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Learning from WildStar

Som Pourfarzaneh Posted:
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When it first launched, WildStar was met with a mix of praise and criticism from press and players alike.  Over time, Carbine Studios’ game has come under fire for a variety of issues, ranging from low server populations to deferred update schedules.  It’s quite possible that the phenomenal amount of hype for the game resulted in its initial acclaim, which tends to happen with large scale AAA titles.  It’s also not inconceivable that we gamers are a fickle bunch, and are a bit too quick to criticize a product that we praised when it was the new hotness.

I know I’m not the only one out there who’s still playing WildStar, and I can’t be the only one who still likes it.  I’ve been covering the game since before Beta, and while I don’t think Carbine has delivered on all of their pre-release promises, WildStar still suits my fancy as a casual player, and has enough character to keep me coming back for more.  I’m not insensitive to the very valid critiques leveled against it, however, and think that there are several things that we can learn from WildStar’s features and implementation.

Better Lots of Things for Someone than Something for Everyone

It’s fair to say that WildStar has spread itself a bit too thin by trying to offer something for everyone in the content department.  I think Carbine did a pretty good job with having enough stuff to do in the release product, but creating a definitive direction for the post-launch game has got to have been like wrestling an octopus.  With each update, it’s clear that they’re doing their best to serve the interests of casual players, raiders, and PvPers alike, but doing all of that, with a relatively small team and an intense update schedule, is a herculean task.  It runs the risk of making everyone either only a little bit happy or peeved at how long it takes for them to get their preferred type of content.  Plus, I don’t think Carbine contended with how demanding raid attunement can be and how passé are 40-person raids for most players.

Learning from this scenario, I think it would do developers well to focus their efforts towards a particular subpopulation, rather than trying to cater to everyone.  With the resources that Carbine has at its disposal, I would like to see them choose a direction for WildStar and stick with it.  As it stands, the game lacks a strong sense of gameplay identity.  Is it a theme park with tons of questing content for casuals?  I suppose.  The be all and end all for PvP?  Not exactly.  The latest big playground for raiders?  It has a lot of that.  But what exactly is WildStar?

Even World of Warcraft, the clearest thematic and design comparison to WildStar, has had to keep up some kind of focus for its player base, only just recently making a concession to something as hotly demanded as player housing, with garrisons.  It would be great to see Carbine pick a direction for their game - even an unpopular one - and stick to it until the time is right to expand in other directions.

Server Scalability is Key

Full disclosure: I don’t have a technical background, and am only peripherally aware of what it takes to get a product as large as an MMORPG onto the interwebs and stable enough for hundreds of thousands of people to connect to (a joke about hamsters on wheels seems appropriate here).  I do know that it’s a monumental enterprise, and requires a ton of moving pieces and team members, often in diverse locations, to work together and keep the servers up and running.

One issue that seems to have come up time and again with MMO launches is that of server scalability.  We keep seeing games release with the pattern of having too few realms, adding servers when people start complaining about queues, and then having to do merges a couple of months down the line when the launch crowd moves to another title.  Even knowing how this process plays out, it’s hard to avoid the negative press afforded by server merges, and the implication that a game’s community is dwindling, even if it’s really just normalizing to a natural equilibrium.

Overflow servers, such as those used in Guild Wars 2, seem to be the most elegant solution for this scenario, although again, I have no idea what it takes to implement this or how feasible it is.  It would seem that the devs would have to build out their game with this option in mind from the get-go, rather than trying to overhaul everything post-launch, but this foresight could be a great way to forestall any issues regarding server overpopulation - or worse, underpopulation.

There Is Such a Thing As Too Many Things to Do

A common sentiment among the staffers here at MMORPG.com during WildStar’s launch was that although it was nice to have a variety of activities in the game, there was simply too much

information coming at you at any given time.  After the first fifteen levels or so, it’s possible to get used to all of the quest popups, path information, and other user interface tooltips, but it’s still difficult to not feel bombarded by all of the input you get when you reach a new zone.

I think this information overload stems from the same design philosophy of trying to provide something for everyone.  Especially throughout the early levels, the game wants you to know that you can queue for PvP, build your own house, craft, explore your path, collect lore items, take on challenges, and pursue a zillion quests (which are themselves split up into episodes, tasks, adventures, and so on).  The result is a sizeable learning curve that is not insurmountable, but no less overwhelming.

It would be ludicrous to complain that WildStar has too many activities, because who doesn’t like having more content?  Perhaps the issue here is in the presentation of everything that the game has to offer, which could be further streamlined.  The user interface was certainly overhauled over the course of Beta, but it would make sense for the devs to gate content a bit more deliberately to allow you to get accustomed to all of the different systems more naturally, at least with your first character.

As I mentioned, I like WildStar, and although it’s not perfect, it’s fun and funny enough for me to keep playing.  There’s a lot to learn from the game’s design and implementation, which can hopefully help Carbine respond positively to criticism and serve as lessons for future titles as well.

What do you think can be learned from WildStar, in terms of things it does right and things it needs to change?


Som Pourfarzaneh

Som has been hanging out with the MMORPG.com crew since 2011, and is an Associate Director & Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.