Here we are in October, sandwiched between WildStar’s F2P conversion and Guild Wars 2’s Heart of Thorns launch, and it seems as if we’re getting some very mixed messages from the MMO industry with these titles.
WildStar went F2P as a result of flagging sales and plummeting subscriptions, brought on — if you ask the commentariat — by the game’s insistent focus on hardcore, endgame raiding to the near-exclusion of other content. Today’s more well-rounded WildStar isn’t very much like what launched in 2014, presumably having learned that lesson.
Guild Wars 2, on the other hand, will introduce with its expansion tomorrow a brand-new raiding scene, and a particularly challenging one at that.
So what’s the deal here? Is ArenaNet out of touch or calculatedly gambling for a niche it doesn’t already have? Is raiding over or on the way back? Let’s talk about the state and importance of MMO raiding in 2015 for this week’s Massively Overthinking.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’ve said before that I feel as if I’ve long since done my time raiding in EverQuest and World of Warcraft, and I’m over it. I can appreciate that it exists for those people who aren’t over it, but I resent how it consumes endgames and themeparks and allows studios a cheap design element at the expense of hundreds of other gameplay types and playstyles. Obsession with raiding gameplay is one of the problems holding back our genre.
This is why I was surprised to see WildStar double-down on hardcore raiding in 2014 after initially promoting more well-rounded, even sandboxy offerings, and this is why I have been mind-boggled to see Guild Wars 2 glom onto raiding with this expansion — again at the expense of other content, in this case, dungeons. GW2 in particular provides such an innovative platform for unconventional, mass PvE that raiding scarcely seems necessary. I would like to imagine that ArenaNet is simply throwing a bone to the raid community that has until now boycotted it, but regardless, the shift in focus disturbs me and makes me suspect that Heart of Thorns will feel like a very different game, not just an extension of the GW2 from 2012 that I genuinely enjoyed.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): If I knew what ArenaNet was thinking with Guild Wars 2, I’d probably be working there – but my suspicion is that this is a move based more off of a desire for stronger player retention, seeing as how the game hasn’t done a spectacular job of fixing the fact that its dungeons are still absurdly disjointed messes of spam. (How will raiding in GW2 be like a Monty Python sketch? It’ll be spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam, and spam.) Fixing that retention problem is arguably a different discussion that’s far beyond the scope of this particular article, but suffice it to say that it’s a move based off of holdover thinking rather than the current market.
As I’ve said before, I’m fairly certain that the idea of “raids are an endgame pinnacle” will be something we look back on in several years in the same light as open PvP, a bad habit that the industry fell into that didn’t really enhance anything. Raids are fine as an endgame option, but as the endgame they fall short, as WildStar found out to its detriment. The players who wanted to join the game because of its message that you could play as you want far outstripped the number of people willing to slam their collective foreheads against crushingly difficult content, and WildStar further doubled down by making content that made even old-school World of Warcraft raiding look particularly tame. Not everyone is interested in that, and making it an expected endpoint doesn’t work out in the long run.
Will GW2’s plan work? I don’t know, but a lot will depend on whether or not the game treats raiding as “here is a thing you can do” or “here is the thing you must do.” If it’s the former, I see it working out well enough for the players interested in it. If it’s the latter… well, I don’t have high hopes.
Jef Reahard (@jefreahard): I don’t have a dog in the raiding fight. I don’t think it’s over nor is it on the way back. It’s just one endgame option that your title should offer if you dare to call it an MMORPG. It shouldn’t be the only endgame option, but it should be one of many including consequential PvP, city-building, politics, meaningful crafting and a related economy, and both group and solo PvE of the developer-directed and player-made-content variety. And hey, if your MMO doesn’t do all those things and many more, it’s not Star Wars Galaxies now is it?
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I never claim clairvoyance when it comes to ArenaNet. As I’ve said on the podcast many times, that studio’s often playing by its own rules and in its own little universe (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Did the game need raids? Nope. It already had large-scale open world boss fights and other massive group activities, but its instanced content — its group dungeons — were a hot mess of stacking and speed runs and a painful absence of the holy trinity.
Personally, I think raiding was introduced in this expansion to put another bullet point on the feature list, full stop. I actually previously admired the studio for declaring its game to be raid-free and more focused on casual gameplay, but I guess that’s not the direction it’s heading these days.
Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): Large-group, endgame content has almost always been a part of MMORPGs. I think the key issue with raiding is balance. The game can’t be all about raiding or you eliminate about 90% of your player base, but you can’t ignore the 10% who like it or the others that might get into raiding if it was accessible. I believe conceptually that GW2 and WildStar are on the right track, and hopefully, both games will see success in those areas.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I think there will always be a core crowd of players who want to raid, but I do not think that every game needs raiding! This goes back to the fallacy that all games need to be all things to all people. I’d much rather a game pulls in a dedicated crowd that loves what it has to offer instead of trying to offer everything just to pull in a few more numbers; you tend to lose people who loved what the game represented to start with. Yes, raiding is a thing, but it doesn’t need to be everywhere. And I personally think that raiding is one of the harder features to keep up on in development; after all, hardcore raiders consume that content voraciously and are always hungry for more.