Last week, when we heard that WildStar was being shut down, I penned a truthful, heartfelt eulogy for the game as it could’ve been. I talked about how its loss is a shame, a tragedy that could have been avoided. There’s so much imagination on display in the game, so many elements of it that I love, so much of the game that deserves to be memorialized and held up as worthy of emulation.
You’ll note that none of those statements implies that the shutdown is wrong.
There’s an interesting perspective that crops up when things like this happen, as we see in the petition urging a stay of execution for the game – the idea that this is a conflict in which we (the players) are on the side of Good, and the company shutting the game down is on the side of Evil. More than most similar scenarios, though, WildStar provides a clear illustration of the reality. It’s a sad fact, but it’s not an unexpected one, and it’s not something that comes out of nowhere.
Let’s start with a statement that should not, at face value, be controversial: NCsoft gave WildStar more chances than the game had actually earned. It had a huge number of opportunities to take off, despite the fact that it only had one period of success, and that was when it launched.
The game did, in fact, have a solid launch! But nothing else worked out well. It didn’t retain players well. It didn’t age well. Leveling up did not result in more people singing its praises but in more people leaving. Its updates weren’t well-received. The general consensus over time was that it just kept doing worse, not better. And when changes finally did come around, to the subscription model and to mechanics, all of that was a result of NCsoft giving the team more space and time to find a working formula.
Compare this with a hypothetical indie version of Carbine. There wouldn’t have been anything left by the time the game finally went free-to-play. It wouldn’t have even been able to try that approach amidst declining revenue.
For two years now, we’ve been collectively wondering when the game was going to shut down, for reasons I actually touched upon in the aforementioned eulogy. NCsoft may be shutting it down, but the fact of the matter is that the game wouldn’t have had so many chances at life if it hadn’t been getting that backing in the first place.
It’s why the odds of the petition to save the game are pretty much zero. Fans already supported the game. Enthusiasm for the game from the people who already like it is a known fact. And as cold as it sounds, in this particular case, that doesn’t much matter. Everyone already knows that the people who like this game like this game; the problem is that Carbine isn’t going to make another game, and the existing one doesn’t have the revenue to justify keeping people around.
Yes, some games can keep running in maintenance mode on a skeleton crew, like Guild Wars and Final Fantasy XI. These are also titles that both succeeded in making money and have parent studios working on other successful titles. That isn’t the case for every configuration.
No gamers really want to hear that a game they enjoy is being shut down because it doesn’t make enough money. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to be eulogizing WildStar. But I also spent the past two years not being in a position where I already had half of the eulogy written out in my head – because I liked what the game had on display!
In other words, I’m biased in favor of this game. And when you look at the actual facts, yeah, this makes sense. It’s a title we all knew was living on borrowed time, and most of the hope for the future came from the idea that Carbine still had something in the works. Once that fell apart, so did this idea.
It’s comforting to paint NCsoft as a villain for the decision, just because it’s comfortable to paint it as a villain for another title I loved that the publisher shut down. The closure of City of Heroes did, in fact, come as a huge surprise to pretty much everyone. [Editor’s note: When the first tip about CoH came in, our news team honestly thought it was a troll. Then the second one arrived.] I wrote a eulogy for that, too. Yes, the game was still making a profit, it was still a good game, it still had a respectable playerbase, all of that. But was it making enough money to justify the costs of Paragon’s second game? And was NCsoft justified in axing the whole studio for being in the red, even if the game was in the black?
The meta discussion about the rationale (ranging from shoring up costs on a macro level for ArenaNet’s development to other corporate antics) is shot through with a whole lot of rumors and speculation and anonymous sources from Paragon, and it’s not worth dredging it all up again. But what I do know is that it wasn’t a decision made on a whim just because NCsoft hadn’t shut down a game for a few months and the company’s trigger finger was itchy. The company made a decision, and while it might have been a bad long-term investment (something I also wrote about at the time) it wasn’t done out of malice. You may not agree with the corporate reason, but it did exist.
“Oh, so you’re saying we shouldn’t be sad these things are gone?” Heck no! That’d be ridiculous. But there’s a difference between being sad that something is happening (WildStar is shutting down) and feeling that it’s wrong. It’s not just someone running through a server farm and switching things off whilst cackling with glee.
Instead, the questions to be asked here are whether or not the game had its chances to shine. Whether or not it was given the backing, the resources, and the marketing necessary to catch people. It’s important to ask if people knew this game existed and if it had a real chance to take off. And looking at WildStar? It did.
Why didn’t it take off? Hey, I wrote a whole eulogy about why it didn’t take off. But it had its support and all the chances and time in the world. Failing to do so is not exactly a shock under the circumstances, and it doesn’t make the company which packed it through all of its fumbles leading up to that point a villain. I’m sure we can all think of at least one company that would have shut it down long before the free-to-play conversion without ever giving it marketing or development support.
That’s important for every game, I think. Asking about the reasons and the surrounding motivations are important. There are always reasons going into a shutdown, and while you may disagree with them, it’s also because your perspective is not that of someone on the corporate side. There’s always a reason why things shut down, and they may be bad reasons, but they’re still there.
So rather than demonizing the people responsible for the shutdown, ask about why it’s happening. Ask about why this game – which, as previously discussed, had lots of things worth admiring – reached a point wherein we have to have this discussion. For that matter, ask about whether or not that part could have been prevented.
Yes, it’s sad WildStar is shutting down. It’s a tragedy. It’s also not exactly surprising, and it comes after the game had every chance in the world to survive.