Posted in WildStar

Why WildStar failed

This month, former WildStar lead Stephan Frost posted an epically long Twitter thread about what he saw as a sad and frustrating “flat circle” of MMO development. It certainly was an interesting behind-the-scenes read about the struggle and race to get a functioning MMO out the door while building up (and keeping) a critical mass of players. He doesn’t seem very optimistic it can be done.

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines here that he’s primarily speaking of WildStar as the inspiration for this post. I think what rankles me — and others who read this — is that while many of his points are true, Frost was leaving out a whole lot of personal and studio blame for why MMOs (again, primarily WildStar) fail. He makes it sound like it was out of his hands, just a tragedy of a lack of funds and time.

But that’s certainly not the full story of the late Carbine’s MMORPG. WildStar is beloved to this day because it did a whole lot amazingly well — housing, animations, outfits, choice, races, vivid NPCs, marketing, holidays, and so on. However, all of this was severely hamstrung by issues that went far above and beyond what he talked about in his pity party post.

If I had to sum up, here’s what I see what helped WildStar to fail:

  1. It was clearly marketed and angled to the casual set — until you got to “elder game” when it switched up to be a brutal, take-no-prisoners romp. Even your standard dungeons were too tough and too frustrating for many players. Nobody appreciated this switcharoo.
  2. In fact, too many Carbine devs had it in their heads that we all WANTED hardcore design. Which wasn’t the scene then nor the scene now. So the raids and PvP warzones ended up appealing to very few people despite lots of resources going into them.
  3. It launched without a free-to-play or buy-to-play option and switched to F2P far too late. I remember interviewing Frost at PAX one year, incredulously asking why Carbine was pushing out a subscription-only MMO in this market. Carbine wasn’t worried, he said. Until Carbine wasn’t Carbine.
  4. There was a serious lack of cooperation and cohesion between WildStar dev teams, resulting in half-baked systems (i.e., Paths) that seemed more designed by committee than the result of a focused vision. Too much of the game was all over the place.
  5. For a story-driven experience, the standard method of quest delivery — the “Tweet-sized” quest chat — was terrible to relay narrative. Again, here’s a great example of how the studio was all over the place. It wanted to tell this amazing mystery with all of these woven threads… and it hamstrung itself from being able to effectively do so.

We could also argue that scifi is simply harder to market in this genre, although that wasn’t Carbine’s fault past choosing to go that route in the first place.

Frost made it sound like WildStar and other MMOs are simply doomed by the complexity of design and the difficulty of their construction, but we know from actual MMO history that isn’t true. Plenty made it out of the gate and continue to run profitably to this day. So perhaps it’s not a circle at all. Perhaps it was a bad trip with a lot of critical miscalculations along the way.

6 thoughts on “Why WildStar failed

  1. WildStar also suffered from “just enough content” syndrome. As I recall, I had a choice of 2 starting zones and then one zone for each level band after that. It was fairly quick and painless to get a character to level cap, but then with an unappealing hardcore endgame and nothing new to see whilst playing an alt, I (and a lot of other players) decided I was done with the game.

  2. For me, one of the strongest factors mitigating against long-term play was something that rarely gets mentioned – the color palette. WildStar was a beautiful game in many ways but it was just hard to look at for extended periods. The vivid, clashing colors gave me eyestrain more than any other mmorpg i’ve ever played. Even if it had been the game I wanted to play for hour after hour i wouldn’t have been able to do it.

  3. I agree to all of your points and would like to add some more:
    – Permanent “all volume at 10” gameplay, seeming to always push you forward and give you no time to breathe. Sure, you could go slower, but the game would permanently tell you that you are doing it wrong. That’s no fun.

    – All the crowbared in “now this is funny, you have to laugh now” humor. Which due to the pacing of the game never was fine and tasteful, but always on the lowest level. And as thus, quite often not even funny.

    – Personal taste: i also found none of the classes interesting. It felt like anything really making them special was taken away in favour of the “louder and faster” mentality going through the whole game.

    This added up to a rather exhausting and not fun gameplay experience. Mind you, i only spent two or three evenings in that game before i uninstalled again, but merely being able to drive me away in such a short time happens rarely…

  4. Some excellent points in the post and the comments. It certainly had a huge amount of potential, if only the owners had planned for the longer term. Games can launch with problems and recover if they can keep the faith of the playerbase, and their backers long enough. It was too brash, though very polished. The paths could have developed into something really special with some patches or in a first expansion.

    The twitter-text for quests was a particular bugbear of mine, it made it really hard to focus on the story. I believe this was one of those MMOs where the NPCs voiced stuff other than what the quest text accompanying the voice-over dialogue? This made it even more confusing since the quest text was as short as the spoken soundbites.

    The just enough content comment was spot-on as well. The fewer leveling paths there are, the less motivated I am to level alts, which means I’m less likely to be long-term engaged.

  5. As the one MMO that disappeared while I was playing, just hearing it mentioned makes me sad. I wasn’t a hardcore player by any means, dropping in every few weeks but feel some guilt that if I’d played more it might have survived, as ridiculous as that sounds.

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