It’s been over a month since WildStar kicked its game — and business model — into high gear with the Reloaded update. Since then we’ve had many highs and lows, from ecastatic waves of players returning to hardware issues of all kinds.
One thing I can say for certain: It’s been the most interesting month to be a WildStar player since its original launch back in spring 2014. I have hope, real hope, that the game has a future now, and I’m mostly excited about everything I’ve seen and experienced since free-to-play happened.
I thought it would be a good time to look back over the month and touch on what Carbine did right, where it slipped, and what should happen as WildStar heads into 2016.
Free (to attempt) to play
Let’s start with what was probably the worst part of the free-to-play transition, which was the shocking lack of preparation to handle the influx of players. The first week after Reloaded was a complete mess in almost every way that mattered: The queues were hideous, lag was omnipresent, and bugs from the ambitious scope of the patch put a damper in many players’ day.
There’s no doubt that the studio worked incredibly hard to fix the barrage of problems, staying long hours and opening up new servers to relieve stress. But my patience was worn thin after two days of this madness, and it was at least a week until the game was stable enough to be playable for any stretch of time. That’s a terrible first impression to make for a curious crowd, and while it’s all settled down since then, I wince to think of how many potential players Carbine lost during that period of time.
What was clear to me is that the hardware that was in place — the so-called “megaservers” that were not nearly as flexible as those seen in, say, Carbine’s sister company ArenaNet — was not up for the job. And this should have been identified and dealt with before the transition, not after. Even today we still have those extra servers that will need to be merged back at some point in the future.
(For the record, Massively OP sent questions in to Carbine about this and have not been answered.)
With that aside, I’m glad to report that the content of the update was dynamite. On multiple fronts it shored up some of the game’s weaker points and made it a lot more accessible to the casual, normal crowd. WildStar is a more enjoyable game thanks to the update, and I particularly liked the stat changes, daily login rewards, the overhaul of runecrafting, and all of the housing additions.
Even better, the business model hasn’t left a bad taste in my mouth. WildStar boasts a superb example of how to create a free-to-play model that is generous in what it gives away while pursuing revenue streams that aren’t pushy or annoying. The store is awesome, and I know I’m not the only one who’s actually excited to see new costumes and items appear on it.
Being able to save up omnibits to buy most anything in the store (save fortune coins) makes the store offerings palpable, and virtually none of it is “must have” for completely free players. Actually, my main complaint with the business model is that there feels like there’s very little reason to actually subscribe. What you get with subscriptions is quite paltry (mostly just bonuses to XP and crafting, along with extra auction slots) and I’ve heard a lot of players clamoring for Carbine to throw in some Ncoins to sweeten the deal.
Personally, I don’t see subbing ever again unless I want to blow some platinum on CREDD. I’d rather give money to the game for specific purchases, which I have already done.
Carbine kept the excitement level high by activating not one, but two events soon after Reloaded: Shade’s Eve and the zPrix Hoverboard Invitational. Let’s talk about each.
Shade’s Eve should have come last year but Carbine held off due to… reasons. So it was great to finally see what a WildStar Halloween would be like, and I was not disappointed. The capital cities were drenched in atmosphere and decorations, and the new Quiet Downs dungeon was really neat to do (at least the first five times). I ran out of interest in grinding the dungeon and doing daily quests after a few days, but it was nice to have the change of pace.
It was pretty hilarious to see a bug turn off Shade’s Eve on Halloween morning, of all times. People were freaking the heck out in general chat, although I found it more funny than annoying. At least everyone got an extra day of the event out of it!
I’m really stunned that Carbine decided to run a second event, the invitational, right alongside Shade’s Eve. I guess it felt that it needed to in order to capitalize on Back to the Future Day, but geez, it was a lot at once. The invitational was quite cool: three nifty tracks that repurposed existing zones for “races.” I put races in quotes like that because you weren’t actually racing against anything; you could spend an hour doing a track and still get the same reward, since you didn’t have a time limit or had to beat a player. Even so, the tracks were very well-designed and as a hoverboard lover I was really grooving with all the jumps and scenery.
My main gripe from all of this came from how Carbine tied the cash shop to the events. There were a few big-ticket pricey items suddenly offered once the events began: a haunted house FABkit (basically a second instanced house), a LeDorian hoverboard, and a huge Shade’s Eve mount. The problem here is that all of the items were too expensive for anyone to have saved up omnibits to buy at this point, and with the price tag involved (~$20), it was shocking to see that each item was only given to a single character instead of a person’s entire account.
At least the studio relented a little with the issue of the haunted house being lost if a character decided to repurpose that plug. Now the house is reusable on that character. Maybe we can chalk all of this up to the studio feeling out how much it can get away with in regard to its special offerings, but it did feel a little scummy (especially the hoverboard — which Carbine used in promotions — being available only via the cash shop with no advance notice that this would be the case).
I think Carbine deserves praise for pulling off two slick events that had a lot of new activities to explore and fun rewards to be enjoyed. It’s made me quite excited to see what’s coming with Protostar’s winter event later this year.
Yes, there are lessons the studio should be taking away from its missteps over the past month, but all in all, I am having a blast in the game because of what’s been added to it, and I think we’re seeing a corporate attitude of caring more about what the players truly do want instead of what the studio says they should want.
Now just get us our housing neighborhoods already!