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The Hour of the Megaserver

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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Technologically speaking, servers are dead. During yesterday’s livestreamed Nexus Report, Carbine Studios confirmed that existing realms will be thrown out and replaced with four giant megaservers – two for each region. The idea is that it will concentrate players together in the open world, improve the in-game economy and make group content easier to find.

It’s certainly a compelling proposition. To get around any player name clashes, every character will have a mandatory surname, and will be flagged for mandatory rename when the changes go live. All guilds, circles and social lists will also be transferred to the new megaservers. And if you can’t wait for that high-population experience, Carbine has dropped the charge for server transfers.

But is it enough to fix WildStar’s population woes? In this week’s column, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the other major issues affecting the action combat MMO, and what Carbine can do to ensure this is their most successful patch yet.

Drop the Barriers

WildStar’s Raids are arguably some of the best content to be found in the game, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get players in them. Raid guilds losing members is nothing new, but it’s a major problem when replacements can’t be found fast enough. Part of that is to be expected – players were raiding before even the first month was up, and there’s always post-launch population flux in any MMO.

Then again, the 12-step attunement process can’t be helping either. At launch, it worked doubly as a speed bump on the road to raiding, and a check to make sure the players were ready for the challenge. Today, coupled with the population problems, it acts as an excessive barrier to prevent raid guilds from staffing up, and I’d argue that the proposed changes don’t go far enough. With another 20-player raid in the pipeline, it’s time for Carbine to consider making Genetic Archives more accessible, while the hardcore crowd can move on to the next challenge.

It doesn’t stop there. WildStar’s sub-par performance on AMD hardware is already well known, partly because the chipmaker didn’t start working with Carbine until after the game shipped. Since then, the MMO has been extensively tested in AMD’s own labs, although we’re not privy to the results beyond improvements to graphics card drivers. Any significant driver to bolster WildStar’s population needs to be accompanied with a boost for Team Red’s CPUs.

Finally, I’d run a sweep over some of the mid-level content zones and look for barriers where players drop out. Back in beta, Carbine was generating heatmaps to highlight where players stopped logging in, and it’s an area I’d suggest they revisit. If there’s something clogging the funnel to level cap, it needs to be smoothed out.

That said, there are some things I’d ask Carbine not to consider, the big one being a switch to free-to-play. Personally, I have no desire for WildStar to become an item-shop driven economy, with designers beavering away on ingenious ways to pry our wallets open. More importantly though, anyone who wants to play for free already can, simply through earning enough in-game currency to buy CREDD.

A Big Welcome Back

With those changes in place, Carbine still needs to entice players to the MMO. Nexus newcomers should have as streamlined an experience as possible, which means ditching the trial key lottery; just create an account and play free for a week. Former players also need to be welcomed back with open arms, and be reassured that the changes they want have been made.

For Carbine to get the most out of the megaserver switch, it would make sense to bundle it up with any further client optimization and the upcoming Defile content patch. Once it’s been in for a week and everything’s stable, crank out a double-whammy: give new trialists and lapsed subscribers a week free, right at the start of the Shade’s Eve holiday event. The servers will be bustling with players chewing through new content, and WildStar gets a chance to shine by showing off some of that humorous side.

Between now and then, however, WildStar is almost in limbo. Like winter, changes are coming, but we don’t know what will arrive and when. Major content updates have been pushed back to a ‘when it’s ready’ development model, although regular bug fixes are still happening. Some are hesitant about the megaserver news, with roleplayers being particularly concerned about the potential community impact. And while it was for a whole host of good reasons, Carbine’s Jeremy Gaffney has stepped down as studio President without announcing a successor, leaving further uncertainty hanging in the air.

I still have faith that Carbine can deliver. The changes, done correctly, could completely reinvigorate WildStar with a new lease of life. Done ham-fistedly, or without a high level of quality control, and we could be left staring into the abyss.


Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” 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.