The news that the Chaos Warriors would be gated off from next year's Total War: Warhammer didn't sit well with many readers, and as it turns out Total War fans and Warhammer nuts were also less than pleased.
"In the studio it's sparked off a huge "wtf do we do about it" debate," Mike Simpson, creative director on Total War: Warhammer, wrote in a new blog post. It's part of Creative Assembly's attempt to repair the negative image that quickly surrounded the pre-order model — although the developers are quick to stress that they understand not everyone will see their point of view.
The blog post is actually a double, with a lengthy missive from Simpson and a follow-up from the game's brand director, Rob Bartholomew. You do have to give them some credit for taking the time to put together something substantive that explains their logic and thinking, although developers should realise — and the TW:W team undoubtedly know this now — that this is the kind of thing you publish before the pre-order announcement lands, not afterwards.
"I think the nature of our games means our players are intelligent and rational thinkers, and if we share with them the problems that we face, maybe they can help guide us to the solution that brings maximum happiness to the most players," Simpson wrote. "That solution may be exactly what we are planning, but if it's something better we wouldn't hesitate to execute it."
What Simpson goes on to imply, however, is that they knew Warhammer would cost significantly more to develop from the outset. "When we were first planning the project, it was immediately obvious that this was a bit of a problem. All that lot was going to cost four times as much to build as the contents of the treasury."
"To get that investment from SEGA (who are always supportive in backing us), we demonstrate that we can release a great game that results in a lot of happy players. But in order to do that with Warhammer content, it has to be split up into reasonable pieces in order to do all of it at a reasonable resource cost."
Hence the decision to gate Chaos Warriors — which Simpson says the team wanted to include in the main game "to give a big, bad end of game 'boss' enemy Race for all players". "The only way we can have all the races, all the units, all the magic, all authentic and super high quality is by building it up in multiple products."
Bartholomew added in his post that the team had a "dedicated production budget to generate DLC in support of the main games". "We assign some of that cost to helping create a really great pre-order bonus," he explained.
"And what’s more we can make it available to buy from day one if you don’t want to pre-order. So the advantage is there if you do put your money down early, but you don’t miss out entirely if you decide not to ... finally, you can take advantage of Steam Refunds, or any refund programme offered by your favourite retailer (and please check with them what it is before pre-ordering)."
It was cleared up in the posts that the Chaos Warriors would still be visible in-game whether you pre-ordered/purchased the DLC or not. You'll also be able to play against Chaos as an AI opponent.
"We thought we'd done well. Maybe there is a better solution - we're listening to all suggestions for the future. Maybe pre-orders are becoming so toxic they will stop working altogether. You'd hope not though, as it quite simply means those incentives will end up just being paid DLC after launch."
It's a tricky situation for the developers, but it's hard to feel entirely sorry for them when so much of this could have been communicated from the outset. Gamers and developers have become more accustomed to new development styles in the growing years thanks to Kickstarter and evolution, and having an open conversation from the beginning could have stopped a lot of fans from becoming irate.