The Nexus Telegraph: What other MMOs should learn from WildStar’s demise

The final edition of our WildStar column. RIP, cupcake.

    
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It's right there.

The shutdown of WildStar stings in a way that other shutdowns haven’t. It’s hardly the first game I’ve covered closely that has stepped away to the land of wind and ghosts, but it’s the first one where my career pre-dated and post-dated its entire lifespan. From the first announcement of the game to the closure on Wednesday, it’s been a part of my professional life, and now it’s gone for good.

Of course, I’ve already written about why that affects me, just like I’ve already written about why it’s not so much a surprise that it’s shutting down as that it took this long to happen. So instead, I’d like to focus on the lesson other games can take away. Seriously, consider this the final message from this game, the equivalent of Javert leaving a note before throwing himself to his death. And while there are a lot of nuances to it, I can even sum it up in one line.

Know your actual audience and design for that because your dreams of the past are over.

Let’s make one thing clear here: WildStar’s shutdown is a death knell for raiding, or at least the antique MMO fantasy of the huge hyper-difficult raid as the be-all and end-all of the level cap. We have seen what the audience is for that, and it brought us here. Arguing otherwise is a game of trying to snipe at semantics or insist that the evidence doesn’t count. If there was ever a game that would have made this work, either by attracting that audience or developing its playerbase into that audience, it was this one.

Instead, it killed the game. The audience is not there. This is much like when World of Warcraft landed the final blow on the old declining EverQuest model of group-based leveling; while there may forever be people who prefer it, the vast majority of the audience isn’t going back to that when there are clear alternatives. People did not step up to raiding; they stepped out of the game altogether, and attempts to get people back into the game fell flat even as the developers scrambled to tune their end point for a smaller audience.

YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!

This is even more sad when you consider that WildStar as a concept actually did have an audience. There were a ton of people who were invested in the game’s visual character, lore, housing, path systems, and general go-your-own-way atmosphere. This audience didn’t leave because they weren’t on board with the game; they left because past a certain point (the level cap) the game no longer wanted them around.

And herein lies that central and all-important lesson. This was an avoidable tragedy. It was a case wherein the game could have capitalized on the audience it actually had and attracted, an audience of people whose desires were not being filled by other titles on the market. It wasn’t even as if there was a dearth of feedback; both gamers and journalists had been talking with some trepidation about the game’s hard-as-nails ideals from pretty much as soon as they were announced.

What we’ve heard from within the company backs this up, as well. Stories of designers being forced to throw things out in order to align with someone’s arbitrary vision, of large sections of the game being invented without any assurance that it could actually be implemented… there’s a general sense that much of the game was designed with an eye toward what some of the designers’ egos wanted, not what the community already popping up around the game wanted.

And a lot of it, I have no doubt, was married to nostalgic visions of what something meant to someone on the design team at some point in the past. There’s too much of that “hardcore” mentality shot through to avoid that.

It shows up elsewhere, though, in different ways. I was one of the people who really liked the idea of the tweet-quest, that you should be able to get a quest objective and description given to you in 140 characters or less. This is a very smart thing to do and avoids the possibility of huge chunks of poorly-written quest text. It’s a good idea!

YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO DESTROY THE SITH, NOT JOIN THEM!

And yet this extended beyond the useful part (making quests easy to understand and start working on) into savage reductionism. Instead of ensuring that quests could always be summarized by a tweet, quests were broken up violently into tweet-quest length… sometimes with insufficient elaboration in the process. It got so bad at one point early on that a story literally made sense only if you had read all of the quest text because the summary you got didn’t even explain why you were doing anything.

The story itself was good. But instead of designing for the audience the team had – an audience that wanted to explore this lore but also have the option to just get the quick version – they designed for an audience that was never going to read or care about the quest text, and thus sent the message that the players shouldn’t read it or care either. And people were annoyed.

So much effort was put into making every part of the game immediate and urgent that less was put into the slow parts. The action-based combat felt really good, but it was married to ability systems and talent systems that were hard to understand and you weren’t given the time to understand or explore. The game’s designers had an audience or two in their heads, but they never explained what that audience was supposed to be, and instead of acknowledging where that did or didn’t intersect with the actual audience in the game, they kept plowing onward.

And now it’s gone, and all it can do is serve as a similar font of information to the planet Nexus itself. You can’t save this title, but future designers can make sure they don’t make the same mistakes.

I LOVED YOU LIKE A BROTHER, ANAKIN!

Know your actual audience and design for that because your dreams of the past are over.

Your hardcore endgame is not going to fly because that is not going to attract new players. WoW gets away with it only due to already having critical mass, and even that’s proving contentious at this point. If your players want buckets of lore, focus on giving them that lore instead of courting the people who want less and just want to race through the game.

Yes, it’s a good thing to have diverse appeal, but there’s a difference between making sure that your game appeals to multiple player types and hurting your actual satisfied audience in favor of courting someone who doesn’t care about your game. You need to consider how much development effort is going to capturing different sorts of players and whether or not they’re resources well spent.

But above all else, you can’t make the game appealing to different sorts of people by making it a wildly different game at the top than it was through the rest of the experience. The people who are going to stick around to the top are then not going to be the people who actually get to see that endgame.

There’s lots of brilliant stuff in WildStar deserving widespread adoption, and it’s important to take away the right lessons from its ultimate failure. Its problems were not entirely confined to 40-person murder festivals at the level cap, but the philosophy that led to that is what caused a lot of the problems.

Get it through your head, designers. And have a cupcake.

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Shadex De'Marr

Lesson: Social Media is far more lethal than any design decision.

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Goettel

I loved its twitch combat and felt Wildstar was a ‘gamer’s MMO’, offering an experience not unlike playing an old NES game. The whole atmosphere, top drawer housing, the hoverboard, it could (and maybe should) have been a top choice for casual gamers who do like a challenge, but don’t like to run hours of content to get to the good bits. If world PvP had taken off as it could have (if it had offered any tangible rewards)… well, maybe that’s flogging a dead horse in itself. I enjoyed WS more than any current MMO, including my current (and well loved) home base, and I’ll remember it fondly.

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Cosmic Cleric

It was too hard it was to play, from a casual player standpoint (too many wipes, too many trash mobs in quest zones that take too long to kill, etc.).

Too many hardcore raiding concepts made it into the casual play part of the game, instead of staying in the raids, where they belong.

When people say it was too hardcore, they mean there was nothing but hardcore tuned content in the casual parts of the game while leveling, and no fulfilling casual content at endgame.

People don’t like to admit to failure, but honestly, it was just tuned for too hard to complete gameplay, for a recreational activity.

And this opinion comes from someone who enjoyed WoW Wrath-level heroric dungeons (with cc’ing, etc.).

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Jacobin GW

The raid keying/attunement process is what actually killed the PVE side.

A HUGE grind was required to even step into raids. This included beating all dungeons within a certain time limit (silver) and killing every world boss. Both of these were not really doable solo meaning guilds had to constantly ferry people around to fill spots.

Adding 20-40 hrs worth of hoops to jump through before you can even qualify was a nutty design choice in the current market.

The PVP side was a complete disaster. Warplots were barely functional, being rank 1799 vs 1800 was a MASSIVE power difference and there was really only 1 BG for a long time.

Arena was a complete joke that just turned into win trading in order to gear up for raids.

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sarna2

Originally, the attunement required GOLD for all dungeons. For people who don’t know what that meant, it means you had to
A. Beat the time limit
B. Complete several side objective quests
C. Kill several ‘optional bosses’
D. Do all of the above without anyone in the party dying once.

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keyvis

Original attunement required Silver not Gold, that is not so hard to get in context of raids difficulty… if you could not finish dungeons with Silver, you would not be useful in raids at that time anyway. When raids become easier (because of power-creep) attunement was changed to require Bronze medal only, that was basically finishing dungeon, as it was really hard to fail so hard (but still finish dungeon) to not even get Bronze (at that time).

There were serious problems with original attunement, yes… but dungeons part was not one of those problems.

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Robert Mann

Group centric content in a game that was solo to the end doesn’t work, tbh. If people level solo, they will generally aim to continue doing things solo.

Yes, many people prefer solo play. I really don’t find that to be a huge problem (excepting when any interaction with others becomes a problem, at which point I don’t think a game designed for that can be made such that the people who are socially inclined will also enjoy it, because the systems of the game itself will promote going it alone).

I think Wildstar’s raiding problem was in part this. It was also in part aiming at raiding with the minimal playerbase that actually raids (there really isn’t anything beyond group finder content on most games for dungeons/raids that is common anymore). However, I don’t know if that means there is not a big enough audience, so much that any attempt to focus on that audience needs to do so from the word go.

As a ‘world’ focused player, I can enjoy the combat centric games on occasion. I have enjoyed raiding before. However, it’s not where I am really focused, and getting me to stick with a game that aims at those things is not really possible, because I’m only there for the people I am playing with.

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James Crow

first of all lets be honest, the game launch as P2P and most of the game in the mmo industy just can’t do that.

the only 2 games that still runing as pure p2p are wow and final fantasy, so that was the first mistake.

* most of the games that going from p2p to f2p are shutting down.

now – the game was really fun, the combat was arcade and i dont think the graphic ever was the problem, it has great graphic just cartoonish – you dont see people saying why crash,mario,rachet are not realistic, right?

so as i see it it all was problem with how the company publish it:
1. P2P
2. F2P launch was full of problems (Twice)

i really think if wildstar was B2P with expansions every year this game could still be with us.

and the housing…here something every game need to learn how to do from wildstar.

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imayb1

I wholeheartedly agree. I liked beta, but I don’t feel a need to pay a subscription anymore when there are good B2P or F2P games out there I enjoy. When Wildstar when F2P, I tried to play… but I couldn’t get in for at least 2-3 days, so I stopped trying. I came back a couple of times because of big incentives, but it was easy to see the game’s many missteps and I didn’t want to make any time (or monetary) investments in it.

I did love the housing, though. Wildstar had fantastic housing with actual usefulness. I hope future games learn from this.

To Eliot’s main point: audience is very important. I think every paper I wrote for a class, the teacher said something to the effect of ‘know your audience’. It’s a simple and important lesson that Wildstar unfortunately didn’t learn.

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Ghalesh

If they would make a game just for raiding and big, hard group content, with a little leveling and dungeoning, well, I would be the happiest person in the world. The Wildstar had indeed an audience, just we are not that many. The Wildstar is a living proof that the kids nowadays don’t want hard and rewarding content where you have fight to achieve it. And sadly it means that the MMO genre is dying. The future will be that a very small group of people will play these games.

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Bruno Brito

Lol. This is a really naive argument. MMOs shouldn’t be all about endgame. They never were. They never should be. The entire reason why MMOs are “dying” is because of how costly they are vs who they cater to, and companies realized too late that the casual players pay their bills.

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James Crow

thats why i stoped playing mmos.
the “rewarding content” just removed or wasnt exist.

now the games are more about shop and skins, no more “do this hard content to get this armor”
-you want this skin? pay $$ or worse: pay for loot skin box.
and its not just mmo, look at fronite for example, the players simple playing the same game over and over again and get… nothing.

right now i’m playing Destiny only because it have this rewarding system even for low level maps.

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Fair Mores

I enjoyed the game as it was when i first played it. I only stopped because I was waiting for the story to progress. Unfortunately the conflict between devs and so called “mmo fans” left the game nearly abandoned by both. So there would be no future lore in the game.

I dont know what MMO devs can learn, I dont know if the majority of “mmo fans” can learn. But I will say that from now on, when possible, I will financially support the mmos I feel deserve to exist.

SirUrza
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SirUrza

“Know your actual audience and design for that…”

I’m not sure that’s the lesson that should be taken. I think the lesson like many failed MMOs is to “Communicate clearly to your audience what your design and intention is.” Games build an audience based on what the devs are showing and saying. If the devs allow the audience to believe something false about the game it’s the devs fault for not correcting it.

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Utakata

I wish NCSoft learns that when focusing on games that makes them money, there is nothing wrong in keeping a game or two that’s not on life support for a more altruistic state. Especially if the returns on their other games are successful for their bottom lines. So what is the harm then what is the harm in keeping WildStar alive if they plan on really doing nothing else with it? You know, maintenance mode…

…because that seems what Cryptic/Perfect World did with Champions Online. Another failed out of the starting gate MMO that flubbed horribly that’s still kicking around after 9 years. And you’d think NC would of learned this from setting City of Heroes. While it may not have drawn in the money they would of liked, keeping it alive would of been priceless for their PR and their games’ fanbases. Just saying.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

The one time they tried that the studio they hired to keep CoH afloat allegedly used the money they were given to maintain the MMO to try to build something else entirely.

When does NCSoft shutter a game? In pretty much every instance it’s when they disassociate from the game’s managing studio. Should they have a division to park old games? Probably but having been burned before I understand how reluctant they are.

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Duane_Does_not_check_email

Plasma John, you are quoting unsubstantiated crap about COH developers.

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Utakata

Not that my pigtails are wanting to be impolite about this, but I concur. I would like to see some citation provided about this, Mr. Plasma. At least to see a window into these claims and allegations and where they are coming from.

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Utakata

Thanks for posting those. Though just to be clear, I wasn’t asking you for them. Rather Mr. Plasma, who was making the original assertions. :)

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Bruno Brito

I don’t know if a east based company who were proven already to not enjoy catering to the west is worried about their PR here.