Creative Assembly, the guys behind the Total War series — some of my favourite games — have along with publisher Sega tried something new for their next release. And it hasn't gone down too well.
In October, Creative Assembly announced that Total War: Warhammer was going to have some pre-order DLC (reminder: don't pre-order) that involved locking away one of the game's factions and only making them available as a playable race to people putting down money in advance (or opting to pay to unlock them after launch).
This isn't new for CA. Their last Total War game, Rome II, did the same thing with both its Greek States (in the vanilla game) and Vikings (in the expansion, Attila) factions. But for Rome II, this wasn't that big a deal; the game featured a ton of sides you could play as and fight against, so having 2-3 missing from your roster at the start of a game wasn't the end of the world.
In Warhammer, though, things are different. There are only five armies in the game. And the one CA is locking away, Chaos, is the most prominent enemy faction in the Warhammer universe.
Needless to say, reaction to the move has been...less than enthusiastic. Across forums and Reddit, fans were quick to voice their displeasure, and rightly so! At the time, it seemed like a dick move, beyond the pale of what's generally considered acceptable for DLC shenanigans, even in this day and age.
Factoring into fan resentment over the plan is that they remember the last major Total War release. Rome II launched so broken that it's the only "Not Yet" review I've ever given on Kotaku, and it was only after a few waves of DLC — months after release — that some of the game's more fundamental issues were fixed.
A month ago, Creative Director Mike Simpson tried to explain the Chaos stuff in a lengthy blog post:
So in TW: Warhammer's case, we had our four main playable races sorted, and we've planned for Chaos to have a big role to play later in the trilogy. But we really wanted Chaos Warriors in the main game, even without DLC — to give a big, bad end of game "boss" enemy Race for all players. But we couldn't do that within the resources for the main game. So we added it as the pre-order incentive that also gets sold on day one — making Chaos Warriors fully playable but also giving us the extra resources to add them as an Ai race for everyone.
So is adding chaos as a pre-order incentive "cut content"? I think the opposite is true. If we didn't add it to the pre-order, it would have been DLC later on and not in the game at release.
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.
Pre-orders create buzz, improve sales and give the whole studio confidence in what we're doing. They genuinely let us give you something for nothing, and you can't lose — if you aren't happy with the final game, you should explore your refund rights. Even if you don't pre-order, you get Chaos as an Ai opponent.
This was followed by a post from Total War Brand Director Rob Bartholomew:
We know pre-ordering is a leap of faith, but as Mike says it's a very helpful indicator of interest in the game. To help incentivise that and to say thanks for putting your faith in us early, we offer a pre-order bonus. We try to make those as good as possible. Not just to convince you, but to add value as much as we can. In the past we've done simple single units or factions as pre-order bonuses that were exclusive to certain retailers (see TW: Empire). We didn't feel that was totally great as, even if you did pre-order, you never got all the available content because it was exclusive (either to a single retailer or it wasn't available after launch). So now we have a dedicated production budget to generate DLC in support of the main games, and we assign some of that cost to helping create a really great pre-order bonus. 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. And also you can wait for a sale after launch and still pick it all up, again because it's not exclusive to a retailer. We think it's better to take the opportunity of doing a pre-order bonus and make it the best value we can. 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). We absolutely want you to be happy with what you're buying and we're committed to offering a deep and satisfying game.
Here's another, newer take, from Total War Designer Rich Aldridge, who sat down with Eurogamer this week for an interview about the game:
I think some people are always going to want to voice their opinion and be heard, and sadly that tends to be more negative than positive. [Chaos are] a very important race and they do feature in the game. What we've decided to do is that we've added additional content and then made them playable. We didn't want to disappoint people. We actually thought by adding more content, that would make it an exciting pre-order proposition for them.
He's then asked about his reaction to the Chaos faction's announcement trailer having over 40,000 dislikes on YouTube following the DLC reveal:
You never like to see there being a negative aspect of the game, but it seems to be something which is becoming, sadly, a more common trend with a number of games. Again, I'd just like to stress that we feel that by adding the additional content that actually the users get a far better game in the long term. And, obviously, it is their decision whether they wish to purchase now or in the future. We leave that open to them.
Do you know when Total War: Warhammer is out? August 28, 2016. That's almost nine months away.
There's a common sense of defensiveness running through these comments that misses people's main bone of contention: that this universe doesn't have many factions, and one of the best ones was — according to these responses — designed from day one to be locked away, whether as a preorder bonus at launch or as Simpson says as DLC down the line. That sucks!
The business model that relies on DLC being generated alongside the main game is never popular with fans, but it's also a business reality. That's fine. But had Creative Assembly announced the Skaven as bonus content, or the Ogres — or, you know, just had Chaos in the game from day one — I probably wouldn't be writing this.
Aldridge also told Eurogamer that "certainly all of the criticism that we've taken and the comments that have been made, we have been absorbing and taking on board for future products." That will be little consolation to Warhammer fans this time around, but as a long-time Total War devotee, I hope that's true.