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WildStar Interviews: Winter Beta Progress Report

By William Murphy on November 27, 2013

WildStar’s Winter Closed Beta has been rolling along now for a few weeks, and we pulled Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney out of the game his busy work schedule to chat about the progress Carbine is making, what the good and bad feedback has been on the beta so far, and when we can expect the floodgates to open and let loose thousands more testers into the fray. Plus, Jeremy may or may not have let slip a detail or two on the final two classes. Read on and find out for yourself.

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Currently, the beta is mostly a technical test for stability and general feedback.  For the Winter test, they brought back the original beta users (10 to 13K) and then gently seeded in another one thousand, plus two buddy keys for each of the new users’ friends (3K more people in total added so far). They’ve been adding even more each week and will do so through early December. Then, if all goes well and the server stability and gameplay feedback is where they want it... they’ll release the hounds and let in tens of thousands more players.  What’s more is that early December is also when they will begin letting the Press in to cover about levels one to fifteen.  They’d love to completely pull the lid off of the NDA, but they have some final additions to the game before it’s ready to do just that, so for now the first bits we’ll be allowed to report on are the first 15 levels or so (which gives access to things like hoverboards, crafting, housing, and early dungeons as well so there’s plenty to explore).

There was a break in the beta, Jeremy said, and during the off months the team pulled in all of the feedback and seriously tweaked the areas that the testers believed needed the most work.  They overhauled the combat to speed up pacing.  They added new and more detailed telegraphs, and overall prettier visuals to make the skills and abilities feel more impactful. They also made the gameplay harder in some ways, and easier in others.  For WildStar the key is to make the systems easy to pick up, but deep and varied and layered (hard to master). 

In the game right now for testers are all of the classes, all abilities (30-odd for each), all the tradeskills, battlegrounds, arenas, and even the raids and warplots are undergoing their first pass at internal testing ahead of general beta testing. They’ve tweaked the housing system since the summer tests, and think it’s in a really good spot now.  Housing opens up for players at level 12, but one thing they’re juggling is whether it’s easy to get started with it, or if it’s just not accessible because it’s off the beaten path right now.  The really low-level tutorial-esque zones are now in too (level one to three), with the background info on the story and gameplay mechanics.  There are starting areas for each race in the game, and while you can only start in your own faction’s zones WildStar has made it so that when you hit the end of the starting tutorial, you’ll be able to choose whatever racial starting area you prefer.  You’re encouraged to pick your own racial area, but if you want to be a Chua playing in the Cassian starting zone, you certainly can. 

We asked Jeremy how the feedback has been so far. And more importantly, how’s the retention? In the beta weekend tests right now, they keep the servers up all weekend and then bring them down on Monday. The team then uses a variety of channels to guide players to the beta forums to post feedback on any number of topics.  The devs answer in real time, take notes, and interact with the community.  In turn, what they’ve found is this really brings in a huge amount of feedback, because it’s “directed” for a certain day, and really gets the discussion going on the build throughout the week. 

 

But Jeremy said Carbine’s also actively tracking engagement with WildStar, or rather “Is the game sticking with people?” as any company would do during beta. How many people make it through that tutorial into the massive open world and key levels of the game? How many come back for more? To get through the main tutorial for a first time player, it’ll probably take a user between two and four hours, and most likely two or more play sessions.  If the game can hold them and keep them coming through that, that’s a good sign. Most players, especially in beta, don’t stick to a product like that.  That poke their heads in, look around, and decide pretty quickly if the game’s their cup of tea or not.

So where’s WildStar land in that measurement? Roughly 80% of its players have played multiple hours at a time, and come back across each weekend for multiple return sessions. We’d have to get numbers out of another developer, but Jeremy says this is really high for engagement returns.  The normal number on other NCsoft and Turbine games he said was somewhere in the 50% area.  Instead with WildStar, the team’s seeing really engaged players which is obviously very encouraging to the team. 

They knew they were turning the corner in development and “fun factor” when employees playing the game stopped having to be told to play it for certain amounts of time a day. Instead, there are now office-wide rules that force employees to not play too much during work hours.  When the people that are devoting their lives to a game’s creation can’t stop playing, Jeremy thinks that’s a good sign and everyone is getting the “spark” that they’re onto something special now.

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