments as the end goal of most players is somehow wrong, blackening the face of their light-hearted fun. The best tournament players, and often the most competitive ones, have this very light-hearted attitude. This two-sphere idea about who plays Warhammer is a detrimental philosophy evident in their hobby stores, game design and PR.
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Re: Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby mauleed » Thu Jan 25, 2007 2:37 am

What it really hammers home to me is that the design team is composed of mostly people I would not employ if I ran the design team.

It's as if they were car manufacturers, and they let the guys that design the seats be in charge of the overall design. Sure, they're adequate to design something to put my fat ass on, but the idea that the engine should work every time you turn the key is overshadowed by concerns about how much lumbar support I have.
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Re: Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby -Jarrett » Thu Jan 25, 2007 2:47 am

Well straight on GW bashing aside, I think there isn't a flaw with Graham's design team mentality IF there is thorough playtesting by player groups. Players inherently want to win and have fun with their army, designers want to make a good product that has a sound and consistant theme and brings something new and dynamic to the game. These need not be mutually exclusive, but GW insists on keeping things in house and fails to appreciate that they cannot achieve a necessarily thorough review process with the number of people they have. They just can't play enough and make a book at the same time to get what players are talking about, but they don't want direct player input which is crazy.

Bottom line is I think the Empire players got a winning book, the hellblaster is still viable, and it could have been far worse. I also appreciate that an interview was even conducted considering the hostile internet environment nerds create.
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Re: Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby mauleed » Thu Jan 25, 2007 3:01 am

All True. The book is good, and it'll work, but like all GW books, a significant chunk of it is unfit for the table.

I'm still amazed that someone that can not grasp the advantages of hw/shield over using the halibard is the guy writing the book.

Obviously this is intentional by GW's management. They set their goals low, devote little resources to achieving them, and then pat themselves on the back when these lowballed goals are met.

I'd seriously like to know how many members of the design team have even had a 100 level statistics class.
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Re: Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby mattbird » Thu Jan 25, 2007 3:07 am

heh, none
jer732 wrote:Birdoff makes me want to rage quit life
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Re: Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby -Papa Gino » Thu Jan 25, 2007 4:12 am

Quick thoughts.

- It would cost them 400k pounds per year - roughly 10% of their 4 million pounds/year R&D budget (or close to the 390k pounds/year their CEO makes with pensions and benefits) - to add 20 full-time testers to their staff.

Ok, fine, throw on another 50k pounds a year for extra rooms, tables and coffee.

These are not big numbers, certainly not for a 100+ million pound per year in sales enterprise. In fact, if they _did_ view product quality as a component of their business model, they would spend 8 million pounds a year to attract the best people, playtest things to death, publish FAQs on the hour every hour, keep a few guys online permanently to answer questions - etc.

However, it appears that their _perception_ of their business model is - push "cool" stuff to Little Billies via mostly brick-and-mortar stores; and the "cool" stuff will hook said customers to the point where they will never want to leave. Basically a bit like all those God-awful films you see in theaters (the people will watch anything because it is there for them to watch and it's not like they can do anything else with their time and/or money). Even the absolute worst studio films often manage to scrounge up tens of millions of dollars in box office sales.

That model - and mindset - works until it doesn't. At some point, theatrical sales dry up because people can see the same stuff online or on DVDs for much lower cost (and, at some point, repeating the same trashy formula for the ten thousandth time yields diminishing returns). At some point, viable substitutes to GW products appear, veteran players tell the company to sod off, and the younger generation - those members of it not yet completely captured by videogames and electronic gadgets, at least - will "convert" into veterans at ever falling rates. Whether management will realize this is happening or not in time to do anything - who knows.

- It always struck me just how mathematically deficient the recent crop of GW designers seem whenever they do interviews. Reminds me of the "Math is hard" talking Barbie...

- If you ask me, management's "monkey with a hand grenade" approach to design sooner or later will yield another DE V1.0 army book. Or something similarly unplayable. Except this time, I'm not sure they'll listen to the players and fix anything. I'm not even sure they _allow_ their designers to listen to players (since it is so easy for companies to monitor all communications/computer use these days - I myself have worked in a mid-sized firm once where management spied on employees relentlessly).
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Re: Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby mauleed » Thu Jan 25, 2007 4:21 am

While playtesters would be nice, that's putting the cart way before the horse.

Hire competent designers first and playtesting becomes less of a priority.

And it's a whole lot cheaper to just take 2 or 3 key positions and double their salaries to fill them with people with a proper background (like the ability to figure out the odds of things coming up on a D6).

They refuse to aknowledge that there is a certain 'engineering' element to game design, and hence keep hiring people that lack the ability to engineer games.

[monkey with a hand grenade, hahaha]
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Re: Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby -Jarrett » Thu Jan 25, 2007 4:21 am

Or, for significantly less cost, have a team of 2-5 people (not a core developer like Gav, who is already doing 50 different things) organize voluntary playtests like they had been doing. Foster a relationship with top clubs/tournament players and get your playtesting done for you. Collect feedback, "notice trends", and make adjustments. Critical point here: do not ignore your teams data. If you make one or two significant changes people notice they playtested, even throw a club name or two appreciatively in white dwarf, you're going to be loved for it
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Re: Graham McNeil interview on the New Empire Book

Postby -Papa Gino » Thu Jan 25, 2007 11:51 am

Yes, that's what they certainly _should_ do. My comment was more to their "I want to keep things in-house" policy. If they truly gave a hoot about product quality _and_ had an obstinate desire to keep things in-house, then they could have (and should have) done much more. Since they didn't, and since they're unwilling to explore alternatives (e.g. player playtesters), _and_ since they don't seem to care much about the quality of the design staff that they already have...well, the conclusion is inescapable - they feel they're selling a product that had no substitutes and that people will love simply because it's there. Good or bad. Their analyst presentations confirm this philosophy. Whether said philosophy actually correlates with the real world to any statistically significant degree...well, that's a different matter altogether, isn't it.

Would not by far be the first time that a given CEO figuratively drove at full speed into a brick wall with his eyes open. The more recent famous examples (some of which are still unfolding) include United Airlines, Delta, Calpine, British Petroleum, Duke, TXU, Amaranth, Freescale, Spansion, etc. etc. ad infinitum. They all have an idea. Which translates into a vision. Of a brick wall magically evaporating long before they drive into it at full speed.
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