So it turns out that MMOs can still make a lot of money. Who’d have thought it? After the release of the NCSoft Earnings Report for the first quarter of 2016, things are looking particularly rosey. Sales are up by around 30% from the year before, with profits having jumped 70% on the previous period. That’s a sizeable improvement and one NCSoft’s shareholders are likely very pleased about.
In part much of the success for this quarter stems from Blade and Soul and its western release, becoming NCSoft’s second highest grossing product below Lineage. Guild Wars 2, Lineage, Lineage II and WildStar all saw reduced income. Where Guild Wars 2 is concerned, I think the result is somewhat surprising, especially off the back of an expansion pack, but with the results failing to breakdown expansion pack and Gem purchases it’s difficult to gauge its success. Considering we’ve never had a press release from ArenaNet lauding its sales figures I suspect it performed much worse than hoped but enough to give it a small spike over the third quarter of 2015.
Like many in the industry, it’s WildStar that has me the most concerned. Its revenue is tiny at 1.282 billion Won (a little over a million dollars) and so small it begs the question as to when NCSoft will pull the plug. At this point its end is inevitable and I suspect in the next few weeks we’ll see movement from NCSoft to distance itself from the game. There are already early signs.
What frustrates me so much about WildStar and its lack of success is that it’s a brilliant game, but one that that simply launched too early. Carbine made some mistakes, notably the “hardcore” marketing barrage, while itemization was particularly poor. Despite that, the game did some wonderful things and I’d still argue it’s a better MMO than countless on the market. Not only does it have wonderful humor, fantastic classes and exceptional map design but its raids and dungeons put most of the competition to shame. Its skill and AMP system are excellent while its housing system is a triumph of accessibility and fun that makes a mockery of Guild Wars 2’s attempt at something similar (Scribing and Guild Halls are woefully poor).
The fact it launched early in a less than perfect state ensured its reputation was tarnished beyond repair the moment it was released and yet the game, over time, has improved significantly. If it had launched in such condition, I’m convinced things would have been very different. Unfortunately and as is the nature of the genre, reputations are hard to rebuild once smeared. Even with the Free to Play switch the studio had a mountain to climb when it comes to player perception and few want to spend time and money in a game that might not last.
For all of WildStar’s innovations (and there are plenty) to stand any chance of long-term survival it had to begin earning large amounts of money and fast. At the moment its income is below that of City of Heroes before NCSoft pulled the plug (Q2 2012) and it’s unquestionable that its demise is imminent. That’s a real shame for the genre and all the more frustrating when other MMOs that are vastly inferior have somehow created a market for themselves (without naming names).
This absolutely baffles me and yet at the same time, I’m not entirely surprised. I regularly chat about WildStar with friends or those who randomly message me and the game is so polarising. Some adore the sci-fi, some loathe it. Some hate the lack of targeting, some love it. Even its original raid Attunement split the player base (I personally adored the long winded adventure before it was neutered to appease a casual crowd). I’ve never encountered MMO with such a divide and at its core - regardless of its launch failures - is probably the biggest issue.
Irrespective of what does become of WildStar, I’ve had my monies worth out of it and thoroughly enjoyed my time. I cleared its raids, capped three characters and unlocked the best PvP armor, legitimately, before they reworked it. As a Free to Play game there’s still a wealth of amazing content there and I’m glad I had the opportunity to play it. Here’s hoping its eventual release on Steam, whenever that may be, might breathe new life into it before the shutters come down. Sadly, I don’t see that as very likely.
What do you think went wrong with WildStar? Do these financial results spell the end? Did you enjoy the game? Let me know!