Teamwork is essential for a successful MMO. Whether it’s forming squads to take down the toughest challenges, or shepherding a studio to deliver on-time, a strong group is pivotal. With a sizeable chunk of gamers going solo, Gareth Harmer looks at how WildStar is encouraging the multiplayer side.
There’s been a theme in all the noises coming from Carbine this week. For all the talk about adventuring in a huge virtual world, or uncovering an incredible story that unravels as we play, it’s easy to forget why we play MMOs – interacting with hordes of other players on a truly massive scale.
And yet it’s an area that rarely gets consideration. Take a single player campaign, tack on a couple of dungeons and some battlegrounds and bam: instant MMO. The fact that we desert the game almost as rapidly as we joined is because there’s nothing to keep us playing once the adventure is complete. No social bonds or ties of loyalty. Done, done and I’m onto the next one.
Which is why it’s refreshing to see WildStar loaded up with social systems that encourage us to play together, rather than compete for every scrap of Nexus. Sure, there’ll be raids, battlegrounds and even housing, but that’s just the tip of a heap of social features. Think of it as an iceberg that just wants to hug you.
The Nexus Social Club
When it comes to building social systems, Carbine has a basic principle: make them opt-in, but reward players for doing so. Group up with other players in the big world or elsewhere, and earn Renown as a reward currency. There are other clever decisions that also encourage group play, such as open mob tagging. An early zone even includes a world boss – Metal Maw – that can be taken down with a rag-tag army of level 10 characters.
To keep in contact with all those friends you make on your journeys, WildStar includes standard friends list features, including the ability to add an entire account rather than just a single character. That friends list also works cross-realm helping you to keep in contact with those who roll characters elsewhere. You can even choose to play with them – as long as it’s in an instance.
But it’s the latest news on Guilds that has me really excited. WildStar’s guilds will have all the standard features (I never realised that a guild bank and setting taxes were expected these days), but they also called out three new features. Gone are the scraps of cloth that some call tabards, and in are space-age holograms that float in the air around you. Ans yes, you can customize the hologram (just like you can customize a ton of other stuff in WildStar).
Guilds also have their own currency – Influence – that can be spent on a huge mix of temporary bonuses and permanent benefits. But there’s an important distinction here – influence is earned faster when the guild works together. It means that those mega-guilds full of strangers will grow slower, while a small guild of close friends will surge up in perks. That’s not only smart, but it should break down some of those cores and cliques that existed in other games.
Incredible Shrinking Group
If there’s one thing that’s annoyed me about other MMOs, it’s the enforced group sizes. 5-player dungeons are great when you have everyone you need but, when you’re short a Chua or two, there’s a stark choice between throwing yourself on the mercy of LFG, or giving up completely. Luckily, WildStar offers two options – restrict LFG to your own server, or try something else: shiphand missions.
With Captain Milo asking me to shuttle off-world it certainly feels like I’m entering an instance, but there’s a couple of important differences. Firstly, shiphands are a much shorter experience, weighing in at around 20 minutes to complete. More importantly though, they automatically scale to the number of players in your group, from a solo flyer to a squad of 5. I grabbed a friend and headed into space as a duo, complete with funky space helmets. And low gravity.
This particular mission was about investigating a mining asteroid that had suddenly gone dark, with rumours of a parasite infestation. Cue dark corridors, flashlights and eerie noises as we explored a spookier side of Carbine’s creation. It even contained a couple of mini bosses – a pirate gangleader trying to steal Milo’s precious cargo, and the evil Parasite Queen. Overall, it’s a fun and rewarding experience, but nice and pocket-sized - I can see this working nicely as a warm-up to a night of dungeon running or raiding. It also makes an excellent training ground, with the first shiphand missions starting at level 12.
According to Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney, this fluid small-group play is something that Carbine’s taking a closer look at, particularly with how it works in the open world. In a post on Reddit, he described how them team is batting around a few ideas to make it more challenging. There are no promises here (don’t forget, WildStar does have to launch sometime) but it’s comforting to know that it’s on the table.
Even beyond this, it’s clear that Carbine lives and breathes social. Design Producer Stephan Frost shared his own insight into what it’s like to keep an MMO on track, making sure that milestones are met while increasing the fun. And as a thanks to the community fansites that have been following WildStar for so long, Carbine chose to partner with them across the world to launch its first beta key giveaways. There are still keys to be had, so be sure to check them out!
My only hope is that it all pays off; in creating an MMO with tight social bonds – both in and out of the game – it ends up building a playerbase that sticks around for the long haul. But I have a good feeling that it just might do it.
Gareth Harmer / Gareth Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.