So long, cupcake! It was fun while it lasted

The recent announcement of NCsoft pulling the plug on Wildstar has sent the MMORPG sphere reeling ever since the news broke last Thursday. Veterans of the game have come out of hibernation to voice their disappointment and generally, the tune on social media has been one of regret if not surprise. As so many have stated, it’s particularly sad to see Wildstar go considering all of Carbine’s efforts to save the game over the past two years. From subscription to free to play to ingame tokens, shops and meta-currencies, Carbine kept optimizing their economics to ease new players into their MMO.

But those of us who followed the game and have played it for a reasonable amount of time, know that Wildstar never had the player base so many think it deserved and that was hardly a payment model issue. The numbers just never came until NCsoft dropped the title from quarterly reports in 2017 altogether. The recent player petition to save Wildstar from sunset has only reached 2500 signatures thus far. As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t see what a petition could do in Wildstar’s case.

wildstar shutdown

„Wildstar did so many things right, but it lacked players“ is the general consensus and it’s one that does not satisfy. When Gordon Ramsay visits broke restauranteurs in his TV show, they all tell him that their restaurant’s issue is „not enough guests“. He rightfully pulls a face.

Recalling the launch days

Wildstar will go down as the smoothest MMORPG launch ever witnessed in my personal memory. From day one, the servers were stable, quests and grouping worked easily and the leveling process was solid. Players got a tutorial to teach them the basics and the bottomless well that is its famed player housing already unlocked at level 14. It launched with a standard monthly subscription model like WoW’s, it brought the polish, it brought a unique setting and game world, a roster of cool races like the Chua, two factions and decent character creation. There was group content, solo adventures, endgame raiding and the overarching storyline of Drusera and the Strain – really, there is nothing on the standard MMO buffet that Carbine didnt check off the list, while also surpassing rivals in the housing, cosmetics and soundtrack section.

Yet none of that helps to understand why this MMO didnt become a greater success. What I can do however is go back and scan every Wildstar post I wrote on this blog because like other early adopters, I stopped playing Wildstar after the server merges. So here are just a few excerpts I picked from different 2014 posts to give you a general idea:

“After seeing Carbine’s excessive 12-step attunement to raid entry in Wildstar which makes a 100 jailbreaks look decent, I am trying very hard to stay cool and understand what they were thinking and cui bono? […]it’s hard to stay positive when reading through the same old vitriolic forum discussions of “casual versus hardcore” that 12-step attunement infographic has sparked in Wildstar’s early community.” [source]

“There is no hiding in Wildstar’s raids – addons are seriously recommended, cooldowns must be juggled and adjusting your tragically limited actionbar for every encounter is a given. Execution demands a high level of focus because the fights are so mobile.[…]Considering how 40mans must feel in comparison, which are no less unforgivable, it becomes apparent why raiders have been crying out for Carbine to critically consider their endgame.[…]With subscription numbers dwindling and complaints both from the casual and hardcore (see the rest of the Q&A), Carbine cannot afford not to act. New content dumps may appease some non-raiding players but the fact remains that Wildstar endgame is tuned to a difficulty level that not enough people enjoy longterm.”

“Alas, for me the merges can’t come soon enough. Lightspire’s Dominion side has quickly turned into a graveyard, with probably 60% of its active members hosted by my guild and only one single other, competing guild in terms of raiding. The AH is dreadful, with entire subsections entirely empty or then, most likely offering an item or two by guildies (keeps the money in the family!). The costs for much coveted items such as runes amount to a subscription’s worth of platinum, just to get a basic gear set kitted out.” [source]

I gave Wildstar a very serious shot in 2014. I committed to a regular raid guild in order to do 5mans and try the raid content because there was no way in hell to get even that attunement done by yourself pugging. Pugging generally was never a real option – not because there weren’t enough players on day one, but because the dungeons were too frustrating to pug without voice comm levels of coordination and raid-like prep. If dungeons were hard even on “silver” mode, raids were….something else. There were maybe 3 raid guilds total on my server which doesnt make for happy competition. The long and tough attunement seriously affected recruitment efforts.

I consider myself a very experienced raider; I have cleared all of WoW’s classic content with my own guilds when it came out, all the way up to Sartharion 3D and Arthas 25. But when I took a group of my most seasoned WoW buddies to Wildstar’s standard 5man dungeons, lobotomy sounded appealing after hours of unforgiving twitchy telegraph combat. If this is how we felt, you bet others felt worse. And sadly, this never really changed.

How it ends

I don’t want to sound cynical when a game of such quality and promise gets shelved – I think Carbine are one of the greater studios out there and they did some unique things with Wildstar that I wish more people had experienced. Wildstar was often unjustly compared to WoW when it really did its own thing. However, no MMO shuts down because it “didn’t have enough players”.

I have probably spent between 300-400$ on Wildstar counting subs and later buying some ingame currency. But that is hardly the point. MMORPGs that don’t create enough traction within the first 3 months enter a dangerous vicious cycle: core players leave because of low population issues (raiding, economy, queues etc.) and new players won’t join when they hear about “dead servers”. If developers cannot or don’t act before the cycle starts, they are usually doomed.

In the end it’s many things that make MMOs successful, some less tangible than others. As players we are left to speculation and our personal experiences. Wildstar’s idea of group content difficulty remains its most baffling and confused feature to me to this day and it’s why I stopped playing it.

The game looked like fluffy bunnies, destined to appeal to a wide range of average raiders and casual “for the fun” players – yet catered to a hardcore crowd I’m not sure even exists in this segment of mainstream AAA-MMOs. Designing progression and core content for the few rather than the many may work for niche MMOs but otherwise, it is an unaffordable concept, well proven by WoW, FFXIV or GW2. It’s not the vocal minority that pays the bills.

Goodbye Wildstar! I thoroughly enjoyed your humor and whimsy, my wonderful house and Jeff’s soundtrack! To part, here’s my old Wildstar panoramas and of course, obligatory puppy pic!

8 comments

  1. I wonder if it would have worked better if it had stayed tab-targeting (as was once suggested) instead of changing to action combat mid stream. I was one of those players that wanted to experience the story, the sci-fi, the planet – but couldn’t stick with it (although I tried several times.)

    1. I totally understand if people didnt like the telegraph combat. I thought it was quite cool personally but later on, the mobility of encounters was really over the top. I also hated the limited action bar.

  2. Man, my first comment vanished into the ether.

    A Monty pic! Hi, Monty!

    When I tried Wildstar out in the beta, I really didn’t know what Wildstar wanted to be: hardcore, cute, or SF with a heavy dose of Texas. As it turns out, it wanted to be all three. I finally warmed up to Wildstar once the F2P transition happened and I reached the Drusera story, but once I reached the end of solo content I refused to go to instances due to their reputation; I really didn’t feel like subjecting myself to abuse from people who tell me to “L2P Noob!”

    Still, I’ll miss Wildstar. They did a lot of things right, such as the Aurin as a nature species (who don’t look like prepubescent girls like that found in TERA).

    Oh, and welcome back! I’ve missed your posts, Syl!

    1. Noes – I dont know why comments disappear sometime. :(

      It’s as you say, Wildstar did a lot right but it also did too much at once. I would’ve really liked to follow the Drusera story for longer, she was a special character to me. In general, Wildstar was surprisingly mature and serious at times despite the colorful toons.

      And thank you my friend :) although I don’t know that I can post regularly enough to really call it a comeback. I’ll do my best – I do miss blogging!

  3. This is the only post I’ve seen about this from the perspective of someone that invested heavily in the game and actually gave raiding a solid shot. It kind of conforms my complete outsider impression of things. Any MMO that becomes “Raid or die, the game” when you hit the cap loses me either on the way or as soon as I get there. It was perhaps reasonable when we had only a few things to pick from, but even when Wildstar launched I think it had been close to a decade since that sort of design seemed sane.

    Doubling down on it by making it one of the hardest raid games that’s ever been published was absolutely baffling to me. The only way I could see that working is in a game that has no leveling and no attunement needed to start in on the first raid (i.e., one where you can start in on the raiding game right from the beginning). Play one game for 40+ hours to get access to some other game is not a design that will ever appeal to a large player base.

    1. I agree. Wildstar had so much to offer during the leveling phase too and so many sideactivities, it made no sense to create such exclusive group content for its endgame. It is just….confused and inconsistent design.

  4. Your post looks a little more insightful than all the others I’ve read (and certainly more than my own wild guessing), but I guess you were amongst the people who had subbed the longest from those I heard talk.
    In the absence of hard numbers I still have mostly my personal story to compare and search for reasons, but because it was more than a 3-monther for me and I did come back several times.. I don’t know. I think I still spent more time (months subbed) in SWTOR despite only playing solo – so maybe the Raiding thing is the true main reason after all and I just shouldn’t try to guess what the majority is doing. :P

    I disagree a little on the “not enough guests” thing though. Again I have no number, but I think most people wo play MMOs at all play 1, maybe 2 at the same time. For me it’s a classic winner-takes-it-all scheme. I was debating with my self many months if I should keep my WildStar sub while I was actively playing WoW. WoW was my main MMO, my main game. So even if WildStar was 90% as good, it still lost. I don’t know, I’m not going to the exact same restaurants all the time, so the split there would be quite even, unless it was shit. Completely not comparable to MMOs. And while 10-15 bucks a months isn’t so much.. I’m not paying it if I only play one night per month.

    Also thanks for ruining my misguided memory, according to your 12-step pic I gave up after step 3, but certainly before step 6. I thought I had achieved more! :P

    PS: Resending as it timed out on the first try, at least it didn’t eat my comment.

    1. No, you’re good – wordpress just had to do a manual approval for this comment for some reason. :)

      It is a more competitive market for sure – my point with the restaurant analogy was rather that not having enough guests, or players, is always the secondary or indirect reason. The best of games always have subscribers. If MMOs fail to generate enough subscribers, there are always several reasons for it and in Wildstar’s case, it was mismanagement (not understanding core audience, requiring AAA-numbers etc.) and some of the core/endgame design for sure. And as you said too, due to the almost mutually exclusive nature of subscription MMOs, these kind of flaws aren’t something a AAA-developer can afford.

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