It’s been a tough post-launch ride for WildStar. Carbine’s inaugural MMO came under fire for a number of reasons, including buggy content updates, stat and itemization issues, and being perceived as ‘hardcore only.’ It’s criticism that the studio is eager to address: in a deep interview with Product Director Mike Donatelli and Creative Director Chad Moore, I managed to discover just how they intend to turn the game around.
Crucially, there’ll be a greater emphasis on WildStar’s roots of letting players enjoy Nexus however they want. Moore has promised to go into further detail on this over the next few weeks, but mentioned an increased focus on storytelling and the WildStar game universe. Donatelli talked about adding ‘short session gameplay’ content for those of us who want less of a time commitment. And for those of us waiting on the stat, class and itemization changes due in Drop 4, Donatelli also mentioned that these will be in the upcoming patch, slated for early to mid November.
The interview also touched on a few humbling moments, such as why Carbine’s QA process failed to keep up with the speed of development and what’s being done to ensure a higher standard in the future. But, to start things off, I wanted to get a feel for how things currently are at the studio.
MMORPG.com: With Jeremy Gaffney’s recent departure, who is in charge of WildStar at Carbine?
Mike Donatelli: As Product Director I’m in charge of the vision of WildStar and Jon Jelinek is in Charge of the production side of things as Executive Project Manager.
MMORPG.com: There have also been several recent role changes. Can you give us a run-down of who makes up Carbine’s top team?
Chad Moore: As you mentioned, there were a number of role-changes in the months before launch, and most of those people are still working here at Carbine. Mike D is the Product Director, I’m the Creative Director, Chris Behrens is the Design Director and Eric Henze is the Art Director. We’ve all been here for quite a while (Eric was actually one of the founders of the studio), and we work together every day on various projects associated with the game. Three of us (Eric, Chris and myself) actually share an office. Given our roles within the company, we thought it was important that we were all in close proximity to discuss issues and get things done. It’s a great creative dynamic, even if it’s a little bit crowded.
MMORPG.com: We've seen some reports (from Glassdoor and elsewhere) that staff morale isn't great. How would you gauge the mood at the moment, and what's being done to improve it?
Moore: I won’t lie. It’s been a tough time for the studio. The months leading up to launch were an intense time, and now we are in the midst of making some pretty involved changes to our design and to our content based on player feedback. That sort of intensity is difficult to sustain for long periods of time, and it can be hard on morale – especially for those who have never gone through a dev cycle before. That being said, our team here at Carbine is dedicated to making WildStar the best game possible for our fans, and we are working on some really exciting new content that will be released in the coming months. Everyone here is looking forward to the release of the megaserver tech and game improvements in the next update, and beyond that the accessibility initiatives that address many of the player’s concerns. So from a mood standpoint I think the team is focused and optimistic about the upcoming changes that should improve the game.
MMORPG.com: Do you think WildStar’s launch was a success?
Moore: I personally feel like we had an extremely successful and smooth launch, especially as you compare to other similar games in the market. I think that you would be hard pressed to name another MMO that launched with as many features as WildStar, many of which have been extremely successful in terms of player experience. That being said, like all titles, we have had our share of challenges in the post-launch environment – but in terms of the launch itself, I was very happy with the way it all played out.
MMORPG.com: Do you think that players have lost interest? Was there an aspect or nuance of the MMO market that you hadn’t anticipated?
Moore: I don’t think that we have a problem with player interest. When I read the feedback on our forums, even the players that are the most frustrated are still very happy with the core game experience – and that is something that is very hard to achieve. I do think that we have a number of correctable issues that have served as an obstacle to that core experience for a number of groups – issues with our PvP gear balance and our Rune system come to mind – and I think that as we address those issues, we will see a lot of those players returning to the game. The reality is that the MMO market is both evolving and extremely competitive, and we are doing everything we can to improve our game within it.
MMORPG.com: Do you feel that WildStar went too 'hardcore', and are you planning to alter course to correct it?
Moore: I will be speaking to this very issue in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for a more detailed answer. But a short-term answer is that we never set out to design our entire game to be “hardcore”. From the very beginning, our core philosophy was “play the way you want to play”, and we designed WildStar for all of the different kinds of players that play MMOs – whether they be casuals, crafters, or raiders. That being said, some of our core systems need to be adjusted to make them more accessible, and as those adjustments come online, you will see that perception about WildStar being only for the hardcore begin to change. In terms of future content, we are definitely making adjustments to out designs based on what players are asking for – including more options for solo players and groups in the elder game.