A Visit to Carbine Part 1
It's no secret that WildStar has taken some hard hits since its launch. Much like how Star Wars: the Old Republic was riding high on the hype train until its launch and then foundered for a year or so, WildStar is going through some rough times, but the overall sense I had from my visit was that the team was soldiering on perfectly well, and that things are starting to look up despite recent trials.
Carbine granted access to a number of their team from all areas of the game, from lore to operations, and with a couple of exceptions for obvious reasons, all of my questions were answered to some extent. My visit started off with Product Director Mike Donatelli and Creative Director Chad Moore and we got down to brass tacks right out of the gate. I asked them about the current state of the game and what went wrong after launch. Donatelli was frank in his answer that while their launch was way better than they thought it would be, garnering far more than their expected 250k subs, the rush caused so many bugs and unforeseen issues that the game started shaking apart. They didn't have enough QA time to prepare for the influx of players versus the sheer amount of content they were intending on releasing monthly. He said they had to make the hard decision to put a hold on monthly content and focus instead on minimizing bugs, knowing fully well that it would upset a number of their playerbase.
We also discussed recent high-profile departures such as Jeremy Gaffney, Stephan Frost, and Hugh Shelton, but Donatelli was unfazed by it, stating categorically that the Gaffer's departure was as officially stated, and Frost and Shelton simply found other gigs, that none of them were due to anything in the rampant conspiracy theories flying around the internet. When it came to the recent layoffs, Donatelli pointed out that the headcount was still larger than many for a game of its size, nor was it unusual for a game shifting from a dev-heavy team to a more necessary QA-heavy team.
Donatelli further went on to detail his meeting with the CEO of NCSoft West, where he'd brought a major presentation to show the executives what they needed to get the job done, their revised plan of quarterly drops and making the game more accessible, and instead of being told some variant of 'no', he simply got the go ahead to get it done. He said it was actually rather anti-climactic, having prepped for a fight but then not needing to actually get into it. He was really happy to have such strong support from their publisher. The only downside was that he got a stern talking-to for mentioning in a previous interview that the game had 'hundreds of thousands' of subscribers, and he utterly refused to cite a number of any kind. However, he said that they're doing all right for now, but he wants them to do better.
We then turned the discussion to their roadmap which got thrown out the window shortly after launch. He and Moore commented that they'd originally had a blueprint laid out for 18 months, and that at launch, they were working on Drop 12 before they shelved the monthly plan and shifted to the quarterly methodology. Donatelli then stated they were now eyeballing the next year's worth of content planned out, but he was firm on the basic notion that the quality of the drops were more of a priority than hitting a target exactly on time or releasing something just to release something. He also noted that when they say quarterly, that doesn't mean 'January'. I took it to mean that the next drop could come down anywhere between January and March. Moore jumped in there to note that the next drop for first quarter 2015 is practically finished, and the second quarter is well along. While Donatelli and Moore were discussing names and numbers of drops and which quarter they fell under, Moore let slip that quarter 3's drop in the summertime might include something about space themes, and another drop would include a frozen wasteland where we're well advised to stay close to the heat sources.
Turning to the lore, I asked Chad Moore if there were any pieces of in-game lore that they were going to hold back from the players until they discovered it. He said that so far, players have discovered just about every single piece of lore that there is to find, although he added that with the addition of the Defile, there was a great deal more content for players to sift through. I asked him whether there's been any time players have posted ideas and suggestions on the forums that have influenced what goes into the game's story or actually caused them to change up some plot, and Moore said that yes, there have been a couple of times where that's happened. He declined to say what exactly it was, but it involved the Nexus Project and what the Eldan were doing, and it gave them an idea that is going to lead us down a new path in some future content. He added that he valued the input of the players and he found it fascinating to see what players thought about their creations. When asked if there were any players who have guessed what's coming next, he replied that yes, at least one individual has. He pointed out that he wanted to provide enough information to the players so they could do the 'strings of yarn on the wall' thing and actually figure it all out.
Finally, we turned our attention to new additions to the game, and I asked if we'd see any new playable races, adding '#LoppMasterRace' in homage to a popular hashtag that's wandered around Twitter. Mike Donatelli laughed and said sure, let's do it! While both gentlemen laughed, and Moore shrugged and said the Product Director has spoken, it was obvious that they were joking. However, we did discuss Moore finding a thread on Reddit recently where players were discussing how they'd like to play a Luminai, and then how they were startled at how popular races like the Lopp turned out to be.
Before I left the company of Donatelli and Moore, I asked them about the RP community and how they were deeply upset about the loss of Evindra as their designated sanctuary, and whether Carbine was working on additional tools for them aside from the designated RP channel. Mike Donatelli said they were talking about a system of adding more slots to a character's paper doll to allow for such cosmetics as cybernetics or wedding rings. He added that he himself is an RPer and that he actually preferred RPing on regular servers. He said he'd never break character even in the face of trolls and cited an example where he wound up slowly converting a troll into an RPer by simply not rising to the bait and providing a good example.
My next two interviewees were Lead Class Designer Steven Engle and Community Manager Tony Rey. We first discussed PVP, and I noted that PVP communities tend to be the most vocal of any MMO's subset of players. I asked if WildStar's community's concerns that PVP was broken was a fair assessment, and what steps was Carbine taking to address it. Engle said he didn't believe PVP was broken, just that it needed some work. He cited shield overloads being perhaps one of the biggest factors, stating that they were probably too powerful. He said they wanted to move away from the notion of there being one singular skill that was a must-use for PVP, to shift it into a choice rather than a requirement and provide something more than a two-button rotation for all the classes in PVP.
I then asked if we'd be seeing any new battlegrounds or gameplay styles in the next six months, and Engle said all he could talk about was an upcoming ice arena that's a little bit big for a 2v2 scenario. Likening it to frozen tundra, he added that there were small areas that you could almost slide in like one would expect to on ice, and that there would be some vertical aspects to gameplay. He also pointed out there would be nooks and crannies build into the arena where players could hide out to escape their opponents or use for sneak attacks. It's coming soonish, but a date was not specified. He continued with Carbine's desire to alleviate some of the barrier to entry for PVP, such as for Warplots. Engle also said they were looking at moving Arena awards to a team-based rating rather than individual to help foster proper team gameplay and unity.
Turning to Community Manager Tony Rey, I asked him what his secret was for staying on top of things and remaining positive in the face of such adversity. He said that in general, he was a positive guy and focuses on looking at the bright side of things and finding the good within the bad. After pointing out the negative commentary regarding the Zero to Fifty livestream, he responded by saying that those streams are amongst their most-watched, even more than the Nexus Report streams. He went on to note how he loved WildStar's accessibility for players of his skillset and casual nature.
We then discussed community events and what plans Carbine had for player gatherings. They'd just hosted some 30 players in a Round Table on-site where the players got to tour the studio and have in-depth Q&A sessions with folks from Housing, Raids, Shiphands, etc. Rey said that the Round Table was a huge success, and that as a newer Community Manager, he felt like he has a lot to prove, but this was a trial by fire. He plans on gathering feedback on the Round Table from the attendees and look into planning other events such as possibly Arkships but larger. Rey shied away from the big notion of a Carbine-themed convention a la BlizzCon, but didn't discount the notion of something larger than has happened in the past.
One of the more recent community events was an online giveaway of Gamescom codes for players with North American accounts, and I asked him whether the NA region was going to see some more love, considering the EU accounts also had the option of a Steelbox edition at launch as well. Rey pointed out that the Gamescom code giveaway was actually for over 100 keys, not just the 5 or 6 many people might have thought. He added that he was working with his colleagues in the EU to work on a more global experience, so one region doesn't feel left out of goodies. Before I said farewell to Rey and Engel, Rey reminded me about watching Nexus Report for all the big news and Zero to Fifty weekly for gameplay.
That’s it for this first segment of a Visit to Carbine. Don’t forget to check out parts two and three as they become available this weekend!