Does WildStar have a chance?

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about WildStar. It’s been a while since I’ve THOUGHT about WildStar. That’s not willful ignorance; WildStar simply doesn’t come up much these days in the news or among MMO bloggers. I think the game got out two or three patches last year and keeps faithfully turning on and off events, but it’s relatively quiet for a relatively newer MMORPG.

If WildStar comes up in conversation, honestly, it’s because everyone is collectively amazed it’s still running. NCsoft is not known for its long patience with underperforming western MMOs, and yet it’s kept the lights on at Carbine far longer than we would have assumed. Free-to-play helped, but it wasn’t that much of a sustained bump to really send it rocketing up in the charts… and it’s been trailing downward ever since. Quarter after quarter, it was bringing less money, which no doubt meant fewer players, until NCsoft finally lumped WildStar in with their “other games” category and stopped reporting on it separately.

So what’s going on behind the scenes? Carbine had a lot of layoffs, and that coupled with the much slower patch cadence, I think it’s safe to assume that WildStar is operating with a skeletal crew at the helm. Maybe small enough operating costs that it keeps Carbine in the black, somewhat justifies the game’s existence. But why NCsoft doesn’t just kill it? I have a few theories, but nothing strong. Maybe the studio is waiting for a specific time, maybe there’s a license or agreement or timed something involved. Maybe NCsoft doesn’t want the PR black eye of shutting down a game right now. Maybe WildStar is actually doing better than what we assume. Maybe there are secret plans to bring the game to a new region or NCsoft is looking to sell it. All of that seems flimsy to me.

But the net result is there’s a real lack of gamer confidence in WildStar. If I’ve seen this conversation on Reddit once, I’ve seen it a hundred times — someone asking about the game, if it’s good, if it’s still worth playing, and others responding that it’s surprisingly solid and entertaining but has a diminished population and an irreperably tarnished reputation among the MMORPG community. F2P or no, it doesn’t seem like people are flocking back, and WildStar doesn’t have the luxury of a large pool of nostalgic veterans primed for a return one day.

It pains me to think of this. It pains me to write it. There are so many wonderful things about WildStar that it’s a shame that it ended up so disgraced and ignored. It’s brimming with personality, with an original setting, with great music, with some of the best player housing that this genre has ever seen, with some terrific alien races. But the failure in overall design and mismanagement from the studio during its development and first two years of operation pummeled any hope this game had.

I’d love to say that I was tempted to go back, but I’m not. I’m just too worried about WildStar’s continued existence to divest my time and effort into playing a character. If I think its likely that a game could get its plug pulled any day now, then it really hampers my interest.

I don’t know what could happen to bring WildStar back from the brink. If it has the luxury of time — and who really knows right now — then solid patches, positive word-of-mouth recommendations, and maybe a splashy event or expansion in the future might be the long-term path to survival and to flourish. But if Steam and F2P couldn’t really change the course, I don’t know what will. Only the fact that NCsoft hasn’t canned it yet makes me think that there’s a glimmer of a chance that there’s something in the works for its future.

I wish it hadn’t gone down this way. I had a great time in WildStar and if it ever went under, it will be a blow. I also wish it had been better managed from the start and that it erred to be more casual than hardcore, but here we are. And there it is.

9 thoughts on “Does WildStar have a chance?

  1. I guess I’d say: it’s probably had a far better run than any other similarly expensive game with a similarly small audience. The best financial analysis I’ve seen suggests that the game was only cash-flow positive the first two quarters and has consistently lost since then. So whatever the reasons, NCSOFT has taken a consistent hit on behalf of the game.

    As for building a bigger, more stable audience in the future? Well, there’s a first time for everything. But WildStar has all the obstacles. It has burned off its F2P conversion bump and its Steam bump, both one-time-only matters. It isn’t a poorly known game that just needs outreach — literally millions of gamers have tried it and walked away after a few weeks. Finally, the core issues with the game (what many find to be an off-putting leveling experience, what some experience as tedious combat, a too-small population stretched by maybe too much endgame progression and time-gating, etc.) can’t easily be engineered out without a soup-to-nuts overhaul that would unquestionably alienate the game’s current core audience.

    So: the game has in fact had a good run, and if it lasts another year or two will have done all anyone could reasonably ask. But it’d be a surprise and a half if brighter days were ahead.

  2. Yeah, even though I couldn’t quite get past the action battle system (I enjoyed it for a bit, but then it got tiring), it would still be sad to see it go under. It was bright, quirky, and imaginative… things that made it stand out from the rest. I think there’s a place for a MMO like WildStar, but I just don’t know if they can turn it around at this point… not if F2P didn’t help it.

  3. I believe the MMO Book Club is doing Wildstar at the moment, so anyone that wants to give it a go can join them and at least have some people to play with.

  4. Actually it looks like they wrapped up that cycle a few days ago.

    Looks like people that wanted to keep on playing will have collectively migrated to another Guild. so if you can track them down, there might be a reasonable number of people to play with.

  5. I tried WildStar 3 times, before F2P, after F2P, and during the free level 50 giveaway. Each time it ran poorly on my machine, which isn’t too bad and can run other, more recent games perfectly fine. It was horribly choppy. I kept going, even through that. Each time I came back I used the same account credentials, but my characters were gone. Submitted tickets, nobody knew anything. I had to start over each time.

    The last time, during the level 50 giveaway, I created the level 50, started the game, and I didn’t have a level 50. I had a level 1. Submitted a ticket. Support got back to me after the level 50 time period was over, and said they couldn’t do anything for me. I uninstalled and won’t look back.

    The list of problems WildStar had was long, and I don’t think they’ll ever get over it. It’s too bad, because it looked like it would have been fun, but they had problems coming from every direction.

  6. WildStar completely refused to patch last time i tried to play it. I wasted several hours trying workarounds and using tips from other people who couldn’t get it to run but in the end I gave up. If customers can’t update your MMO you don’t really have an MMO.

    Back when I did play, the main problem I found was that WS is exhausting. It’s too bright, too busy, too loud and too demanding. I’m not even talking about the action combat, which I largely ignored. I’m talking about mob density, color palette, zone design and especially the soundscape. After an hour or two I felt like i needed a lie down. I suspect all of that had something to do with it’s inability to hold onto players for extended periods.

    As for the housing, I’ve always thought you seriously overrate it. It’s a decent housing offer but it’s not even close to Rift’s, which you have experimented with, let alone the best in the genre, EQ2’s, which I don’t think you have. I found it quite restrictive, not just in terms of the building possibilities but even for straightforward decorating.

    As to why WS is still going – I have no idea. Then again, Alganon is still going…

  7. Like the others, I tried WildStar several different times. IMHO, the best thing to come out of it is Jeff Kurtenacker’s score, which I think is amazing. It’s often been listening to the score that gives me the urge to give the game another whirl. But like Bhagpuss, I find the gamer tiring, and tiresome. It was like like somebody at Blizzard said, “You know what would make an awesome game? Everything that anyone has ever hated about WoW.” It’s garish and busy, and at least initially had all sorts of attunement gated content that turned a lot of people off. With my Nostromo keypad, I didn’t have a ton of issue with the combat. But for Scooter, who can’t find a keypad small enough to be comfortable, the key-mashing active combat became literally painful (which also contributed to her flagging interest in TSW, and several other games). I wanted to love WIldStar, but in the end it just wasn’t for me.

  8. I also tried it and didn’t like it. I was able to ignore the design of the combat user interface and its combat didn’t trouble me that much. Sure there were maaaaany colors, but hey, all the “action combat” blah… mechanically in combat it was just a slightly inferior version of TSW or GW2 and performed smoother then SWL.

    I also didn’t mind character progression, although i found it a bit more limiting than the mentioned TSW and GW2. Unfortunately too much of the rest of the game just drove me away. The whole game somehow seems to scream “faster! faster!” all of the time. Here the design of the UI started to get annoying. Information about missions was limited to SMS-size. You got stuff to do all of the time, without ever getting the information why you should do that. Apparently the game designers thought that “loot and XP” are the only incentives players want and are interested in nothing else.

    Now add that the game way too often brought in messages and big on-screen text, which for me sometimes gave the impression that the game just told me that i was having fun (while not actually being fun) and annoyance levels rise. And that’s before the “now something funny” stuff. This very much gave the impression that somebody during planing made a certain “jokes per hour” requirement and developers decided to use a crowbar to get enough of these jokes into the game. Where not one of them is subtle, but it’s all as loud and obvious as it possibly could be.

    Put all of that together and then consider that the game, at launch and by design, was aimed purely at the hardcore gamer. They decided that they wanted to cater for like 5% of the possible playerbase, with the design aimed at weeding out the non-wanted “casuals”. (Numbers are pure estimates, but 5% is a good guess, since most games state that “hardcore” or “raider” players are between 1% and 10% of its playerbase. )

    Sure, after they lost most of their playerbase they realized that intentionally disposing of 95% of their playerbase might not have been the most sound economical choice. They tried to work against it, but a number of core mechanics as well as the games mindset are very much “hardcore only” and it shows. A game which time after time again presents me mechanics which in their core function tell me that they expect me to play a lot or play not at all can reliably expect me to go for the second option.

    So no, at least for me it doesn’t stand a chance.

  9. I was one of the beta fans who urged Wildstar to become more hardcore. Let it be known: It wasn’t that they weren’t listening to their players. They listened too much to their players. The vocal ones, like myself, often were the hardcore ones. The majority of players, ultimately, would not enjoy such punishing combat and game-play.

    In the beta forums, the devs were frequently there, and each time us vocal hardcore players kept telling them “it needs to be harder, I got through the content in 3 tries, it should’ve been 30.” And if the devs were hesitant, we said “make up your mind! There’s GW2 out there for casual players, there’s WoW, how are you going to make a difference and make some cash? You need to make it hard”. Boy, we weren’t trolling, but how naive of us as mere players to assume things that only someone who work in the gaming industry would know. And the devs, indeed, they listened to us too much and erred on the wrong side.

    I realized this in shock when some of the friends that I’ve played with, previous thought of as “decent players” and “hardcore raiders”, genuinely lost interest in the game due to repeated blow in their faces. Some of them even had wounded prided, kept on trying, got more wounded, and eventually came to terms with that defeat and decided “I’m not cut out for gaming afterall” and just took very long breaks from gaming period. That’s when I realized, wait a minute, that’s definitely NOT what I wanted, as no game should be punishing players that hard that they start to doubt their own capabilities. And the casuals, one soon realize how important the casuals are: without the casuals there won’t be ground for the hardcore to enjoy.

    It backfired majorly, not only to Carbine but to us beta fans. Most of us probably realized that we were to blame at least partially for it, and some of us like myself feel quite guilty about it. It was truly a great game in so many aspects, it still is. No one denies the level of polish, the innovations, the overall potential of this game. And it is not hard to imagine that if it has a large group of dedicated players, using its unique combat, PvP could be such skill-based epic experience. That if its 40 man raids and war plots had the population to take off, it would be amazing. That if the RPers were flourishing everywhere, with its settings/animations/graphics it could be so lively, not to mention housing.

    Everyone kept talking about “listen to your player base”, but Wildstar’s experience was at least a slap in the face to myself that no, please please please, stand your ground devs. Don’t listen to your player base THAT much. They meant well, but simply meaning well does not turn things out, they do not know what you know and they do not will what you will.

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